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Stylists Sidestep Snacks

Nestled among a Domino's Pizza, Subway, Caribou Coffee shop, McDonald's, and a Chinese restaurant in Kings Park shopping center, the staff at Headway Hair Designs could see the calorie intake taking its toll. After seeing a news item about Florida residents taking steps to slim down and the possibility that obesity might surpass smoking as the No. 1 killer in America, Headway stylist Anne Fox got the group motivated to do something about their waistlines.

From early March to Memorial Day weekend, eight employees at Headway are challenging themselves to eat healthy, cut out the fast foods, and exercise to shed the pounds.

"We're surrounded by Subway, Domino's, Chinese [food] and McDonald's. Even by not eating that, we'll lose weight," Fox said.

In March, each participant weighed himself or herself in private, wrote down the amount, with each individual weight-loss goal, and put it in a sealed envelope collected by Fox. Each pays $2 a week as well, with the person that reaches goal weight winning the money.

Jamie Weaver is a co-owner of the salon and has been there 20 years. She's seen the diets come and go.

"We've all been on Weight Watchers before. Every week somebody's doing that [fad diets]," she said.

THE GROUP is concentrating on the five food groups. Each day, a different person brings in a home-cooked, low-calorie dish

"Today, Martha brought baked chicken, vegetable and rice," Weaver said.

Exercise is part of Weaver's plan as well. She's walking laps around the Kings Park shopping center when she can squeeze it in.

On March 12, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) unveiled a strategy aimed at reducing obesity, called "Calories Count." This includes recommendations to strengthen food labeling, educating consumers and encouraging restaurants to provide calorie and nutrition information, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Web site. The program is aimed at providing consumers with accurate, helpful information so they can make better choices at supermarkets and restaurants, the FDA said.

Information leading to this program was based on a study by the HHS Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention that found that poor diet and inactivity could become the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. The study estimated that poor diet and inactivity caused 400,000 deaths in 2000. The CDC also estimates 64 percent of all Americans are overweight, including 15 percent of adolescents, which is almost double the rate of the 1980s.

CUSTOMERS BRING in delectables to Headway Hair Designs as well. Before this challenge started, the coffee area in the back was a haven for fudge, cookies and candy. Glenda May's hairdressing station is back by the coffee area.

"Usually we do have cookies or doughnuts. For the past week, we've had nothing but carrot sticks," she said, with a hint of disappointment in her voice.

Burke resident Sue Bradshaw has been coming to get her hair done at Headway for three years. Bradshaw's not counting calories with the rest, but she did make a regular stop at the coffee area through the years.

"Every time I came in here, there's stuff back there. Cookies, candy. ... I take some too," Bradshaw said, remembering chocolates a few weeks ago. "The chocolates were just fine."

Kings Park resident Tracy Swartz is one stylist who isn't part of the calorie and exercise contest. Swartz did volunteer to take any donated cookies before the rest get tempted, so she's earned the title of "food police" among the crew.

"I'm going to get it and run out the door," Swartz said.

The group is trying to get another salon to challenge them, and Bradshaw said she'd help out by telling her nail salon about it.

"We would like to challenge another beauty shop," Weaver said.