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Science & Technology

UTHSC Studies Childhood Obesity Among Latinos

As diabetes and obesity remain at epidemic levels for the Latino community, a study at the UT Health Science Center-San Antonio aims to keep Hispanic children from becoming another member of the statistic pool. 

The $2.9 million obesity management study is being conducted by the UTHSC Institute for Health Promotion Research. The preliminary research was conducted out of a pediatric clinic in New Braunfels and it’s now expanding to three clinics under the University Health System. Unlike other similar research projects, this one focuses on maintaining their current weight instead of losing it.

“If we can slow the rate of weight gain as they grow, they’ll grow into their body size," said Debora Parra-Medina, the principal investigator of the study. "That’s very different than working with adults. Adults, you’re pretty much stuck with your height.”

In the U.S., 39 percent of Latino children between ages two to 19 are overweight. The non-Hispanic population is at 28 percent. Parra-Medina said the obesity epidemic is leading to major health complications early in life.

“We’re seeing children being diagnosed with hypertension, insulin disorders such as diabetes. We really need to curb this,” Parra-Medina said.

For six months 230 Hispanic children between the ages of six and 11 will be provided information on how to live a healthy lifestyle. Half the kids will receive in-clinic counseling and the other half will be given additional support from a health educator.

“Which includes one family counseling session face-to-face, and then monthly telephone counseling to the parent, mailed newsletters and text messages for six months,” Parra-Medina said.

The counseling component focuses on allowing the child to regulate their own meals with guidance, eating more meals at home, physical activity and eating breakfast and healthy food items. Impact will be measured by insulin, glucose, and cholesterol levels and behavioral changes. Funding is coming from the National Institutes of Health.