Take Care of Your Family and Protect your Health, a weight control pilot program

Published on
November 5, 2009

I am a journalist with twenty five years of experience. I have worked as reporter in United States and Mexico. During the last ten years I worked for a weekly newspaper Enlace, which is part of the San Diego Union-Tribune. During that time, I covered two very important issues for Latinos: Education and Health.

While covering Education, I met Maria Chavez, former Executive Director for the San Diego County Office of Education, Migrant Education Program, a federal program focusing in the education of farmer-workers and their children, in San Diego and Orange Counties.

One day, I saw Chavez cry for her brother who died at age of 38, due diabetes. Chavez told me diabetes was a disease that had attacked her family, and she wanted to do something in order to help others Latinos.

A year later, during an education meeting, Chavez told those parents that she would start a weight control pilot program, because overweight and obesity caused a lot of illness such as diabetes. "If we continue with this extra weight, we are not going to live until we are old," Chavez said.

Chavez invited a group of twelve parents and their children, also with overweight problems, to joint her pilot program "Cuida tu familia y protege tu salud", it means take care of your family and protect your health. She explained that participants would receive information from experts on three different areas: nutrition, exercise, and mental health, so they could identify the different elements that they would consider important and essential in the process of changing their eating habits.

Wuau!! It was the first time that I had heard about a weight control program, free, and in Spanish. And specially designed for farmer-workers!

I wanted to share their experience with our readers. I asked them to let me participate as an observer. The program lasted four months and the workshops took place once a week in the evenings. I knew their effort to create their own program was important for a lot of reasons. Here are some:

  • Latinos have an overweight problem but among farmer-workers the problem is bigger, according to Chavez.
  • Losing weight is a big challenge for all, but it is harder for low -income families because it takes time and money, and farm-workers have neither.
  • Most overweight parents will transfer their unhealthy lifestyle habits to their children.
  • Overweight and obesity is a big problem in our country; however, it was the first time that I have heard about a weight control program focusing in farm-worker families, free and in Spanish.

Following farm-workers trough their workshops, I learned that they had not heard about nutrition. Even more, they realized that they were over eating due to depression. Eating had become an addiction and an escape to their emotional pain of living far away from their families and their country.

In order to participate in the program, the parents asked that I should speak about myself, just like they had. I accepted the challenge. I spoke about my life and my habits and told them that I loved swimming. Then, I offered to give them one free swimming lesson. They were excited. However, when I reported this to my editor I was told not do that, because I would lose my objectivity as reporter. Then I asked my daughter who was a lifeguard in a community college if she would teach the swimming lesson for me. She agreed and issue was solved.

It was only one swimming class, but the parents were very happy. Lilia Ramirez, one of the participants in the program who weighted 318 pounds at the beginning of the program, and lost 32 pounds, told me that she had not swam in a lot of years. "I have curiosity, I wonder if I could still swim. I used to cross a river in my village when I was a little girl," said Ramirez.

The pilot program was very successful. All the parents lost weight, some more than others. At the end, the farm-workers made an evaluation. They wrote their own ideas. However, the conclusion was that in order to lose weight they need a comprehensive program that includes nutrition, exercising and mental health. Moreover, they said that in order to stay on the path to change bad eating habits, they need a support group.

Unfortunately, due to health problems, Chavez had to retire; however, she is currently writing, in Spanish, a whole report about the program.

Here are the three series of stories that I wrote for Enlace. You can read them in English on: http://expo.newamericamedia.org/winners/stories/healthcare