graphic characteristics of Mexican Americans. Since the 1500s Mexican Americans have lived in what is now the southwestern United States and have maintained a continuing interchange of culture with Mexico. Today, Mexicans continue to immigrate to locations across the United States, and to maintain their cultural ties. Currently, one in five children in the United States lives in an immigrant family; they are either first- or second-generation children of immigrant parents (NRC/IOM, 1998). The country of origin for the largest proportion of these children is Mexico. In 2000, 39 percent of children in families new to the United States were Mexican—no other country contributes more than 4 percent (Hernandez, 2004).
The substantial and ongoing interchange of people and culture between the United States and Mexico makes it clear that addressing childhood obesity in the Mexican–American community requires an approach that recognizes the common social, cultural, economic, and possibly genetic factors that contribute to childhood obesity in both Mexican–American and Mexican children and adolescents. At the same time, the influence of the substantially different social, cultural, and economic environment in which Mexican–Americans living in the United States find themselves, must also be taken into account. This paper reviews the prevalence and trends in obesity in Mexican–American children and youth and considers the multiple factors that may contribute to this growing health problem. The paper then provides an overview of current intervention strategies and programs and proposes actions that may offer the greatest potential for success in preventing and controlling the obesity epidemic.
Data from national surveys clearly demonstrate a high and increasing prevalence of childhood obesity in the United States (Ogden et al., 2002, 2006; Hedley et al., 2004). Obesity is particularly prevalent among Mexican–American children and youth. Moreover, Mexican–American children have a high prevalence of abdominal obesity, which may put them at elevated risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD). High rates of obesity also may indicate that Mexican–American children and adolescents are more exposed to the negative impacts of obesity on their social and emotional health. Finally, since many Mexican–American children and youth depend on publicly funded health care programs such as Medicaid, the high prevalence of obesity will place increasing demands on health care providers serving Hispanic populations and thus will have significant implications for the funding needs of these programs.