Puppet shows help promote nutrition

Kathleen Megan | 2/18/2009, 4:18 a.m.

With the extra weight comes a greater risk of diseases like diabetes. In Connecticut in 2007, 6.7 percent of white adults were told by their doctors that they have diabetes, compared with 15.8 percent of blacks and 8.1 percent of Hispanics.

Why the disparity?

Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, who is director of the Connecticut Hispanic Family Nutrition Program and a professor of nutrition and public health at the University of Connecticut, said the main explanation is lack of access to healthful foods and lack of exercise.

“Healthy foods are much more expensive,” he said.

In addition, he said, there is a lack of green space in urban low-income areas and a lack of opportunity and money for sports activities.

“Latinos and low-income groups are very vulnerable to the marketing of unhealthy foods by the food industry,” said Pérez-Escamilla.

Pérez-Escamilla said children are “the best ambassadors” when “they go home and share the healthy nutrition messages we give to them. They are a part of the movement convincing parents of the need to make a change.”

Children play a very crucial role, he said, particularly in families where the parents don’t speak English very well. These kids often play a more central role in terms of the decision-making about diet and food purchases than do most kids, he said.

Pachter concurred that it is very important to reach children when they are young.

“I really feel the future of obesity prevention is going to start younger and younger and younger,” said Pachter. “I think that the habits that lead to obesity are formulated very early in life.”

Back in the classroom at Burr, the kids are telling Arroyo all about their healthy habits.

Uriana Ortega says, “I have a cousin who doesn’t eat fruit, but I eat a lot of fruit at my grandma’s house.”

Makayla Esquinlin says she likes broccoli.

Later, Jennifer Fagalar, Uriana’s mother, said the 4-year-old definitely carries the healthy-habits messages home. When her mother offers her a treat, she goes for fruit and vegetables, not candy.

Said Fagalar: “She said junk food won’t let her grow like she’s supposed to.”

(The Hartford Courant)