Study finds culturally tailored intervention may help reduce obesity in Latino children

May 21, 2015

Latino boy with parentsA recent collaborative study between UC Berkeley School of Public Health and Contra Costa County researchers evaluated the efficacy of a culturally tailored obesity intervention for Latino children, Familias Activas y Saludables, or Active and Healthy Families (AHF). The study results were published online in Academic Pediatrics.

The randomized controlled trial found that child body mass index (BMI) decreased in the AHF group and increased in the control group over a 10-week period. Children in the AHF group also had reduced triglyceride levels (a type of fat measured in blood), but no significant improvement in blood pressure. This randomized trial is the first to date to show a significant impact on BMI of a culturally-tailored primary care program addressing obesity in Latino children.

“Latinos represent the largest minority ethnic group in the United States and suffer disproportionately from childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes,” says Jennifer Falbe, a postdoctoral research fellow at the School and lead author of the study. “Given the unique barriers some Latino communities face regarding diet and physical activity, there is an urgent need for culturally and linguistically tailored programs to address childhood obesity in these communities.”

Contra Costa health workers with childrenAHF is a family-based group medical appointment program of Contra Costa County Public Health Clinic Services. It consists of five two-hour sessions that teach healthy eating and exercise habits, as well as parenting skills. AHF sessions were delivered in Spanish by a multidisciplinary team including a registered dietitian, a physician, and a promotora—a community health worker who engaged families and facilitated understanding of the content of the sessions. The promotoras called families twice to check on progress, bridge communications gaps, and remind families about the next session.

“We found that AHF resulted in meaningful improvements in child weight and BMI,” says Falbe. “AHF was unique in its delivery by a provider triad and its cultural relevance. Furthermore, unlike many interventions, the program is financially sustainable for the publicly funded health centers in which it was delivered.”

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has called for studies that address weight management in minority children and investigate efficient, primary-care feasible interventions using allied health professionals. This study makes a valuable contribution to that evidence gap.

School of Public Health coauthors of the study include associate professor Kristine Madsen, research assistant Nicole K. Tantoco, and research scientist Hannah R. Thompson. Annabelle A. Cadiz, Contra Costa Public Health, Contra Costa Health Services, was also a coauthor.

By Linda Anderberg

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