Making Awesome Changes: Battling childhood obesity

UTHSC's Dr. Amelie Ramirez & Salud America help SA get healthy

SAN ANTONIO – KSAT is teaming up with the UT Health Science Center and Salud America to bring you a series called Making Awesome Changes, showcasing groups and individuals in San Antonio who are trying to do something about childhood obesity.

According to the American Heart Association, one in three American children are overweight or obese, and it's even more common in African American and Hispanic children.

"Childhood obesity has tripled in the last 20 to 30 years. And we're seeing higher rates in our Hispanic children. Their rates are almost at about 40 percent," said Dr. Amelie Ramirez, director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Ramirez has dedicated her career to helping the Latino community get healthy. She said inactivity, busy schedules and television food marketing are common problems linked to obesity in children.

"We know that parents are very busy - have very busy lives - and our kids are being bombarded from all sources: from marketing, food marketing, and all of these kinds of things," Ramirez said. "They're becoming less active because they are spending more time indoors - on their computers, on their iPads or their iPhones."

Childhood obesity can lead to other medical complications like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

San Antonio has made strides in the fight against childhood obesity with several new farmers markets and education programs, serving as a guide for Salud America, a national research network that provides families and communities with information they can use to make healthy changes.

"We've been able to use San Antonio as a role model in many of these places," said Ramirez. "We're still working on gathering the information, but if we can make these positive choices and make the right choice the easy choice, then everybody can benefit."

Salud America also communicates with schools, proving them information on how to serve healthier foods, and working toward shared-use agreements with surrounding neighborhoods.

"In communities where there might not be safe areas to exercise but a school may be a few blocks away, how can a community organization and that school partner together so that everybody can use the playgrounds after hours or use some of the facilities in the schools?" Ramirez said.

Ramirez said families play a big part in keeping children healthy, as well. From a young age, she suggests parents get their children involved in buying groceries and preparing healthy foods.

"Have them be part of your grocery shopping experience. Help them to start learning the food labels to see what percentage of sugars it might have or fat calories," said Ramirez. "Try to shop on the outside perimeters of your grocery store where you can see your fruits and vegetables and your dairy products and so forth. Stay away from those middle aisles."

Health experts recommend 60 minutes of exercise per day. Ramirez said it may sound difficult, but it can be broken up into easier, shorter bursts of energy.

"Break it up a few minutes in the morning and at lunch, afterward," Ramirez said. "And double check your children's schools - what are they doing in terms of physical activity? How can they incorporate more physical activity throughout their day?"

You can read more about Salud America on their website.

About the Author:

Diana Winters is a San Antonio-area native, Emmy award-winning and GLAAD-nominated journalist who loves the Alamo City. She is the executive producer of SA Live, creator of South Texas PRIDE and co-creator of Texas Eats.