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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

Texas Researchers Provide Startling Data Behind Why Over 25% of Latino Kids are Obese


Students eating lunch in Texas

Childhood obesity is getting worse over time, especially for Latinos. Researchers in Texas (39.4% Latino) recently released a data explorer that illustrates trends in body mass index of school-aged children in their state (52% Latino). It also reveals underlying factors in obesity, such as dietary behaviors and physical activity. The information showed many disparities, especially in the Latino community — numbers that could call for statewide, national conversation and legislation concerning childhood obesity. Need for Obesity Reduction U.S. Latino children have the highest rates of childhood obesity (25.8%), as compared to their black (22%) and white (14.1%) peers. In Texas, 27.3% of Latino 8th graders have obesity compared to 16% of their white peers. Obesity is ...

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4 Powerful Tools Governors Can Use to Build Up Public Health


State government

Governors have the opportunity to use state resources and create partnerships to improve the social and economic inequities that cause poor health outcomes, especially among communities of color. But not all governors have the tools to boost public health. That’s why the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) and the de Beaumont Foundation released four big tools to help governors understand what influences public health and how to embed upstream health- and prevention-related plans into the structure of government. “We’re the state that’s going to tear down the systemic barriers to work and education faced by people of color, people with disabilities, veterans and women,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in his inaugural address, according to an NASHP blog ...

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Ohio: Speak Up for More Social and Emotional Learning in Schools


Latina student learning about social and emotional skills.

The Ohio Department of Education wants your comment on its plans to expand Social and Emotional Learning standards in schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. This is a big deal because Ohio would join only eight states with K-12 social and emotional learning standards, which help students gain life skills, such as emotional awareness, respect for each other, strong relationships, and responsible decision-making. But we think Ohio’s standards can get even better. The standards do not clearly define support for children who deal with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The standards also need a stronger application of implicit bias—people’s unconscious prejudice—to better support racial/ethnic students and those in poverty. If you agree, email the following model ...

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Sesame Street Offers Hundreds of Bilingual Activities for Parents, Providers


Eating Colorful Fruits and Vegetables video from Sesame Street

Big Bird, Elmo, and friends have connected with children on TV for years—now Sesame Street is helping parents and community providers help kids and families grow smarter, stronger, and kinder. Sesame Street in Communities provides hundreds of bilingual, multi-media tools to help parents and community providers engage kids and families in everyday activities to boost early childhood development.  All content is available for free in English and Spanish. Parents and Caregivers Parents and caregivers can find activities and videos for all age ranges on 28 topics. These go from healthy eating to traumatic experiences. Eating Well: Food insecurity can make things seem hopeless. But programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the National School ...

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Making the Case for Paid Family Leave


Pregnant Latina at work.

Paid leave reduces the use of public services, boosts employee productivity, and can help families better succeed—yet three in four Latinos are unable to take such time. Despite data that shows its benefits, there is no federal requirement to provide paid family leave. The 1993 federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), legislation most businesses follow, does not cover all workers and leave offers are unpaid. Lack of paid leave and other economic support contributes to health and economic disparities among Latinas, Latinos, and low-income families. Still, paid leave is gaining popular support, including a proposal for universal paid family leave. “If the [corporate officers and directors] gets paid leave, then the factory floor worker should also get paid leave,” ...

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Social and Emotional Learning Leads to 64% Drop in Expulsions


A teacher at work with a class at Fall-Hamilton Elementary Source Edutopia

How can school leaders address early-life trauma among their students, improve academic and behavioral outcomes, and reduce harsh disciplinary action? Check out Nashville’s trauma-sensitive revolution. Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) (23% Latino) has spent the past six years integrating trauma-informed practices, such as social and emotional learning and restorative discipline, to help students feel supported and understood, Edutopia reports. They even hired a full-time trauma-informed coordinator. “Our ability to accelerate achievement in the future is dependent on meeting the social and emotional learning needs of our students,” MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph told The Tennessean. “We expect it, and the students deserve it.” The Need to Address Trauma ...

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6 Ways to Advance Equity in Public Transportation


Inclusive Transit Advancing Equity in Public Transportation

A new report will help transportation planners and policymakers make public transit more equitable and inclusive in their cities, while minimizing public health and climate change impacts. Safe, affordable and reliable public transportation benefits entire populations and can improve a person’s health and social mobility. But too much money pays for projects that widen historical gaps in access to transit options for Latinos, other communities of color, and low-income people. To highlight and reverse this trend, the TransitCenter foundation released a report, Inclusive Transit: Advancing Equity Through Improved Access & Opportunity. The report shows how to empower transit agencies to advance equity. “This can lead to prioritizing transportation investments that ...

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Minority Kids Face Harsh Discipline in School, Trauma Out of School


social emotional learning SEL childhood trauma school discipline

Children of color who are disproportionately targeted by harsh school discipline policies are also more likely to face adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) out of school, according to a new report. ACEs—such as poverty, neglect, and parental divorce—can impair healthy development and education. But little is known about how exclusionary school discipline practices—suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, and corporal punishment—affect children with ACEs. So, ChangeLab Solutions created an issue brief, School Discipline Practices: A Public Health Crisis and an Opportunity for Reform, that shows how widespread use of exclusionary school discipline aggravates pre-existing ACEs and robs students of opportunities for learning and growth. “These practices ...

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Game Changer: San Antonio Police to Notify Schools if Kids Exposed to Trauma



Diana Centeno knows kids exposed to traumatic events don’t get the support they need at school. Doug Greene knows police come across kids at crime scenes but feel unable to help them cope. So, they teamed up to start a project where patrol officers send a notification to the district if a child was present at a traumatic incident, enabling monitoring and support for the child. Centeno, a student support leader at San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD), is passionate about providing wrap-around, social-emotional services, particularly for children facing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Kids exposed to ACEs often act out in class, miss school, and fall behind, increasing their risk of dropping out, getting into criminal activities, and suffering from poor ...

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