Working toward better lives for Latinos
March 1, 2023 | View PDF
It is well known that the Hispanic population has the second highest obesity rates in the world: More than 60% of Hispanics are overweight or obese. Both conditions occur when there is an excessive accumulation of body fat, especially in adipose tissue, subsequently leading to increased body weight. These conditions can be clinically detected through the Body Mass Index (BMI), with simple and easily measurable parameters. When the BMI is over 25, one is considered overweight and when the indicator is over 30, one is considered obese.
This is not exactly new information, but the data is striking and alarming. Although more and more measures are being taken to fight obesity, especially in children and teens, there are still many issues that need to be addressed. It is important to consider that both obesity and being overweight are major risk factors for developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, arthritis, sleep and emotional health disorders, respiratory problems and certain types of cancers. The situation is exacerbated for Latinos, who are a vulnerable population when it comes to accessing quality health care.
Lifestyle makes the difference
A healthy lifestyle is the best recommendation to prevent and treat obesity. This includes a proper diet, good eating habits, including exercise or physical activity in your daily routine and having defined sleeping schedules. In this sense, reducing the consumption of ultra-processed foods, artificial sodas and fast foods can be the beginning of a better lifestyle, and in the case of Latinos, these can be radical changes due to their cultural traits and family traditions.
The change in the diet of Latino immigrants in the United States has become the main element that promotes obesity and overweight by changing their routines and, above all, the access they have to quality food. An accelerated pace of life conditions Latino families to choose to consume more fast food, being also what is within their reach.
On the other hand, it is known that a sedentary lifestyle and a routine that does not include some type of physical activity is a determining factor for being overweight and developing obesity. Therefore, it is recommended to include at least 15 minutes of exercise per week and be active in different ways during the day. One of the most recommended activities is to take daily walks. These activities minimize the habits that promote inactivity, they can be done with family and encourage the occupation of open spaces for citizens and communities.
Sleeping well and having regular sleep schedules play an important role in the risk of becoming overweight or obese. Not getting enough sleep reduces the levels of melatonin production, a neurotransmitter in charge of regulating the sleep/wake cycle. As a consequence, the production of adrenaline and dopamine increases, which are responsible for the increase of appetite in people.
In summary, an improvement in individual, family, and collective eating habits promotes a healthier lifestyle, reducing the risk of becoming overweight or obese. It is essential that lawmakers are also motivated to create more accessible health strategies aimed at the Latino communities in the United States, focused on integrated and healthy eating within everyone’s reach.
This article is from the National Hispanic Council on Aging and part of an ongoing series by the Diverse Elders Coalition, examining different senior demographic groups.