The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded a five-year, $3.75 million grant to the National Council of La Raza (NCLR)-Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) Center for Latino Community Health, Evaluation and Leadership Training for a project designed to address Latino nutrition as it relates to the goal of reducing childhood obesity.
Obesity is a health problem that disproportionately affects Hispanics/Latinos and contributes significantly to diabetes and other chronic diseases. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey administered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prevalence rates for overweight and obesity in children and adolescents have tripled in the past 30 years. Obesity prevalence among U.S. children ages 2-5 more than doubled between 1980 and 2008 from 5 percent to 10.4 percent, and these figures are even grimmer for many low-income and minority communities, with a particularly high prevalence among Latinos.
Under the leadership of a transdisciplinary team of experts, CSULB’s Britt Rios-Ellis, professor of health science and director of the NCLR-CSULB Center; Gail Frank, professor of nutrition and director of CSULB’s nationally accredited ADA Dietetic Internship; and Avery Goldstein, professor of child development, will develop and institutionalize an innovative course of study and experiential learning experience to promote in-depth and culturally-relevant nutrition and health interventions targeting at-risk and underserved Latino communities in Southern California.
“We are very excited about this project as it will facilitate the opportunity to continue our culturally congruent community based participatory research efforts, fund first generation-educated Latino students in master’s programs in public health and nutrition, and integrate a new certificate program into our university curriculum,” said Rios-Ellis, principal investigator for the project. “Within the five-year grant timeframe, we will be able to develop and integrate a graduate certificate in Latino nutrition, chronic disease and childhood obesity to our university’s larger curricular fabric.”
Each year the project will provide seven research fellowships and full-tuition scholarships to first generation-educated graduate students who will be trained to conduct community-based participatory research on childhood obesity prevention within the Latino community. The fellows will receive tuition, fees and stipends.
The project also aims to address the current and projected shortage in health care professionals by increasing the number of Latino graduate students who have master’s degrees in nutrition and public health. Additionally, project directors will institutionalize a six course graduate level Latino Health and Nutrition Studies certificate program at CSULB that will lead to improvements in health and nutrition programming to reduce obesity among Latino children ages 2-8 and their family members.
Frank, the project’s co-principal investigator, believes that by developing a series of graduate courses focusing on Latino health and nutrition, CSULB students will not only gain a bona fide certificate identifying their advanced knowledge, but also align themselves immediately with other highly skilled professionals.
“Our health science and nutrition graduates will join a legion of new leaders to improve the well-being of our Latino population,” Frank pointed out. “It is such a privilege to be recognized for our approach and to obtain strong federal funding from USDA to continue our programs. We are becoming a national model demonstrating how universities can empower their campus while improving the lives of individuals in the community.”
Additionally, the project will develop a culturally and linguistically relevant "Sanos y Fuertes" (Healthy and Strong) toolkit and educational program to be offered to Latino families with young children to improve nutrition and health and reduce obesity.
In the first year of the project, 12 focus groups with community members will be conducted to ask for their insight regarding effective and needed strategies and activities. Both the CSULB leadership and community partners are committed to community-based participatory research that integrates the needs of our nation with research efforts. Such a community-university link is made possible by strong partnerships with organizations including the YMCA of Greater Long Beach, the City of Paramount Community Services and Recreation Department, Padres en Acción, Children and Families Health Connections, and St. Mary’s Medical Center.
“This grant is also providing us an opportunity to collaborate with a wealth of organizations while we open a satellite center in the heart of the Long Beach Latino community,” Rios-Ellis concluded. “These collective efforts further CSULB’s mission of community service and enable us to positively impact the lives of a greater number of Latino families while developing tested interventions to decrease the staggering rates of childhood overweight and obesity and serve as national culturally congruent models for prevention.”