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College of Education and Human Development at The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine


COEHD, Mexican researchers work to combat childhood obesity

COEHD, Mexican researchers work to combat childhood obesity

Childhood obesity affects millions of children around the world. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 18 percent of American children between the ages of six and 11 were obese in 2012. In Mexico, 28 percent of boys and 29 percent of girls between the ages of five and 17 were either obese or overweight that same year, based on statistics by the Organisation for Economic and Co-operation and Development.

To combat this global epidemic, Dr. Yolanda Flores-Peña, professor at the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León’s College of Nursing in northeastern Mexico, and her colleagues Drs. Velia M. Cárdenas-Villarreal, Hermelinda Ávila-Alpirez, Perla M. Trejo-Ortiz, and Ms. María D. Ruvalcaba-Rodríguez, have partnered with Drs. Meizi He and Erica Sosa from the UTSA College of Education and Human Development’s (COEHD) Department of Kinesiology, Health, and Nutrition to find ways to lower these numbers.

Over the past year, this collaborative team has been developing a pilot program, “Healthy Change,” that aims to educate parents (specifically Hispanic mothers) about childhood obesity. The program will focus on teaching mothers how to recognize overweight and obesity in their children, and how to prevent it.

“We hope to change mothers’ mindsets about body weight, obesity, and how to raise healthy children,” said He. “Obesity is a national problem here and in Mexico.” The pilot program, which will launch in early 2016, will include two sites, one in San Antonio and one in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico. The findings from this pilot study will be used to help develop a large-scale childhood obesity prevention program for the Hispanic population in both countries.

“In our department, we have a hope to address health issues that impact South Texas, like obesity,” said Sosa. “With this collaboration, we hope to expand our outreach further than we have already done in the past.”

Over time, Flores-Peña said, the study will expand to other states in northern Mexico, including Tamaulipas and Zacatecas.

“I think the collaboration with UTSA is very important because it is both international and multidisciplinary,” said Flores-Peña, principal investigator for the study and current UTSA visiting professor. “It opens up opportunities in the future for other Mexican researchers to come to San Antonio to improve their knowledge and share ideas.”

This international collaborative work, “Healthy Change,” has been funded by competitive agencies, including the Institute of Nutrition and Health Kellogg’s (INSK), Mexico and the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACyT), Mexico.

“The beauty of this international collaboration with an interdisciplinary team is that our work will benefit both countries, the United States and Mexico,” said He. “It’s important for an international knowledge exchange. We want to put UTSA and our research on the global map.”



Marco Cervantes is hip-hop’s Mexican Step Grandfather

Marco Cervantes
Marco Cervantes

Meet Marco Cervantes. Better known by his stage name, the Mexican Step Grandfather, this UTSA faculty member uses music to share his experiences and insights with the world.

Cervantes has toured and performed as a rapper and DJ at venues across the country and abroad, including stops in Mexico City and Spain. He has released several albums under the Mexican Step Grandfather moniker, including “Occupied State” and “Estere-ere-o.”

Cervantes’ hip-hop collaborative – Third Root, with Charles “Easy Lee” Peters and DJ Chicken George – has even performed in high-profile music festivals like South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin.

Born and raised on the north side of Houston, Cervantes was exposed to hip-hop and rap at an early age. The music was a part of his daily life growing up.

“In my neighborhood, I saw the daily intersections between Latinos and Black Americans and was affected by the ways our cultures interacted,” he said. “hip-hop was such a huge part of my life. You couldn’t go anywhere in my neighborhood without hearing it blasting from stereos or seeing young crews practicing their rhymes.”

By middle school, Cervantes had already been a part of several hip-hop groups, performing at school functions and neighborhood events as a rapper. By the time he entered high school, he was in the studios recording mix tapes and having his songs played on local radio stations.

As he grew as a musician, Cervantes sought to use his music to explore his experience as a Chicano – Mexican- American – living in the U.S. through the medium that he knew best: hip-hop. Culturally and socially conscious artists, he said, have always influenced his music.

“I was inspired by artists like Talib Kweli, Immortal Technique and Chuck D, who weren’t afraid to share their truths in their music,” he said. “I wanted to tell my story – the story of the Chicano in Texas – the best way I knew how: through my music. I want to explore the systems that have created inequality in our society, the socio-economic divides and prejudices that are ever-present in so many peoples’ lives.”

Cervantes’ love of hip-hop has even bled into his scholarship. As an assistant professor in the Mexican-American Studies Program, his research specialty is the blending of Black and Latino culture through music.

“When I began studying literature in college, I found myself interested in examining hip-hop as literature,” he said. “This music was just becoming accepted as a scholarly pursuit. It was exciting to see academics examining the music of my youth as literature, and I decided that this was what I also wanted to focus my career on.”

In his classes, Cervantes explores Latino cultural expressions, Mexican-Americans in the Southwest, and the history of Black and Latino cultural relationships. As a professor, he has used his musical connections and background to bring unique viewpoints into classroom discussions.

“My solo music has to do with understanding the Chicano experience and politicizing our community,” he said. “Through the musical component of my classes, the students and I can have frank discussions about issues facing Mexican-American and other minority populations today.”

Cervantes is currently working on a new album, a book exploring Black and Chicano musical interactions throughout history, and he is even branching out into poetry, which he sees as an extension of his work as a performer


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