March 03, 2003 12:00 PM

It was an epochal moment in American political history. Inside the Georgia state capitol in Atlanta, Gov. Sonny Perdue—a confessed Snickers addict—hurled his favorite candy bar into a supportive throng. Then he mounted a scale, weighed in at 228½ lbs. and vowed to shrink to 200. “I’m not one of those big-belly folks,” insists the 5’11” Perdue. “But I’d be healthier and live longer at less weight.”

With that he launched the Capitol Challenge, a six-week slimming contest for state workers. Faced with climbing obesity rates—Georgia ranks among the nation’s worst, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—Perdue, 56, hopes his own belt-tightening sets an example. Dangling the carrot of undisclosed rewards, he has so far induced 2,500 employees to sign up with hopes of slimming down, if not without some difficulty. “Yesterday I didn’t eat a doughnut,” says his assistant Joyce White. “But I picked the chocolate off it.” One staffer has sacrificed cheeseburgers; another has cut his daily soda consumption from 10 cans to 2. A father of four, Perdue is putting his barbecue and fried catfish “on hold” and trying to eat smaller portions. “He seems to lose weight fairly quickly,” says his wife, Mary, 52, “if he makes his mind up.”

Perdue says that once the weight is off, it’s everything in moderation. His first indulgence? “Vanilla ice cream sprinkled with Snickers.”

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