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NMSU included in three-state initiative to reduce childhood obesity along U.S.-Mexico border

Childhood obesity is a problem in the United States and teams from three states including one from New Mexico State University have received a grant to try to curb the problem along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Woman reading notebook at a desk.
Jill McDonald, director of New Mexico State University’s Southwest Institute for Health Disparities Research, is leading a team at NMSU working on a three-state initiative to reduce childhood obesity along the U.S.-Mexico border. (NMSU photo by Tiffany Acosta)

The project is funded through a five-year, $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and as one of the subcontract sites, NMSU’s efforts will be aided through $1.5 million of the award.

“In New Mexico, nearly 40 percent of Hispanic third-graders are overweight or obese, and obesity in this age group has not changed since 2010,” said Jill McDonald, director of NMSU’s Southwest Institute for Health Disparities Research and the NMSU lead on the project. “Since child obesity leads to dramatic increases in child-onset diabetes and other chronic conditions later in life, preventing child obesity is a priority for New Mexico and the border region overall.”

Joe Sharkey, professor of health promotion and community health sciences at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, is leading the overall project. Using a family-centered approach, the project, called “Salud Para Usted y Su Familia (Health for You and Your Family)”, aims to decrease the rate of childhood obesity along the border through research, education and Cooperative Extension Services.

“Since the Southwest Institute for Health Disparities Research at NMSU is committed to finding solutions to health disparities in the region and both the College of Health and Social Services and College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences have expertise in maternal and child health issues, we were eager to collaborate when Texas A&M approached us to establish this three-state, border region partnership,” McDonald said.

“This research, education and Extension intervention is important because overweight and obesity are common among New Mexico youth,” she said. “Nationwide, child obesity rates are starting to level off or decrease, but these good signs are less apparent among low-income Hispanic children.”

The program is targeting families residing in colonias in Hidalgo County (Texas), Luna and Otero counties (New Mexico) and Santa Cruz County (Arizona).

The teams will be working with local promotoras – community health workers – to improve individual and family behavior in three key areas: nutrition, physical activity and screen time.

“In each community, we plan to establish a community advisory board and collect information about community assets, such as outdoor spaces and places to find healthy food options,” McDonald said. “We’ll also conduct discussion groups with families and children to learn more about what they feel is critical to successfully prevent childhood obesity in their community.

“Using that information and what is known from other obesity prevention programs that work, we will develop and test a family-centered intervention that aims to make eating more healthy, increase physical activity and decrease screen time in children.”

Additional partners on the project include Mariposa Community Health Center in Nogales, Arizona, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Baylor University.