OAK HILLS Wyatt Benson may only be 11 years old, but community leaders and Inland Empire health officials believe he is wise beyond his years.


In May, during California State University, San Bernardino's presentation of the HBO video series "Weight of the Nation," Benson mesmerized representatives from Kaiser Permanent, San Bernardino County and the city of Ontario when he asked how he could make a difference.


"Someone on the panel mentioned that Wyatt set the tone for the whole evening," said Wyatt's mother, Dede. "I decided to bring him along, and he was pretty passionate about helping out."


Benson said he did not want to be like the average presentation attendee who listens to the information, then goes home and forgets what they heard.


"I wanted to live up to it, and do something about it," Benson said. "That was my feeling."


During the video presentation, Benson was moved by scenes of children eating junk food, and playing in parking lots due to the lack of parks in some municipalities.


"I felt bad for the kids that didn't have a place to play. I didn't want my classmates and friends to go down that same road," Benson said. "I think we have one park in Phelan."


Seeing his passion, Kaiser officials gave Benson his own screening kit, and told him they would support his efforts to spread the news.


After talking with his parents, Wyatt's mother approached Dale Levine, principal at The Heritage School in Phelan, to share her son's idea about creating a program that would focus on healthy eating habits, exercise, obesity prevention and nutrition.


During the summer break, Benson and Levine worked together to create The Healthy Heritage Program: a year-long program for students and their parents, and geared around the HBO presentation.


"Because the focus has been on educational standards, which is very important, I've seen health programs in various schools slowly be eliminated over the years," Levine said. "We need to focus on the whole child, and being healthy is a part of that plan."


The Healthy Heritage program will begin with a health and activity expo on Sept. 13 at the school.


"Dede and Wyatt have been instrumental in giving support to Heritage, and to many of our programs," Levine said. "We are a smaller school, with a lot of parent involvement."


Benson's enthusiasm has also gotten the attention of Kevin Mahany, director of advocacy and healthy communities for St. Joseph Health, St. Mary.


"Wyatt is an intelligent young man who can really communicate his passion," Mahany said. "One thing we are going to look at is how can we, as a group of cities, play a supporting role in spreading the news of healthy eating and exercise to the next generation."


After speaking with Mahany, Benson said he is ready to help spread the news at his school and across the High Desert.


"What the school is doing is fantastic, and getting the youth charged up about a healthy promotion is really powerful," Mahany said. "This is how a generation is changed."


Information on the school health expo can be found at www.snowlineschools.com/schools or by calling (760) 868-2422.


Rene De La Cruz can be reached at mrrenedelacruz@gmail.com.