Recently, a study found some good news: more Americans are drinking fewer sugary soft drinks and eating healthier foods like whole grains, fish, and nuts. But then there’s the bad news: these positive trend lines are not happening across the board. Far too many Americans have not improved their nutrition—a problem particularly acute in the Latino community.
The findings are sobering. According to the experts, 38 percent of Latino children are overweight or obese, compared with 28 percent of white children. And yet another report found that being Hispanic increases the risk factor for developing pre diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
At first, this may seem like an issue confined only to the Latino community. But it’s not. That’s because Latinos are our country’s youngest and fastest growing demographic, making up a considerable portion of the entire U.S. population. Memphis is among the many cities that has seen a tremendous amount of Latino population growth. Other cities in the Volunteer State, including Nashville and Chattanooga, have also seen the Latino population grow.
As the executive director of Latinos for Tennessee, a statewide organization committed to protecting and promoting faith, family, freedom and fiscal responsibility, it pains me to read statistics showing that Latino families are not eating well and leading unhealthy lifestyles.
For some, the answer is bigger government. A few years ago, then New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg grabbed headlines by going after the sugary drink industry—a move panned by many and eventually ruled unconstitutional by an appeals court.
But what if there was a better way than relying on government to regulate what and how much we can eat?
As it turns out, there is and it starts with the family.
The truth is that healthy habits start at home. Children inherit beliefs and habits about diet and exercise from their families. If, as a parent, I never drink ice water, but always reach for orange soda: I can’t be surprised to discover my children have turned into sugar addicts.
Recently, one of my fellow board members was telling me a story about the lack of non-sugary drinks at the refreshment table after her church service. For years, no one had thought about an alternative to lemonade and sweet tea. Eventually, she introduced a pitcher of iced water, but it didn’t necessarily take off.
It’s not just drinks. Latin American food is delicious! But a lot of the recipes call for deep-frying meat and other carb-laden goodies. Vegetables are often missing in meals.
Before anyone gets the wrong idea, no one is suggesting we do away with these recipes that have been passed on from generation to generation. Instead, we could accompany these delicious dishes with some healthier food options, and limit our intake of fried foods.
To be sure, the government can play a role in providing us with more information and raising awareness about the benefits of healthy eating, but at the end of the day, this is about the local community, and about families passing on healthy habits to a new generation.
This is why Latinos for Tennessee is partnering with the Memphis Health Center and Kingsbury Middle School to host a Healthy Start Health and Wellness Fair this weekend before the beginning of the school year.
Families will be able to access health screenings, free food, and school supplies. Parents and children will also be able to hear from health care experts who can pass on simple but valuable tips to encourage a healthier lifestyle.
We invite everyone to join us for this event that we hope is just the start of a conversation on how the Latino community in Memphis can make small changes to our diets and lifestyle for healthier living. We hope other community leaders in Memphis will join our efforts.
Raul Lopez is the executive director for Latinos for Tennessee, a statewide organization, including a presence in Memphis, that is committed to protecting and promoting faith, family, freedom and fiscal responsibility. For more information, please visit here.