January 26, 2012 11:21:00 AM
David Miller -
STARKVILLE -- He grew up as the "fat kid." He was teased because of his weight. He never envisioned life without being obese.
Unfortunately, Patrick House said, he can relate to more than 44 percent of children across the state.
House, winner of the NBC-TV reality show "The Biggest Loser: Season 10," visited seventh- and eighth- grade students at Armstrong Middle School on Wednesday to spread one simple message: Be different.
"It's about getting them active, raising awareness about how bad fast foods and fried foods are for them," he said. "Letting them know you can still eat healthy foods and it tastes good. It isn't a total separation from being a kid and living life."
House is working with the South Mississippi Medical Alliance in Hattiesburg and has toured the country and encouraged nearly 7,000 children to be active and make healthy choices.
The Brandon native and former Delta State University football player caused a collective gasp in the middle school gym when he unfurled the size 58 slacks he used to wear. Those pants, House said, didn't even fit when he weighed 425 pounds.
"It's amazing how many kids around the country watch 'The Biggest Loser.' So they see me, they see my green shirt, they recognize me. I'm like a TV personality, so I can come in with my message, hold up my size 58 pants I used to wear, and at the same time, it shows kids you can set goals and achieve them."
One of the overlooked elements of being overweight, House said, is the teasing and ridicule from peers. Halfway through his presentation to the students, he asked the children to cover their eyes. He then asked them to raise their hands if they'd been bullied.
About 15 percent of the students, from skinny to overweight, raised their hands. While some students laughed at the number of their classmates confessing their torment, House stressed the need for encouragement. Without it, many children won't become healthy, despite their own ambitions.
"I was bullied as a child when I was overweight," he said, "and sharing that story, it happens all over the state. We're going to try and make a difference in that."
House was one of 400,000 people to try out for "The Biggest Loser: Season 10" and one of 16 people selected. He's one of 12 winners out of more than 1 million people who have tried out for the show.
The victory, for which House lost more than 200 pounds in six months, came with a $250,000 prize and instant celebrity status.
"It's funny being a celebrity now," he said. "I went from a regular guy in Mississippi to being thrust on a stage in California on the No. 1 TV show. Now, people recognize me in restaurants and grocery stores. They want to see what I'm buying and ask me why.
"It's been a lot of fun, and I hope it's motivating a lot of people."
When House, 29, was recruited by Delta State, he was told he needed to add weight. So he began loading up on carbohydrates and protein. But when a 425-pound Mississippi Valley State player landed on House's back while scrambling for a fumble, House's career was over. His high-calorie food intake wasn't, and he added 100 pounds in five years.
Aside from football, House's story is typical of most overweight Americans, he said. He couldn't ride an airplane without the aid of a seat belt extender. He was out of breath just from walking to the edge of his driveway.
His confidence waned, especially when he realized his two children wouldn't get the best of him.
"Thankfully, 'The Biggest Loser' intervened in my life when I needed it," House said. "There's no more eating an entire stuffed-crust pizza in one sitting."
Armstrong science teacher Randy Carlisle said House's program is beneficial to the students because it provides an example with tangible proof of success.
And though students don't buy the food in their homes, he said, House's message can influence parents' decisions.
"If the kids want something, they can convince their parents to go that route," Carlisle said. "And if the kids really bought into it, I think parents would come around. Have more fruits and vegetables and make a realistic possibility. It can go a long way."