Public officials across the Rio Grande Valley have worked for years to promote healthier lifestyles in the region.
It looks like their efforts are paying off.
The It’s Time Texas Community Challenge, an annual fitness campaign, reports that Valley cities are dominating the event in terms of participation; almost half of all participants statewide are in this region.
Ron Garza, executive director of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, reported last week that more than 11,000 people signed up for the weight-loss and fitness challenge, and 21 local mayors pledged to set the example for their communities.
McAllen ranks first in participation among larger cities, with Brownsville right behind in second place.
Harlingen tops the mid-sized city category with Pharr in third place, and among smaller cities Los Fresnos ranks first, with San Juan third and Port Isabel fifth. Laguna Vista ranks fourth among the smallest Texas towns.
Local officials deserve praise for their efforts to address a local and regional trend toward more sedentary lifestyles and higher rates of obesity and related problems.
Those efforts are important; it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that they are a life-and-death matter.
Obesity contributes to many health problems including heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. The physical strain of carrying an unhealthy weight also affects joints, mobility and the ability to perform many tasks.
Such factors are felt strongly in areas like the Valley, where much of the population is predisposed toward diabetes and a large percentage of the population remains uninsured or under-insured. Less healthy people have more medical problems, and when they can’t afford treatment the costs are passed along to the entire community through higher healthcare costs and charges to county tax-supported healthcare
accounts. Over the years local officials and city departments have worked hard to address the issue, not just with the annual Challenge campaigns but with Zumbathons, community cycling events and other activities. Cities across the Valley have dedicated resources to build hike-and-bike trails that they hope to build into a region-wide network of non-motorized trails.
The formal Community Challenge began Jan. 7 and ends today, but it is hoped that participation leads to healthy habits that continue long after the campaign ends. After all, living healthy requires a lifetime commitment.
It is hoped that those who take the Challenge feel healthier, physical tasks become easier and healthcare costs are lower than before. And that should motivate people to keep it going.
Best of all, it becomes easier to enjoy the occasional fiesta or tamalada when one knows that the extra calories will be burned off in the next few days.
Successful participants can show off that new trimmer body, slimmer wardrobe, and perhaps inspire friends and family to make their own commitment to a healthier life.
And come next January, perhaps the level of participation can grow even more, as Valley cities compete for the top spot on the list.