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Sylvia E. Meléndez-Klinger

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Tipping the Scales for Equal Access: The Fight to Bring the Latino Community Out of an Obesity Crisis

Posted: 05/14/2012 1:00 pm

This month, the weight of our nation is in the hot seat. There will be no more dodging the issue - as the Center for Disease Control, Institute of Medicine (IOM) and HBO have all teamed up to address America's big problem. Beginning May 14, HBO will air its four-part series on obesity, titled "The Weight of the Nation," which comes after the IOM issued a report on the topic and CDC held a conference in Washington, D.C.
 
And when HBO airs its documentary this week, it will be clear that obesity does not only weigh on the hearts of mainstream America - but it also tips the scales as the Latino community's most daunting health problem. The truth is Hispanics have the second highest obesity rate at 37.9%.
 
In the documentary, one expert asked a paralyzing question concerning Latinos living in low income communities: Does one's zip code play a larger role than genetics when determining one's likelihood of being obese?
 
The documentary seems to imply the answer may be yes. Unfortunately, it's widely known that many families in this country have extremely limited access to fitness and health facilities and safe playgrounds. The film shows how many low-income Latino communities live in disparaging conditions that make it hardly possible for residents to lead healthful, active lives. Cut to a particularly poignant scene where a group of Latino mothers are fighting for a playground in their community, because there is no safe area for children/families to play. Unfortunately, for the most part, those living in similar communities have not had the resources to, or are not informed enough, to fight to improve this situation themselves.
 
But are parks and playgrounds that important to our health and the future health of our children? A study funded by the National Institutes of Health, published in 2010 in the New England Journal of Medicine supported the claim that calorie balance - that is, equalizing our food and drink consumption with calories burned through physical activity - is what truly matters. And this aligns with my experience as a registered dietitian working with the Hispanic population for over 25 years. 
 
Some experts in the documentary agreed and pointed out, "it's easy to consume calories but too hard to expend calories." And that is why, mi gente, I think we should stop putting the blame on what we eat and using scare tactics to try to get people to avoid certain foods and drinks. Everything from red meat, butter, sugar, pastas, bread, sodas, candy bars, and even fast food, are fine in moderation, according to government nutritional guidelines. Instead, as a solution to our obesity crisis, place more of a focus on comprehensive efforts to educate people on the importance of balancing calories with exercise by participating in daily physical activity. I realize this will be an uphill battle for all.
 
As "The Weight of the Nation" clearly shows, it literally takes a village to make a change. We should all applaud the mothers in the films who pushed the government to develop a park for their children and work together to help our community - from the government to healthcare industry to even private food and beverage companies who are willing to pitch in and contribute by way of community programs and parks. For example, the Coca-Cola Company, who was referenced in the "The Weight of the Nation", has provided state of the art exercise equipment to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, donated millions of dollars for the preservation of state parks and created local gyms in underserved communities.
 
The bottom line is if we don't literally fight to help our local communities get more active, how can we ever tip the scales on our obesity crisis?

 

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