More than 60 cheer teams performed their routines in a competitive event Sunday to benefit a communitywide initiative that promotes health among young people.

The fifth annual Independent Health Foundation’s Fitness for Kids Cheer Challenge attracted more than 950 athletes who participated in six divisions in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. More than 2,000 people attended the competition.

Proceeds support the Fitness for Kids Challenge, a health education program aimed at elementary-age kids.

“It’s all about fitness, nutrition and [building] self-esteem in fun and engaging ways,” said Carrie Meyer, executive director of the foundation.

The initiative aims to curb the rising rates of obesity and diabetes among young Western New Yorkers, with a focus on inner-city youngsters.

In 2008, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese, exposing them to risk factors for Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. During the past 30 years, childhood obesity has more than tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the percentage of children who were obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to almost 20 percent in 2008. Obesity among adolescents increased to 18 percent from 5 percent in the same period.

Through various activities – including after-school programs, assemblies and cooking demonstrations – the initiative encourages children to engage in fitness activities and make healthy food choices. It also arms parents with educational tips to help their children make healthier decisions.

The challenge aspect of the initiative awards prizes and money to schools that are the most active and enrolls the greatest numbers of youngsters in the programs and activities.

The top 10 Fit Kids Challenge schools with the highest percentage of student participation will each receive a $1,000 grant to purchase fitness equipment or enhance their nutrition and wellness programs. The prize money will come from proceeds of Sunday’s competition.

The cheer teams hailed from various schools and community squads, including the Buffalo Envy All Stars, Wheatfield Town Cheerleading and Maryvale High School, with members as young as 3 and as old as college age. The teams competed for trophies in six categories, including recreational pee wee, all-stars, medium varsity and dance junior jazz. Along with being the main fundraiser for the Fit Kids Challenge, the event is also a U.S. Final qualifying event for competitive cheering teams.

While the nation’s childhood obesity crisis doesn’t discriminate, inner-city youngsters are more vulnerable due to a lack of education and access to healthier food options. Often, lower-income communities are without supermarkets that sell fresh fruit and vegetables, but instead have an abundance of fast-food restaurants and corner stores. That’s why Fit Kids Challenge adopts mostly inner-city schools, Meyer said.

“We try to go where the kids don’t have the resources,” she said.