WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, OH -- Hoping to promote wellness and weight loss through camaraderie and enjoyable activities, Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) officials introduced a command-wide competition that relies on concerted efforts of people supporting and motivating one another.

"Just like it has an impact on the nation, being overweight, coupled with poor exercise habits, has a significant bearing on the health, well-being and readiness of our AFMC military and civilian Airmen," says Lt. Gen. Terry L. Gabreski, the AFMC vice commander.

Team Lean Challenge (TLC) kicked off Monday and runs through Sept. 28. The challenge is part of AFMC's ongoing wellness and safety campaign that debuted in May 2006.

"TLC is based on the recognition that weight loss and behavioral change requires concerted effort and is much more likely to be successful with the direct support of other people, specifically, that of a team," says Lt. Col. John Leitnaker with the AFMC Command Surgeon's Office. "The program will enroll participants into five-person teams, which in turn will facilitate the team concept throughout units, installations and even the command."

The team with the highest percentage of weight loss -- not necessarily the amount of weight loss -- wins the challenge. Many people will be more motivated by things like decreased health risks, less joint pain, more energy and improved physical appearance, Leitnaker says. Still, others are already preparing for the changes in the active-duty rating system and want to get the weight off before it contributes to a "does not meet standards" rating, he says.

The command's wellness program has its roots in a Web-based tool called the health risk appraisal (HRA).

"The HRA is a key component of corporate wellness programs across America," says Gen. Bruce Carlson, the AFMC commander. "It provides individualized, real-time, wellness-related information and feedback to workers, allowing them to make informed decisions in a number of important wellness categories."

The HRA is a voluntary and anonymous initiative that is part of the command's overall movement toward a wellness-focused and safe work place, Leitnaker said. By providing access to information and resources tailored to their needs, it helps each individual take charge of their own wellness.

While it is voluntary, completion of the HRA is required to access the AFMC Wellness Web site, as well as to become a TLC team player. Once an HRA is completed, AFMC members can begin their TLC enrollment. Individuals may build five-member teams from their unit or base. Otherwise, they will be teamed with four other TLC partners in weight loss.

After registering, individuals must attend a weigh-in, sponsored by their local health and wellness center and civilian health promotion service. Both an initial weigh-in, between March 19 and April 13, and a final weigh-out, after the challenge concludes Sept. 28, are required. The weigh-in is a prerequisite for being assigned to a team, Leitnaker says.

Once teams have been identified, team members connect and build their game plan by listing goals and how they want to make them happen.

Teams will have opportunities to share their progress through the TLC Web site. Team players will be able to see pounds lost or gained (not actual weight of individuals) of their own team members. They also will be able to see the weight loss progress of other teams but not that of the individual team members.

Additionally, teammates can have communication exchanges and encourage one another through their own team blog. Participants will receive weekly support messages and other helpful information.

Awards will be presented for the winning team at each installation. The unit awards will be based on the greatest amount of weight lost per unit member (total amount of weight lost/number of unit members). The winning installation awards will be based on the same criteria.