AUSTIN, TX -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry challenged other United States governors to a two-week Capitol Steps Challenge, beginning Jan. 1, 2009. Each governor was encouraged to build a team of 10 to 20 cabinet-level staffers for the fitness challenge.

The winning team will receive a $50,000 donation to his or her state’s childhood obesity fund from Virgin HealthMiles and Richard Branson, chief executive officer of the Virgin Group. So far, 10 states have taken up the challenge: Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

“Across our nation, obesity rates are growing at an alarming rate, and the cost of treating obesity-related diseases and lost productivity amounts to an estimated $122.9 billion a year,” Perry said in a statement. “As governors, we must set the example for our states and highlight ways we can address preventable health problems.”

Virgin HealthMiles will supply team members with pedometers to track their daily activities, which will be uploaded to the HealthMiles Web site to track their progress. Based on these results, Virgin HealthMiles will declare the most active governor’s team in the country, based on average per person activity, at a ceremony on Feb. 21, 2009, in Washington, DC.

“It’s an honor for Virgin HealthMiles to work with Gov. Perry to bring awareness to the important issue of improving the health and wellness of citizens across the country,” Sean Forbes, president of Virgin HealthMiles, said in a statement. “Having governors join together and lead by example about the value of increased physical activity is an extremely positive message for all of us concerned with fighting obesity. We’re excited to be part of the Capitol Steps Challenge and look forward to providing a fun and engaging experience.”

The adult obesity rate in Texas is 27 percent, which is above the national average of 24.2 percent, Perry noted. Obesity cost Texas businesses an estimated $3.3 billion in 2005. That cost is expected to grow to $15.8 billion per year by 2025.