Cook County was awarded a two-year, $16 million federal grant for obesity prevention on Friday.
The money comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, said Dr. Stephen Martin Jr., chief operating officer of the county public health department. It will be used for programs in suburban Cook County that aim to fight obesity, he said.
About 40 percent of children and 63 percent of adults in suburban Cook are either obese or overweight, he said.
"We have more obese and overweight adults than the entire population of Montana," Martin said. Montana's population was 974,989 in July 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The school was selected for the announcement because it promotes fitness, Blue Island Mayor Donald Peloquin said.
Students there and at nearby Revere Elementary School are encouraged to walk or ride bikes to and from school, Principal Bob Hildreth said. It eases traffic and promotes good health, he said.
Sixty percent of kids in Blue Island walk or bike to school, Peloquin said.
"This is an older, established town. People here walk everywhere," he said.
Martin, who stays trim by working out regularly at the Homewood-Flossmoor Racquet & Fitness Club with his 14-year-old daughter, said obesity is costly in many ways.
It is linked with increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, cancer and heart disease, he said.
"We spend $3.5 billion a year in Illinois on health related costs because of obesity," said Martin, of Country Club Hills.
Martin said Cook County School District 130, with a fitness reimbursement program for employees, is a good example for groups who might want to apply for a cut of the federal money.
District 130 reimburses its 600 employees $100 each annually for fitness-related expanses such as joining a health club or Weight Watchers, Supt. Raymond Lauk said.
A total of $372.8 million in federal money was awarded Friday to 44 communities nationwide, Thomas said.
Cook County Board member Deborah Sims (D-Chicago) urged parents to get their children to play outside.
"When we were younger, we didn't have the GameBoys or TV time kids have today. We played games outside. I recall my cousin rolling a tire down the street," Sims said.