Study on obesity rates in pre-schoolers doesn’t take into account cultural nuances of Latino culture


LatinaLista– When it comes to childhood obesity, Latino children, unfortunately, are winning this race.

Weight gain in Latino children has long been associated with not eating healthy — in low-income, urban settings actual grocery stores can be a rare commodity; not getting enough exercise — attributed to the fact that these same children either live in high-crime areas or come home to empty houses because their parents work and so stay inside their homes, not getting physical exercise; and the possibility of it being genetic.

A new study released today in the journal Pediatrics, finds that three “household routines” practiced by pre-schoolers and their families can predetermine the likelihood of childhood obesity: eating regularly with the family at dinnertime; getting enough sleep and limiting TV time.

The study found that there was a 40 percent reduction among preschoolers if they ate 5 nights a week together with their family; got 10.5 hours of sleep each night and only watched two hours of TV a day.

While these findings are common sense they still don’t address the particular nuances of culture that can also impact weight gain in Latino children.

Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, director of the SaludToday blog (a blogBeat Partner) and Salud America! , a research network established to specifically address obesity prevention among Latino children, headquartered at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, shares with Latina Lista her thoughts on today’s study:

We all know Latinos have an extremely strong sense of family values, so it is important to establish positive family patterns – like regular sleep, family meals and limited TV, as the study suggests – in addition to the hallmarks of regular activity and eating right.

For example, a study by Dr. Darcy Thompson, a member of Salud America! and a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, found that TV can negatively impact a child’s health, whether the message is in English or Spanish.

Research has shown that TV ads influence English-speaking children, and Dr. Thompson’s study found that Spanish-language TV also is exposing children to so many fast-food commercials that it may be contributing to rising Latino childhood obesity rates.

So it makes sense that limiting a child’s TV time could help lower obesity, given that the child wouldn’t be exposed to as many “junk food” ads and might otherwise spend that time doing physical activities.

Another important factor the study highlights is eating family meals. Dr. Guadalupe Ayala, a member of the Salud America! National Advisory Committee and a researcher at San Diego State University, has shown that Hispanic children who eat at the homes of friends or relatives are more likely to gain weight.

Eating frequently in the homes of others, such as a large family gathering where food is the focus that brings people together, or eating frequently at fast-food or less-healthy restaurants places Latino children at higher risk for obesity. So the Latino family meal becomes very important – and it’s a great opportunity to get children involved in cooking meals and using healthy ingredients to make healthy family meals.

In the end, it’s important to keep in mind just how complicated an issue childhood obesity is for Latinos. The focus can’t be just on one thing. Latino children, who have some of the highest rates of obesity, tend to: consume too much total and saturated fat, cholesterol, added sugar and sodium; have less access to healthy foods in their neighborhoods; watch more TV a day (3:23 hours a day, compared to 2:45 minutes for non-Hispanic whites); play less in organized sports (1 in 4 Latino children play organized sports, vs. 1 in 2 white children); and have less access to safe neighborhood parks or play areas. Efforts to solve this epidemic must attack the issue on all of these fronts.

The Salud America! network is comprised of academic researchers involved with ongoing work to reduce and eliminate the epidemic of obesity in Latino children. The public can find out more about these researchers and their efforts at Salud America! web site.