UC is bolstering family health in Mexican-American communities

Jul 23, 2013

Mexican-American families in Firebaugh, Calif., are getting together regularly with University of California nutrition educators this summer to learn ways to enhance their families’ diets with fresh fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile, the children are introduced to fun activities planned around healthy eating and physical activity.

The program, called Niños Sanos, Familias Sanas (Healthy Children, Healthy Families), is part of an extensive five-year research and outreach project that got underway last fall designed to help nutrition specialists understand the best way to slow the rate of obesity among Mexican-American children.

Researchers include students, specialists, and professors from the UC Davis departments of Nutrition, Chicano Studies, Agricultural Resource Economics and Human Ecology, and the UC Davis schools of Medicine, Nursing and Education. Outreach involves UC Cooperative Extension advisors and staff in Tulare, Yolo, Kern and Fresno counties and the UC CalFresh and EFNEP programs.

“Mexican-American children have a high rate of excessive weight gain that could lead to obesity as teens and as adults,” said Lucia Kaiser, UCCE specialist in the Department of Nutrition at UC Davis and a project leader. “We want to see if we can normalize their weight gain by increasing their consumption of fruits and vegetables and encouraging physical activity.”

For comparison purposes, the researchers are offering educational programming that does not focus on nutrition in another San Joaquin Valley community with a high Mexican-American population. While the Firebaugh families are learning about the importance of family meals, how to read nutrition labels and getting a $25 monthly stipend to purchase produce, families in the city of San Joaquin and surrounding communities are getting together to learn about parenting, mental health, financial management, school achievement and other topics of interest to the participants.

Twice a year, the researchers measure the height and weight of children from both communities and collecting data about their household habits. At the end of the study, the researchers will be able to see whether the nutrition intervention had an impact on the children’s health.

In addition, Kaiser said, the project team is working with the local school district to maintain the physical activity and wellness components of the project, plus a new farm-to-school initiative, once the research funding is exhausted.

“Through this research, the UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educators are developing relationships in these communities,” Kaiser said. “We expect to be able to sustain these healthy programs into the future.”

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By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist