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.”

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.