Family Nutrition Meets Fitness Technology

During a literature review at Congreso, staff discovered new evidence that could make their good health and wellness programs great. With support from Barra, they are taking one retro concept – the family – and combining it with one modern concept – mobile technology – to see if they can transform Latino wellness programs for the better.

“One 10-week program isn’t going to eliminate obesity. But if you can influence a family’s mindset, then changes can be made.”

Cynthia Figueroa, President and CEO

Congreso de Latinos Unidos

In the Latino culture, “family is everything,” said Congreso President and CEO Cynthia Figueroa. That’s why the social service agency is using family influence to battle the health crisis in its Eastern North Philadelphia neighborhood. In what may be a unique and game-changing initiative, Congreso is launching Healthy Movimientos for Families, a program for 75 children and their caregivers, which also employs health-tracking mobile technology.

The idea evolved from grim statistics and enlightening research.

In low-income Latino communities, 7 out of 10 children are obese or overweight, nearly double the national average.  The consequences of that insidious condition – high blood pressure and diabetes – shorten life expectancy by 20 years.  When research revealed the most effective way to prevent childhood obesity was through the family, the concept was born: teach children and their caretakers together, so they can develop healthy habits together: add vegetables and fruit to traditionally fat-laden meals; find ways to exercise in a neighborhood of unsafe streets that lack outdoor play areas; read food labels and avoid unhealthy ingredients.

The program also capitalizes on the fact that in low-income Latino communities, smart phones are widely used as a comparatively inexpensive way to access the online universe. Program participants will receive Fitbits, wrist-band devices that track steps, distance and calories burned, which have proven effective in changing sedentary behavior. Program participants can receive motivational text messages on their smart phones and social media may be used to spur friendly, intergenerational competition.

A critical aspect of the program is that its effectiveness will be evaluated. Temple University researchers are developing measurements and will compare outcomes with a control group. If the program works well, a blueprint will be created for other organizations to follow.

Photography by Mark Garvin

Catalyst Fund Investment

December 2013
$110,000/18 months

Building upon cultural strengths of the Latino community, Congreso will test whether their health and fitness program has better outcomes when classes include the whole family and/or mobile technology and social media. Temple University’s Department of Public Health and the Center on Obesity Research and Education will evaluate the interventions.

Why We Funded

  • New evidence
  • Timely issue
  • Affordable adaptation
  • Right organization
  • Positioned to spur change

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