Obesity, a health concern that is prominent in today’s headlines, can lead to serious health problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. The prevalence of obesity among Latinos, especially Latino children, is on the rise. Michigan State University’s Julian Samora Research Institute (JSRI) has partnered with the Centro Multicultural de la Familia (CMLF) in Pontiac to address the issue. With support from the Michigan Nutrition Network and MSU Extension, JSRI is carrying out a nutrition education project, working with Latino families in Pontiac who are living in low-income situations. The institute chose “Shapedown,” a University of California School of Medicine curriculum, for its work in the community because of its flexibility and emphasis on family. Even though the Shapedown materials had a Spanish translation, they had been translated directly. This meant that the team needed to make further changes and come up with adapted lesson plans in order to make the materials culturally relevant. Staff members also needed to be flexible to meet the challenges facing the families, such as lack of childcare and transportation, and differing education levels. Take-home written assignments were converted to oral communications in order to meet the needs of the participants. Recipes given in the Shapedown materials were not culturally applicable, so the CMLF team in coordination with MSU Extension educator Celina Wille searched for and used other resources, among them “Nos Gusta Comer” and “Nos Gusta Comer Frutas y Verduras,” two bilingual nutrition education publications written by Dr. Wille. While the program content primarily centered on culturally appropriate nutrition education as an obesity prevention strategy, it also included exercise and physical activity demonstrations, since many of the children in the program grow up sedentary, secluded in their homes for safety reasons.
The JSRI Shapedown Evaluation Team includes Jean Kayitsinga, MSU JSRI visiting professor; Celina Wille, Extension educator; Pilar Horner, MSU JSRI assistant professor; Daniel Vélez-Ortiz, MSU JSRI assistant professor; Ellen Hayse, MSU JSRI outreach specialist, and Ruben Martinez, institute director. The team worked closely with CMLF director Dr. Sonia Acosta and her staff in all phases of the programming cycle from planning and implementation to program evaluation. This partnership will continue through a second follow-up year. JSRI and MSU Extension want to measure longer term behavioral outcomes with this particular audience.