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When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools, disrupted everyday routines and decreased opportunities for physical activity, Monica Llamas began to notice the effects it had on her family. Her children were no longer participating in sports at school or playing outside as much as they used to.

In February, Llamas participated in the Eat, Play, Go! program hosted by the Cal State Long Beach Center for Latino Community Health to understand her family’s eating and exercise habits and teach her 10-year-old daughter Mya the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The Eat, Play, Go project is a weekly, month-long informational program aimed at addressing household behaviors that may place Latino youth at risk of high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.

“Without a doubt, COVID-19 brought a sedentary lifestyle to our families,” said Isabel Rojas, a program promoter and community outreach assistant for the Latino Health Center. “The program brings tools for families to not stay static in their homes, but on the contrary, it is an opportunity for them to be together, to all be seated at the table to plan schedules, plan meals and bond through healthy activities.”

Since October, Latino Center staff have consulted with families over Zoom to discuss a variety of health related topics that include understanding each families habits and needs, tips for reading nutrition labels, meals plans, healthy recipes and at-home workouts. This Friday, April 1, the center will be hosting its first in-person class since the program began and its fifth group of families overall.

“At the Latino Center we have been doing this type of work for years and we have seen that our community is at high risk of chronic diseases,” said Patricia Trinidad, program manager for Eat, Play, Go. According to Trinidad, the leading causes of death for Latinos are hypertension, diabetes and obesity. The program is meant to prevent these chronic diseases by teaching families with children ages 10-13 how to make healthy changes in their lifestyle.

The Eat, Play, Go program has a goal of serving 174 Latino families with youth between the ages of 10-13 years. The Latino Health Center is also collecting data on the effectiveness of the four-week intervention in reducing obesity among Latino children that will be used to further disease prevention in the city.

“We hope to unite the Latino community with the purpose that they will get invested in the program and that families with children ages 10-13 will take action to better their diet and healthy eating habits and above all we have the intention to prevent childhood obesity in Long Beach,” said Rojas.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five children and adolescents in the US are obese. From 2017-2018, obesity prevalence was highest among Hispanic children ages 2-19 at 25.6%.

“The classes taught us that it’s not just about eating healthy; it’s about fueling your body with the proper fruits and vegetables, staying hydrated and even the importance of getting enough sleep,” Llamas said.

Llamas said that the enthusiasm and charisma of the instructors helped to keep the classes engaging and motivating.

“I have more control over the foods that my kids are eating at home than at school and the class helped me understand what is good for them and what isn’t,” she said.

Her daughter Mya said she has enjoyed talking to her friends at school about staying active and eating healthy.

At the start of the four-week intervention program, Latino Center staff will determine the needs of each family and “meet them where they are,” said Trinidad. Each family will get a personalized plan according to their current lifestyles. After the program, Latino Center staff will continuously check-in with each family by phone to encourage them and make sure they are continuing to work toward their goals.

“Some families may think that living a healthy lifestyle is unattainable due to money concerns, time and work constraints but we want to let them know that it is possible step-by-step,” said Trinidad. “Starting with a program like this, we are forming the building blocks for them to feel more comfortable and empowered to achieve their health goals, it does not have to be an overnight change.”

The long term goals of the project are not only to evaluate the effectiveness of the Eat, Play, Go! intervention in reducing Latino childhood obesity but also increase the pool of qualified health and nutrition professionals that enter the workforce to prevent and address chronic conditions among Latino youth by hiring student fellows and researchers.

“Childhood obesity is a public health issue and joining these programs as a family could generate great results. Prevention is everyone’s business,” said Rojas.

Families interested in participating in the next phase of the program can contact program staff at 562-985-1770 or fill out the survey here.