South Texan border communities take early lead in statewide health and fitness challenge

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McAllen, Texas, city officials are showing receiving a check in March 2019 from the It’s Time Texas Community Challenge in 2019. McAllen had the most points for its city-size division in the free health and fitness community initiative program. (Courtesy Photo)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — An eight-week statewide community health and fitness challenge kicked off on Monday and two South Texas border communities immediately took the lead, which community leaders hope will negate previous high-obesity labels given to these towns.

The annual “It’s Time Texas Community Challenge” is part of a free initiative sponsored by the Austin-based nonprofit organization It’s Time Texas to promote health and wellness throughout Texas. Participation in the community challenge is open to all Texans who log their fitness miles and minutes, healthy eating habits, as well as group initiatives online to score points at

Within a few hours of launching this latest annual competition, the South Texas communities of McAllen and Harlingen were leading their community-size categories, according to the organization’s website.

In 2018 and 2019, McAllen won the large-sized community category. The city of Harlingen also won in the mid-size category in 2019, and Los Fresnos won in the small-community category last year.

Jolee Perez, who is on the executive committee of the McAllen Mayor’s Wellness Council, said the city was going all-out and promoting it to win again.

“Last year we had more points than anybody in the state. Not only did we win our category but we had the highest points of any participant,” Perez said of the City of McAllen. “It helps to represent what’s really going down in McAllen. We have such a huge amount of people who are focused on health and wellness and that’s the part we don’t get to see very often. So the It’s Time Texas Community Challenge gives us the opportunity to showcase that.”

We have such a huge amount of people who are focused on health and wellness and that’s the part we don’t get to see very often. So the It’s Time Texas Community Challenge gives us the opportunity to showcase that.”

Jolee Perez, executite committee of the McAllen Mayor’s Wellness Council

School districts in South Texas are also taking the challenge, including the McAllen Independent School District, which took 2nd place in the 2019 school district category. Harlingen ISD won the school division last year.

The South Texas border region has been struggling for years to shed the perception that it is filled with obesity. This began when a Gallup Poll in 2012 named the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metro as the most obese in the nation, and did so again in 2013.

In 2018, McAllen was named in a study as having the highest share of obese adults at 44.9%, which is 2.5 times higher than in San Francisco, the metro area with the lowest obesity rate at 17.85%. The study also found the McAllen metro — which included the South Texas towns of Edinburg and Mission — to have the highest share of physically inactive adults at 36.9%. And that year was ranked as the third Fattest City in America.

Perez concedes that many people in South Texas struggle with obesity and heart issues and diabetes, but she says there are many healthy and motivated people here, as well.

“We use the ITT challenge as a way to show and represent the part of our community that doesn’t get represented in those studies and that’s the part of the community that takes the initiative to engage in their own health,” Perez said. “It can be baby steps to huge steps, can be doing a marathon or adding more water or just walking in their schedule.”

Winning communities receive some funds, which most put back toward health initiatives in their communities. And top scorers can win online prizes each week, including HEB gift cards and other prizes.

“We really hope to promote the fact that it doesn’t have to be really hard to get started. It can happen in small steps and small increments. And we really believe that doing it together is better,” said Tracy Walker, senior director of marketing and events for It’s Time Texas.

The challenge is open to anyone living in Texas. Participants log online, or on their phones, whenever they finish a fitness activity, eat healthy meals, increase their water consumption, or just take a brisk stroll. Extra points are given for taking selfies while exercising, watching informative health videos at the organization’s website, or participating in a community exercise, like McAllen’s monthly walks with the mayor.

“It’s very important because we’ve seen a high rate of diabetes, not only in South Texas but across our state,” Walker said.” We believe every Texan should have access to a healthy life and to a life where Texans can thrive and be their best and their healthiest and their happiest. We know that is only accomplished through good health. Health impacts everything. Without good health it’s hard to keep a job, it’s expensive, it’s hard to stay in school or be a good mom or dad when your health is failing. We hope this lifestyle challenge will help people to track their healthy behaviors and begin to adopt new ways of doing things.”

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at

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