Eighteen months after Ararat was first labelled as 'Fatarat', the community is now measuring above average in data collected for its overall health, thanks largely to the positive flow-on effects of The Biggest Loser.
The hit TV program, which in addition to plunging the region and health of its people into the national spotlight, resulted in motivating the community to improve its health and lifestyle.
Launching the Ararat Active City program at a civic reception at Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre, Mayor Cr Paul Hooper said the event was to celebrate the past 18 months of success within the community and participation as part of The Biggest Loser program.
The Biggest Loser contestants Craig Booby, Sharon Basset, Katrina Pianta, Toni Stockwell, Kerry Stockwell, Jane Jantzen, Roger Turner, Cameron Brown, Shannon Woolley, Callan Evans, Mary Reid, Matt Dalton, Caitlin Munday and Natalie Wohlers were also acknowledged and presented with certificates of appreciation.
Cr Hooper said that in December 2011 the headlines read, 'Ararat weighs in as the heaviest region', and front page stories told of the obesity crisis in Australia and that three out of five people in Ararat were obese or overweight.
"Tags like 'Fatarat' and 'Arafat' followed very quickly, with the local community stunned by the statistics and none of us liked that," he said.
"Fast forward to December 2012 and this is when Shine Australia, the producers of The Biggest Loser program approached Council with an idea to make their 2014 season focus on a whole-of-community health prevention effort, and to tackle the issue of obesity head on. They wanted to help our community and we were ready for the challenge.
"The concept of the show was a new and exciting venture that we were about to undertake, and really we had no idea how or what path it would take. What we did know was that it was an opportunity for us all to work together for the health of our community and continue the ongoing legacy it will now leave."
Cr Hooper said that though there were divided opinions on the concept of the program throughout the community, the results of increased physical activity and the cultural change that began to occur in Ararat were driven not only by Council, and Healthy Together Grampians Goldfields but the Ararat YMCA and of course the private personal trainers who assisted in the community on a mission.
"But largely the action was driven by you as part of the community through a range of channels," he said.
"We saw an immediate difference. People were out moving - walking, riding, running and just participating in and engaging with exercise. You couldn't drive through Ararat without seeing people out and active. It was clear that people wanted to change their lifestyle and their health status.
"Rain, hail or shine you were all out there being active, it has been an absolute pleasure to watch the change take place within the community. Not only was it about exercise but also healthy eating and it is great to see now a variety of new and improved local businesses and catering businesses introducing healthy eating plans to their menus.
"Community pride in the town has taken over and continues to drive the people of Ararat forward as you continue to keep the legacy of healthy living a priority."
Cr Hooper said people's participation in the challenges taking place in Ararat, while supporting the 14 Biggest Loser contestants who took the initiative to change their lives, was a show of support in what they wanted to see in the community and how they wanted to see the community move forward.
The data collected during the Biggest Loser filming showed just how much of an effect the show and its motivation had on the community.
In the 11 weeks of Biggest Loser filming the original 500 'pebble' participants took 235,419,630 steps, which is continuing to rise as the 500 people, plus more allocated pebbles, continue to count their steps.
Other data collected showed an:
87 per cent decrease in hypertension.
70 per cent reduction in type 2 diabetes.
50 per cent reduction in stroke risk indicators.
5.6 per cent average body percentage weight loss.
Another highlight included this year's Premier's Active April, which saw Ararat have 5.1 per cent of the population register - the closest to Ararat was Knox City which had 2.1 per cent of its population register.
"Our BMI data has performed better than the country as a whole and we are currently above average in healthy BMI," Cr Hooper said.
"A range of indicators are used to measure the health of our community - they include smoking, alcohol consumption, nutritional intake, fitness scores, BMI, medical scores, and psych scores which gives an overall health indicator for the community.
"We have had our peaks and troughs across these indicators but Ararat is currently measuring above average in overall health and continues on an upward trajectory."
On top of this success, Ararat Rural City Council is now looking to reposition itself as Ararat Active City, with branding under this including: Active Community, Active Economy, Active Lifestyle and Active Environment.
"This is not intended as just a brand but to become a way of life for the people of Ararat Rural City embedded firmly in the way we do things," Cr Hooper said.
"This is only the beginning, a lot of hard work has commenced in changing our culture permanently. Council is here to support and has now started to put into place strategies and projects that will assist you in this change - we are only part of the picture and we need you to continue this change into the future.
"It's up to our schools, workplaces, kinders, sporting clubs, our partners in health services and you as a community to make this change stick for good.
"Our commitment is to walk the talk and provide the lifestyle opportunity and the service. The rest is up to you, you are Ararat Active City."
In future Council will be looking at further opportunities to improve on the already good work undertaken by and for the community, including upgrading existing pathways, installation of new outdoor exercise equipment in Alexandra Gardens and the rural towns of Willaura, Lake Bolac and Tatyoon, recreation centre improvements, incorporating bikes within our visitor information centre for visitors to utilize.
As part of an active economy Council will also include more activities and events to attract visitation as well as for the community to take part in.
The recent Ararat Boot camp kicked off these new activities and other events planned include night markets, themed fun runs, wellness weekends and an Ararat Active Festival.
"We are focusing on including seasonal events that will both attract visitation to the municipality and provide healthy lifestyle options for people who already live here," Cr Hooper said.
While the 14 Biggest Loser contestants are continuing their journeys, they have also participated in assisting in promoting Ararat on a regional basis, with attendance at the Regional Living Expo in Melbourne and dedicating their time in the community to motivate people to change.
"Those 14 community members are now our motivators for Ararat and who we look up to in continuing to keep the legacy ongoing within our community," Cr Hooper said.
Pictures - See page 14