Battling Obesity In The Borderland

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POSTED: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 - 10:25pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 - 11:23pm

EL PASO- Maybe you've noticed it, but feel bad admitting it. America is getting heavier.

Experts say it's an epidemic and El Paso is no exception.

The Sun City is known for having the best Mexican food in the country, but at what cost to our health?

According to The Paso Del Norte Health Foundation, over 30 percent of El Pasoans are overweight and 75 percent of us in The Sun City don't get enough exercise.

Experts say that there are many things causing our obesity problem.

Michael Kelly is The Senior Program Officer for The Paso Del Norte Health Foundation in downtown El Paso. He says the rate at which we are becoming obese should be alarming to everyone.

"It's not a simple equation if you know, something happened and now we are fat. We didn't get lazy all of a sudden. It has to do with our food environment. Our physical environment, schools and families. It's a very complex dynamic,” said Kelly.

Health experts agree that bad eating habits start when we're young.

Both The Canutillo and Ysleta Independent School Districts say that they've made drastic changes to the types of foods offered to students to help promote healthy eating.

"We've taken the fried foods off the menu. We do more backed and grilled foods,” said Canutillo’s Adele Balesh.

"We used to fry. We used to have french fries. We used to fry our enchiladas. Now we no longer do that. Everything is baked. We don't even have fryers in the cafeteria, so that's a big change from that, and I believe the students have adjusted to that,” said Ysleta’s Michael Vasquez.

Canutillo's Food Service Director Adele Balesh says that since the majority of El Pasoans are Hispanic, the district is teaching students how to the eat the foods they love without piling on the calories.

"In our diet here especially here in El Paso, we don't have too much of a challenge. We're doing the black beans and a Santé Fe salad. We're doing our pinto beans on our Mexican food menus,” said Balesh.

Health expert Michael Kelly says that schools can inspire healthy eating habits, if the meals are prepared in a way that engages the kids.

Ysleta's Child Nutrition Director Michael Vasquez says the district's menu is developed to capture the students' attention.

"You want to make sure you have a colorful menu, so that it's attractive to the kids. You don't want a one color menu and not attract anybody,” said Vasquez.

One of the simplest tips Kelly has to tackle obesity is for children to get outside and be active.

The Ysleta School District knows that advice works. Lead Teacher for Physical Education and Health Sonia Noriega says the state of Texas no longer mandates high school students to take physical education classes, but the district requires them to anyway.

"I think now there is more of an importance in physical education, especially because we see lately a lot of correlation with academic scores and healthy kids. So, we put a little more emphasis on it,” said Noriega.

Although schools have come a long way over the years, Kelly says there is still room for progress.

"You probably could walk down the hall to the yearbook club and buy a candy bar being sold for a fundraiser still,” said Kelly.

Kelly says overweight children suffer emotionally as a result of their weight. They are often made fun of, and deal with health issues.

Many are being diagnosed with diabetes before they even reach their adolescent years.

As far as obesity rates between ethnicities go, Kelly says it has nothing to do with genetics, and everything to do your lifestyle.

To find out if you qualify as overweight or obese, click this link

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