Anti-obesity projects are touted locally

Beyond overseeing the breakfast and lunch menus at Guadalupe Street Coffee on the near West Side, Chef Edward Garcia finds time to teach neighborhood children some of the cooking and nutrition skills he picked up at culinary school.

Garcia, who grew up nearby, and whose last job was cooking at the Waldorf Astoria Park City in Utah, said some of the concepts are pretty new to the kids.

“It’s very foreign when they’re used to eating McDonald’s or carne guisada, the food this whole community grew up with,” Garcia said. “For them, eating an egg-white omelet — that’s just unheard of. They’re kind of iffy about trying it, but when they try it their eyes light up. I have parents coming in here and they say, how did you get my kid to eat vegetables?”

Garcia catered a healthy breakfast Monday for neighborhood residents and community leaders, led by U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, who met to discuss projects under way aimed at reversing high rates of childhood obesity, particularly on the West Side.

Some of the projects are part of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities grant, which targets impoverished areas across the country. Others are from $15 million in stimulus money awarded the Metropolitan Health District for anti-obesity programs.

“The world has changed,” Gonzalez said. “We’re saddled with a whole different set of circumstances than maybe when I was growing up we were facing. The choices of food, how we eat, what our neighborhood is like.”

One problem is a lack of grocery stores offering fruits and vegetables in low-income neighborhoods. Instead, many residents walk to small neighborhood markets with limited choices on the shelves. Beginning in October, Metro Health plans to give coolers for produce to two stores this year and five more next. The first two are MI Meat Market Grocery at 5106 W. Commerce St. and Family Market at 1424 Guadalupe St.

In addition, trained staff will hand out samples to store customers and give recipe cards to people on how to prepare them, said Adelita Cantu, an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Texas Health Science Center, who is assisting with the program.

“How do you take this frozen broccoli and make something out of that?” Cantu said.

Another project, which city staff hopes to bring before the City Council in September, is a policy initiative known as Complete Streets, said Kathy Shields, the chronic disease program manager for Metro Health.

“The idea is that any street that’s newly designed or redesigned would make sure that it includes elements that make it healthy for all people, whether you’re a bicyclist, whether you’re walking, whether you’re pushing a stroller, whether you’re in a wheelchair,” Shields said.

Shields also pointed to the ¡Por Vida! program, which now includes 14 restaurants, with more on the way. ¡Por Vida! allows establishments to come up with healthy items and then identify them on menus with a special symbol. Guadalupe Street Coffee is the newest member, and the first was Pico de Gallo — also on the near-West Side.