Entries Tagged 'Obesity' ↓

Will you tune in to HBO’s obesity films, ‘Weight of the Nation?’

On Monday (May 14) HBO will premiere the first two parts of its documentary series, ‘The Weight of the Nation.’

The films – presented by HBO and the Institute of Medicine, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, in partnership with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Kaiser Permanente – feature case studies, interviews with health experts, and the stories of individuals and families struggling with obesity, according to the film’s website.

Here’s a trailer for the films:

Will you be tuning in? And do you think this film can make an impact in the San Joaquín Valley, where 70.9 pecent of Latino adults are overweight or obese?

If you don’t have HBO – or if you are interested in watching the films again with other Valley residents – consider attending a partial screening at the John W. Wells Youth Center in Madera on May 30 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The event, hosted by Central Valley Health Network’s HEAL Zone and Kaiser Permanente, will also include a panel discussion intended to inspire ideas about how to make Madera a healthier place to live.  

Pictured above: There are already some great obesity-prevention efforts in the San Joaquín Valley, including the Community Food Bank’s food demonstrations, and a walking path at the Selma flea market.

Disparities in stalling obesity rates?

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times both ran stories this week about the apparent stalling of the country’s obesity rate.

Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times’ Well blog:

After two decades of steady increases, obesity rates in adults and children in the United States have remained largely unchanged during the past 12 years, a finding that suggests national efforts at promoting healthful eating and exercise are having little effect on the overweight.

While it is good news that the ranks of the obese in America are not growing, the data also point to the intractable nature of weight gain and signal that the country will be dealing with the health consequences of obesity for years to come.

But, the stories caution, there are still disparities in obesity rates. Here’s an excerpt from the Los Angeles Times story:

But though obesity rates may be flattening overall, increases and disparities can still be found in specific racial and ethnic groups.

Rates have risen to 58.5% among non-Hispanic black women and to nearly 45% among Mexican American women since 2004, for example. And among children and teens, about 21% of Hispanics and 24% of blacks are obese compared with 14% of non-Hispanic whites.

It is encouraging to hear that the overall obesity rate has not continued to skyrocket. But from recent interviews with school nurses throughout the San Joaquín Valley, I’ve heard that obesity and diabetes remain huge health issues among students.

“We are seeing a lot more overweight kids,” said Sandy Dutch, a school nurse with the Tulare County Office of Education. “Kids are concerned about being overweight.”

Being overweight or obese is not only a health problem – it can take a toll on students’ education, said Aurora Licudine, chairperson of school nurses for Modesto City Schools.

“Students who are overweight have more absences, and students who are overweight are not as academically successful,” she said.

“Our goal is to make them independent, and have them make these lifeystle changes, and that takes time.”

Live in a food swamp?

One morning, when I was reporting from Kettleman City, I took the video below.

Actually, the video was an accident, but the short clip and audio thoroughly depict the lack of healthy food options near the unincorporated Kings County community.

A recent health policy brief published by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research analyzed the retail food environments in counties across the state, and found that many of them might look like this stretch of Highway 41.

According to the report, about 75 percent of California teens live and go to school in less health food environments, where fast food restaurants, convenience stores, liquor stores, dollars stores and pharmacies outnumber grocery stores, warehouse stores and produce vendors.

In fact, the food environments in the Valley are some of the worst in the state.

For example, in Stanislaus County, there are more than 9 times as many fast food restaurants, convenience stores, liquor stores, and dollars stores, as there are grocery stores and produce vendors. In Tulare County, there are 8.6 times more unhealthy food retail options than healthy options; in Fresno, there are 8 times more unhealthy retail options than healthy ones.


This oversaturation of unhealthy food options has created a predictable situation: According to the report, soda consumption is highest among teens with the least healthy food environments near their homes and schools. Teens who live amidst the most unhealthy food options also have the highest fast food consumption.

And consumption of soda and sugar-sweetened beverages, and fast food, is linked to greater caloric intake. Eating and drinking these sugary sodas and fast food may have contributed to the rise in obesity rates, according to the report.

What sorts of solutions are available for communities like Kettleman City, pictured at the top of this page, or Pixley, in Tulare County, picture in the center?

The report recommends increasing the presence of farmer’s markets, food cooperatives, and community gardens; encouraging the development of farm-to-institution programs; developing and providing incentives to attract grocery stores and improve foods available in existing stores; and consider zoning and land use policies that improve food environments near schools and in underserved communities.

These changes are necessary to ensure our communities don’t remain “food swamps,” where there is so much food around, but nothing healthy or nourishing to eat.

