The prevalence of childhood obesity in Puerto Rico has been estimated to be as high as nearly 30%. This statistic demonstrates that the youth of the island territory are less fit than their counterparts in some of the unhealthiest areas of the United States. This harsh reality is not lost on locals.
Geoff Soybel, 2015 GHLI Fellow
Being in Puerto Rico as a GHLI Fellow, I now see how the eastern Caribbean island, and many organizations, both public and private, are taking steps to alleviate the health burden. The problem is that most efforts are conducted independently, and there are very few mechanisms in place to evaluate their effectiveness. Childhood overweight and obesity initiatives are so disjointed, in fact, that some offices at the same organization are unaware of their coworkers’ contributions to the cause.
This is where GHLI’s Puerto Rico delegation can help. In order to maximize health promotion results, or determine if they are working at all, the delegation understands that local stakeholders must come together. Without unifying efforts toward the same goal, it is impossible to know what accomplishments, if any, have been achieved. In many ways, the work that we’re doing with GHLI is focused on removing our proverbial blindfold, so our path to Puerto Rican childhood health is clearly visible.
My time here in Puerto Rico has been wonderful! The sunny weather is ideal, and my office is situated in the Medical Sciences Building of San Juan’s Centro Medico, which is only a five minute train ride from my lodging, so dealing with the frustrations of a morning commute is a non-issue.
Dr. Capriles, one of our delegation members, brought me to sample the delicious local fare of bacalaitos and alcapurria (salted cod fritters and deep-fried, meat-filled dough). The trip was both enjoyable and educational, as it became clear that the island’s food tradition is one of many factors we must consider to successfully approach local childhood overweight and obesity prevention.