Tap into Community and Culture: 4 Ways Latinxs Can Prevent Obesity

Rocio MedinaM.D. – Chairwoman, Nutrition Advisory Board

Have you ever wondered what causes obesity? The answer is not as simple as a bad diet or lack of exercise. Socioeconomic status, genetics, access to education, and cultural habits all play a role in this multifactorial disease.

For the last two decades, an increased prevalence of obesity and overweight has affected the Latinx community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 50 percent of the 93.3 millions of obese adults in the U.S. are Latinx.

Being aware of the complex causes of obesity and its risks can provide vulnerable populations tools to prevent it.

4 Ways Latinxs Can Prevent Obesity

Historically, Latinxs tend to consider overweight people as “full of health” and thin people as fragile and sick. Changing this cultural stereotype and providing accurate nutritional education is crucial to lower the prevalence of obesity in this community.

These are some ways in which we can address the problem:

Implementing culturally appropriate nutrition education programs

Latinx food is based on cereals and spices, such as corn, rice, beans, hot pepper, chile. If we educate in the field of nutrition, we shouldn’t leave out these foods. Instead, nutritionists need to take them into account and provide alternatives on how to incorporate them into a healthy diet.

Involving the whole family

For nutrition education to be successful in Latinx communities, it should address the whole family. Latinxs are big on family meals; we share the table, we eat the same food. If we have bad habits, all the family will share them. If we change habits for good, it makes it easier for the rest of the family to follow along and try healthy food options.

Educating all ages

Nutrition education should start at childhood, so kids aren’t misinformed about obesity. Parents who are responsible for what their kids eat at home and for making school lunches can also benefit from nutrition education. Finally, it’s important to re-educate the elderly Latinx population, who may not know that what they used to eat is no longer considered healthy. Habits change and so does food.

Providing affordable nutrition alternatives

The first step towards changing bad habits is education, but it needs to be paired with affordable nutrition alternatives. Otherwise, people live in an obesogenic environment full of cheap, at-hand, non-healthy options that make it difficult to change habits.

Why Addressing Obesity is Crucial

People who have obesity are at increased risk for many serious diseases and health conditions, including:

There have been many efforts from government institutions, health care providers and health authorities to address obesity in the Latinx community, but none of them will have a transcendent impact by itself.

As a multidisciplinary problem, obesity needs to be a coordinated effort attended from different perspectives: nutrition, exercise, psychology, and education.

In the short term, let’s think about massive awareness programs that explain the robust data that already exists through media the Latinx community consumes: TV, magazines, radio shows. It should focus on teaching healthy nutrition not as a diet, but as a lifestyle. In the long term, we should push for school nutrition education at all levels and for the creation of more community areas to exercise, get education, and social support.

If Latinx communities get access to nutritious affordable alternatives and culturally appropriate nutrition education, it will be more likely that they adopt healthy, active habits and pass them on to their friends a family, forging a community change. Through meaningful, easy to remember, motivational nutrition education we can help Latinxs in their pursuit of a healthier lifestyle.