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Researchers claim progress in combatting Latino childhood obesity epidemic

LatinaLista — In September of this year, a group of researchers met in San Antonio, Texas for the second annual Scientific Summit. They met to take in the local sights, listen to one another’s presentations and basically chew the fat. For those who don’t know what “chew the fat” means, it doesn’t mean gnawing on a fatty piece of meat.

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Yet, in this case, it does mean gnawing on a serious problem plaguing the Latino community until there is a solution. The problem is childhood obesity and while researchers say it’s too premature to say they’ve solved the problem, the good news is that they’re making progress.

According to the 2nd Annual Salud America! Scientific Summit Report, a project sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, there are 20 Salud America! childhood obesity pilot projects around the country. Each of them are progressing in their field of study — nutrition, physical activity and policy issues — to the point that they are attracting attention before their studies are even complete.

For example, Dr. Shari Barkin of Vanderbilt University Medical Center is working on a project titled “Increasing Access to Physical Activity and Use of Community Recreation Centers by Latino Families to Reduce Pediatric Obesity.”

Dr. Dharma Cortes of the University of Massachusetts Boston is working on “Esto es Mejor: Improving Food Purchasing Selection Among Low-Income, Spanish-Speaking Latinos Through Social Marketing Messages.”

And Dr. Myriam Torres of the University of South Carolina’s Research Foundation is spearheading “Juntas Podemos [Together We Can]: Empowering Latinas To Shape Policy To Prevent Childhood Obesity.”

According to the researchers assembled at the summit, policy creation is an integral key in fighting childhood obesity if the group’s goal of reversing the national childhood obesity epidemic by 2015 is to be reached.

The RWJF Foundation has identified six policy priorities that will help eradicate childhood obesity in Latino communities:


Ensure that all foods and beverages served and sold in schools meet or exceed the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Increase access to high-quality, affordable foods through new or improved grocery stores and healthier corner stores and bodegas.

Increase the time, intensity and duration of physical activity during the school day and out-of-school programs.

Increase physical activity by improving the built environment in communities.

Use pricing strategies–both incentives and disincentives–to promote the purchase of healthier foods.

Reduce youth exposure to unhealthy food marketing through regulation, policy and effective industry self-regulation.

Yet, even if these policy goals were achieved, it does not mean the crisis of childhood obesity has been solved.

“Will we get there by 2015?” Dr. Laura Leviton, RWJF special advisor for evaluation, at the Summit asked. “Not unless we focus. Not unless we shift from retail approach to wholesale. Not unless we address the situation of Latinos.”

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