More than 100 school employees in Pima County have signed up to be "wellness coordinators" as part of a nearly $16 million, two-year effort to curb and prevent obesity.

The county Health Department, which is administering the $15.7 million federal anti-obesity grant, says the school employees will be establishing student-health advisory councils in local schools beginning next year.

Those councils, which will include administrators, teachers, students, community representatives, parents and food service workers, will work on optimizing physical activity and nutrition in each school, officials say.

They say the aim is to foster a "culture change" to strengthen the link between student health and learning. Some of the grant money will go toward providing physical-activity equipment, fitness and nutrition education, and health and wellness training at schools with certified coordinators. The University of Arizona is overseeing the wellness-coordinator program.

The program is for every public school in Pima County except charter schools. The wellness coordinators will each receive a $1,500 stipend.

While most local students receive physical education as part of their curriculum, there's no Arizona law mandating that schools offer it. As a result, the time that students spend being active at school varies widely.

The UA is heading four of the eight teams part of the federal grant and will get the largest share of the $9 million that has been budgeted for those teams. The teams are headed by the UA, the YMCA of Southern Arizona, the Carondelet Health Network, Activate Tucson and the Community Food Bank.

The remaining $6.7 million of the grant money is going to salaries, advertising, a website and small projects - for example, if a neighborhood association or school wanted shade trees and benches for its playground.

The local funds are part of $373 million awarded to 44 communities nationwide from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economic-stimulus package. Pima County was the only Arizona recipient.

Obesity creates significant health costs because it boosts the risk of chronic conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

More than one-quarter of Arizona adults are considered obese, which means they have a body-mass index of 30 or more. Arizona ranks 29th in the country for adult obesity and 15th for childhood obesity, says this year's "F as in Fat" report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America's Health.

Nearly 18 percent of Arizona children 10 to 17 are obese, the report says. The data also say fewer than one-third of Arizona kids ages 6 through 17 participate in vigorous daily physical activity.

Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at or 573-4134.

Southern Arizona children are suffering from adult afflictions — and doctors blame it on a troubling surge in childhood obesity.

In Arizona 31 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 are overweight or obese, experts say. Lifestyle, diet and genetics play a role, but the biggest common denominator among them is socioeconomic.

"It's an amazingly paradoxical problem," says Dr. Tracey Kurtzman, an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Arizona's College of Medicine. "If you think about poor people in the rest of the world, they are emaciated and skinny and impoverished and malnourished. Here, our poor population is malnourished with too much."

Part 1
Abundant fat, starch, sugar force adult ailments on kids

Part 2
School's 'Wicked Witch' sweeps out the 'no' foods