Yesterday, Coachella Unincorporated reporter Karla Martinez shared her little sister’s fitness journey following her obesity diagnosis. Kenia, 11, has already lost 20 pounds.
Dr. Christopher Flores, a local family practice doctor, recently took the time to answer her questions about how we can help kids like Kenia improve their health.
How can we encourage kids to get fit without hurting their feelings?
Separate the problem from the person. In our culture we tend to “blame the victim” and focus on individual and personal responsibilities (don’t eat junk, exercise more, etc.) as opposed to dealing with institutional, socioeconomic, and environmental factors that contribute to obesity. Get kids into healthy eating by doing fun activities – going to farmer’s market, healthy cooking classes, cooking together and making a healthy salad or fruit plate from scratch. Make exercise fun by playing sports, going on hikes, riding bicycles, etc.
When you talk to kids and young people, describe the problem of obesity as a society and community problem, which it is. Although of course we have to focus on how many calories the individual takes in, and how many calories an individual burns off through exercise, it really helps to talk about the larger forces that contribute to obesity. There are institutional (lack of healthy foods available at school, soft drinks and sugary beverages available more than water, etc.), socioeconomic (maybe some families don’t have easy transportation and the only stores close by sell high calorie/nutrient poor food, or maybe the neighborhood is not that safe to exercise in, so it is safer to stay indoors and watch TV or play on computer or smart phone), and environmental factors (lack of accessible sports or recreation activities, lack of public transportation to get to supermarket or farmer’s market, lots of marketing and advertising for fast food, soda pop, junk food and snacks, etc.).
Why are more Latino kids are overweight than non-Latino kids?
There are genetic predispositions to being overweight (look up “thrifty gene” and “metabolic syndrome”) and cultural issues that contribute. Many Latino families equate healthy (with) chubby children. A thin child is seen as scrawny or anemic. Even among adults I see that older generation connects overweight with being well off and successful. More money means more food and less need to work hard. Also, generally speaking, Latino population is more affected by institutional, socioeconomic, and environmental factors listed above.
What are some healthy snacks for kids when they’re craving junk food, especially when they’re not exposed to healthy eating?
Whole fruits and fresh veggies are the best. A freshly peeled orange tastes a lot better than a packaged candy or potato chip snack. Nuts, dried fruits and raisins are good as well. I have been involved with building some community and school gardens in the desert. This helps kids eat healthier. There is nothing better than eating a fresh ripe peach or apricot right off the tree, or picking a fresh tomato right from the vine. A lot of times when kids are “hungry,” it is really that they are thirsty. Some ice cold water with a squeeze of orange or lemon can take away a craving if it is really thirst that is the problem.
How often do kids need to exercise in order to be healthy?
Kids can and should exercise every day. Healthy kids have fun playing and running. Any sport is great. Think about it, young kids never get tired. They can run and run if they are having fun.
What are the downfalls of gaining weight at a young age?
There are several downfalls. As a doctor, I know that being an overweight child sets you up for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, and arthritis. Also, being overweight as a child can negatively impact self-esteem. It is harder for overweight kids to play sports or be good in athletics, so they can be teased or be the last pick when choosing teams for sports.