Lockdowns, Remote Learning Contribute To Surge In Childhood Obesity

Poor nutrition, stress and a loss of physical activity when schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic appear to be worsening the problem of childhood obesity nationally and in Connecticut.

Nationally, obesity among youth ages 2 to 19 increased from 19.3% in 2019 to 22.4% in 2020, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The same age group saw the rate of increase in their body mass index (BMI) double during the pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. The heaviest youths experienced the highest gains.

In Connecticut, the obesity rate among ages 10 to 17 rose from 13.3% in 2018-19 to 15.3% in 2019-2020, according to the Johnson Foundation report.

Pediatrician referrals of children have nearly tripled at the Pediatric Obesity Center for Treatment, Research and Education at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford. In 2019, it had 890 referrals, which grew to 2,491 in 2021. It now has a waiting list of nearly a year, with 642 children on it, said Dr. Christine Finck, the center’s surgical director.

“The ramp-up in referrals was so acute and took us by surprise,’’ Finck said. “It’s really been a tough challenge.�

To meet the demand, the center is expanding its program—which offers nutrition education, counseling, and even bariatric surgery for children with severe obesity—into Farmington, Fairfield and Westport, said Dr. Melissa Santos, the division chief of pediatric psychology and the clinical director of the center.

“Kids’ rates of obesity are significantly higher now than they’ve ever been,’’ Santos said, with some patients weighing 400, 500 and even 800 pounds.

Gardening And Jumping Jacks

A variety of programs across Connecticut are tackling childhood obesity.

Joey Listro

With 13 gardens at city schools, New Britain ROOTS teaches children to improve their eating habits by growing collard greens, spinach, lettuce, squash, and even tilapia in a new fish reservoir. Executive Director Joey Listro said ROOTS educates 500 children at a time, and it’s been therapeutic to see them back outdoors after the stress of the pandemic.

“Gardening has a very calming effect,’’ Listro said. “And if they don’t have media around them, they can be left alone with their own thoughts.�

One of the longest-running programs in the state is the Bright Bodies Healthy Lifestyle Program, which Mary Savoye, a registered dietitian, started 23 years ago at Yale New Haven Hospital. She said participants in the program have seen a 1.7-unit drop in their BMI after one year, compared to a 1.6-unit increase in the control group.

Bright Bodies provides 70 families a year with nutrition education, behavior modification and exercise classes, now held on Zoom and featuring planks, lunges and jumping jacks.

The effect of the pandemic on children’s weight and their ability to exercise has been stark, Savoye said.

“There was a limited amount of exercise happening and a lot of emotional eating,’’ she said.

She said nutrition also suffered in many households, where parents were buying unhealthy, processed food because it had a long shelf life.

Melissa Santos

In Hartford, Santos said isolation, stress and excess screen time when learning was remote contributed to childhood obesity. One of her program’s goals is to have the children spend no more than two hours a day online instead of the 12 or more hours she’s seeing. Its other “Fit5� daily goals are: eat five fruits and vegetables, have four servings of calcium, give and get three compliments, exercise for one hour and have no sugar-sweetened drinks.

Santos said some of her patients rarely went outdoors during the pandemic.

“I had one mom say, ‘My child looks ashy,’ � Santos said. “She’s like, ‘I make him go sit outside in the sun for a half an hour a day like he’s a houseplant.’ �

Better Self-Esteem

Many of Bright Bodies’ participants come from low-income families, and about two-thirds are Black or Latino—all groups disproportionately affected by childhood obesity, Savoye said.

But two participants say they’ve lost weight, are eating in moderation, and feel better about themselves now.

Sol Gonzalez of New Haven said her pediatrician recommended Bright Bodies last spring because her son AngelGabriel Coronel’s blood sugar levels put him at risk for diabetes. Since joining, AG, as his family calls him, has lost 12 pounds. The fifth-grader at Nathan Hale School said he gets less out of breath now playing basketball.

“Before, I used to think that other kids would make fun of me when I wasn’t looking, but now, I don’t think they really are,’’ AG said. “I’ve gotten lighter, and I can do a lot of things that I couldn’t before, like I can play sports better.�

Tears welled up in Alysha Newton-Cueto’s eyes as she talked about being teased for being overweight while growing up.

“I used to get bullied a lot,� Newton-Cueto, 21, of New Haven, said. “Kids said I should drop off a bridge.�

But she said things are looking up for her thanks to Bright Bodies. Her mother, Tiquanda Newton, said her daughter had done the program at age 10 and asked if she could do it again when her self-esteem was low last fall. She can take part at her age because she has cognitive and learning disabilities, Newton said.

The family’s eating better and doing the Zoom workouts together. Newton said she’s lost 14 pounds and Newton-Cueto has lost 13.

“It’s something that was missing in our family for a long time,’’ Newton said of Bright Bodies.


Cover Photo: Angel Gabriel Coronel, 10, of New Haven, has lost 12 pounds since joining the Bright Bodies program. He is heading into his third 12-week session. He has learned about healthy eating and enjoys the exercise program.

Photo by Melanie Stengel

Publisher’s Note:  CTLN and c-hit.org collaborate to best serve the Connecticut Hispanic, Latino community.

CTLN Opinion+: Debra Greenwood

This week CTLN Opinion+ had the opportunity to speak with Debra Greenwood, President, and CEO of The Center for Family Justice (CFJ). Greenwood has spent more than 35 years in nonprofit management, with extensive experience in strategic planning, fundraising, community mobilization, and leadership and program development.

Prior to joining The Center for Family Justice, she served as a CEO at various YMCAs in the region, leading four successful Capital Campaigns that resulted in creating a new YMCA, two renovations at different Ys, and most recently remodeling The Center for Family Justice. 

The Center for Family Justice is a nonprofit that provides free, confidential crisis and supportive services to victims and survivors of domestic, sexual, and child violence in Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford, and Trumbull. Dated back to 1895, it began as the Bridgeport YWCA, and in 2016 it became Connecticut’s first Family Justice Center to provide support and help in keeping victims safe under one roof in one safe place. Today, CFJ joins over 150 family justice centers in the U.S. and 16 other countries to help victims lead a life free of trauma and abuse.

CFJ offers 24/7 crisis hotlines for sexual and domestic violence victims. It welcomes non-English speakers by providing bilingual services. Greenwood says, “looking and understanding the people that we serve and in addition to our hotlines being in Spanish as well, we have language lines for those that speak many languages.” Their most prominent population support group is in Spanish, and they are now adding a Portuguese support group. Hotline services expanded to in-office visits, and satellite offices are available for those in the suburbs.

The pandemic affected all of us worldwide, but more so for those individuals who had no choice but to stay home with their abusive partners. She mentioned that abuse could be more than partner violence, not only husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend. It could be a mother or father and their child. “We realized so many individuals were sheltering at home with their abusive partner.” “Schools were online, and kids weren’t going to school, so they didn’t have that safety net where they can speak to a teacher or guidance counselor or someone.”

After the lockdown, their office pivoted in less than 72 hours and went completely remote. “We never stopped with our hotlines or counseling those that we have been counseling.â€�

CFJ advocates and counselors continued working on their cases non-stop. They noticed their numbers were jumping well over 25-30 percent in the greater Bridgeport area.

Another great topic discussed is CFJ’s legal and attorneys’ support system. They provide free and confidential services to help victims through the journey of survivorship. This service is especially needed when the mother is trying to keep her children safe, and in many cases, the children are taken away.

A new empower house is opening in Fall 2022, supporting around 1,400 individuals and children who need a safe place to stay. This empower house was possible through the state’s financial support, foundation donations, and grants received.

Resources mentioned in this episode: https://centerforfamilyjustice.org/about-us/

Massiel Abramson and “The Power of Our Narratives”

During the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic, Latinos, in particular, have suffered and faced disproportional health and economic impacts. For example, the group is 1.7 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than their non-Hispanic white counterparts and 4.1 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19, and 2.8 times more likely to die from the disease.

The pandemic is taking a toll on mental health. A 2021 Healthy Now survey found that about 60 percent of Americans were more likely to feel stressed, anxious, and/or depressed last fall as compared to 50 percent during the fall of 2020.

On June 5, 2020, Wallingford resident Massiel Abramson launched her online business Massiel Abramson, LMFT Therapy and Consulting. Abramson saw the opportunity during the pandemic to support people with their mental health.

“I have an entrepreneur spirit and it’s always been my calling to increase communication among individuals when it comes to mental health needs,� said Abramson.

Massiel Abramson is a sought-after guest speaker.

Abramson felt compelled to support a world struggling with social justice issues, isolation, and interpersonal conflicts. Her business provides mental health treatment, consultation, and coaching services.

“I see myself as the cousin, a Latinx Mary Poppins, you didn’t know you had, bringing an afro-centric, family-focused, and strength-based perspective. I bring humor, creativity, and playfulness to my work,� said Abramson.

She approaches therapy by addressing an individuals’ problems through family history and the community, she said.

Coming to the United States from the Dominican Republic at the age of 5, Abramson speaks fluent Spanish and provides services in both languages.

“I bring my cultural humility and pride into the work that I do,� said Abramson. “I find that my background and culture bring more people into the conversation, and I am able to highlight the need for all of us, American born or immigrants, to know ourselves from a cultural perspective,� she added.

Another motivation for starting her business came after the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota in 2020, an event that caused protests nationwide. As a person of color, Abramson felt the need to help with issues involving race and discrimination, she told the Latino Communities Reporting Lab. 

“In these recent times, we are being challenged on how much we are willing to push for change and equality,” Abramson wrote in Reflections of an Afro-Dominicana Family Therapist in 2017. “As an Afro-Dominicana, my silent torment has manifested in many different ways — from overly proving my worth at the workplace to graciously deflecting unwelcome advances and even chemically straightening my hair.”

She said that as a family therapist, she’s come to appreciate and value the power of “our narratives” and reflect on those stories during times of transformation. “More specifically, the stories that intersect with the different parts of my identity”, she said. “Through that intersectionality, she has come to explore and expand her “reflective capacity” — the ability to find different ways to process the choices “we’ve made and the circumstances we are dealt with.”

DominicDominicans In Meriden Honor Nuestra Señora De La Altagracia

The Dominican community of Meriden celebrated Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia — Our Lady of Altagracia — the “protector of the Dominican peopleâ€� earlier this month like millions of their compatriots in the island nation.

Parishioners walked through St. Rose of Lima Parish at a special mass on Sunday, January 23, carrying the image of the Virgin as the choir sang. Organizers made their way to the altar wearing Dominican national costumes. The church was decorated with flowers, highlighting the colors of the Dominican flag: red, blue and white.

The procession through the streets of Colonial Zoe to honor the Patron Saint Altagracia. (Picture courtesy: Colonial Zone-DR)

Hundreds of thousands of devoted visitors make the trip to the Basílica Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia in Salvaleón de Higüey in the Dominican Republic to see the painting of their patron saint.

The story of Our Lady de Altagracia dates back to when Spain first colonized the island of Hispaniola. Alonso y Antonio de Trejo, are said to have brought a painting of the Virgin to Hispaniola from their home in Placencia in 1502.

The legend states that the image of the Virgin mysteriously disappeared from the house of the brothers Trejo and later reappeared in an orange bush. The location of this bush is where the first church of Higuey was built.

The image of Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia is believed to have been painted in the late 15th century in Spain. It was mysteriously delivered by a shrouded elderly man who dropped off the painting and disappeared. The painting shows the scene of the birth of Jesus. 

Another miracle story tells how Dominican soldiers appealed to the Virgin to help them win victory over the French in the 1691 battle in La Limonade, near Cap-Haitien in northern Haiti. They won the battle.

Virgen de la Altagracia was crowned the spiritual mother of Higuey by pontificate of Pius XI in August 15, 1922. The ceremony was held in Santo Domingo at the Puerta del Conde. Later, President of the Dominican Republic, Doctor Joaquin Antonio Balaguer Ricardo declared that Día de la Altagracia would be celebrated on January 21 as a national holiday.

According to Colonial Zone-DR, 1in every 12 Dominicans are named Altagracia in honor of the patron saint.

“Personally, it has been an enriching experience for me,� Rev. James Manship said in an interview with the Record Journal’s Latino Communities Reporting Lab.

St. Rose of Lima started to celebrate a special Mass honoring Our Lady of Altagracia in 2018, as it recognized the growth of the Dominican community locally, Manship noted.

We invite you to read stories about Virgen de la Altagracia from parishioners: Dominicans in Meriden honor Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia


Publisher’s Notes: This story is an aggregate from Colonial Zone-DR and the Latino Communities Reporting Lab.

CTLatinoNews partners with the Latino Communities Reporting Lab in best serving the Hispanic-Latino communities of Connecticut.

More Women Than Men Put Off Medical Appointments Due To Pandemic, Survey Finds

Like many women throughout Connecticut, Isabella Vasquez of New Britain has missed or postponed health care appointments due to the pandemic.

For the 23-year-old house cleaner, postponing medical appointments became necessary when the COVID-19 crisis-affected childcare for her 2-year-old son.

“I would have to not go to my appointments sometimes because I didn’t have childcare,� she said. “When COVID struck, that’s when daycare became less reliable.� If her son sneezed or had a runny nose, daycare would not accept him, Vasquez explained.

More women than men have either missed medical appointments or postponed the care they thought they needed during the height of the pandemic, according to a DataHaven survey released in October of more than 5,000 randomly selected state residents.

The 2021 Community Wellbeing Survey found that 12% of women didn’t get the health care they needed in the last year, compared to 10% of men. Similarly, 34% of women postponed the medical care they thought they needed during the same time frame, while just 26% of men reported putting off care.

The numbers are higher than those reported in the 2018 community wellness survey, which found that 9% of women and men skipped medical care. More women than men, however, postponed the medical care they thought they needed, at 26% versus 20%.

