CHLA researchers develop culturally-specific strategies to battle Latino childhood obesity

Denise Dador Image
Thursday, October 19, 2023
Doctors use culturally-specific plan to fight Latino childhood obesity
Latino children face a higher chance of developing diabetes and other chronic diseases. CHLA researchers are trying to reverse the trend.

Latino children face a significantly higher chance of developing diabetes and other chronic diseases in their lifetimes.

That's why researchers at Children's Hospital Los Angeles are trying to help reverse the trend of health disparities that often start in childhood.

For nearly all of his young life, high school senior Jesse Lopez has been batting obesity.

"Before quarantine I was around 250 pounds," he said.

For a young person, Lopez was dealing with a lot of adult diseases.

"I did have both high cholesterol and high blood pressure. And they told me it was very risky for me to keep on eating constantly," Lopez said.

His pediatrician referred him to CHLA where researchers like Michael Goran, PhD, Director of the Diabetes and Obesity program is focusing on specific strategies designed specifically for Latino families.

"Fifty percent of Latinos born today will develop type two diabetes in their lifetime," he said.

Latino children and teens have the highest rate of obesity compared to any other ethnic group. By age 2, the data reveals these kids have twice the level of being overweight and obese than Black and white children.

"We think there's something in early life nutrition or the early life environment that's triggering that early-onset of the disparity," he said.

Besides poor access to healthy foods and safe places to exercise, Goran said air pollution can trigger fat cell development and type 2 diabetes. Even baby formula is a factor.

"50 percent of the formula now is made with corn syrup," he said.

In one study, Goran is working with households receiving supplemental nutrition assistance and with just $200 a week, he said you can make healthy meals.

"We are working with families and dieticians to develop culturally Latino-specific meal plans, delivering it to their house with the recipes," Goran said.

Along with lifestyle education and perseverance, Lopez said he's been able to make many positive changes.

"Within these last three years, I have lost around 40 to 45 pounds, " Lopez said.

New choices have become permanent habits.

"Create some new goals each month or week, if possible," he said.

MORE: Child obesity rates expected to triple by 2050

Treating obesity in children can be a very different matter than treating adults. Experts at Children's Hospital Los Angeles say it's about looking at the connection between weight and overall health, but also looking at the future health of a child.