May 5, 2006

Healthy food, healthy Latino children

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

Andy Padilla said it very clear: “Everybody up, let’s do some exercise!”

The upbeat merengue music made all the mothers and fathers to get on their feet and start doing all the movements that Padilla was proposing.

“We can do it, raza! Let’s move that waist! Dénme un grito! Beautiful!”

Padilla, who’s a health education specialist with Health Net, has the job of encouraging people to be more physically active and to lead a healthier life style.

That’s the reason he was present on Tuesday, Abril 25, at an event that tried to educate Latino parents about how to prevent child obesity in their children. The event took place at Olivewood Elementary, in National City, and more than 100 parents participated.

The purpose of the presentation, which is part of the “Stay fit. Eat right. Looking good, California!” campaign organized by the California School Nutrition Association (CSNA), is to provide education and resources to Latino families regarding childhood obesity and the associated risks specific to the Latino population.

This is part of a statewide initiative of CSNA and Health Net of California. National City was the first of 10 cities where there will be Spanish-language presentations.

The event, which was an “open house” at the school cafeteria, was completely in Spanish and speakers talked about the nutritional, physical, and cultural elements that contribute to the alarming rise in obesity and Type-2 Diabetes facing Latino children in California.

Gabriela Pacheco, registered dietitian for CSNA, said that the event was to create concience among Latino parents.

“This is a good place to tell parents that the responsability for children to have a good nutrition belongs to everybody, including parents, school cafeterias, and restaurants,” she said.

Pacheco said that school cafeterias in California follow a strict meal plan for children that eliminates harmful products and replace them with healthier products.

Rita Cruz Gallegos, director of Latino programs for Health Net, said that the nutrition that children get at school cafeterias is a good example of good eating habits, but she added that it’s important for children to get a good example at home as well.

“If children are already eating healthy at school, we want parents to continue with a healthy menu at home. We want there to be a balance,” she said.

Statistics about Latino children health in California are trully alarming.

“Health problems among Latinos are very serious,” Pacheco said. “Diseases that in the past were only common in adults, now are common among children as well.”

In California, 40.8 percent of Latino fifth-grade students in the 2004-2005 school year were overweight.

Also, 61 percent of children don’t play outside nor do they do physical activity after school.

More than one out of three Latino teens in California is overweight or is at risk of being overweight.

Latinas born in 2000, have a 52.5 percent chance of developing diabetes. Also, Latinos born in that same year have a 45.4 percent chance of developing the disease.

There are several reasons that cause these statistics, among them are that children are eating more junk food and at the same time doing less physical activity, Pacheco said.

But all of this can be reduced if Latino families start eating healthy meals and develop more physical activity habits, she said.

“Set a good example for your children,” Pacheco said.

A good start is to replace pork lard with olive oil. Also, instead of whole milk, try non-fat milk.

Although it’s true that insecurity in our streets makes many parents not want to let their children play outside, Padilla said that dancing inside the house, as a family, helps our bodies.

“It’s never too late to start doing exercise,” Padilla said.

For more information on how to keep your family healthy, visit www.stayfiteatright.org.

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