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Amanda Merck

Merck completed her MPH with a concentration in Physical Activity and Health. She curates content for Salud America! (@SaludAmerica), a Latino childhood obesity prevention project based at the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio. She focuses on the latest research, resources, and stories related to policy, systems, and environmental changes to enhance equitable access to safe places for kids and families to walk, bike, and play.


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Articles by Amanda Merck

San Antonio Coalition Wants to Raise Smoking Age to 21


teen smoking cigarettes

For the first time in decades, overall tobacco use increased among high school students. This could have a big impact on Latino health. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among Latino men and the second-leading cause among Latino women. The Tobacco 21 Coalition is trying to raise the legal minimum age for cigarette purchase to 21 in San Antonio, Texas (68% Latino). Every year in Texas, 75,000 kids try smoking for the first time and 12,300 kids become regular smokers. In San Antonio, 12.6% of male high school students and 9.9% of female high school students currently smoke. These youth are more sensitive to nicotine's addictiveness because their bodies are still growing and developing, according to health experts. Thus, these youth are more likely to smoke as ...

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Outdoor Learning Environments Soon Available in TX



Texas (39.1% Latino population) is launching five Outdoor Learning Environment demonstration sites across the state, three of which are at early childcare centers. This is great news for many Latino students across the state. Currently, children today can spend 8-10 hours a day in childcare. However, like many Latino-majority schools, childcare facilities offer less time for kids to play and be active. As early as age four, Latino children face gaps in academic performance and disparities in obesity. Latino kids need safe places to play and be active to reduce obesity and boost academic achievement. Naturalize Outdoor Playgrounds Play – particularly play in nature – is critical for healthy child development. Nature supports creative problem solving, enhances cognitive ...

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#SaludTues Tweetchat 11/14: Early Childhood Development and Latino Kids



Abuse. Neglect. Poverty. Household dysfunction. Latino kids are more likely than their peers to suffer these kinds of "adverse childhood experiences." This can hinder children's healthy development, school readiness, and overall health and wellness in many ways. To drive solutions, Salud America! will unveil a new research review, "The State of Latino Early Childhood Development," at the #SaludTues Tweetchat on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, to start a conversation about new ways to reduce childhood trauma and boost healthy development. WHAT: #SaludTues Tweetchat: “Early Childhood Development and Latino Kids” TIME/DATE: 1-2 p.m. EST Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 WHERE: On Twitter with hashtag #SaludTues HOST: @SaludAmerica CO-HOSTS: Zero to Three (@ZEROTOTHREE); Cero A ...

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Pediatricians Prescribe Books to Boost Literacy in Latino Families



Pediatricians play a big role in a child's health. But not in the way you might think. Treating flu and other illnesses is only 10% of what makes a person healthy. The rest is genetics (20%), environment (20%), and daily behaviors (50%). That's why it's so important for pediatricians to engage parents and kids to improve daily behaviors—like reading to young children and playing outside—especially among Latinos who have limited safe places to play and early educational gaps. Two amazing reading programs are doing just that. Reach Out and Read Latinos often enter kindergarten developmentally behind their non-Latino peers, Salud America! research shows. For example, as early as age four, children in low-income families hear 30 million fewer words than than their middle and ...

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One Region’s Big Effort to Connect Rural Residents to Healthy Food



Salud America! Guest Blogger Ethan Goffman of Mobility Lab In rural areas, a car is a lifeline to groceries, community, and medical care—all the basics of life. Seniors who can no longer drive, Latinos who often live without easy access to grocery stores or farmer's markets, and other people without access to a car, must depend on neighbors and whatever public transit may be available. Enter Rabbit Transit, which is striving to connect otherwise isolated individuals. The agency serves York County (7.2% Latino) and nine other rural counties in Central Pennsylvania, providing some 2.5 million trips a year, explained Richard Farr, the agency’s executive director. “Part of our mission statement is really focusing on a high quality of life for our residents,” Farr said. ...

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Junk Food Marketing, Latino Kids, and the Scary Health Halo Effect



Research has long shown that Latino kids see a lot of unhealthy food and drink ads on TV. But now a new study shows that food companies heavily target Latino kids on the Internet, too, according to a new study from the University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. What's worse, the Rudd Center also has confirmed a troubling "health halo effect." That is, when food manufactures promote good nutrition and physical activity in ads for unhealthy products, children can be misled and confuse their understanding of good health, according to researchers, via a separate study. The new findings have big implications for Latino kids, who suffer higher rates of obesity and worse health outcomes than their peers. Targeted Online Marketing To Latino Kids Previous ...

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The Truth about Best Physical Activities for Kids (from Baseball to Wii Tennis)



It can be a chore to figure out how to get kids the right levels of physical activity. Current guidelines recommend different intensity and frequency for different aerobic and muscle-strengthening physical activities for kids. What's that mean? More running? Jumping? Organized sports? Active video games? A new list—the Youth Compendium of Physical Activities—sheds light on 196 youth physical activities and the estimated energy expenditure for each. This collection of everything from basketball to cycling to Wii Sports offers parents, teachers, coaches, healthcare workers, and researchers better insight into which physical activities contribute to a healthier lifestyle, thanks to the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research. Compendium of Physical Activities ...

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Reading Together Helps Latino Dads and Kids



Sadly, Latino parents are less engaged in their child's education. So what happened when a program helped Latino dads read books together with their young kids? The Latino dads' parenting skills jumped 30%. The Latino children's language development and school readiness jumped 30%, too. These amazing results come from a New York University study that engaged 126 low-income, Spanish-speaking fathers and their Head Start children in shared book reading and a parent training over eight weeks. "Our study finds that it is possible to engage fathers from low-income communities in parenting interventions, which benefits both the fathers and their children,” said study leader Dr. Anil Chacko of NYU Steinhardt. Gaps in Latino Child Literacy Preliteracy gaps are seen in Latino ...

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Open Ciclismo: Crowdsourced Map of Biking in San Antonio



You can share the best—or worst—places to bike in San Antonio, thanks to a new bilingual crowdsourced map. The Open Ciclismo map, launched in October 2017 in English and Spanish by the local online news source the Rivard Report and Bike San Antonio, enables people to identify biking problems, issues, and solutions across San Antonio (63.7% Latino). You can report a public dangerous intersection, suggest a bicycling improvement, or share safe places to ride. Just indicate the location, add a description, and upload or share a video. "By crowdsourcing this data and riders’ experiences, we aim to create up-to-date awareness of hotspots for cycling safety, crime, and infrastructure improvements—holding city officials accountable for safe cycling and pedestrian life in San ...

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