Obesity and Overweight in Central Valley’s Latino Population

msh_truck_1Over half of the adult population, and over one quarter of California’s children and adolescents are overweight or obese. Obesity is a known risk factor for diabetes, which is reaching epidemic proportions in the state and in the Central Valley, where almost twenty people die of diabetes weekly.[i], [ii] Although overweight and obesity among all ethnic and racial groups are on the rise in California, the increase is especially prevalent among Latinos in the Central Valley, which includes the counties of Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Tulare. Latinos make up the largest ethnic group in the Central Valley (40%) and in particular the counties with the highest prevalence of obesity (Merced with 34% and Tulare with 31%) and diabetes (Tulare with 12% and Fresno with 11%).[iii] The steady rise in overweight and obesity is “extremely costly to families, businesses, states, and the nation (4).”

Previous research demonstrates that overweight and obesity among the Latino population in California and the Central Valley is related to a complex array of factors including the retail food environment, security and safety concerns, limited green spaces, high rates of food insecurity, and socioeconomic and sociocultural characteristics and preferences. For example, the retail food environment of disadvantaged low-resource Latino communities often includes fast food restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations, where unhealthy foods and sugar-sweetened beverages are readily available, whereas supermarkets are few and far between, limiting access to fresh fruits and vegetables.[iv] Additionally, physical activity is often constrained in such communities, in part due to a lack of green or public spaces, security concerns associated with high crime rates, and safety concerns associated with unlit or unpaved streets.[v] More recently, researchers at UC Davis have shown a relationship between food insecurity and overweight and obesity – a trend that is observed in the Latino Central Valley.[vi]

What works?
The Fresno Fresh Program (2012) finds that car ownership, growing one’s own fruits and vegetables, having time to prepare meals at home, and receiving financial assistance are factors that are positively associated with improved health. Moreover, interventions aimed at improving the retail food environment, such as promoting alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages or fruit and vegetables in school vending machines or convenience stores in the neighborhood increases fruit and vegetable consumption in low-resource communities, or “food deserts.” Such interventions require community building and outreach, such as the cooperation of (co-ethnic) business owners and mobile food vendors who agree to stock healthier food items for non-pecuniary reasons; specifically, to improve the health of their communities.

Overall, this research suggests that a variety of factors at multiple levels need to be addressed in order to increase significantly the health and well-being of Latinos. To prevent, control, or decrease overweight and obesity among Latinos, a multi-tier approach must take into consideration the social, economic, and environmental context, especially as they relate to nutrition and physical activity, and build partnerships among a diverse group of stakeholders from parents, community organizers and leaders, to academics, policy makers, and government officials.[vii] A comprehensive collaborative and participatory approach may offer the best opportunity to provide researchers with a better understanding of how individual, family, community, and neighborhood characteristics combine to contribute to Latino health and well being, and lead to the development of interventions aimed at decreasing overweight and obesity among Latinos in the Central Valley.

One such community-based effort is the Make Someone Happy Mobile Farmers’ Market. This mobile farmer’s market plans to visit food insecure and functional food desert environs around the Central Valley, providing a variety of low-priced fresh fruits and vegetables. The kick-off celebration was held on November 17, 2013, at the Golden Valley Health Centers in Merced, California. The schedule includes multiple stops in the Central Valley starting on Sunday, November 18, 2013, including:
o The corner of Santa Fe Street and Winton Way in Winton (Sundays, 11-2pm)
o The Cesar Chavez Middle School in Planada (Mondays, 2-5pm)
o Le Grand Union Elementary School in Le Grand (Tuesdays, from 2-4pm)
o Farmdale Elementary School in South Merced (Wednesdays, 8-10am)
o Snelling-Merced Falls Union Elementary in Snelling (Fridays, 3-5pm).
I hope the Mobile Farmers’ Market is a great success, as it is one small effort to control and combat the epidemic of overweight and obesity in the Central Valley.
For more information contact Don Bergman and Nancy Young Bergman at Make Someone Happy, 209-233-9224, PO Box 1111, Merced, CA 95341

[i] “Diabetes and Obesity: Two Growing Epidemics in California. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. Diamant, AL, Babey, SH, Wolstein, J, and Jones. M., 2010.
[ii] Anderson, Barbara. The Fresno Bee. 2009. “Central Valley hard-hit by diabetes epidemic” Published: February 14, 2009, accessed 8/26/13.http://www.fresnobee.com/2009/02/14/1200143/central-valley-hard-hit-by-diabetes.html#storylink=cpy
[iii] Building Health Communities, Southwest/East Merced Interview Survey.http://www.calendow.org/uploadedFiles/Health_Happends_Here/Communities/Our_Places/BHC%20Fact_Sheet_Merced.pdf; “Merced County second highest in state for obesity, diabetes,” Merced Sun Star:http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2010/09/01/1551838/merced-county-second-highest-in.html#storylink=cpy
[iv] Culver, Kristen and Emily Elliot. 2012. “Barriers to Fruit and Vegetable Consumption in the Low-Income Hispanic Population within Fresno County,” Research Seminar,http://kristenculverrd.yolasite.com/resources/Research%20Paper%20Barriers%20to%20Fruit%20and%20Vegetable%20Consumption%20for%20Low%20Income%20Hispanics%20within%20Fresno%20County.pdf, accessed 8/26/2013.
[v]Karpilow, K. A., Reed, D. F., Chamberlain, P.T., & Shimada, T. (October 2011). Primer Module on Overweight and Obesity. In Understanding Nutrition: A Primer on Programs and Policies in California (2nd ed.). Sacramento, CA: California Center for Research on Women and Families, Public Health Institute.
Available on the CCRWF website: http://www.ccrwf.org. http://www.ccrwf.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/overweight-and-obesity-module-ccrwf-nutrition-primer.pdf
[vi] “Early Findings: Food Insecurity, Obesity High in Low-Income Latino Families,” Niños Sanos, Familia Sana, California Agriculture, Volume 67(1):7-8.
[vii](de la Torre, Adela 2011; Haworth, Plomin et al. 2008; Sinha and Kling 2009Dobbins, De Corby et al. 2009).


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