With Thanksgiving around the corner, most of us are making preparations for a day of feasting. However, as we give thanks for the nourishment of food and family, we must remember that putting healthy food on the table every day is a tremendous struggle for many American families, including Latinos. In fact, when it comes to nutrition, Latino children are in the midst of a crisis. New food insecurity data released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) show that for the third year in a row, Hispanic children make up the largest share of children living in hunger nationwide. At the same time, Latinos are experiencing record rates of childhood overweight and obesity. What's going on?
NCLR sought to answer this question in our new research series, Profiles of Latino Health: A Closer Look at Latino Child Nutrition. The weekly installments examined critical factors affecting Latino children's nutrition, including trends in hunger, obesity, and family access to healthy foods and other resources that play important roles in children's nutritional outcomes. We found that while nutrition is certainly about the foods that Latino children consume, other factors play significant roles. The environment our children live, eat and play in is as important to child nutrition as the foods they eat. Let's consider three factors in Latino child nutrition:
1) Resources: Latinos spend the larger share of their income on food but are still the least likely to have the resources to meet even the minimum standards for an inexpensive, healthy diet under USDA guidelines. The deep poverty that too many Latino families experience often creates barriers to affordable, healthy foods.
2) Health care: Gaining access to care in early pregnancy helps women establish a healthy diet, yet Latino women are less likely to receive prenatal care. Moreover, Latino children who are overweight and obese are less likely than other children to gain access to needed nutrition counseling, in part because they are the community with the highest uninsurance levels.
3) Environment: Latinos are far less likely to live in communities that have robust sources of healthy foods. Instead they have to travel far for good food and make sacrifices in food quality.
Hispanics are the youngest, fastest-growing population in the nation. One-third of the population is under the age of 18. One out of every five school children across the U.S. is Latino, and that proportion will be nearly one in three by 2030. Undoubtedly, the fate of this country is connected to the future of Latino children. Today I stood with national and community partners at a briefing to call attention to these concerns and advance potential solutions to improve child nutrition within the Latino community.
NCLR has a history of working closely with all of the groups that came together for this briefing. We work on a regular basis with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to spread the word about the opportunities for Latino children and their families to gain access to nutritious foods through the federal nutrition programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As a complement to the First Lady's Let's Move! initiative, I am also proud to sit on the board of the Partnership for a Healthier America, an organization that is seeking to harness the ingenuity of private sector businesses and the resolve of nonprofits to help end childhood obesity.
Community-based organizations such as Mary's Center for Maternal and Child Care also have a critical role to play in solving the Latino child nutrition crisis. Mary's Center, an NCLR Affiliate, is a federally qualified health center that connects families with all the various programs and opportunities that are essential to good health.
We need to make these issues a key part of our national agenda and support policy solutions that take into account the various factors that contribute to childhood hunger and obesity. By supporting and expanding federal food and nutrition programs, investing in communities to ensure that everyone lives in neighborhoods where healthy food is available and affordable, providing access to good health care and medical advice to pregnant women, and giving parents the tools they need to be active partners in their children's nutrition, we will not only improve children's immediate health but also ensure a better future for all Americans. For more information on Latino children's nutrition, please visit our website and sign up for health and nutrition updates from NCLR.