Obesity, previously on Harvesting Health:

Preview: Teatro Obesity

UPDATE: ‘Theatrical play pulls obesity battle onto stage‘ ran in the July6, 2011 edition of Vida.

For decades, Agustin Lira has created theatrical performances that promote social messages. Through his plays, Lira – the co-founder of El Teatro Campesino, who also formed El Teatro de la Tierra in 1969, and co-founded Teatro Inmigrante in 2001 – has highlighted farmworker and immigration issues.

This year, he is honing in on another social issue that is impacting the Latino community. Through a partnership with the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program (CCROPP,) Lira and Teatro Inmigrante co-founder Patricia Wells Solórzano will develop a play about obesity. (In the San Joaquín Valley, 71 percent of Latino adults are overweight or obese.)

In a phone interview, Lira said he is confident that teatro can be used to educate the community about obesity.

“It has worked in the past to get the message out about different issues,” he said. The production, he said, can “educate people about what things are happening and what they can do about it.”

Are you interested in participating in this bilingual project? Within the next two weeks, Lira will hold a preliminary meeting for people who are interested in performing in the production. The group is looking for people with acting experience, and those without experience who really want to learn.

Volunteer actors and actresses will be involved for a period of two months of rehearsal (two meeting per week) with 5 or 6 theatrical performances at the end of the project. For more information about Teatro Obesity, contact (559) 485-8558.

Above: Lira and Wells Sólorzano perform in ‘A Yellow Rose from Texas: Emma Tenayuca’ in 2007. Photo by Juan Esparza Loera.

The great chocolate milk debate: Does it do a body good?

UPDATE: Read ‘Chocolate, strawberry milk fall out of flavor’ here.

Since Los Angeles Unified School District last week became the largest school district in the nation to ban chocolate and strawberry milk from school menus, the topic of flavored milk has received a lot of regional attention.

So what are the policies on flavored milk in San Joaquín Valley school districts? I was curious to find out how the region’s high levels of poverty, and high rates of overweight and obese kids, would play into the discussion.

Here’s a regional overview of chocolate milk policies. I’ll add more to this list as I hear about them!

In Modesto: Criss Atwell, of Modesto City Schools, said the district is keeping flavored milk on the menu, in an effort to ensure that the district’s low-income students continue to receive adequate nutrition at school.

“We have concerns that eliminating chocolate milk could impact many students’ calcium and Vitamin D intake, since lunch may be the only complete meal some students consume all day,” Atwell said in an email.

In Manteca: The Manteca Unified School District – which in 2009 won seven Gold School Awards in the HealthierUS School Challenge, through the US Department of Agriculture – is not considering banning chocolate milk from its lunch menu. (The district does not offer strawberry milk, which contains even more sugar.)

Instead, the district switched to chocolate milk made without corn syrup, and is working on reducing the number of grams of sugar per container, according to Patty Page, director of nutrition services.

“The other thing that is important to me is teaching children about making wise choices,” Page said in an e-mail. “I think that they should understand that although they may have a sweet tooth, it is healthier to choose chocolate milk rather than soda. Although it does have sugar, it also has other health benefits, unlike soda.”

In Fresno: José Alvarado, of the Fresno Unified School District, said the district is “looking into all sugars on the menu,” including in flavored milk and juices.

“It’s not necessarily just chocolate milk that has sugar,” he said in a phone interview.

In Earlimart: The district stopped serving chocolate milk in April, said food service director Clint Lara. The district now offers just 2% milk and non-fat milk.

“Yeah, we beat LA, they just got all the attention,” Lara said.

What is your take? Here’s mine: I admit, chocolate milk will always hold a special place in my heart. It tasted great with my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in third grade.

More on chocolate milk in schools:

Thanks for supporting community health blogging in the Valley!

Thanks again to everyone who joined me on Friday at La Reina de Michoacán to celebrate Harvesting Health’s first birthday!

Here are some highlights of the event:

BEST CONVERSATION: Someone asked me why I would celebrate a health blog’s birthday at a popsicle and ice cream shop. Here were my answers:

  1. It’s other social, environmental, and economic factors – and not a celebratory paleta –  that are causing the obesity and diabetes epidemics in the San Joaquín Valley.
  2. These paletas are made from 100 percent fresh fruit! In a 2009 interview, the owner of La Reina told me he goes to México every two years to buy about 30,000 pounds of fruit directly from orchards.
  3. Buy local!

MOST POPULAR FLAVOR: Strawberries and cream seemed to be the most popular flavor among Harvesting Health’s friends. Just viewing this picture by James Collier, of the website TasteFresno and blog Foie Gras and Flannel, convinces me to try it on my next visit.

