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Elisa Batista's picture

I originally shared this story on my personal blog -Elisa

I was debating if and how to post this story as I know that childhood obesity is a touchy subject. But like many Latino families across the country, our family has certainly grappled with obesity and related illnesses like high blood pressure, heart disease and type II diabetes -- and what to do about it.

As someone whose had family members die at the age of 50 due to heart disease, and personally, I gained -- and lost -- 50 lbs with each of my children, I am a fan of the incremental: slowly incorporating exercise, cutting out the soda and sugary drinks, asking the USDA to provide healthier snacks in school.

Yes, the USDA is currently considering standards to improve the quality of vending machine snack foods and a la carte items in schools by encouraging the consumption of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy items. I stand with the 80% of Americans who favor limiting calories, fat and sodium in these foods to help children make healthier food choices in school, according to a poll released last week.

From experience, I can tell you that for many working class Latino families, the schools are an important place for our kids to learn to eat healthy. It's not that we parents don't care about teaching our kids good eating habits, it's that we are stretched thin. I have family members who work the night shift at Wal-Mart to then care for their children during the day. Single parents who are doing it all: staying afloat financially, making sure their kids do their homework and all the cooking and housekeeping. A little help on the part of the USDA and our schools can go a long way.

And here's why it is important to tackle childhood obesity. The incidents mentioned therein bothered me so much that I do want to share them with you:

Last summer, I had four cousins from the east coast — two from my father’s side and two from my mother’s side — visit me in California. I sent for the kids, who are aged 16, 15, 12 and 11, and had a wonderful time showing them around where I live in the Bay Area, California. We went to the famous Alcatraz prison — love the audio tour! — the outlet malls near Sacramento, many ethnic restaurants, Haight-Ashbury Street in San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. We snuck in a daytime visit to the Great America amusement and water park, which is located in Santa Clara, California, or the heart of Silicon Valley.

At Great America, there were a couple disturbing incidents that occurred. On two roller coasters, my 16-year-old cousin, who weighs 300 pounds, was unable to ride because the harness did not fit him. I reacted like my other cousins who were very sweet and told him, “The ride wasn’t that great anyway.”

But I won’t lie. I was very concerned about my cousin’s weight and his 12-year-old sister’s who is quickly approaching his size. While I was in the bathroom at Great America, I texted my uncle to tell him what had happened. I apologized for being a “Debbie Downer”, assured him that I did not think it was my place to say anything to his children, but felt wrong not saying anything at all.

“I agree with you,” he texted back. “But I have no control over what they eat at their mother’s house.”

My aunt and uncle are divorced and the children spend almost all of their time with their mother. But my uncle's health is not much better. My uncle is somewhat large and has high blood pressure. My aunt is very large, like the children. They are both stretched thin, financially and in time. They also live in a rural area where a car is a necessity.

I did the best that I could 3,000 miles away. I tried to steer all of my cousins toward healthier food choices while they were with me, and by day three, limited the soda to one serving per meal. On this particular trip, my cousins walked a lot, drank more water and ate foods they had never tried before, like, tofu. And you know what? They ate it and liked it! What a difference it makes to at least give our children the option of healthy foods.

New USDA nutritional standards on vending machines and unhealthy snacks in schools is welcome relief to this mom, and cousin.

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