A version of this story, Can getting kids to exercise fight obesity in communities of color?, was originally published online by the Center for Health Journalism (CHJ) at the University of Southern California.
Written by CT Latino News Reporter and Editor Belen Dumont, the column introduces her project for the CHJ’s 2023 National Fellowship.
Obesity rates across the United States have risen steadily over the past several decades, and nowhere is the trend more apparent than in communities of color in Connecticut. Black, Hispanic, and Native American residents of the state have some of the highest rates of obesity on the East Coast. Intervention and prevention are urgently needed, and many experts agree that targeting youth should be a main focus.
Although the prevalence of obesity is lower among children than adults, a 2014 report in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society noted that children should be the priority for obesity intervention and prevention, as reducing excessive weight gain is usually more difficult when it has become established. Left unchecked, obesity raises the risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and other chronic, costly health issues.
Many factors are fueling the obesity epidemic, including neighborhood design; lack of access to healthy, affordable foods and beverages; and limited access to safe, convenient places for physical activity, according to the Federal Centers for Disease Control. Effective obesity prevention means that everyone has access to good nutrition and safe places for active recreation, the CDC days. The racial and ethnic disparities in obesity emphasize the need to address poverty, education, housing, and other social determinants of health.
Through a solutions-journalism approach, my project for the USC Center for Health Journalism 2023 National Fellowship will evaluate a variety of local and national initiatives to engage youth of color in outdoor recreation and education. I’ll look at how successful initiatives can be replicated in Hartford County—home to some of Connecticut’s largest communities of color.
Obesity rates are well known to be correlated with socioeconomic status. Connecticut’s obesity epidemic is not surprising, given the levels of poverty and inequality in the state. Greater Hartford Community Wellbeing Index 2023, conducted by CT DataHaven, states: “Connecticut is highly segregated, particularly by race and income.” Previous research by the group found that the state’s concentrations of wealth and poverty rival some of the most segregated metro areas in the United States. “Even as the state diversifies, inequality has become more pronounced,” the report says.
It is crucial to inform young underserved populations how policy shapes the physical environment, and how the environment, in turn, connects directly to their health.
Our reporting in the coming months will raise awareness of the importance of obesity prevention and early treatment within communities of color, investigate common barriers that Black and Brown youth in Connecticut face when it comes to maintaining healthy diets and regular exercise, and focus on culturally-informed community efforts that look to decrease local childhood obesity rates.