MOST MEANINGFUL MOMENT: I was excited that so many friends joined me at La Reina. But I was particularly moved to see that two women came from a community an hour away in order to celebrate with a paleta. As they were leaving, they told me, “Rebecca, you come to all of our events, so we thought we would come to one of yours.”

Didn’t make it to the fiesta? Hopefully we can meet for a paleta soon – it’s going to be a long, hot summer here in the San Joaquín Valley!

Special thanks to James Collier for the great photos.

‘Buy Fresh, Buy Local’ guide debuts in the San Joaquín Valley

UPDATE: The story ‘Guide links consumers with local produce’ ran in the June 8, 2011 edition of Vida en el Valle.

Readers of this blog know this paradox:

Here in the San Joaquín Valley, we live in the most productive agricultural region in the world. But at the same time, our community faces high rates of obesity, diabetes, and food insecurity. Many people have little connection to the amazing fresh, seasonal, local produce grown in their backyard.

Enter the first edition of ‘Buy Fresh, Buy Local: The Eater’s Guide to Local Food.’

The guide – produced by the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program and the Community Alliance with Family Famers, and supported by the California Endowment – is the first comprehensive listing of all the farms, farmers markets, produce stands, community gardens, U-Picks, CSAs (community supported agriculture), flea markets, swap meets, and school farm stands in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Joaquím, Stanislaus and Tulare counties.

The 32-page guide is more than just an exhaustigve listing, though. It’s a celebration of the Valley’s agricultural heritage. It opens with an essay by farmer David Mas Masumoto, includes a calendar of the Valley’s seasonal harvest, and features profiles – and recipes created by – people and organizations devoted to fresh, local produce.

The guide is intended to connect community members to fresh, local produce, “so we can really change our culture and change our norms, so we are enjoying fresh produce and we are buying local,” said Genoveva Islas-Hooker, of CCROPP, during a press conference at the Garden Market in downtown Fresno’s Courthouse Park Tuesday morning.

The guide will also help the Valley’s small, local farmers connect with urban residents, and provide those consumers with the health benefits of eating local, seasonal produce, said Tom Willey, of T & D Willey Farms in Madera.

For people who want to eat locally and seasonally, the Valley is “probably the best place to live on the planet,” Willey said. The guide could “help make our food culture as big a draw as Yosemite National Park.”

The first edition of the ‘Buy Fresno, Buy Local’ guide can be found for free at www.ccropp.org or www.caff.org. All photos taken at the Garden Market, which runs every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Courthouse Park.

Read more about the ‘Buy Fresh, Buy Local’ guide:

Soda tax fizzles, unhealthy food environments persist

The proposed soda tax fizzled out before my story could even run in Vida en el Valle.

On Monday, the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee effectively killed  AB 669, would have levied a one-penny tax per fluid ounce on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages. The bill was moved to the Assembly suspense file, according to news reports.

The bill was intended to fight rising obesity levels.

To report on the now-defunct tax, I visited last Friday the Orosi Market, a convenience store bordered on two sides by orange groves, in East Orosi (pop. 386.) While the tax may be dead, the health problems I saw in the market will, unfortunately, continue long past this Assembly session.

Inside the market, beer advertisements (Este es Cerveza!) wallpapered the store. There are 12 refrigerated cases in the store. Six cases were stocked with beer, and six were filled with soda and sugary drinks.

“Well of course, everybody demands sodas,” storeowner Steve Samin said.

Just one row in one case offered bottles of water. The row wasn’t even full. That probably doesn’t hurt the store’s bottom line.

The amount of water sold at the store, Samin said, is “far off, far off,” from the amount of soda. In three days, he might sell one case (24 bottles) of water, compared with five or six cases of soda.

I spent about an hour inside the market. I watched as community residents stopped in for a snack, and workers stopped in for cold refreshments.

Not one person purchased water or a diet sold during that hour. But a few people did tell me they would support a tax that would curb the amount of soda consumed by children.

“I don’t like soda, and I don’t give soda to my kids… because soda is not good for them,” said Manuela Márquez of Dinuba, as she purchased a tall can of Chelada. “It’s better for them to drink juice or water.”

“I have a daughter, and she has become heavy from drinking so much soda,” said José Velasco of Orange Cove, as he purchased a tall can of Arizona Iced Tea. He prefers she drink “less soda” and more “water, juice, or milk.”

Spending time at the market underscored something Genoveva Islas-Hooker, of the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program, said during a media briefing regarding the soda tax.

“We are creating sugar-sweetened beverages as the definitive choice for low-income community members,” she said. “The beverage environment is definitely shaping the obesity epidemic.”

A recipe to end childhood obesity

UPDATE: Click here to read The Joy of Cooking Healthy, which ran in the April 6, 2011 edition of Vida en el Valle. 

