Obesity Prevention among Latino Youth: School Counselors' Role in Promoting Healthy Lifestyles

Article excerpt

Given the burgeoning obesity problem among Latino youth and concomitant health problems (Spiotta & Luma, 2008), school counselors have begun to recognize the need for culturally sensitive programming to promote healthy lifestyles. More theoretical, evidence-based programs are needed, however, to ensure Latino youth receive appropriate interventions and services. This study provides a review of three theoretical perspectives and obesity prevention programs with recommendations to school counselors for implementing a comprehensive obesity prevention program for Latino youth.

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Obesity has become a major health risk among our nation's children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of childhood obesity is a burgeoning problem, particularly among low-income and minority children (CDC, 2011). National rates of obesity are significantly high among low-income, preschool-aged children, with one out of seven low-income children being defined as obese. In 2009, the obesity rates of ethnic minority children also were high, with 20.7% of Native American children, 17.9% of Latino children, 11.9% of non-Latino Black children, and 11.9% of Asian/Pacific Islander children being defined as obese (CDC, 2011). The rising prevalence of obesity rates is of great concern given concomitant health problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes--all of which are precursors to cardiovascular disease (CDC, 2011).

Although obesity is not included in the DSM-IV-TR as a diagnosable eating disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2000), the psychological effects of obesity, including low self-esteem and depression, have been well documented (Gable, Britt-Rankin, & Krull, 2008). In addition, obesity presents as a major risk factor for developing multiple co-occurring health conditions in children and adolescents, including hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes (Spiotta & Luma, 2008). Mental health- and school-related concerns also manifest in situations of obesity--namely a decreased sense of self-efficacy and higher rates of absenteeism (Larrier, Bakerson, Linton, Walker, & Woolford, 2011; Perusse, Kailimang, & Krell, 2009). Childhood obesity also has been found to be related to poor academic performance (Taras & Potts-Datema, 2005), and researchers have recently begun to address ways that school counselors can prevent the negative consequences resulting from obesity (Larrier et al., 2011). More specifically, Perusse et al. (2009) identified five empirically-based obesity prevention programs and provided suggestions for school counselor implementation. Ballard and Alessi (2006) addressed the deleterious effects of obesity on academic achievement, personal/social development, and career direction of youth and provided recommendations to address obesity. Given the negative effects on health, emotional well-being, and academic success, it behooves school counselors to prevent obesity among minority youth through teaming with educators and health professionals.

Recent studies conducted on obesity prevention, however, do not sufficiently represent minority populations (Kumanyika & Grier, 2006; Seo & Sa, 2008; Stevens, 2010). Seo and Sa (2008) conducted a meta-analysis of studies published between 1980 and 2006 on obesity interventions for minority adult populations and found only 24 studies that included at least a 50% ethnic minority sample, while only nine studies included 100% minority participants. In a literature review of obesity prevention programs for children, Stevens (2010) found few studies that focused on ethnic minority children, including Latino youth. Not only is more research needed to promote obesity prevention among ethnic minorities, greater attention on implementing obesity interventions among specific cultural groups is needed (Kumanyika, 2008).

One particular minority group that deserves attention with regard to the prevention of obesity is Latino youth. …

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