Stanford University researchers designed a successful 3-year lifestyle program to increase the overall health of Latino children in low-income neighborhoods. Outcomes included improvements in weight and blood lipid levels and in the incidence of prediabetes.

As evidence of health disparities among people from different income strata, children from low-income, nonwhite demographic groups are more likely to be obese and suffer from health problems like type 2 diabetes than white children and those from higher socioeconomic levels. Since childhood overweight and obesity often track into adulthood, interventions like the Stanford one could prove to be lifesaving.

To tackle the challenge of reaching underserved communities, investigators created an integrative program that incorporated cultural values and involved the children’s families, communities and healthcare professionals. Researchers emphasized making healthier food choices, reducing portion sizes, increasing physical activity, reducing screen time, and problem-solving around food and lifestyle choices. Parenting skills were also included. The fitness component included after-school sports, up to 5 days a week. Programs lasted about 40 minutes a day and included playing team sports for fun.

When the research trial began, about three-fourths of the children were classified as obese and had abnormal blood lipids, prediabetes or both. After 2 years, children in the treatment group were maintaining significantly healthier body mass indexes, diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. In the third year, participation in the sports activities and educational modules had declined, and by the end of the study, BMIs in the treatment group were similar to those in the control group. Nonetheless, this program showed that an intervention like this can yield significant improvements over 2 years for the health of Latino children and underserved communities.

“[T]his is one of the first studies to show benefits to body weight and other health markers in a sample of low-income children from a racial or ethnic minority,” said lead investigator Thomas Robinson, MD, professor of pediatrics and medicine at Stanford.

The study is published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology (2021; 9 [6], 336–49).