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Obesity In Hispanic Cultures

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Being hispanic, I have grown up in an environment where food plays a major role into my culture. We all know how delicious food can be, so though it sounds amazing that it’s such an important part of my culture, that isn’t exactly the case. The meals I eat on a regular basis and especially during holidays or special events are not only rich in flavor, but also rich in things such as fats, sugars, and sodium. I believe that this plays a major role in the high rate of obesity amongst Hispanics. While we may be enjoying ourselves now, leaving our unhealthy eating habits unattended may cause future health problems, such as obesity, or others that are just as hard to overcome. Though I love my culture, there are definitely traditions, attitudes, and behaviors that shape our eating habits, and contribute to the rapidly growing rate of obesity amongst Hispanics.

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Traditions and celebrations are also a big part of being Hispanic. Typically, you’ll notice that when there is a celebration, there is also food or a major meal associated with it. A very good example of this is the celebration on January 6th, Dia de Los Reyes Magos, which in English can be translated to the “Three Kings Day. ” On this day, we gather around at night with friends and family and we share a really big oval shaped cake called la Rosca de Reyes, or King’s Cake (“Hispanic Traditions,” n. d. ). This dessert is also accompanied by drinks like hot chocolate, or other similar sweet and hot drinks such as a very popular one called champurrado. As if this day wasn’t filled with enough treats, it is directly linked to another traditional celebration that takes place about a month after. If your piece of cake has the baby Jesus figurine, you are responsible for hosting a “tamale party” on February 2nd.

So again, the friends and family that attended the Three Kings Day celebration are invited for all-you-can-eat tamales and champurrado in the home of the host. This is a tradition that I have always enjoyed since I was little. Champurrado is one of my favorite drinks, which I get to drink on both days, and I love that on January 6th I know that I have guaranteed tamales for February 2nd. It is a very fun tradition that brings the family together, but it also shows you how important food is in my culture. Let’s not forget about the famous “recalentado,” which is basically the reheating of the meal, where the family is invited over to finish the food the very next day. While there is a month gap between these two celebrations, the amount of food and the calorie intake in just one of those days is definitely a high one, especially when you take advantage and eat tamales the whole night. A high calorie intake and lack of physical activity are contributors to obesity (“Obesity and Overweight,” n. d. ).

It is hard to limit yourself or restrain yourself from eating when at every holiday or family celebration, you are presented with a variety of delicious food. Not only that, but there is a certain stigma associated with not eating, or eating too little in my culture, especially during holidays. Not eating enough is commonly associated with there being something wrong with you. You will get asked many times if you’re sick, if you’re sad, or simply if you’re not feeling well. Watching what or how much you eat is not the norm. Another popular misconception that your family brings up, especially if you’re in your teens, is that if you eat too little it must be because, “you’re in love and the butterflies don’t let you eat. ” Once an adult brings that up, everyone else chimes in and you are now the center of attention because you are supposedly in love, and that’s the reason why you are not eating “enough”. This sounds very silly, but I can personally say from experience, that I have made myself eat more than I wanted to because I didn’t want my family to comment on it. Though I know that they don’t do this with a bad intention, and it’s more of a way to joke around, it really does have an affect on how much I eat around them, and oftentimes it’s more than I would like.

Overeating is a behavior that I feel like as Hispanics, we tend to do quite a lot. Coincidentally, overeating is a major contributor to obesity (“Association Between Emotional Eating and Overeating in Latinos,” n. d. ). There are many reasons to as to why we do it, for example as I just mentioned I will sometimes overeat in order to avoid drawing attention from my family for not finishing my food. Another reason why we overeat is to not seem disrespectful to the host. Finishing your food, especially if you’re eating at someone else’s house, is the proper and normal thing to do. Growing up, you get taught to always say please and thank you, but also to always finish your food even if you are already full. These behaviors are not healthy because they make it seem like overeating is a normal thing, when in reality it is an unhealthy eating habit that contributes to obesity.

Obesity is defined by the World Health Organization as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health. Worldwide, obesity has tripled in the last 40 years, and most of the world’s population live in countries where obesity and being overweight kills more people than underweight. (“Obesity and Overweight,” n. d. ). In a study conducted in 2015, 31. 8% of Hispanic/Latino men and women 18 years of age and older were considered to be obese, unlike Non-Hispanics which had a 28. 5% obesity rate (Office of Minority Health, n. d. ). Obesity is on the rise and it seems as though Hispanics are a main contributor. Just recently, Mexico took the number one spot as the country with the highest obesity rate at a 32. 8%, surpassing the United State’s 31. 8%. In 2015-2016, approximately half of Mexican-Americans adults were considered obese (Norton, 2018).

As a Mexican-American myself, I was initially shocked to learn that Mexico took the number one spot in this unhealthy category. My first guess would’ve been that the United States was the country with the highest obesity rates, but taking a good look at the eating habits of a typical Mexican-American like myself, I guess it is actually not that surprising that both of my countries are so high on the list. Obesity isn’t only a problem in adults, but children are also being affected, now more than ever. According to a recent study, the prevalence of childhood obesity has grown drastically in all age groups since 1988. This prevalence in obesity and overweight is most seen in Hispanic children (Skinner, Ravanbakht, Skelton, Perrin, ; Armstrong, 2018). Not only are adults leading unhealthy lives, but they also control the lives of their children and what kind of foods they eat. It is up to us to make sure that the future generations thrive and are able to live long, healthy lives.

Obesity rates are at their highest, and only continue to rise. I will not claim to be the healthiest person, but I am aware, and I believe that having awareness about the everyday decisions that we make that impact our health is very important. I cannot change my traditions, and I will not try to, but I can make a difference in my family’s attitudes and beliefs by sharing with them my new knowledge about how prevalent obesity in amongst us Hispanics. Change is difficult, especially when it involves one’s culture, but sometimes a little bit of change is necessary just like it is in this case. Obesity not only is unhealthy, but it also opens the door to numerous other health risks, such as heart disease and stroke (National Center for Health Statistics, 2017). We need to remember that obesity is preventable, and the first steps of prevention begin right in our homes.

31 October 2020

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