Childhood Obesity Among Latinos

By Dr. Eduardo Sanchez

Families are at the center of the Latino community -- and the family is where we need to begin to tackle our most pressing health issues.

A recent study by the American Heart Association suggests certain ethnicities, including Latinos, are more likely to gain weight in childhood. This means we should begin early teaching our children and their families to eat healthy and to be physically active.

According to Salud America!, a research network funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, more than 39 percent of Latinos ages two to 19 are overweight or obese, compared to almost 32 percent of all children in the United States.

Latino preschoolers are four times more likely to be obese compared to non-Hispanic white children. These higher rates of obesity place our children at risk of prematurely developing chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

It's a troubling trend that is important not only to our own familias, but to the entire country. Latino children comprise 22 percent of all youth in the United States, representing the largest, youngest and fastest-growing group in the nation. Overweight and obese children tend to become obese adults.

We can begin to reverse these trends in the home with simple steps. Let's teach our children and their families how to cook our traditional recipes in the healthiest way. Let's engage in traditional, simple and fun activities like dancing, playing soccer or baseball.

Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. So, let's set limits on screen time, which can lead to a sedentary lifestyle and an increase in snacking. Let's get moving together. The American Heart Association recommends kids and teens participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day.

Getting rid of extra weight reduces the burden on the heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton. When we give ourselves the gift of active living, we improve our health and feel better, too.

As adults and our children's caretakers, we also need to learn to take care of ourselves.

One important way to do that is to learn about Life's Simple 7. These seven steps, with resources available in English or Spanish on how to take action, can improve heart health: managing blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, reducing blood sugar, getting active, eating healthier, losing weight and quitting smoking.

Each step is not expensive and even modest improvements along the way can reap big health rewards. We can eat healthier as families, teach our children the dances or our parents and grandparents, add play tag or soccer with our children in our yards or parks.

Our children are our future. Let's make sure we give them our best and show them what a healthy lifestyle looks like. Let's continue to strengthen our families.

¡Es por nuestra salud!

Dr. Eduardo Sanchez is chief medical officer for prevention at the American Heart Association.