Latinos are Texas’ fastest-growing population group. And they are grappling with soaring obesity rates. According to the Department of State Health Services, almost 40 percent of Hispanics are obese. To combat the health crisis, cities as well as state lawmakers are aiming to get Latinos exercising and eating healthier.
The Texas State Demographer’s office expects that by 2030, nearly six million Latinos will be obese. That number could soar to almost nine and a half million by 2040. All that adds up to a looming health crisis, with potentially high costs for the state.
Across the state local communities are trying to raise awareness. Here in Austin, the local Univision station has teamed up with Austin Parks and Rec to offer a fitness challenge through October. They kicked things off with a public Zumba event last Saturday at the Mexican American Cultural Center.
Derald Gutierrez, a 56-year-old Austinite, struggles with his weight. He said he knows why many Latinos are obese.
"It’s a lot of the foods that we eat. They have a lot of grease in them," Gutierrez said. "We don’t eat a lot of vegetables, that’s the main problem. I was overweight myself. I’ve lost about 30 pounds but I’m still nowhere near where I need to be.
Gutierrez told me his weight has led to lung and heart problems, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and high blood pressure.
Those kinds of health effects concern state lawmakers. Several have filed bills this session to combat obesity. From a bill that would stop sales of sugary drinks at public school campuses to one to make healthy meals more accessible to low-income Texans and another that would require the state comptroller’s office to post information on obesity rates and getting healthy on its website.
Claudia Muñoz, 23, said she’s definitely concerned about staying healthy. She would like to get to more events like the Zumba event with her kids, who are 1 and 3 years old.
"The kids will have fun while you have fun. They exercise and you exercise," she said. "It gives them a good way to exercise and have fun at the same time and then by the time you get home they’re tired and go to sleep."
Experts say controlling obesity rates in young children is critical – not only does it contribute to lifelong health effects – obesity associated with lower school and work performance as the children get older.