“We as women tend to get everybody else taken care of and tend to neglect ourselves.�

Cara Westcott,  chief operating officer,
United Community & Family Services (UCFS).

UCFS operates five health care centers in eastern Connecticut. The higher numbers make sense, she added, as the pandemic brought increased childcare responsibilities and remote learning challenges often shouldered by women.

Nationally, Hispanic women have been disproportionately affected when it comes to accessing medical care, according to a women’s health survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that 40% of Hispanic women skipped preventive health services and 25% skipped a recommended medical test or treatment.

The report by DataHaven, a nonprofit, also found that Latinos and low-income adults are less likely to have insurance and more likely to skip or delay medical care.

Between May 24 and August 30, 2021, 32% of women with no health insurance said they didn’t get the health care they needed in the past 12 months, compared with 25% of uninsured men, the survey found. When it came to putting off medical care, 51% of uninsured women postponed getting the care they thought they needed, compared with just 38% of uninsured men.

At UCFS, Westcott said she saw a 25% decrease in the number of patients seen in 2020 among all populations compared with previous years.

“We saw a drop off in the number of unique patients seen from calendar year 2019 to calendar year 2020 of about 5,000 patients,� she said, “and we attribute that to people forgoing care during the pandemic, even though we did offer telehealth appointments.�

Fluctuating employment and health insurance status also played a role, she said.


The DataHaven survey, done in conjunction with the Siena College Research Institute, found that 24% of respondents reported losing a job in the past year.


UCFS, which offers medical, dental and behavioral health services, saw 20,000 unique patients each year pre-pandemic, according to Westcott. At the end of 2020,15,000 patients had been seen.

“When we started seeing those numbers dip, we put together strategies and work plans to get them back in,� she said, including launching social media and radio marketing campaigns. “Since the beginning of this year, we’ve been making a concerted effort to contact those patients we didn’t see in 2020 to get them back to care.�

Women who were forced to miss routine screening appointments like mammograms and Pap smears last year due to pandemic precautions in health care offices have all had the opportunity now to be seen, said Dr. Mark Silvestri, chief medical officer of medical and dental services at the New Haven-based Cornell Scott Hill Health Center.

“I definitely think our ability to provide telehealth services made health care accessible to women who were at home because of childcare reasons,� he said, “but for some health care needs, telehealth care is not suitable.�

Screening appointments scheduled for March to June 2020, when patients weren’t being seen in person, were rescheduled to a later date, he said.

“We kept track of all the women we were postponing at that time and immediately got them back in,� Silvestri said. The backlog in routine screening appointments evened out between late 2020 and early 2021, he added.

Vasquez was one of the women who missed her annual Pap test last year due to pandemic precautions. However, she rescheduled her appointment to nearly a year later and was seen in March 2021.

Little by little, Westcott said, she is starting to see more patients returning to health care. At the end of October, UCFS had seen 15,654 unique patients during the previous 12 months.

“We are making progress,� she said, “but it’s slow progress.�


Cover Photo by Francisco Venâncio on Unsplash

Publisher’s Notes: The DataHaven survey, done in conjunction with the Siena College Research Institute, found that 24% of respondents reported losing a job in the past year.

CTLN and c-hit.org collaborate to best serve the Connecticut Hispanic, Latino community.

CTLN 3 Questions with… 2021 Recap

As the year comes to a close, the CT Latino News (CTLN) team is looking back at a year’s worth of producing content that provides greater visibility and voice of the Hispanic-Latino community. In 2021, CTLN introduced the “3 Questions With…” (3QW) podcast. 3QW is a public affairs program tackling matters most important to Hispanics-Latinos […]

Source

‘Fat Chance, Charlie Vega’: A Love Story

“I’ve also never dated anyone. And I’m fat. Those things don’t necessarily go hand in hand, but for me, I think they do,” narrates Charlie Vega, the character in author Crystal Maldonado‘s book, “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega.” The book is a body-positive, empowering, coming-of-age story about Charlie, a plus-sized Latina teen exploring complex relationships, especially […]

Source

CTLN Opinion+ 2021 Recap

It has been a great year for Connecticut Latino News (CTLN) Opinion+, we spoke to so many wonderful guests and welcomed back many as well. As the new year approaches, we would like to take a minute to thank all of our readers and viewers for all their support. We would also like to thank […]

Source

Birth Control: Lots Of Options, But Scant Guidance

When University of Connecticut student Natalie Plebanek was 16 years old, she suffered heavy menstrual periods and subsequent fainting spells. But when she asked her pediatrician about a prescription for birth control pills, proven to reduce menstrual bleeding significantly, the doctor balked, citing a common myth. “She thought I would become extremely sexually active,â€� Plebanek said. Now […]

Source