Obesity is the most deadly and preventable disease statewide, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. One company hopes its efforts will change the lives of kids in the Valley before it is too late.

Since 2008 overweight kids have taken on the WiL Power Challenge. Foothills Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation designed the WiL Power program to help kids in the community fight obesity. The free, non-profit program takes between 80 and 90 kids, ages 10 to 14, and challenges them to lose weight and live a healthier life over 12 weeks with help from nutritionists and fitness trainers. Kids must qualify for the program through a physician.

"We've been contacting pediatricians in the area and they have our info," said Katie Lucas, administrative assistant at Foothills Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, adding that kids with a body mass index of 85 or greater are given a prescription to take on the challenge.

The program is designed as a sort of competition. The child who loses the greatest percentage of body fat wins a $1,000 scholarship. Children's weight in pounds is not compared to others, they are only competing to be the best version of themselves, she said.

Though the program only officially accepts children, families are all welcome to take part in group workouts, three times a week.

"Thirty-one percent of kids in Arizona are overweight," said Debby Pool, president of Nutrition Concepts Inc. "My specialty is children and family nutrition so it just seemed like a perfect fit to work with them on a volunteer basis because that's what I do."

Nutrition Concepts Inc is one of many sponsors for the program. Along with monetary support they also send volunteers to help teach the children about nutrition.

"We have so many success stories. We've had kids that lose 20 to 30 pounds and are exercising more. There was one young man who lost 20 pounds in the program and then continued with the concepts he was taught and lost about 40 pounds in one year," Pool said.

The program's goal is to change the facts. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, Arizona ranks 25th in the nation for childhood overweight or obesity.

"Foothills Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation developed the WiL Power program after recognizing a need in the Arizona communities to do something to help overweight and obese children live healthier happier lives, so they may grow up to have less incidence of injury and depression," their website, WiLpowerchallenge.com, says.

In March, Congress declared September 2010 as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. A new website, healthierkidsbrighterfutures.com, offers information about the awareness month and also links and resources for ideas on how to live a healthier life.

Obesity is already considered an epidemic, but the WiL Power Challenge is aiming to make a large change in the lives of those who truly need it.

Allison Hurtado is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a junior at Arizona State University

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