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Can the Poor Rates of College-Bound Latinas be Blamed on Obesity?

LatinaLista — According to a new poll released yesterday by the National Council of La Raza and Ed in ’08, “a candidate’s position on education will have a greater impact on Latino voters than their positions on any other issue – including immigration and health care – and that Latinos believe nearly unanimously that improving public education should be a “very important priority” for the next president.”
Among the poll’s findings, one of the key points was:
Latino voters consider the high dropout rate among Latino students to be the greatest educational problem for the Latino community in the U.S.
That is true.
It is the million dollar question that needs a million dollar prize money award to get people to creatively think how to stem the high dropout rate.
As equally puzzling is why don’t more Latino youth think about going on to college?
If the results of a new study from the University of Texas are any indication, the answer may be staring at us all in the cara (face).

The title of the research study by University of Texas sociologist Robert Crosnoe says it all: Obese Girls Less Likely to Attend College, Research Shows.

Crosnoe suggests a number of mental health and behavioral issues seem to play a significant role in keeping obese girls from enrolling in college. The study found obese girls were more likely to consider committing suicide, use alcohol and marijuana and have negative self-images.
The disconnect between obesity and college enrollment was more pronounced among non-whites and among girls whose parents did not graduate from college. Obese boys did not differ from their non-obese peers in college enrollment.
“That girls are far more vulnerable to the non-health risks of obesity reinforces the notion that body image is more important to girls’ self-concept and that social norms have greater effects on the education of girls than boys,” Crosnoe noted.

Though Dr. Crosnoe doesn’t come out and specifically target Latinas in his research and seems to be saying that Latinas are at less risk than white girls, it’s a fact that young Latinas have strong issues with their weight and also exhibit high suicide rates.
Researchers have always tried to explain the suicide rates as a byproduct of the convergence of traditional cultural expectations with trying to fit into mainstream America. Not able to please everyone and feeling overwhelmed, the girls opt out.
But that seems too simplistic.
In this age where every young girl wants to be skinny to fit into those skinny jeans or look like Jessica Alba, it makes sense that all those girls who don’t fit the abnorm, and who don’t have a strong support system at home, would have a very poor self-image.

We already know that obesity is one and a half times more common in Mexican American women than in the general female population.
Couple that with the prevalent attitude on college campuses, that are dominated by extreme body-conscious Anglo girls, then it’s no wonder that obese girls, who had to sit next to the girls who starved themselves for beauty’s sake in high school, would not want to subject themselves to further torture of not looking like the majority by sitting by these same girls in college.
Which spells doom for a higher educated Latina workforce.
So, what’s to be done?
Create curriculum that follows Latina students from elementary into high school that focuses on all the components of what it takes to have a good self-image.
Interject an understanding that everyone has different body types and we must be true to what we were born with. Teach that if changes want to be made, there are healthy ways to go about doing it.
And lastly, teach them to love themselves so that in the end it doesn’t matter if they’re not skinny enough — they can walk the runway of life with their heads held high!
(A little corny but so true.)

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  • Jose
    July 24, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    Dude, real women have curves. Yes, that’s an inference to the movie, and I would put my left hand up in court for that one. Not to say that thinner women aren’t beautiful in their own right, but man. Things like this make me sad …

  • webmaster
    July 25, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    Self esteem issues in HS most certainly impact how one projects herself in the classroom and in efforts to get into college. This issue is worth exploring more. Beyond the entry into higher education issue, there is also the wage gap. Employers tend to discriminate against overweight workers more often.
    I think that young Latinas would benefit from same sex classrooms in certain subjects. Body image could be addressed without the boys, so could subjects like math and science, where girls often feel intimidated to speak up.
    Mt. St. Mary’s College has an exceptional record of working with Latinas in inner city Los Angeles, and I believe that their program succeeds primarily because it is a small women’s college. When you take men out of their element, women come together and work better in many cases.

  • coach diesel
    July 26, 2007 at 7:46 am

    In 9th grade health, I did an entire unit on self-esteem. All the kids did self-portraits where they worked with a partner (same sex). The partner was supposed to be a mirror and tell them through writing, how much their drawing actually reflected their body. I noticed big disparities in self-portraits when comparing the drawings of the IB kids and the regular kids. IB kids had a healthier overall self-esteem and took their time with the drawings, which reflected pride in work as well as in appearance. The kids with the most disturbing drawings also had expressed insecurity with their looks. Girls tended to layer as many brands of clothing as possible onto a figure that had arrows pointing to all the body parts they were working on. Boys who drew small, dark stick figures (no face, hands or feet) tended to obsess aloud about gaining weight (muscles) and not being too skinny!

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