The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to U.S. healthcare, has committed $500 million over the next 10 years to expand efforts in cities across the country to ensure that all children can grow up at a healthy weight.

One of those efforts– Salud America! The RWJF Research Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children— is right here at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio.

First established by RWJF in 2007, Salud America! develops multimedia content to motivate our online network— which includes 100,000 kids, parents, school and community leaders, and social media fans—to start and support healthy policy and systems changes in their schools and communities, such as increasing access to safe places to be physically active, healthy foods and drinks, and maternal and infant health.

Why do we do this?

According to national studies, 39 % of Latino children are overweight and obese compared to 32% of children throughout the United States.

With the Latino public school population expected to rise from 24% today to 30% in less than a decade, and the myriad of problems, like diabetes and heart damage, associated with obesity, this mandates unique and innovative public health solutions.

San Antonio, a city with a 63.2% Latino population, is no exception.

Racks of assorted snacks on display at Express Mart #4. Photo by Scott Ball.
Racks of assorted snacks on display at Express Mart #4. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

In Bexar County, 3.7% adults have heart disease, 9.1% have diabetes, 28% are obese, and 36.6% are overweight. Disparities in these health outcomes are seen across different racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographic groups, with minority, low-income, and those living in the south, southeast, and southwest regions of the city being at higher risk and disproportionately burdened by disease.

San Antonio is among the cities leading the country’s Latino population growth, but wouldn’t it be great if San Antonio could lead the nation to ensure the next generation is healthy?

“Public health officials know that wellness initiatives and preventive care are far less costly than more serious health problems that are often treated in hospital emergency rooms, which is why the prevention research led by Salud America! at the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio is both extremely necessary and worthy of support,”said former Mayor Julián Castro in a 2013 statement.

Salud America! indeed is working to help.

Latino childhood obesity and related health disparities are associated with lack of access to active spaces, lack of access to healthy food in the neighborhood, too many sugary drinks, inequities in physical activity and nutrition in school, and maternal and infant health, according to our national research.

Lack of access to healthy food in a neighborhood can lead to health disparity. Photo by Scott Ball Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Thus, rather than focus on individual behavior, Salud America! focuses on systems, environmental, and policy changes at local, organizational, state, and federal levels to ensure everyone in America will have an equal opportunity to pursue a healthier life.

For example, Latino students were less likely to be obese when they attended schools with policies banning sugary drinks. Latino kids also had increased opportunities for safe physical activity with shared use agreements that opened school playgrounds to the public after school.

Salud America! has a team of digital health curators who are identifying and writing about these types of policy changes on our website every day. They identify reports, toolkits, sample policy guidelines, and checklists to help start or continue the advocacy change process.

Our curators also write Salud Hero stories and videos about how real people conceptualized, developed and successfully implemented policy change. These role model stories facilitate observational learning, increase self- and collective-efficacy, show how to overcome barriers, and provide culturally relevant social reinforcement and action cues.

Emergo apples imported from New Zealand are displayed at Central Market in Alamo Heights. Photo by Scott Ball.
Emergo apples imported from New Zealand are displayed at Central Market. Photo by Scott Ball.

For example, San Antonio teacher Michelle Griego wanted to increase healthy food access in her Dignowity Hill neighborhood so she started a farmer’s market.

A Salud America! curator interviewed her, wrote up her story, before we filmed it and shared the stories with local and national audiences.

Now Griego uses our video on her website to raise awareness.


“(Salud America!) was an important part of our mission and how to share it with anyone who would listen,” Griego stated on her site.

And all of this data is available for your particular town on our national map. Just enter San Antonio on the map and see all the action!

Salud America! offers many other ways for people to take action and help ensure the community has healthy kids. On our website, we’re encouraging people to step up and become Salud Leaders. Not only will you instantly join a local and national movement of people like you interested in starting and supporting healthy changes for Latino kids, you’ll get these free perks:

  • Customized data about the health issues in your area. This report includes county-level health indicators, such as percent children in poverty, percent population uninsured, access to grocery stores, physical activity levels, and fruit/vegetable consumption.
  • A spot on our national map.
  • The ability to connect with other local leaders and see trending policies and stories.
  • Direct contact from a Salud America! curator who can offer technical assistance and help finding data, or write up your story/research/program to share with a national audience.
  • Forum discussions on local health issues.
  • Periodic news and action emails.

On social media, the blog and handle (@SaludToday) conducts a weekly #SaludTues Tweetchat that promotes a Latino health issue to about 1 million Twitter users in just one hour. It’s a great way to start a conversation about the latest ways to improve health.

Salud America!’s website and social media aims to empower individuals and groups to become community change agents who can start or support healthy policy changes.

“Kudos to Salud America! for its vital work and action-oriented approach to guiding research on preventing obesity among Latino children,” wrote Lynn Parker and Harvey V. Fineberg of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies in a recent journal article.

Change agents can be parents, school personnel, community members, neighborhood associations, non-profits, public health leaders, healthcare providers, researchers, dentists, health departments, city planners, community organizations, national organizations, policymakers, and more.

Whoever you are, you can act now. Become a Salud Leader and start or support healthy policy change in your schools and communities to end Latino childhood obesity.

Top Image: Amelie G. Ramirez, Dr.P.H., is the Director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, which is the headquarters of the Salud America! national network on Latino childhood obesity prevention. Photo courtesy of Salud America!  

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Amelie G. Ramirez

Amelie G. Ramirez, Dr.P.H., an internationally renowned health disparities researcher, is chair ad interim of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and director of the Institute for Health Promotion...