According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 65% of adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese and more than 33% of children and adolescents are obese or at risk for becoming obese. Obese children and adolescents are at a greater risk than their normal-weight counterparts for developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and orthopedic problems. Limited access to healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, is a major barrier to healthy eating. Low-income, underserved communities are at the highest risk for obesity because they often lack supermarkets – leaving convenience stores or fast-food chains as the main source of meals.

Fortunately, research demonstrates that certain behavior modification approaches addressing diet and physical activity can often prevent the aforementioned illnesses. Specifically, community gardens and group gardening can improve an individual’s quality of life by providing a catalyst for community development, stimulating social interaction, encouraging self-reliance, increasing access and affordability to fruits and vegetables and creating opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy and education. This has encouraged the development of a community garden led by the youth group of a predominantly Latino faith-based organization located in a low-income, underserved community in the City of Chula Vista in South San Diego County.

The group is comprised of youth (ages 12 to 17) that meet once a week after school and before mass. This community garden has made the youth collectively identify health issues such as the importance of healthy eating habits as well as social issues such as food insecurity and the health disparities that affect their community. Furthermore, through this garden the youth have involved and brought together other members of the church, such as the pastor of the organization, their parents and siblings, and other members of the surrounding community. The UC San Diego Center for Community Health Faith-Based Wellness program will continue to provide technical assistance to the youth group as their project evolves — we look forward to the continuous endeavors this project will have in the community.

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