Greg Talavera said he’s never seen anything like it.
Talavera, vice president of clinical affairs at the San Ysidro Health Center in Southern California, was in Sacramento last week for a forum on health risks in the Latino community.
“From a public health perspective, I am alarmed,” Talavera said. “Child obesity is an epidemic. This is the biggest epidemic since the AIDS epidemic.”
It hits the Latino population particularly hard, Talavera said. A 2009 study found that in Hispanic males ages 2 to 19, obesity rates hit 23.2%.
“Prevention is so much a part of the cure,” Assembly member SandrÃ© Swanson (D-Alameda) said at the forum. “We can’t just say we don’t have the money for that. We have to start with what is the right thing to do.”
Talavera said his Southern California clinic is trying a variety of things to bring down obesity and diabetes rates in adults and children in the Latino community.
“For one thing, we are trying to bring mental and physical health providers together. We call it the warm handoff,” Talavera said. “You don’t have to be filling out a form and then coming back. Everything’s right there. It decreases the stigma of a psych consult.”
He uses mid-level providers to complement what physicians are telling people about changing their lifestyles to battle obesity and diabetes.
“We took advantage of wait times,” Talavera said. “When patients are in the waiting area, we have a mid-level practitioner, maybe a promotura or a dietician, come out to them and talk to the patient about obesity or diabetes. Sometimes that mid-level [practitioner] can go with them to the appointment, and then there’s time to talk at the end of the appointment, too. It’s putting the two together, instead of waiting for the patient to initiate contact.”
Assembly member Bill Monning (D-Carmel) introduced AB 669, which proposed a tax on soda and other sugary drinks. That bill is currently stuck in committee, but Monning said it’s an important path to curbing the intake of loads of non-nutritional calories.
He pointed out there can be 16 teaspoons of sugar in a 20-ounce can of soda, and that some Latino children drink several of those sodas a day.
“One of the big dangers is increased caloric intake from soda drinks,” Monning said. “They have little to zero nutrition, and can lead to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.”
If trends continue, 30% of Latino children will be diabetic by age 30, Monning said.
The 1-cent per ounce tax could raise as much as $1.7 billion for the California Children’s Health Fund, Monning said — which could start up a whole slew of prevention programs for Latino and other children.
The bill is on hold in the Assembly Committee on Revenue and Taxation.