California State University, Long Beach
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HSI Grant Aimed at Reducing
Risks to Overweight Children

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a $295,000 Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) grant to the NCLR/CSULB Center for Latino Community Health, Evaluation and Leadership Training for a project aimed at empowering the Long Beach Latino community in reducing the risk of maternal obesity and overweight children.

Titled "Comienzo Sano: Familia Saludable" ("Healthy Start: Healthy Family"), the program is designed to impact and advance the quality of human nutrition education by recruiting and preparing first-generation educated Latino students enrolled in nutrition science and health science at CSULB.  These students will work with participants in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program—the premiere federal nutrition assistance program—which is administered locally by the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services.

"The findings from this program have the potential to enhance human nutrition and public health as the project addresses the inequities inherent in the soaring rates of obesity/overweight children among Latinos," said Britt Rios-Ellis, director of the project and of the NCLR/CSULB center. "The project will also provide students with a unique opportunity to learn within, and provide for, their respective communities."

Project organizers are recruiting, and then will train, 10 undergraduate and two graduate first-generation bilingual, bicultural Latino students to engage in training and outreach. They will also train the students in community participatory research methodology, health and nutrition education techniques, and motivational interviewing with Latina immigrant WIC participants.  In addition, students will receive career mentoring and development opportunities throughout the duration of the project.

"Latinos, particularly women and children, are at grave risk of overweight and obesity, which often leads to diabetes and other debilitating conditions," Rios-Ellis noted. "The Latino community is the most likely to lack health insurance and access to culturally and linguistically relevant care. Peer health educators (promotores) can provide that link and the health information and social support needed to make positive behavioral changes that will prevent disease and protect the health of the Latino family."

The project's initial objectives include developing a maternal/child health promotores-based curriculum and tool kit for use by student educators for the project; and providing no fewer than 200 Latina WIC participants with a culturally and linguistically competent promotores-based educational experience—encouraging breastfeeding initiation, exclusivity and duration; appropriate introduction of foods and liquids to alleviate the development of asthma and allergies; and nutrition and wellness instruction to prevent overweight and obesity in the Latino family.

By the end of the grant, Rios-Ellis hopes the project will enhance Latina breastfeeding rates as well as the cultural and scientific knowledge related to genetic, social and behavioral determinants of overweight children and obesity for pregnant and postpartum Latinas and their children, beyond that which is currently offered in the nutrition science and health sciences programs.

The project team consisting of Gail Frank, professor of family and consumer sciences; Kevin Malotte, professor of health science; and Melawhy Garcia, coordinator of the NCLR/CSULB Latino Center—in addition to Rios-Ellis—will collect qualitative and some quantitative data to add to the growing body of literature on these topics.  The team also plans to document and evaluate the project process and outcomes so that successful components may be replicated in other settings.

Finally, Rios-Ellis will establish a Web page to disseminate project issues and findings and will also host an HSI Best Practices Conference in spring 2008 featuring university and college researchers who have received funding from the USDA and are working to benefit the health status and access of the Latino community.