Written by Theresa Conejo, RN
Great Rivers Affiliate Board member and You're the Cure Advocate
I recently had the privilege of attending the invite-only Salud America Summit held in San Antonio Texas, May 15-17, 2013. The event, entitled “Supporting Change for Healthier Communities to Reduce/Prevent Obesity in Latino Kids,” gathered over 150 researchers, policy analysts, public health advocates and elected leaders to discuss the most pressing health concerns facing the U.S. Latino community.
As part of its national initiative to reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity by 2015, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation established Salud America! as a national program with a five-year, $5.2 million grant. The network is headquartered at and directed by the Institute for Health Promotion Research (IHPR) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
Once under the auspice of “childhood obesity,” grassroots activists and researchers painted a much broader and more complex picture: many of the health challenges facing the Latino community is systemic and environmental. We must implement policies that bring physical education back to schools, build parks and bike lanes to promote outdoor activity, make sure that all communities have access to fresh produce, and curb junk food marketing to children — which is increasingly becoming digital and harder for parents to monitor on their own.
“Don’t reduce obesity to a disease that needs to be cured,” said Dr. George Flores, program manager for The California Endowment’s Healthy California Prevention team, “It’s an opportunity for equity.”
Latinos are the largest minority group in the country, accounting for 50.5 million people in 2010. Today, 38.2 percent of Latino children, the largest, youngest, and fastest growing segment of the youth population, are obese or overweight. With young Latinos comprising 33.5 percent of the next generation of workers, this is a catastrophic situation with implications and huge health care costs into the future. “The increasing presence of Latinos in the United States will impact all institutions,” said Dr. Rogelio Sáenz, Dean of the College of Public Policy at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
In terms of health epidemics facing the community, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, there is a lot of grassroots energy on the ground to turn this around. Latino elected officials,with the help of their constituents, are helping transform “food deserts” and neighborhoods dotted by crime and blight into healthy-living hubs. Latino youth and parents especially are empowered and demanding that healthy food options be available in their local supermarkets and schools. New York Assemblyman Felix Ortiz described how he created a law that provides farmers with economic relief by requiring schools to purchase locally grown produce, a law to ensure that nutritionally based education programs be a part of every classroom and a law to create five eating disorder centers across the state to help those who suffer from disorders like bulimia and anorexia.
American Heart Association’s Jill Birnbaum was a guest speaker and introduced to the group an AHA partnership with Robert Wood Johnson, Voices for Healthy Kids, that will focus on childhood obesity and public policy campaigns surrounding the issue.
Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, American Heart Association’s deputy chief medical officer gave the audience a picture of today’s Latino youth in regards to education and obesity. In his presentation “ Obesidad y Sabre Peso,” BMI statistics are shared. “Genetics loads the gun, lifestyle pulls the trigger,” said Dr. Sanchez.
The highlight of the event was listening to and meeting the Mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro. He and his administration have taken on the challenge of installing bike stations, increasing the number of salad bars in schools and making healthy living a priority in San Antonio.
I strongly encourage everyone to go to the Salud America website and sign up for their blog. You can also search through the PreventObesity.net directories to find people and organizations, like the American Heart Association, that are working to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic.