Houston’s Latino Children Struggle with Diabetes, Health Challenges


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Nearly one of every two people are Latino in Harris County, Texas, which is home to Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.

As the Latino community rises, equitable health, education, and opportunity is critical.

That is why two Houston organizations, Children at Risk and Child Health Policy at the Baker Institute, published the 2024 Latino Child Health Initiative Report to examine the state of Latino child health in Precinct 2, one of four precincts in Harris County.

The report identified high rates of type 2 diabetes and obesity among Latino children in Houston, as well as barriers to mental health services and kindergarten readiness.

Let’s dive into the report and how it reflects the overall US Latino population.

Latino Children and Risk for Diabetes, Obesity

In Harris County and across the nation, Latino children and families are at heightened risk for obesity and related health conditions, including diabetes, according to the report.

“Up to 50% of Latino children will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. Type 2 diabetes and obesity can result in longer-term lower health-related quality of life,” according to the report.

The reason for obesity is systemic, as Latino children are more likely to live in areas with a lack of access to healthy foods and a lack of access to safe places to get physical activity. This increases the chances of obesity and chronic illness diagnoses.

Locally, 678,000 residents in Harris County live in a food desert. 20.1% of children have experienced food insecurity.

“Children living in these regions often rely on school for meals, through programs such as Free and Reduced lunch, and breakfast programs,” the report states. “Within Precinct 2, over 401,300 children qualified for free lunch, however only just over 128,900 actually enrolled in this program, highlighting disparities in access when children meet eligibility for essential programs.”

The report suggests three remedies in Harris County Precinct 2 including:

  1. Increase use and expansion of school food programs, including breakfast and lunch.
  2. Partner with community agencies to promote increased nutrition education through Food is Medicine programs.
  3. Intentionally invest in reducing barriers to physical activity by partnering with community groups that can provide and support programming in Pre-K and K-12 schools.

“This initiative will bring together Precinct Two, public schools, and local nonprofit organizations to establish innovative initiatives promoting knowledge and physical activity,” according to the report.

Disparities in Mental Healthcare

US Latino children often suffer adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that can harm their brains and bodies and jeopardize their mental and physical health.

“Hispanic children endure disproportionate probabilities of suffering family economic hardship, parental separation/divorce, low maternal education, and paternal incarceration compared to whites,” according to the report.

46.4% of Latino high school students nationally reported that they felt “sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that (they) stopped doing some usual activities.” This is a higher percentage than the total US high-school population (42.3%).

“Locally, the numbers are stark as well. In 2021, 11.7% of Latino high school students attempted suicide in Harris County,” the report states.

Latinos also face barriers, such as langage, in access to mental health treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The report suggests how to confront, resolve, and track the mental health needs of Latino children and their families in Harris County Precinct 2, such as:

  • Partner with local agencies to increase the number of counselors in Precinct 2 schools and utilize health education through community-based leaders, like promotoras.
  • Establish a peer mentoring program.
  • Build a new local measure to assess mental health well-being.

“Addressing the mental health crisis among Latino families requires multiple strategies. To reduce stress and improve mental health, families and children need help accessing benefits, services, and care, walkable sidewalks and neighborhoods, and safe outdoor spaces to play,” according to the report.

Barriers in Kindergarten Readiness

The report also highlights key barriers to kindergarten readiness among Latino children.

These includes language barriers, cultural understanding of what parent engagement looks like, and when parents should introduce skills, such as reading.

These barriers are especially critical when considering additional hurdles facing Latino parents, with an estimated 19% of adults in Texas lacking basic prose literacy skills and over 1 million adults being functionally illiterate in Houston, according to the report.

This makes Head Start and Early Head Start programs important in Harris County and beyond.

Of the 293 kids enrolled in Early Head Start in 2021-2022 in Houston, 110 of these children were Latino. Similarly, of the 898 children enrolled in Head Start, 403 were Latino.

“Children who participate in Head Start and Early Head Start programs demonstrate improved outcomes in social-emotional learning, language, cognitive development and kindergarten-readiness outcomes, when compared to those that don’t attend one of these programs,” the report states.

The recommendations by the report to improve kindergarten readiness of Latino children in Harris County Precinct 2 include:

  • Work with partners and local school districts to increase use and expansion of full day pre-K3 and pre-K4 programs.
  • Decrease childcare deserts in precinct 2 by expanding/increasing the number of high-quality subsidized seats.
  • Assist community partners to increase capacity for family education programming that promotes skill specific development.

Find out more about health in Harris County Precinct 2 and the recommended actions in the full health initiative report.

Check out Harris County’s Health Equity Report Card.

Exploring Health Equity in Your Community

How can you check the health of your community?

Look to Salud America!’s Health Equity Report Card and explore a variety of health-related issues including housing, education, transportation, healthcare, and more.

Search your county and browse local data with interactive maps and comparative gauges.

Compare the results to other counties and states across the nation.

Use and share the data with local leaders and organizations to advocate for change and start important conversations about health equity in your area.



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