Weighting for gordito

Gordito Doesn’t Mean Healthy: What Every Latina Mother Needs to Know to Raise Happy, Healthy Kids
Claudia Gonzalez and Lourdes Alcaniz
2006, Berkley Trade
320 pages

Latino parents’ cultural perception of a “gordito”, or a well-fed child as a healthy child, is leading to some serious unhealthy consequences. The obesity epidemic among Latino communities has reached a crisis: in recent years, many states have reported obesity levels in these communities at staggering proportions, and Latino children in particular are becoming obese at younger ages.

Studies reveal that the prevalence of obesity within Latino male children and adolescents, is, in general, higher than other major gender-ethnic groups. The Office of Minority Health provides the data and the comparative analysis of the obesity problem among the Hispanic population vis-à-vis non-Hispanic whites.

The increasing trend of obesity among the Latinos is pointed out in a policy brief prepared by National Hispanic Council of Legislatures, or NHCSL. The brief, titled Hispanic Obesity: An American Crisis, cites a survey by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which found that in 2001-04 the percentage of obese and overweight 6- to 11-year olds increased from about 7 per cent to 17 per cent in the general population and from 12 per cent to 24 per cent for Latinos.

Obesity among Latinos is a concern as it has serious health implications: defined as when a person’s Body Mass Index (BMI) is 30 or more, obesity results in higher incidence of type 2 diabetes, a disease that increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness and lower limb amputation among other problems.

According to the policy brief by NHCSL, diabetes is a highly pressing medical issue for the Latino community as it is its fifth leading cause of death. The office of Minority Health report on diabetes among Latinos says that Mexican Americans are almost twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with diabetes by a physician. They have higher rates of end-stage renal disease, caused by diabetes, and they are 50 per cent more likely to die from diabetes as non-Hispanic whites.

The increasing obesity trend among the Latino community is often attributed to economic and sociocultural factors, which drive eating and physical activity habits. According to an article in Latin American Herald Tribune, one in every four American Hispanics lives in poverty, totaling 12.4 million people. It further states that the proportion of poor people among Hispanics rose from 23.3 per cent to 25.3 per cent in 2009.

Economic constraints force many Latinos to settle in low-income areas, which are often saturated with fast food restaurants, mini-markets and have limited access to supermarkets, safe parks and affordable, fresh foods.

Studies also demonstrate that, compared to other ethnic groups, the diets of Latino children are higher in dietary fat, sweetened beverages and lower in fruits and vegetables

Cultural beliefs like “fatalismo” – or the idea that whatever happens, happens – also foster excessive weight gain, says an article in The Permanente Journal. Another such cultural belief is gordito, which is equated with a healthy child and is a stumbling block for the reduction of obesity among the Latinos.

Gordito Doesn’t Mean Healthy is the contribution of Claudia M Gonzalez and Lourdes Alcaniz towards countering such beliefs and helping Latino communities achieve success in the battle against obesity.

The book, written by a nutritionist and a health reporter, is the first to address the problem of obesity among Latino children and gives an insight on the strategies and tools to prevent and manage obesity in children.

Targeted toward Latina mothers, it calls upon them to shun traditional cultural beliefs, which often attribute to childhood obesity. It explains how gordito children are more susceptible to diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and emphasizes the importance of eating properly and incorporating Latino diet (its flavours and ingredients) into a healthy menu.

In light of the burgeoning obesity epidemic and increasing cases of diabetes among Latinos, Gordito Doesn’t Mean Healthy is timely, informative and an interesting book about raising fit, happy and healthy kids.

Charlotte Kellogg is a writer and researcher for PublicHealthDegree.com. Feel free to check out more of her writing!