COLUMBIA — In his first public speech since withdrawing from the Republican presidential primary, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee spoke Thursday night at Columbia College where he revealed to reporters that he is not waiting around expecting Republican nominee John McCain to ask him to be his running mate.
“I’m not one that has any illusions that he has some obligation to me,” Huckabee told reporters before his speech on health care. “It’s his decision to make. I’m going to support whomever he picks.”
Huckabee added that he plans to “vigorously campaign” for congressional candidates he supports.
“I want to do as much as I can to help Republicans and conservatives get elected,” he said.
Huckabee spoke at the college as part of the annual Ethics in Society Lecture series, amusing the audience with jokes threaded into his serious speech titled “Ethics Surrounding the Future of Medical and Health Care.”
Huckabee took the stage, thanking everyone for coming out in the rain and joking that, “It was a wet night so we’d have a dry speaker.”
He immediately began his speech by discussing his personal battle with weight.
“Five years ago there was 110 pounds more of me,” he said, adding that he used to have a difficult time climbing stairs. He decided to make a radical change in his lifestyle when his doctor told him his blood sugar was high enough to diagnose him with type II diabetes and he was probably in the last decade of his life.
“My response was, ‘You know, maybe we need a different exit strategy,’” he said, prompting laughter from the audience.
He discussed the culture of poor diets and poverty in the South, saying that both contributed to his own health problems, and joked that in Arkansas, “everything is deep fried.”
Huckabee discussed at length the threat facing Americans and the American economy from poor health choices. He stressed personal over federal responsibility.
George Stevenson, 26, a Columbia College student, was impressed with Huckabee’s emphasis on individuals making smart choices about their health.
“Personal responsibility — it’s something I agree with wholeheartedly,” he said.
Huckabee provided a long list of examples of what he dubbed a “health crisis,” such as the 77 percent increase in obese Americans since 1990. But in addition to these gloomy statistics, he also explained how they can be overturned.
While he was governor in Arkansas, schools began sending information home to parents about their children’s body mass index, a measurement of body fat according to weight and height. Arkansas became the only state to see childhood obesity rates decline, he said.
Huckabee gave his two rules for choosing healthy foods: “If it wasn’t a food 100 years ago, just assume it isn’t a food today,” he said. “And if it comes through the car window it isn’t food.” He emphasized the importance of avoiding highly processed products at the grocery store and controlling portion size, adding that the average-sized meal has grown significantly since his childhood.
“Have you seen muffins today?” he asked. “They’re bigger than my head!”
Jokes aside, he remained intent on sharing his message.
“The responsibility has to start with us,” he said, adding that he believes if you engage in risky behavior you should not expect the government to pay for your poor health. He also strongly advocated preventative care by encouraging good nutrition, increased exercise and providing smokers with programs to quit.
“What we prevent is less expensive than what we have to cure,” he said, noting that 80 percent of health care expenditures in the U.S. are for chronic diseases.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.