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Latino Kids Need More Play Space Access to Tackle Obesity Rates

Childhood obesity

File photo of students taking part in an early morning running program at an elementary school in Chula Vista, Calif. Gregory Bull / AP Photo

Children in Latino communities have far less access to green and play spaces than children in white neighborhoods, and higher obesity rates than their white and black counterparts.

But there are simple solutions that communities can take, according to Salud America!, an organization that advocates for childhood obesity prevention.

Dr. Amelie Ramirez, a Mexican-American health researcher at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, has tracked these trends and says there are ways to tackle the rising rates, especially among Hispanic children.

RELATED: Study: Latino Kids Have Less Healthy Food Options In and Near Schools

"Having access to a safe space to play is very important," Ramirez said. "Many of our Latino parents are concerned with their children going out to play. We know obesity rates tend to be worse for sedentary children in unsafe neighborhoods," she said.

A report by Salud America! found 81 percent of Latino neighborhoods do not have access to green spaces such as parks and hiking trails, blue spaces like community pools and municipal recreation facilities like school playgrounds.

This is twice as high as in predominately white neighborhoods, where 38 percent have no access to these spaces.

Fewer Latino respondents to the survey say their neighborhoods are safe for their children to play. More than 82 percent of white respondents say the green and blue spaces are safe for their kids; the walk there is safe, the areas are well-lit and the equipment is sturdy.

RELATED: Obesity Rates Fall in Four States

Ramirez, the director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research, said encouraging Parent-Teacher Associations to push for partnerships between neighborhoods and townships could open up higher-quality recreation areas to families.

One solution, says Ramirez, would be opening school grounds to community members after hours. The plan would give children safe, reliable access to recreational areas that are built and maintained well. The plan calls for either paid or volunteer supervision to add security to the areas.

"Our schools are well lit, they have tracks and they have sturdy equipment that the neighborhoods can use," Ramirez said. "Just having the lighter areas by themselves offers security and safety that families are looking for. It encourages parents to come out with their kids, which is good for everyone because people should be more active."

RELATED: Lack Of Play Spaces for Latino Kids Increases Obesity Risk

Salud America! has made resources available for parents and neighborhood leaders to work together to make changes on a municipal level that can help lower obesity rates.

"We have to come together as a community to create positive changes so that all children can benefit," Ramirez said. "The community needs to work together to make positive choices easy for families. If we do not change this trend for kids 2-19 years old, they may not outlive their parents."

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