Childhood Obesity

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The South Phoenix Healthy Kids Partnership promotes healthy weight and optimal physical activity among children and adolescents in South Phoenix.
Valentina Hernandez, Childhood Obesity Program Coordinator, talks about the partnership and the obesity issue.

Jose Cardenas:
Welcome to "Horizonte" and thank you for joining us. Childhood obesity is a growing concern with health professionals. Some people say not enough is being done to come front -- confront the issue. The center in Phoenix collected data that showed the rates of overweight and obese children and teens were high in south Phoenix. The healthy kids' partnership was formed to address childhood obesity in that area. Joining know talk about it is Valentina Hernandez, childhood obesity coordinator for the south Phoenix healthy kids partnership. Thanks for joining us on "Horizonte." Let's talk about how this all got started. There was a survey back in, what, 2003 that gathered some alarming data.

Valentina Hernandez:
Yeah. In 2003, we had an intern look at some of our data, and she looked at some of the data from the Roosevelt school district. She found the rates in south Phoenix were almost double the national rates for obesity. At the time we looked at children 6-18 years old and it range from the 25-30% of those children were considered overweight compared to the 16% on a national level.

Jose Cardenas:
This is back in 2003.

Valentina Hernandez:
This is in 2003.

Jose Cardenas:
So what happened as a result of getting that information?

Valentina Hernandez:
We brought together a lot of different agencies; we brought together some partners, community stakeholders, to deal with the issue. So we all sat down and we talked about how we were going to face this issue. We created what is the south Phoenix healthy kids partnership, and we have been working together ever since.

Jose Cardenas:
One of the things that you've been doing has been to go out and gather even more data, and you've changed the age group that you're focused on.

Valentina Hernandez:
We have. What we decided to do is we built a registry. For mountain park health center at our baseline site, we collect data on all children that walk in to our doors that are 4-18 years old. And we did that because we are first -- our first go-round we collected school age kids. Yes curious to see what's happening with the 4 or 5-year-olds before they enter school and what we found is that their obesity rates were just as high. So that was alarming for us. So now we're focusing on working with the younger groups as well as with the groups that we -- that are school age.

Jose Cardenas:
Now, this is a problem, childhood obesity, not just of concern to the community in south Phoenix, but nationwide. And we had Doug Herano on our show in the past to talk about health issues among minority groups. But you had -- mountain health had him do some work, and kind of a stunning report on the national situation. And the question being, one of the things he asked is, are we going to have the first generation of children whose life expectancy is shorter than that of their parents?

Valentina Hernandez:
That's a good question that we ask ourselves every day. We have an epidemic. Right now there are -- there's data that shows that about one out of every three children that was born in the year 2000 is going to develop diabetes in their lifetime. When we look at Hispanic and African-American youth, the statistic is one in every two. So right now in our nation we have a health care crisis. And our baby boomers weren't overweight as children, so this trend is only going to get worse. And the cost of health care is only going to rise if this trend continues.

Jose Cardenas:
And already at alarming levels, Doug's figures indicate nationally it was about $100 million for treating obesity, the health care spending, and in Arizona B. $750 million a year. So what do we do about that?

Valentina Hernandez:
What do we do? What we're doing in south Phoenix is we brought together a lot of different partners, we're working together, we work with the city of Phoenix to encourage safe routes to school. We've partnered with different groups, the tiger mountain foundation specifically to promote community gardens. We have community education. We teach classes to parents and children of overweight kids that our pediatricians send to us. We do parent groups; we're out promoting healthy living. There isn't -- there isn't anything that we're not ready to do.

Jose Cardenas:
Most of the people you're dealing with because of the area that you're focused on, are Latinos, right?

Valentina Hernandez:
Yeah.

Jose Cardenas:
Are there any cultural issues that you think are contributors to the problem?

Valentina Hernandez:
There's definitely cultural issues. What we find is that as people assimilate, they take on the American diet. Which means that if you have your family here and you want to provide your children with the pizza, with the hamburgers, in some of their native countries they didn't have so much access. Now we can walk a block and we can get to fast food joint. If we don't promote -- we live in a society that doesn't promote walking, or other transportation besides using a car. So there is -- it's kind of -- we've built a culture that --

Jose Cardenas:
That encourages -- you're talking about the impact of American culture on perhaps immigrants. What about immigrants' views? We've talked before about how it might be viewed as a sign of affluence to have a chubby child.

Valentina Hernandez:
And it is. Especially now, you see kids and if they're too skinny or what we consider a healthy weight, their parents are concerned. And they say "my child is too skinny." If we have parents that have kids that are a healthy weight and their pediatrician tells them, I think your child might be overweight, the parents disagree. And they say, "No, he's healthy." If you can't -- if your children are too skinny, you might feel -- a mother might feel like she's not doing her job as a mother to keep this child healthy. So we deal with that every day with our -- the parents that we work with. A lot of them come to us and they say "the doctor told me my child is overweight, but I don't see it."

Jose Cardenas:
And when you work with those parents, do you see results?

Valentina Hernandez:
We do see results. We work with the families, we teach the children about healthy eating, we teach the parents about healthy eating, and what we end up seeing is that the family comes back and the parent -- the mother, usually, is happy because she's losing weight. And it was unintended. She came to us to help her family be healthier, and she's finding that she's become healthier in the process. Most of these kids that are overweight, their parents are also overweight, or have other health concerns. So it's a benefit for both.

Jose Cardenas:
So while the focus is on the kids, the whole family slims down.

Valentina Hernandez:
Yeah.

Jose Cardenas:
That's great. We've got website on the screen and thank you for joining us to talk about this.

Valentina Hernandez:
Thank you for having me.

Valentina Hernandez:Childhood Obesity Program Coordinator,South Phoenix Healthy Kids Partnership;

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