The Dove Springs neighborhood in southeast Austin runs from Ben White to William Cannon, bound by Montopolis and Pleasant Valley on the east, and Interstate 35 on the west. After the Bergstrom Air Force Base closed in the 1990's, it became a community marked by juvenile gang violence, drugs and poverty. While some of that crime has dissipated, Dove Springs still has one of the highest reported crime rates in Travis County. And two-thirds of the neighborhood population is Hispanic, making it one of the most rapidly growing immigrant neighborhoods in Austin.
One of the issues affecting Dove Springs is childhood obesity.
Dove Springs resident Nu Champeng says she realized her son, Ridel, had a weight problem when he was in fouth grade.
"The doctor asked when we went for check up: 'He’s overweight we should do blood test to check his sugar level, make sure he’s not [at risk for] diabetes.' And that was wake up call of us," Champeng says.
According to the Austin school district:
- In the 2011-2012 school year, 48 percent of elementary school students in Dove Springs were obese or overweight.
- At Mendez Middle School, about half of students were overweight or obese.
- In 2012-2013 school year, 59 percent of students district-wide had a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) rating.
AISD has implemented a variety of district-wide initiatives to promote healthy eating habits and exercise. It's removed high-sugar snacks from vending machines, and painted designs on campus sidewalks that combine exercise and learning, like multiplication tables.
In Texas, students must have 135 minutes of structured physical activity per week. They attend gym class on a three-day rotation with music and art. Teachers must incorporate the rest of the exercise requirement into lesson plans.
Dove Springs residents say barriers to healthy activity extend beyond school walls. Residents say one reason is a collective fear the area is dangerous. Another is a lack of adequate park and recreation space.
“The problem right now is they don’t have no water fountain, no portable toilets. So the kids, I’ve seen it, they want to go take care of business they go behind the tree and pee," says resident Gloria Lugo.
Lugo is working with the city and school district to get a running track and park at Houston Elementary School within the next academic year.
Some researchers say if childhood obesity is not addressed, this could be the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than their parents, which could mean more medical issues for those children as they age.