HARLINGEN — The competition is not fierce, and the true rewards involve meeting individual goals.
But the battle of the It’s Time Texas Community Challenge now playing out has a serious side, and those are the high rates of obesity and diabetes not just here in the Rio Grande Valley but across the state — the 10th-most obese in the nation.
Here in the Valley, if anything, things are even worse. The Rio Grande Valley is the epicenter of the highest obesity and diabetes rates found in the United States with some estimates that nearly half the population — 45 percent — is obese. And experts say an estimated 40 to 60 percent of residents here have diabetes and pre-diabetes.
On March 2, one of the It’s Time events will be here in Harlingen, as Mayor Chris Boswell leads anyone willing to accompany him on a Walk with the Mayor beginning at 8 a.m. along the Meg Jorn Trail.
“I became interested in it when the (Valley Baptist) Legacy Foundation invited the It’s Time Texas folks to Harlingen to talk about organizing a Mayor’s Wellness Council and a Healthy Harlingen,” Boswell said this week. “The issues are about getting local and state governments, industry and the health-care industry kind of all on the same page trying to make sure our workforces in our communities are healthy.
“That improves productivity, it lessens the burden of health care costs, it lessens the burden on local governments to have to pay for health care and health insurance, and it reduces the burden on businesses because it reduces their costs … It is a serious issue and this is a way to try to raise awareness and encourage people to get fit to lead a healthier lifestyle, through these competitions,” the mayor added.
The It’s Time Texas Community Challenge is a points-driven contest using workout selfies, healthy meals and weight and fitness trackers, hosted community events and, for schools and businesses, organizing healthy activities and devising ways to make workplaces more healthy as well.
This year’s contest, which has more than 20,000 people registered, began Jan. 7 and runs through March 3.
Last year the City of Harlingen won its population class, and the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District won its third straight first-place award. Both are competing again this year to defend those titles.
For his part, Boswell, who was one of 10 Valley mayors to take part last year, conceded there are as of yet no data sets to indicate these things are working when it comes to creating healthier lifestyles in the Rio Grande Valley.
“I wish I could quantify it, or have an accurate measure of it, but it may be some time before we can do that,” the mayor said. “Anecdotally, we can point to the fact we do have more fitness activities, and lots of organizations are kind of jumping in and getting involved in this.
“A few examples are the Junior League and the Kid Fit program on Saturdays, and of course we just ran the marathon, and we had something for everybody in the marathon — we had the marathon, we had a 5K that I participated in, and we’ll have the Jalapeno 100 on Saturday,” he added.
Boswell also cited the growing number of runners and walkers around the city, whether on sidewalks, streets or one of the new hike-and-bike trails installed at one of the city’s parks.
He said living healthier lifestyles isn’t just a concern here.
“We also got involved with the county and the City of Brownsville on initiatives to bring ‘active tourism’ to the Rio Grande Valley and to build destination trails and things like that,” he said. “That’s called the Active Plan and there are just a lot more efforts to try to improve healthy lifestyles in our community.”
Boswell and those participating in the Walk with the Mayor will meet at the Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum at 2425 Boxwood Street at 8 a.m. on March 2.
He says he’ll be sure to set a pace everybody can tolerate.
“I’m a walker and a runner, I walk a little bit and run a little bit,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll be able to keep up with me. I just like to finish. What I say is, if I can do it, you can do it.”
If you go
WHAT — Walk with the Mayor
WHEN — Saturday, March 2, 8 a.m.
WHERE — Meet at Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum, walk the Meg Jorn Trail
PACE — Easy
COST — Free