"Living a healthy life and not having the issue of overweight or obesity can change the life of many children, says Maria Rangal, UC Davis.
Curbing childhood obesity is the focus of a new study in Firebaugh. UC Davis is behind the project. Maria Rangal was hired by the university to head the project's community center, "Ninos Sanos, Familia Sana" (Healthy Children, Healthy Family).
"The majority of the children here unfortunately have that problem," "We're trying to see if there's a way that we can prevent childhood obesity or overweight amongst children who come from Mexican descent."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has funded the $4.8 million study. Researchers will follow 400 kids and their families for the next five years.
Rangal says, "We have a nutrition team, a medical team, an economic team."
The community center opened in the city last week. Families will take part in monthly seminars to learn how to prepare healthy meals. They also get $25 a month to buy fruits and vegetables.
Omar Vando, Firebaugh Grocery Store Supervisor, says, "A lot of time you see the parents buy a lot of junk food for kids, so it's a good thing that now they buy healthy nutrition for them."
The Firebaugh School District is on board as well. Kids will get better nutrition instruction in the classroom and more physical activity outside of it.
Anna Maria Fuentes, Hazel M. Bailey Elementary School Principal, says, "To turn this around, to help this generation, this generation and this generation make choices that are so much better for their nutrition."
Health screenings will also be provided to families twice a year. If this approach works, it could be used as a model across the country.
400 children in San Joaquin are also part of this study. But, it's a little different than what's happening in Firebaugh. Instead of focusing on nutrition and physical activity, researchers there are putting emphasis on science and well-being education, areas they say can still be tied to obesity.
According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Health in 2010, Hispanic children were 1.6 times more likely to be overweight than children who are not Hispanic.