LatinaLista — The Center for American Progress released a memo today entitled The Significance of Childhood Obesity in Communities of Color.
The memo didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know — that Latino and African American children are too fat for their own good.
Childhood obesity rates of African Americans and Hispanics increased by about 120 percent between 1986 and 1998, but among non-Hispanic whites it grew by 50 percent.
The memo, while applauding the First Lady’s new healthy lifestyle initiative called “Let’s Move!” and commending the bipartisan legislation introduced recently in Congress to improve child nutrition, called “Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act,” also pointed out that all the measures in DC trying to address childhood obesity doesn’t take into account enough the ethnic and racial disparities that contribute to the condition.
Some of the intervening factors that affect obesity rates in Hispanic and black communities include eating patterns and accessibility to healthy food options, lower levels of physical activity, the quality of the built environment, social or cultural attitudes around body weight, and reduced access to primary care or nutritional counseling. These factors may be driven by income, culture, and other dynamics that result in a disproportionate rate of obesity among black and Hispanic youth.
The popular consensus on how to combat this childhood obesity problem is three-pronged: better education for parents on how to live healthy lifestyles, updating nutritional standards for schools and improving access to parks.
While all of these suggestions sound doable, there’s only one that will see fruition — updating nutritional standards for schools.
Improving access to parks depends on two things: safety and city budgets. For many children who live in urban settings or apartment complexes, the safety issue takes precedence over slimming down. The question most parents would have to ask themselves is: Do I want my child to play outside or do I want my child to stay out of harm’s way?
A valid question. Then those parks that do have supervision, like at rec centers or public swimming pools, are seeing, if not their hours cut, their whole facilities closed down due to city budget problems.
For children for whom these types of facilities are considered much safer and provide the types of exercise children need, their closures run contradictory to the goals outlined in the Let’s Move! initiative.
Then there comes educating the parents. It’s one thing to give parents a list of foods they should buy, or shouldn’t buy, and what kind of exercises their children should be doing and for how long, but if nutritional food is not affordable and exercise is not convenient to the family schedule or transportation route, there will be no improvement in the childhood obesity rates.
There has to be an incentive that is immediate and seeable and makes children and families see past the minor obstacles to achieve the end-goal. Maybe a page needs to be taken from public libraries.
When most libraries could afford it – and some still do -, their summer reading programs were all about enticing kids to do something that was the last thing they wanted to do on summer break — read.
To get them to read, coupons were awarded to children in stages as they progressed in their reading: Read 10 books and get a coupon for a free ice cream sundae; Read 25 books and get a free kid’s meal at a restaurant; Read 40 books and get a free ticket to an amusement park.
Whether or not every child read every book they checked out, the point was they went to the library, spent time choosing a book, cracked it open for at least a few pages, maybe longer and kept track of it because they wanted those coupons.
The same can be done for families where the children need to lose weight. It has to be a community-wide effort where children can be accepted into the program and there is medical supervision attached to it.
With each milestone a child hits, they get something — a coupon to get in free to a skating rink or bowling or horseback riding, etc. The bigger milestones hit can result in free tickets to a sports event.
To help these kids in their quest to lose weight, and if they qualify as low-income, give them the opportunity to buy a Wii Fitness for a discounted price. Anecdotally speaking, the majority of children who need exercise are the ones whose parents are too afraid to let them go outside and play or there’s nothing for them to play with outside in their neighborhoods.
A video exercise game would help, not just the children, but the whole family get into shape.
Also, to help the parents, a culturally relevant cookbook should be created that uses the ingredients found already in the homes of Latinos and African Americans. The bottom line is that the only way a healthy lifestyle will be successfully adopted by families is if it’s affordable and convenient.
Nobody wants to go broke just so they can live longer! Where’s the accomplishment in that?