SANTA FE – Multiple state agencies are stepping up efforts to curb increasing obesity rates among New Mexico children and help them gain healthy habits to last a lifetime, the New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) announced today.
“We’re collaborating on a healthier future for our children and making sure they have the tools to succeed,” said Acting Department of Health Secretary David R. Scrase, MD “This includes making healthy eating and physical activity opportunities widely accessible throughout New Mexico .”
Nationally, childhood obesity rose during the pandemic, particularly among elementary-school children, and New Mexico rates have followed this trend.
Poverty and a lack of access to healthy food are main contributors to this national issue.
Kindergarten obesity increased in New Mexico from 15.5 percent in 2019 to 18.0 percent in 2021. Among third grade students, obesity rose from 23.2 percent in 2019 to 28.6 percent in 2021.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico legislature earlier this year secured $24 million as part of the state Food, Farm and Hunger Initiative. The money includes essential summer and after school nutrition support to expand existing and launch additional services to help address child food insecurity and provide healthier food options during the summer months.
State agencies continue working collaboratively and individually to address obesity at every age, with a focus on children while also seizing opportunities to help develop and maintain healthy habits over the course of a lifetime.
The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program provides information to participants about the many health benefits of breastfeeding. If a mother can breastfeed for at least the first six months, it can cut the chances up to 25 percent of her child becoming obese between the ages of 6 and 9. WIC counselors work with participants on helping children in the program maintain healthy eating habits as well from ages 1 to 5 as developing these habits early makes it easier for children to make good eating decisions as they grow older.
DOH and the Human Services Department (HSD) would like to remind New Mexicans who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food benefits that they can double up food bucks and purchase more fruits and vegetables when they spend SNAP EBT card dollars at nearly 80 participating farmers’ markets, farm stands, mobile markets and grocery stores. For example, if you spend $10 from your SNAP EBT Card at a participating outlet, participants will receive another $10 to buy fresh fruits and vegetables grown in New Mexico. Learn more at: https://www.doubleupnm.org/.
“We are also partnering with local communities to make neighborhoods safe for walking and biking, and increasing access to healthy food options through such initiatives as farmers’ markets, school and community gardens, and healthy school fundraisers,” said Rita Condon, manager of DOH’s Obesity, Nutrition and Physical Activity program, including Healthy Kids Healthy Communities.
As part of its obesity prevention work, the DOH collaborates with other state agencies, including the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED), to connect more students to New Mexico-grown food and make it easier for local producers to sell to schools and other institutions.
In addition, PED partners with the DOH Healthy Kids Healthy Communities program and participating school districts as part of the Healthy Schools Project. Through professional development and technical assistance activities, the Healthy Schools Project works with a team of school staff to increase the number of students who consume nutritious food and beverages and who participate in daily physical education and physical activity.
Since 2010, DOH has conducted Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements in schools across the state to monitor trends, identify at-risk populations, and help guide efforts to increase children’s access to healthy foods and physical activity. Eating nutritious food and being active are key ways to prevent obesity, which puts people at increased risk for many serious diseases and health conditions, including severe COVID-19 illness, diabetes, stroke and high blood pressure.
New Mexico State Parks connects communities statewide – with 35 state parks located in 25 of our 33 counties, many in rural communities that provide natural and cultural first-class recreational and educational opportunities. State Parks promote fun and exciting activities and extraordinary events in all parks. Check out their special events calendar here.
“Getting fit doesn’t have to be boring! We have all kinds of amazing adventures for kids to participate in – guided bird walks, star gazing, learning about bodacious butterflies and live snakes,” said Toby Velasquez, director for New Mexico State Parks. “It’s so much fun, they forget it’s also good for them! Everyone wins.”
In 2019, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law the creation of New Mexico’s Outdoor Recreation Division, which in 2020 began delivering grant monies from its Outdoor Equity Fund so low-income children can participate in outdoor programs. This fiscal year, it awarded nearly $900,000 to 57 organizations statewide who work to get youth 18 and younger outdoors.
The New Mexico Higher Education Department further works to ensure college students continue to have the opportunity to get healthy foods. The agency last month awarded five $20,000 grants to colleges and universities across the state to establish student food pantries on campus to help college students and their families access healthy food and nutrition programs provided by the state, such as SNAP and WIC.
Schools will also use this funding to build essential capacity and infrastructure to create or support efforts to address issues of food insecurity for students, promote wellness, and assist in outreach to vulnerable students experiencing hunger on a daily basis. The department will award an additional $1 million this year to support food initiatives at college campuses as part of Gov. Lujan Grisham’s Food, Farm, and Hunger initiative. The Department of Health’s full childhood obesity report is available online at: https://www.nmhealth.org/data/view/chronic/2652/.