Promoting Healthy Lifestyles in Mexico

kidsplants.jpgLiving a healthy lifestyle is often challenging, especially in a world that is rapidly urbanizing and where traditional living patterns are replaced.  Mexico is not immune from these changes. The nation ranks second in the world for obesity. To help teach people living in San Miguel de Allende about healthy lifestyles, PAHEF provided a grant to Centro para los Adolescentes de San Miguel de Allende (CASA), a non-profit with a history of providing community-based education and health services for 30 years. With PAHEF’s grant, CASA created an innovative and effective program called I Choose Healthy to educate people about eating well and exercising.

The Problem

A person’s environment plays a strong role in determining what they eat and how they exercise. In rural Mexico, it is often easier to find a can of soda than a glass of clean water. Diets based on traditional, healthy staples such as vegetables, fruit, grains, and beans are being replaced by ubiquitous high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. Improvements in public transport mean fewer people are walking or biking. These factors combined with increased television viewing have led to a sedentary population gaining weight at an alarming rate.

Realizing that education was needed to affect change, CASA began its project by collecting data on customs, attitudes, and needs about nutrition and exercise in the area. Data revealed that communities farthest away from the urban center of San Miguel were the healthiest. It also was learned that in rural communities, people are unaware of the importance of physical activity and eating healthy foods. For example, only 21 percent ate fruit or vegetables once a week, with 79 percent eating them less frequently.

For the next phase of the project, CASA developed messaging and strategies for communicating them to the target audiences and recruited actors, puppeteers, playwrights, and nutritionists to deliver the content.

Setting the Stage for Healthy Habits

CASA worked to reach the community with messages about adopting healthy eating habits and exercise routines. With funds provided by PAHEF, CASA and its youth theatre group produced a 30-minute stage play to teach elementary and junior high school-aged children as well as their parents and teachers. The team made five puppets and wrote an entertaining script. The play demonstrated how crucial a well-rounded diet and exercise are to staying healthy. The play was seen by nearly1,300 children, adolescents, and adults. 

Tuning into Good Health

teacher Women of reproductive age and indigenous women are important audiences to  reach with healthy lifestyle information. They are often responsible for taking care of their families and planning meals. To reach them, CASA produced a 24-chapter radio program that focused on gender roles, the importance of healthy nutrition early in life, nutrition and exercise during pregnancy, and breastfeeding amongst other themes. The CASA team spent more than 400 hours writing, producing, and recording the radio-novela.

Workshop Series

Another component of the I Choose Healthy initiative was a series of workshops to train individuals to teach their peers about healthy lifestyles. More than 150 CASA staff attended a 28-hour workshop about nutrition, physical exercise, and organic gardening. Through the training they received, the attendees’ knowledge on these topics increased tremendously.
Graduates of the program went on to replicate the workshop with 441 individuals, helping to spread messages of healthy living even farther.

CASA’s Success

PAHEF is proud to have played a central role in making the I Choose Healthy activities possible and contributing to their overall success. In total, this project worked in 12 communities and reached nearly 1,300 attendees. Driven by community involvement, these initiatives engaged people to lend their talents to teach others about the importance of eating right and exercising.

In addition to I Choose Healthy, CASA runs a variety of health and educational programs and has recently impacted the country’s maternal and newborn health system through its midwifery advocacy efforts. CASA´s multiple services reach 80,000 people in need a year and in 2010 consisted of:

  • free family planning counseling and birth control methods to 6,577  individuals;
  • free pap smears to 833 women;
  • a total of 9,709 outpatient consultations were given in CASA´s Family Clinic and Maternity Hospital; and
  • Sex education and environmental programs to 6,082  people in 83 communities and 90 schools in the state of Guanajuato.

Listen to a sample of the radio program here

Submit a Nomination Today
A Sample of Recent PAHEF Projects in the Region