Nelda Jasso is keenly aware of the toll that obesity takes on children. As a physical education teacher at Baker Middle School in Corpus Christi, Texas, she sees it in her students every day.

“You can tell they are bothered by it,” says Jasso. “They don’t want to run; they’ll walk. And they dress in baggy clothes.”

Then Jasso came across an initiative called the Billion Mile Race. The program, open to any US school, challenges 5- to 12-year-olds to join school-based walking and...

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