SHIPROCK — The odds are slightly in favor of the U.S. surgeon general when it comes to health, but Tse' Bit' Ai Middle School students tried their best Wednesday to one-up the nation's leading physician.

Acting Surgeon General Steven Galson competed against the school's reigning Dance Dance Revolution champions in a contest Galson said was doomed from the start.

"I've tried it before," he said of the music video game, "but it seems like only people under the age of 20 can do it."

Galson eventually forfeited the competition.

The acting surgeon general visited the school for the dedication of its new wellness center, a room adjacent to the gymnasium packed with teen-friendly exercise equipment, including Dance Dance Revolution pads and Wii consoles. He also tossed Frisbees into the crowd and took a test spin on a bicycle, proving that exercise can be fun at any age.

The wellness center will be used in conjunction with physical education classes, and Bill Noland, interim superintendent for the Central Consolidated School District, encouraged students to use the equipment as often as possible.

"This is a great day for Tse' Bit' Ai," he said. "This is a great asset to this school. There is a train of thought that if you're healthy and well, then you're academically alert. I encourage you to take advantage of that at every opportunity."

Galson's visit was part of a nationwide tour to promote fitness and healthy eating, habits he told students will help ensure long, healthy lives. The tour, backed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' "Healthy Youth for a Healthy Future" initiative, has included stops in more than 30 states.

"The idea is to bring attention to the local efforts, to really show that with this particular health challenge, childhood obesity, that what happens in the local community makes a big difference," he said. "Talking about healthy eating and physical activity in the community makes a big difference. Having a consistent message and having everybody participate in it at the same time is what's really going to turn this ship around."

The statistics are alarming, Galson said. More than 12 million — or 17 percent — of children and teens ages 2 to 19 are overweight. An additional 17 percent are at risk of becoming overweight, according to U.S. Health and Human Services data, and overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.

Childhood obesity rates have more than tripled since 1980, and overweight and obese children are more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases or diabetes later in life, Galson said.

"This is going to mean more dialysis, more eye problems and blindness, more arthritis and other health problems," he said. "We are really focused on prevention. The way you prevent disease development and the development of medical conditions is by intervening, and the earlier, the better."

Galson said he likes to target students in junior high school or younger. It's the age when teens are starting to pay more attention to physical appearance, and the time when healthy habits are most easily formed, he said.

"They want to look good, and they're willing to do the extra work," he said. "The future can be healthier. We can look forward to less health care expenditures, longer lives, healthier lives."

Alysa Landry: alandry@daily-times.com