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Changing Perceptions of Childhood Obesity Within the Latino Community


With childhood obesity continuing to hit harder in the Latino community, 30 Hispanic journalists gathered in Los Angeles last month to hear experts talk about solutions. The panel discussion, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), was part of a daylong National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) Region 8 Conference at the University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.

The journalists represented outlets spanning national and local broadcast, print and online media, including Univision, KCPP 89.9 FM (California’s leading NPR-affiliate station) and The Orange County Register.

Abelardo de la Peña, editor of, moderated the event. The panelists work on childhood obesity prevention at the community, school and research levels:

Rosa Sosa is project director of Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities – Baldwin Park and regional director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. The Baldwin Park program has helped cut the number of overweight students by 13 percent during the past several years.

Corina Ulloa is program coordinator of the El Monte School District’s Network for a Healthy California. El Monte includes Rio Hondo Elementary School, only the second school in the nation to receive the Alliance for a Healthy Generation’s Healthy Schools Program Gold award.

Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanti, PhD, is associate professor of research at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and co-principal investigator of the USC Childhood Obesity Research Center’s MY LA (Minority Youth Leaders in Action) Camp Program.

The journalists asked about how to change Latinos’ attitudes toward weight and health and how obesity rates differ by communities and populations. The panelists addressed the cultural perception that “a chubby baby is a healthy baby” and stressed how this view shifts once parents better understood food choices.

They noted that although many traditional Latino recipes include healthy foods like mango and black bean salsa, families who immigrate from Central and South American countries often begin eating far less healthy in the midst of this country’s plentiful fast food restaurants.

The comparison was made to tobacco use and the impact of policy change on how the public views smoking. But Dr. Baezconde-Garbanati pointed out one key difference.

“You can tell people ‘don’t smoke,’ [but] you can’t tell people not to eat,” she said.

RWJF and NAHJ previously partnered on three regional conferences in New York and Miami, which covered childhood obesity and topics such as the social determinants of health and the need for a more diverse health care workforce.

The next regional conference is scheduled for San Antonio during Hispanic Heritage Month.

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