GRAND RAPIDS, Mich (WOOD) — Programs within the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan are working to help teach families how to make healthy choices.
Margarita Ortiz, 60, hasn’t always made health a priority but after enrolling in the nonprofit’s programs, she couldn’t help but make a change.
“This program is good for me because I learn how to eat … better,” she said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hispanic adults have the second highest rate of obesity in the United States.
Health promoter Veronica Mascorro oversees the Hispanic Center’s programs. She’s working to eliminate economic, social and cultural barriers through the center’s three initiatives: food, fitness and nutritional facts.
“They’re not really taught about how we should be properly eating and anything like that,” she said. “It contributes to the reason why the Latino population is at risk to developing a lot of different diseases like heart disease, diabetes.”
Through the Buying Healthy and Delicious programs, participants take a three-day health education class. Each session lasts about two hours.
The first day covers the MyPlate diet, which informs an individual’s intake of calories based on their age, height, weight and physical activity level. On the second day, participants go to the grocery store to learn about smart food choices and cost-saving strategies. Participants are given $10 to buy a meal for a family of four.
On the last day, the group participates in cooking demonstrations.
“I think there’s a really big misconception that Latino food is unhealthy but the reality is that it is very healthy,” Mascorro said. “The highlight and emphasis of the program is really just making small lifestyle changes, not huge and dramatic ones.”
In another program called Restoring Health, people older than 50 are given a free gym membership for 14 weeks at the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Grand Rapids.
“They have access to everything and we teach them how to use all the equipment. We teach them how to really get proper exercise,” Mascorro said.
She also provides information about government assistance programs including SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
For those that don’t qualify, the center ensures families can get access to fruits and vegetables through its Produce RX program. Families get 15 to 25 pounds of fresh produce every two weeks and recipes for healthy meals.
“I learn how to cook and the recipes in Spanish is perfect,” Ortiz said. “I cook and they say, ‘Oh my gosh, delicious.'”
Ortiz, who has high cholesterol, says the nonprofit is vital to the Hispanic population West Michigan. It’s helping her become a woman she didn’t know she could be.
“I’m very happy because the Hispanic Center does different things. I learn too much here,” Ortiz said.