SAN NICOLAS DE LOS GARZA - Rows of sleek new school desks equipped with bike pedals are allowing students in Mexico to power through their class work while cranking out some light exercise, burning off calories in a country known for its alarming obesity rates.

But for the students at a high school just outside the bustling city of Monterrey, the new bike desks offer benefits beyond exercise.

"When we're physically active it also helps keep us focused," said 13-year-old Reimy Rodriguez, in her first year at Public High School 24. "It's actually incredible."

A third of all Mexicans are obese and as children age, many pack on the pounds. A recent national study showed about 8% of children under 5 were overweight or obese, which rises to almost 19% for kids between 5-11 years old.

Sanjuanita Garcia, the school's principal, points to the bike desks' post-pandemic benefits, especially for boys more vulnerable to excessive weight gain.

"After we got back to in-person classes, we began to observe lots of anxiety among our boys and how obesity shot up," she said.

"With this project, we're trying to break down the problem," she added.

The school currently features two classrooms fully decked out with the new desks, but the plan is to gradually add them to all 21 classrooms.

Miguel Ortiz, founder of the company that built them, wanted to ensure Mexican students could also benefit from the new twist on healthier classrooms after seeing a Canadian school pioneer them.

"We decided to develop a prototype at a viable cost that could be implemented here," he said, noting each bike desk costs about 2,700 pesos ($142) - about five times less than the Canadian original.

($1 = 18.9550 Mexican pesos)

(Reporting by Daniel Becerril; Additional reporting by Carolina Puilce; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)