¡Azúcar! Not always so sweet.

Sugar Sweetened Beverage

Before interning at Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC) the aspects of public health I had been exposed to were in  health education, prevention, and intervention of sexual health and HIV/AIDS. What drew me to intern at LCHC was their commitment to advocacy and social justice to the Latino community who often face greater disparities across all aspects of health. As someone with a sincere interest in helping the Latino community, I had never considered how policies can have vast impacts on our community. When considering these two distinctive concepts together, I think about the concept of decolonizing our diet in an effort to mediate the adverse affects distinctive foods and sugary drinks have on our health.

As a U.S.-born Latino, I reflect on the lives of my family, community and interestingly, my ancestral history. I often consider how my life would have been, had my parents never immigrated to the U.S. What type of work would I be doing? How much education would I have received? And, what type of diet would I have? I then realize my diet would be very similar to that of the U.S. Mexico is facing a similar health crisis just as its northern neighbor due to trade agreements and a growing globalized world.  


our ANCESTRAL diet

The saying goes: “La comida es medicina.” Meaning that it is imperative we reflect on our past if we wish to have healthier communities for the future. This means treating our food like medicine and as something sacred. Many in our community have personally witnessed the effects of the Standard American Diet on our bodies and on the health of our familia and our comunidad. Our community is in the midst of a health crisis, most notably with diabetes, but also with heart disease and the amputations of our bodies. In the context of social justice, it is becoming increasingly difficult to advocate for our community and our culture if we are literally being torn apart.

Looking into what my ancestors consumed before colonization, foods and beverages such as nopales, tunas, huitlacoche, atole, tesgüino and toloache, words I had never pronounced up until recently. I consider the wealth of knowledge our ancestors had and I have much to learn from the foods and beverages they consumed. I’ve learned consuming our ancestral foods not only keeps me connected to my culture and community, it can help prevent and treat the diseases that result from adopting the contemporary American Diet.

Now is the time to reclaim our cultural inheritance and wean our bodies from the fast foods and sugary drinks that frankly, are not native to our palates. In retrospect, something as simple as cooking frijoles de la olla should be seen as an act of resistance and revolutionizes the way in which we honor our ancestors and care for the generations to come.

In order to retrace our pasado, one can consider current and future policies in place to help us reach this goal. Policies that allocate funds to encourage low-income communities and Calfresh recipients to purchase and consume the fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables our local farmers produce. These type of policies contribute to the acts of resistance I previously mentioned. I would of never considered how much power our community can truly have when you advocate for this type of non-traditional revolución in the community.


more about sugary drinks and our comunidad

Recently, I was able to attend a mock senate health committee hearing and witness first hand how bills are introduced, debated and sent to the governor for approval. The high school students who participated in the mock hearing debated a statewide policy known as the health promotion fee, which is a fee on sugary drinks (SSBs) which would generate revenue to address chronic disease in low-income, communities of color in California.

The consumption of SSBs has become a highly visible and controversial public health and public policy issue. SSBs are a major contributor to obesity, diabetes, dental disease and other related health problems. As the Latino population continues to be the fastest-growing and largest minority group in California, numbering 14.99 million in 2014; Latinos have now outnumbered the amount of Whites in the state. Therefore, it is no surprise that SSB companies have a special interest in the Latino population, as these SSBs have historically been targeted to members of nuestra comunidad.

For example, Latino youth are more exposed to the media, including beverage marketing, compared to their counterparts. Market research names Latinos as targets for non-alcoholic beverage companies. Latino youth are heavy consumers of digital, mobile and viral marketing media in which the food and beverage companies have taken advantage of by increasing spending on such media efforts by 50% from 2006 to 2009. One study found that TV viewing and soft drink consumption were correlated with obesity, and Latino students watched more TV each evening and drank more soft drinks each day than their non-Latino White or Asian peers.

