UC Davis professor Adela de la Torre, a national expert on Chicano and Latino health issues, today received a five-year, $4.8 million federal grant to discover the best ways to help Mexican-heritage children in California maintain healthy weights.
The study, called "Ninos Sanos, Familia Sana" (Healthy Children, Healthy Family), will take place in the Central Valley towns of Firebaugh and San Joaquin.
"More than four in every 10 children born to parents of Mexican heritage are overweight or obese, and therefore at greater risk of early diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease," said de la Torre. "We are fortunate that we have received unprecedented support to tackle this issue from community members, so that we can build a healthier environment in Firebaugh and San Joaquin.
"We hope that this is the beginning of a series of long-term, collaborative projects to tackle issues of importance raised by our community advisory board."
UC Davis was one of 24 institutions selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) in a national competition for $80 million in grants to address obesity in children ages 2 through 8.
"We know that for our children to grow up and win the future, they need nutritious diets and healthy lifestyles that enable them to reach their fullest potential," said Roger Beachy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. "USDA supports the research and development of science-based methods that can reverse the trend of rising obesity and assist children and their families in adopting healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime."
In the UC Davis "Ninos Sanos, Familia Sana" study, 400 Firebaugh children and their families will be provided with practical tools, education and incentives to help them eat healthy diets and get sufficient exercise.
The Firebaugh program activities include:
- $25 monthly in vouchers that can be used to buy fruits and vegetables at participating markets;
- Family Nights that include parent education about children's nutrition needs and physical activity;
- Classroom instruction for children on nutrition and physical activity;
- Two health screenings yearly to monitor body mass index, skinfold thickness and waist circumference; and
- A community art project with murals and posters promoting healthy eating and active living.
Concurrently, in San Joaquin, a similar number of children will receive the health screenings. In addition, their parents will be provided workshops on topics such as "How to support your children in school" and "Strategies to help your child prepare for college." However, the San Joaquin group will not receive the more intensive intervention.
(After both towns had agreed to take part in the study, a random card-draw determined that Firebaugh would be the intervention group and San Joaquin would be the control group.)
At the study's end, UC Davis researchers will analyze the results to see which strategies worked best.
"This intervention study will be one of the first of its kind in the nation for Latino children between the ages of 3 and 8 and, hopefully, will help us target what really works in sustaining healthy eating and exercise for Latino families with young children," said de la Torre.
The "Ninos Sanos, Familia Sana" study collaborators come from a rich cross-section of the community, and include key people who influence children's eating habits and activity levels.