Getting to the root of childhood obesity among Hispanics

Posted on September 15, 2017 by Alexander Vigo-Valentín, Ph.D. Public Health Advisor, HHS Office of Minority Health

High blood pressure. Type 2 Diabetes. What do these two conditions have in common? Their numbers are growing and obesity may be the reason why. Childhood obesity in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s, and the crisis poses a particular threat to the life expectancy of Hispanic children. About 40% of Hispanic children in the U.S. are either overweight or obese, while 20% are obese, higher than many other racial and ethnic populations.

Childhood obesity can lead to serious chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, asthma and type 2 diabetes, which are highly prevalent in the Hispanic population, especially during adulthood. Hispanic children who are obese might also experience other negative consequences, including psychological distress, poor social interactions, school absenteeism, and overall poor school performance.2 Therefore, understanding the roots of childhood obesity in Hispanic children can shed light on how to improve the quality of life of this particular population.

Hispanic children might be exposed to behavioral, sociocultural, and environmental influences that affect their ability to maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI) , according to their age, height, and sex.3 Eating habits and increases in calorie intake combined with sedentary behaviors, such as hours watching TV or playing video games, along with a reduction in physical activity are significantly impacting their current weight status. 4, Parental practices as well as social norms might also discourage Hispanic children from engaging in healthy eating and active lifestyles and intensify their child’s risk of being obese.6 Compounding the issue is that many Hispanic neighborhoods lack access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables, safe parks, and school-based physical education programs.

Programs to reverse and prevent childhood obesity in Hispanic children must focus on improving children’s confidence and ability to make better and healthier choices.

At the community level, the use of promotores de salud , also known as community health workers, could stimulate changes in social and environmental elements leading to improvements in eating, physical activity, and sedentary behaviors. 7 Additionally, federal-level initiatives such as the HHS Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child, Presidential Youth Fitness Program and the USDA Local Wellness Policy encourage multi-sector collaborations to improve wellness, access, and opportunities for children in school settings.

Effective public health programs should focus on the behaviors and social and physical environment where Hispanic children live, play, and study to ensure they can achieve 60 minutes of physical activity daily, reduce sedentary behaviors and engage in healthy eating. Our children deserve the opportunity to live longer and we all have a role to provide them with the support, tools and knowledge to have brighter, healthier futures.


1. National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2016: With Chartbook on Long-term Trends in Health. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2017.

2. McGuire S, Institute of Medicine. 2012. Accelerating progress in obesity prevention: solving the weight of the nation. Washington, DC: the National Academies Press. Adv Nutr. Sep 01 2012;3(5):708-709.

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Defining Childhood Obesity. Available at: Accessed August 4, 2017.

4. Vigo-Valentín A, Hodge SR, Kozub FM. Adolescents' dietary habits, physical activity patterns, and weight status in Puerto Rico. Childhood Obesity. 2011;7(6):488-494.

5. Branscum P, Sharma MW. A systematic analysis of childhood obesity prevention interventions targeting Hispanic children: lessons learned from the previous decade. Obesity Reviews. 2011;12(5).

6. Ochoa A, Berge JM. Home Environmental Influences on Childhood Obesity in the Latino Population: A Decade Review of Literature. J Immigr Minor Health. 2017;19(2):430-447.

7. Crespo NC, Elder JP, Ayala GX, et al. Results of a multi-level intervention to prevent and control childhood obesity among Latino children: the Aventuras Para Niños Study. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 2012;43(1):84-100.