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The Buffalo Bills and Independent Health will team up to provide more incentives for Western New York youngsters to pack exercise and healthier eating into their daily routines.

Bills President and CEO Russ Brandon and Dr. Michael W. Cropp, Independent Health president and CEO, jointly announced the partnership Tuesday at the Ralph C. Wilson Field House in Orchard Park.

The partnership – part of a growing effort across the region to develop community health and wellness strategies – will encourage children to eat better and exercise more, in school and at home, through greater collaboration between the Independent Health Foundation’s Fitness for Kids Challenge and the Buffalo Bills Play 60 Challenge.

Both programs will look to reach more elementary schoolchildren during the Bills upcoming season when it comes to in-school programming and participation incentives for schools, teachers and students.

“We are confident this partnership will have a positive impact on the health and well-being of the entire Western New York community,” Cropp said during the announcement of the five-year agreement. “At Independent Health we are committed to creating a culture of health through our member benefits and community-wide programs and partnerships.”

Added Brandon, “The Bills are looking forward to making a difference by working in lock step with Independent Health to promote healthy living in schools and throughout our region.”

Nearly one in five American children ages 6 to 11 years is considered “obese” – a nearly threefold increase since 1980, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentage among adolescents ages 12 to 19 has grown fourfold during that same period, from 5 percent to nearly 21 percent.

Findings from a study released last month and funded by the CDC and National Institutes of Health also showed that Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes increased among children and adolescents from 2001 to 2009.

“Childhood obesity leads to adult obesity, along with many other serious health conditions,” Cropp said, adding, “What were two of the main culprits according to the research? You guessed it – obesity and inactivity.”

Details on the community-wide fitness and nutrition initiative, including the establishment of a community advisory committee to help guide the partnership’s efforts, will be announced in the coming weeks.

This is the latest step by the Independent Health Foundation to address child obesity and other health challenges in the region, an effort that includes the Fitness for Kids Challenge, Soccer for Success and an annual Kids Run, the latter of which takes place today in Delaware Park.