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Lessons in healthy eating help families fight obesity trend

Juan Carlos Chavez, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

WIMAUMA, Fla. — A Florida nonprofit is proving there’s an appetite for healthy eating among Hispanics who are at risk of medical complications from a poor diet.

More than 1,000 people took advantage of education and training offered during the past two years in Wimauma by the nonprofit Hispanic Services Council. At least 275 of them stuck around for a six-week nutrition course in 2019 and 2020.

The sessions are offered weekly, along with a twice-a-month distribution of free foods and vegetables.

Lorena Sánchez is one of the people taking advantage of the program, called Bridges to Health. Sánchez, 23, came to the United States from Guatemala three years ago and lives with her husband and their five children, ages 1-8, at The Groves, a low-income apartment complex in Wimauma.

The lessons she is learning enable her to feed her family food that is healthier as well as budget-friendly — black bean and vegetable quesadillas, for example, as well as carrot and tuna salad, turkey tacos, chicken burgers and cranberry-walnut coleslaw.

“It is help that we all welcome because it is good to know what is best for our children and for us, too,” Sánchez said.

 

The Hispanic Services Council, founded in 1992 by a group of social service professionals, helps provide educational, health and civic engagement services to Hispanics in Hillsborough County. It operates on a budget of $1.5 million a year, most of it from government grants, and gets support from Hillsborough County, the United Way and Florida health insurance providers.

More than three in four people living in Wimauma, the South Hillsborough farming community, are Hispanic and one in three were born outside the United States, according to Census figures.

The lessons in healthy eating are taught by social workers, known as promotoras de salud, who understand the challenges their students face.

They are seven women from Peru, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela, including Mexico-born Velia Huitron, 70, who started volunteering with the Hispanic Services Council in 2011.

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