Most people associate Latino culture with delicious food, vibrant music, strong families and passionate people. These are flattering associations that have helped shape and define our cultural legacy. It's also how we see ourselves and how we want the rest of the country to see us, too.
But lately, there are new associations being made with Latino culture that are less flattering, but still have some truth nonetheless. Childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease are quickly becoming part of our identity. The Office of Minority Health estimates that nearly 4 out of 5 Mexican-American women are considered to be overweight or obese. And despite our rich legacy in sports, Latino teens are less likely to be involved in athletics and more likely to be obese when compared to teens of other backgrounds.
So instead of brushing it under the rug, we need to own it and face these endemic problems in our community. Only by acknowledging that a problem exists, can we go about taking steps to solve it.
Before the American Heart Association became a client of ours, I was unaware of how unhealthy so many Latinos were. And many Latino families are still either oblivious to this reality or have chosen to ignore it. I attribute this lack of awareness to the fact that health hasn't been a prominent topic in the cultural conversation that is taking place. Not enough of us are talking about health, asking questions about it, sharing resources or involving our children in the dialogue. This has to change, and I'm happy to see that as a community, we've started taking steps in the right direction.
With so much on their plates already, I can understand how Latino families put the subject of health on the back burner. There are economic disparities in this country that they are working hard to counter; stalled immigration reform continues to be a source of stress and anxiety for many families; and many working-age adults are bending over backwards to provide for their children and for their parents simultaneously.
But guess what? If empowering our community is as important as so many of us say it is, then we have to recognize that our upward mobility is closely tied to our ability to keep ourselves healthy. If you're not going to stay strong for yourself, how can you expect to stay strong for those that depend on you? The good news is that the more aware we are of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, the more initiative we can take to improve our health. If we can weave it into our conversations at work, at home or on social media, we'll be doing our community (and ourselves) a favor by elevating consciousness on the subject.
And what better time to start than now? May is American Stroke Month. That not only gives us 31 days to reflect upon our own health and the risk factors associated with stroke (and heart disease) -- it's also the perfect time to make fitness a family activity. Cold weather is behind us and the sun is out for longer each day throughout May, so now is the perfect time for families to enjoy a late afternoon by getting up, going outside and seizing the day!
As the Latino community continues to achieve, accomplish and break new ground, it has to do the same with health. Better health is quickly becoming contagious and you've just been infected!
Zach Fishbain is the founder of Chispa Digital, a Hispanic digital marketing agency.