Sometimes the numbers tell a story, and sometimes the numbers are the story. In this case, it’s a little bit of both. So let’s start at the beginning.
Two thirds of the adults are overweight or obese and since 1980 the obesity rate in children has just about tripled, with Mexican-American boys leading the way, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
And believe it or not, San Antonio has a pretty hearty Hispanic/Latino population (really!) which the 2010 census recently pegged at just over 60 percent, making us especially ripe for extra-largeness, and all the associated health consequences and costs that come with it.
So we’re lucky to have Dr. Amelie Ramirez. She heads the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and in 2007 launched “Salud America” with funding from the The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Salud was established specifically to help reverse the obesity epidemic among young Latinos in communities just like ours.
“We’ve always worked with disease prevention in the Latino community, and lately the data had been showing that they had the highest obesity rates,” Ramirez said. “With that in mind, our mission is threefold: to get more people interested in the research component; to create an informational network among researchers, providers, parents and the community; and to increase awareness that we need to reverse this epidemic … If not, this will be the first generation that will have a shorter lifespan than their parents.”
One of the most compelling pieces of work Salud has produced is a slick, award winning short video. Once you see and hear the statistics, it’s hard not to feel like we’re in desperate times and on the verge of needing desperate measures.
While the entire nation seems to be grappling with the problem of extra girth, it’s clear that certain populations are especially susceptible.
“Obesity is a complicated problem that has occurred over time, but particularly in lower income Hispanic areas,” Ramirez said. “In those communities, healthier foods may not available, or there may not as many parks or recreational opportunities.
“Advertisers and marketing experts know the trends and are aware, for example, that certain communities have an especially high consumption of sugary drinks, so they target those markets. Combine that with the fact that we’ve also become more sedentary, and we create a situation where we consume more, with less opportunities to expend those calories.”
To help combat the issue, the Salud America website offers research news, issue briefs, info-graphics, and animated videos on six key areas for reversing the trend. There’s also the Salud blog, Twitter feed, and Facebook presence.
“We’re really trying to be innovative in social media to help inform people. We want to share ideas, find out what works in other communities and see what we may be able to implement,” she said. “Our goal is to inform the community and motivate them to take action and help parents and other leaders with any needs they have.”
Ramirez said the organization also promotes and encourages the development of more recreational areas, the construction of more sidewalks, and the idea of having more folks prepare their meals at home, all in an effort to counter our current obesity trend. She’d also like to see even more farmer’s markets, and even expects to see a few healthy food trucks arrive soon.
Those improvements may not come soon enough for some, but still there is this bit of encouraging news: the Metropolitan Health District announced last month that the obesity rate in San Antonio and Bexar County actually dropped from 35.1% in 2010, to 28.5% in 2012.
“It’s good to see that we’re moving in the right direction,” Ramirez said. “San Antonio is getting really progressive about promoting healthy living through the Mayor’s Fitness Council and its associated programs, and the work that’s been done to incorporate things like more bike lanes and a bike share service – those type of improvements send a message to the community,” she says. “And it takes a community to create real change and to sustain it over time.”
Tom Trevino is a writer and wellness coach based out of San Antonio. His column, “The Feed,” covers anything and everything related to health and wellness. He holds a B.A. from the University of Texas at San Antonio, with certification and training from the Cooper Institute. He has a fondness for dogs, NPR, the New York Times, and anything on two wheels. When he’s not writing, training, or cooking, you can find him wandering the aisles of Central Market.