Dr. Rosa Gomez de Jesus, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine, began to notice a large number of her young Latina patients were overweight.
To help solve the problem, she created Healthy Chicas, a Miami Children's Hospital program that helps to educate adolescent Latinas and their mothers about healthy eating and physical activity.
“The idea of Healthy Chicas is to help patients to have the proper education and exposure to what healthy eating and physical activity is,” Gomez de Jesus, the program's founder, said. “This is so that we can actually do something about the overweight and obesity problem we are seeing at this time.”
Currently she is working with 18 girls ages 12-18 during the 10-week free program.
“I like how I get to interact with girls that are more my age. That’s something I wasn’t able to do at home,” said Catherine Zilberberg, a participant. “Now I have a group of girls that can all relate to me and we can all do it together.”
Her mother, Marjorie Zilberberg, said the program has been beneficial for the entire family and together they have learned how to read food labels and how to chose the right foods.
“Its something that we can do together,” said Marjorie Zilberberg. “Even though we are tiered--I’m working all day, she is at school—It’s something we look forward to.”
The group gets together every Monday, and with the help of grants from Coca Cola and CarMax, the hospital is able to provide free gas cards and taxi rides as incentives for the parents to continue coming.
“When we try to have both patients and parents together what we are trying to have is a family effort, we are trying to change lifestyles,” Gomez de Jesus said. “We can teach the girls what to do, but if at home none of that is happening, it will be very difficult.”
Healthy Chicas is composed of two sessions, each lasting about an hour. During the first hour, the girls do different types of physical activities including exercise boot camps, salsa and belly dancing classes. During the second hour, the girls are taught about nutrition from the program's dietitian.
“People in general don’t know about food labels and they get confused and overwhelmed when they go to the supermarket so my job is to help guide them,” said registered dietitian, Jennifer Caseres.
“A lot of Latino meals tend to be high in carbs and high in fats so making those little changes with their meals can make a big difference for them in terms of helping to lose weight and feeling more energetic,” she said.
Her goal has been to get the girls and their mothers eating more vegetables, which she said were frequently missing from Latino diets.
The girls have also got logbooks, where they can track their eating and exercise to compare their progress throughout the weeks.
“I feel better, I feel energized,” said Healthy Chicas participant, Julia Barrera. “I think I already lost a few pounds.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, obesity in adolescents has tripled over the last 30 years. And although research is very limited in regards to overweight or obese young Latinas, the CDC does say that more than 39 percent of Hispanics are overweight.
“It’s a problem that is all around the United States. I don’t think it’s just Latinas,” Gomez de Jesus said.
To learn more about the Healthy Chicas Program at MCH, please contact the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Miami Children’s Hospital at 305-668-5525. Patients will need a referral to be seen by the physician.