Eating Well, Eating Smart

Being overweight is one key reason that many people have major health problems. Today, in the Hispanic community for instance, Hispanics have double the cases of diabetes than the rest of the population.1 Obesity also brings about complications of other health issues like high blood pressure and cholesterol, which are responsible for heart problems. Obesity can also complicate stroke, asthma, depression, sleep apnea, arthritis, and some cancers. Our children, too, are learning bad habits from us and are getting fat at earlier ages. That puts their futures at risk. But it doesn't have to be this way. For most Latinos; making a few changes in the way we eat can make us healthier. Even if we lose just a couple of pounds, it's better than losing nothing at all.

Mexican-Americans are the largest group of Latinos in the US. They also tend to be the most overweight. Unfortunately, they represent the rest of the Hispanic population. Here are the numbers: 73.1% of Hispanic men and 71.7% of Hispanic women over the age of 20 are overweight.2 Mexican American children (ages 6-11) are also more likely to be overweight than other children of the same age, and more than one in every six Hispanic high school students is overweight. An additional 16.7% of Hispanic high school students are at risk of becoming overweight in their lifetimes.3 In short, we are putting ourselves at risk for developing diseases and death at a younger age. The challenge is to learn that what we eat directly affects our future. So we must watch what we do today to live for tomorrow.

Why It's So Easy to Get Fat

  • Poor diet: Latinos eat lots of fried foods, cheeses, meats, bread, white rice, and sugar. This kind of diet tends to make us fat and can lead to health problems in children and adults.
  • We don't exercise: Most Latinos live in inner cities, which can make it hard to exercise. Some areas may even be dangerous places for kids to play. But exercise helps to burn calories to keep weight down and make our bodies stronger. So we need to find ways to exercise.
  • Our beliefs: Being thin is not as important to us Latinos as it is to other ethnic groups. We tend to think that being fat is good and is healthy, but the opposite is true. Thinner people tend to be healthier.

What We Can Do To Help Lose Weight

  • Eat meals that won't make you fat: You can eat traditional meals but substitute vegetable oil for lard. Eat less red meat. Add salads, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables to meals. Eat more of greens, fruit and vegetables than you do of rice, bread, and meat.
  • Cut down on sugar: Latin foods contain lots of sugar. Cut back by eating fruit like papaya, guava and bananas, instead of drinking fruit nectars or juice. Use sugar substitutes for all or half the sugar you use to sweeten your coffee, tea, or cereal. Bake with artificial sweeteners and go easy on desserts that contain sugar.
  • Eat less and eat slowly. People get fat because they eat too much. Don't put big bowls of food on the table. Fill your plate at the stove and don't go back for seconds. Fast eaters tend to eat too much.
  • Be more active. A total of 30 minutes a week for adults and 60 minutes for kids is all it takes.4 We know it's hard to exercise when you live in the city, but there are ways that don't cost anything. Put on the music and dance and get your family to join you. Go for walks. Take the bus one stop too far and then walk back home. Every little bit helps.
  • Take an active role in your own health. Sayings like, Que sera, sera (What will be will be), Que sea lo que Dios quiera (It's in God's hands), and Esta enfermendad es una prueba de Dio (This illness is a test of God) may comfort us, but they don't work to help keep us healthy, We must do that for ourselves. We are in control of our health and we have a responsibility to our children to teach them well.


1 The Office of Minority Health
2 The American Heart Association/Risk Factors (Statistics on Physical Inactivity and Obesity)
3 Hispania News: The Hispanic Community's Newspaper (I know this isn't an .org, but it had the most usable and understandable statistics and was the most current.)
4 The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity

Asesoramiento médico para WellPoint:
Antonio Linares, MD, Regional Vice President, Medical Director
Ray Morales, MD, Regional Vice President, Medical Director
Daniel Salinas, MD, Vice President, Medical Director

Asesoramiento legal para WellPoint:
Lynette Cooper, RN CMCN, Senior Paralegal
Amy Sansbury, Associate General Counsel