Interestingly, even the placement of SSBs in stores can prompt their purchase. Placement of particular items at children’s eye level can prompt a children’s requests for particular and often times unhealthy foods and beverages where the majority of items offered at checkout include candy, chips, cookies, soda, and other sugary drinks. In one particular study where food company researchers interviewed shoppers, 45% said they had bought soda from checkout in the past six months. Most individuals who purchase candy or soda from checkout do so at least monthly and the purchases at checkout do not displace planned purchases; they add to them. And lastly, shoppers who buy candy and soda at checkout are often the same people who deliberately ignore those items in the aisles in the store where they are stocked.

While it is important to note the consumption of soda and other sugary drinks among young children in California is starting to decline, a new recent study demonstrated an alarming 8% spike among adolescents, the biggest consumers of these beverages. Latino children have increased their consumption of sugary drinks, such as soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit-flavored drinks, and flavored milk between 1991 and 2008. Furthermore, about 74% of Latinos have had a sugary drink by age 2. Approximately about 22% of Latino high school students have three or more sugary drinks a day. Children who consume more sugary drinks tend to have higher body weight and are at greater risk of diabetes and dental complications. And with the extra sugary drinks a day, the risk of becoming an obese adult jumps to 60%. Investing in P.E. programs at school, greater access to clean drinking water and healthier food options, as well as nutrition education among Latino kids can improve health outcomes.

Considering what these policies really mean for me and for my community, I attempt to conceptualize the problem and how I am affected by it personally. I often think about the iconic Cuban singer Celia Cruz and her song: ¡Azúcar! Envisioning how lively and joyful our communities can be, especially in the way we dance. However, in more recent years, I see the detrimental effects of SSBs on our communities and how our tenacity to have these marvelous movίdas (dance moves) slowly fade away from diabetes, heart disease and leg amputations.


mi pasado y futuro

When I think of how we can end this epidemic, I think about my extended family and our yearly trips to their native Jalisco, México. There I can remember the lush, green and majestic land my family lived on. There, my family would walk to la tiendita, and la plaza, among other places. I remember my grandfather would harvest corn from las milpas and bring caña de azúcar to the house for us to enjoy on some days. I can recall how sweet the sugar cane was and how bountiful the corn would flourish to then be turned into homemade tortillas. Our meals were often composed of fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes. When considering the past, present and future of our health, I look at these experiences and think about how policies that elevate and value our ancestral culture and diet can provide the necessary cultural and linguistic appropriate curriculum and interventions to “decolonize” our diets and our lifestyles.  We know what is healthy for our community and we need to take back the aspects of our native customs and traditions that kept our people in predominantly good health for so long.
I look forward to continuing my work with LCHC to further conceptualize and integrate the policy efforts into my public health work. The knowledge and mentorship that I’ve acquired thus far at LCHC, will continue to mold me into the public health practitioner and social justice advocate I aspire to be.


1. Search Press Releases | UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. Healthpolicyucla.edu. 2016. Available at: http://healthpolicy.ucla.edu/newsroom/press-\releases/pages/details.aspx?NewsID=156. Accessed July 1, 2016.

2. Latino kids consume “above average” amount of sugary drinks. NBC Latino. 2013. Available at: http://nbclatino.com/2013/10/03/latino-kids- consume-above- average-amount- of-sugary- drinks/. Accessed July 1, 2016.

3. New Research, Videos, and Infographics Tackle Latino Childhood Obesity Issues | Salud America!. Salud-america.org. 2016. Available at: http://salud-america.org/research. Accessed July 5, 2016.

4. Bill Text – AB-1321 Nutrition Incentive Matching Grant Program. Leginfolegislature.ca.gov 2016. Available at: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB1321. Accessed July 22, 2016.

5. Bill Text – AB-2782 Healthy California Fund. Leginfolegislature.ca.gov 2016. Available at: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB2782. Accessed July 26, 2016.

6. Temptation at Checkout | Center for Science in the Public Interest. Cspinet.org. 2016. Available at: https://cspinet.org/temptation-checkout. Accessed July 26, 2016.