playgroundThe Sierra Club and Latino Outdoors organizations in Oregon collaborated with The Next Door to offer free Spanish-language hike leader training at the end of last month. The training, which took place on Indian Creek Trail in Hood River, covered the essential skills required for preparing and going on a hike, including skills for leading groups.

“The goals of this pilot program are to help Spanish-speaking community members spend time outdoors with greater confidence, and most importantly, to make the connection between health and time in nature,” said Program Coordinator Bianca Fernandez. “When people spend time outside, their physical, emotional and mental health all benefit. And when people are healthier, the whole community benefits.”

The local nonprofit organization, The Next Door, plans to launch a program that will offer regular hiking opportunities to members of the Latino community in the near future. The newly trained hiking leaders will use their skills to lead group outings across Oregon’s plentiful natural terrain. The program will transport hikers to trailheads using vans from Hood River Community Ed. Additional support is provided by Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital and outdoors retail company REI.

The program is part of the Oregon Health & Outdoors Initiative, which encourages local communities to improve overall health by participating in outdoors activities.

According to a report by Salud America!, an organization that advocates for childhood obesity prevention, children in Latino communities have less access to safe and clean outdoor spaces than children in white neighborhoods. Consequently, Hispanic children also have higher obesity rates.

The report revealed that 81% of Latino neighborhoods do not have access to green areas such as hiking trails and parks or municipal recreation facilities like playgrounds. Furthermore, few Latino respondents to the survey conducted by Salud America! said that their neighborhoods are safe areas for their children to play.

“Having access to a safe space to play is very important,” said Dr. Amelie Ramirez, a Mexican-American health researcher at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “Many of our Latino parents are concerned with their children going out to play.”

Ramirez suggested a solution that would involve opening school grounds to community members after hours, giving neighborhood children a safe and reliable recreational area in which to get some much needed outdoor time.

Another issue is that some families in lower-income communities may not be able to provide their children with appropriate outdoor clothing and equipment. One church in Buffalo, New York has recently delivered more than 700 pairs of shoes in all styles and sizes to underprivileged kids in the city for the first day of school. Remember, providing kids with correctly-sized shoes is important for their overall health and wellbeing. You should always allow a half-inch between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe.

More outdoors programs geared towards the Spanish-speaking community, safer places for Hispanic children to play, and appropriate athletic footwear are all steps in the right direction in the battle against childhood obesity.