Updated 04:51 PM EDT, Thu, Oct 22, 2020

Fewer Healthy Food Options in School Contributing to Latino Kids Risk of Obesity

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Latino children's low access to healthier food options is contributing to their high obesity rates.

A report released by Salud America! on Tuesday found that children in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods have easier access to unhealthy food selections in cafeteria vending machines that are location within a few blocks of their schools. Dr. Amelie Ramirez, the director of Salud America!, said that schools in Latino neighborhoods don't offer healthy food alternatives.

"We're encouraging schools to do away with their vending machines, and options like that, because children are surrounded by unnecessarily high caloric food," Ramirez said, as quoted in a report from NBC News. "Also within close proximity of these schools are convenience stores and fast food restaurants that also contribute to the increase in our Latino students' weight."

Salud America!, which is based at the University of Texas, San Antonio, also found that 81 percent of high-density Latino neighborhoods have limited access to active spaces such as parks and recreation facilities, Yahoo! News reported. In addition, only 70 percent of Latinos say that their neighborhoods have safe places for children to play. Almost 40 percent of Hispanic kids are overweight or obese.

"Latino kids don't get enough exercise, so it's critical to make parks, school playgrounds, and other recreational sites safer and more accessible to help Latino kids be active and fight obesity," Ramirez said, as quoted in Yahoo! News' report.

Ramirez and her team found that even though First Lady Michelle Obama has federally mandated healthy food initiative, schools in high-density Latino neighborhoods still don't follow the guidelines. The research found that Latino-majority schools are inclined to have "weaker policies on school snacks and drinks than white-majority schools," NBC News further reported.

Controlling portion sizes, "lowering calorie intake," and "encouraging exercise" would help in combating childhood obesity rates, NBC News listed. Ramirez said controlling food consumption helps, but that effort is inadequate.

"Our food portions have increased over time as well, so there are all these extra calories," she noted, as quoted by NBC News. "In addition to the nutrition, our kids also don't have access to safe spaces for physical activity and exercise."

In order to have more recreation space for children, Salud America! recommended that communities increase the number of green space and implement safe-space initiatives, Yahoo! News added. Expanding shared-use agreements -- which are formal contracts giving residents access to a school or other public property -- can be a huge help in lowering obesity rates among Latino children. This move, however, could raise issues about liability and funding for the extra staff required to keep a playground open after hours.

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