What is the recipe for preventing childhood obesity?

At Joe Serna Jr. Charter School, a bilingual school in the 32.4 percent Latino city of Lodi, in San Joaquín County, the recipe calls for one professional chef, one nutrition instructor, one school kitchen, and 18 energetic middle school students.

Last Wednesday afternoon, those ingredients blended together to create tortilla pizzas — and a lifetime of healthier habits.

Check out the video below to see Chef Ruben Larrazolo, chef at Alebrijes Mexican Bistro in Lodi, teach members of the Joe Serna Cooking Club to slice green onions, cut avocados, assemble a pizza and – in the process –  learn to enjoy preparing and eating food together with loved ones.

What you won’t see in the video, though, is that by participating in the cooking club – part of the Chefs Move to Schools initiative, through First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to end childhood obesity – students have already made changes in their eating habits.

More than 15 percent of Latino youth in the San Joaquín Valley were overweight in 2007, according to the California Health Interview Survey.

“Before I would eat a lot of junk food, like Hot Cheetos and soda,” said Hector Enriquez, 12, a 6th grade student. “Now I actually eat fruit and vegetables.”

“We would go to fast food restaurants every week, and I have really stopped eating there,” said Jennifer Barrón, 11, a 6th grade student. Now, she said, “I would get just a smoothie and that’s all.”

Did that video whet your appetite for a tortilla pizza? Here’s the recipe:

1 16-oz cans refried beans
2 pounds ground beef, or any beef
3 ounces of taco seasoning mix
1 package of whole wheat tortillas
1 ½ pounds shredded cheddar cheese
16 tablespoons our cream
2 green onions, diced
1 4-oz can diced green chiles, or fresh chiles from the garden
2 avocadoes, diced
2 tablespoons black olives, sliced

1. Heat the refried beans
2. In a large skillet, brown the ground beef. Stir in the taco seasoning.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
4. Place a small amount of vegetable oil in a large skillet. Let the oil heat, then place one tortilla in the skillet. After 15 seconds, flip the tortilla over and let it fry another 15 seconds. Repeat this process with remaining tortillas.
5. When the tortillas have been heated, arrange them on a cookie sheet.
6. Spread a thin layer of beans on the tortillas, followed by a layer of beef and cheese.
7. Bake the tortillas in the preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Slice the tortillas into wedges, arrange them on a serving platter, and garnish them with sour cream, tomatoes, green onions, chiles, avocado, and olives.

Read more about the Joe Serna cooking club, and the Chefs Move to Schools program, in the next edition of Vida en el Valle.

The Breakfast of Champion Students

UPDATE: ‘School Breakfast: Food for Thought,’ can be found here.

What did you have for breakfast this morning? I had oatmeal, cooked with almond milk, and topped with walnuts and dried blueberries.

Ask that question to a student though, and you might get some surprising answers. At Earlimart Elementary School, some students said they ate spaghetti, pizza, tamales, and Cocoa Puffs early that morning.

Others did not eat anything until 9:30 or 10 a.m. during the school’s Second Chance Breakfast, which the school offers to kids who did not make it to the school’s breakfast before the bell rang that morning.

Across the San Joaquín Valley, more school districts are beginning to implement non-traditional breakfast programs, like the Second Chance Breakfast in Earlimart. The programs are intended to improve a startling statistic: In California public schools, 2.3 million, or 70 percent of students eligible to receive free and reduced-price meals, are missing out on the benefits of a nutritious school breakfast.

(What is the school breakfast participation rate in your school district? Check out this table , from California Food Policy Advocates’ BreakfastFirst Campaign, to find out.)

By skipping the first meal of the day, students, families, and teachers lose out on so many benefits.

Studies show that breakfast increases kids’ health and improve their academic achievement. Also, teachers report fewer behavioral problems and higher attendance rates, school nurses see fewer students complaining of stomach aches, and school districts benefit from federal meal reimbursements.

“For me, from the beginning, it has almost seemed like a no-brainer,” said Ellen Braff-Guajardo, senior nutrition policy advocate with California Food Policy Advocates’ BreakfastFirst campaign. “It’s an opportunity for student to receive breakfast at school, and to help families in these economic times be able to meet other bills, like housing, and other necessities of life.”

Approaches like the second chance breakfast in Earlimart, and the classroom breakfast in Modesto and Sanger, are making a difference in the number of kids eating school breakfast. Read more about these programs and their benefits in the next edition of Vida en el Valle.

Want to read more from this blog about school meals, and their impact on children’s health?

Top image by Daniel Cásarez. Bottom image from pugetsoundblogs.com.