Family Resiliency Center presenting to Hispanic families

Obesity has become an epidemic in the United States, affecting over 93 million adults and 13 million children in 2016. To help families who may be struggling with obesity, University of Illinois Extension has partnered with the College of ACES and the Family Resiliency Center to bring health programming and educational resources into one of the most underserved populations in the U.S.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Hispanic population has the highest age-adjusted prevalence of obesity. Extension’s Abriendo Caminos Health Educator Program aims to help Hispanic families and their communities combat childhood obesity through nutrition education in both English and Spanish. Abriendo Caminos trains volunteers as health educators, who then go back to their own communities and teach other families about the topics that apply best to them.

Dr. Margarita Teran-Garcia, Extension Specialist in Hispanic programs and head researcher on the project said, the program has seen a lot of positive response already. The Health Educators and their communities “want to know more about other programs provided by Extension. The families that have participated find that they enjoy the lessons and can change some behaviors that can result in health and wellness for all in the household and in their community.”

Teran-Garcia and her team are also working to bring similar programs to other minority populations around Illinois. The biggest challenge is providing education materials that have been adapted to differing literacy levels and translated into various languages. “Some of these groups are from Guatemala and do not speak Spanish. Instead, there are two main Mayan languages spoken by at least 300 families only in Champaign County,” said Dr. Teran-Garcia. “Since many of them do not know how to read or write, we are developing short videos that are easily accessible.”

The Abriendo Caminos Health Educator Program has brought great joy for Dr. Teran-Garcia. The program “is about teaching and empowering Latino woman and there is nothing more empowering than knowledge,” said Dr. Teran-Garcia. The whole research team on this project has expressed how proud they are of every Health Educator that they have trained and they hope to continue to expand the program in the future.

To learn more about getting involved in this program as a volunteer Health Educator, contact Norma Gonzalez at for more information.

Funding for the Abriendo Caminos Health Educator Program included the Illinois Extension Engagement Initiative Grant from an opportunity provided by an initiative of the Dean of ACES and the Associate Dean of Extension and generous support from the Family Resiliency Center and Human Development and Family Studies.