Little Village Residents Take Steps to Shed Childhood Obesity

On a frigid January morning, residents of Marshall Square, an enclave of Southwest Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, set out on a mission to improve their community’s health.

With clipboards in hand, the volunteers, led by United Way of Metro Chicago’s community partner Marshall Square Resource Network, were trained to assess the walkability of their streets in preparation for next week’s formal study.

“We realize our streets aren’t the best places for our children to be,” said Jennifer Idrovo, the Neighborhood Network director of MSRN. “In order to promote a healthy lifestyle, we have to make them safe.”

In addition to poor eating habits and the high price of healthy foods, a neighborhood’s poor walkability and limited access to safe outdoor space can contribute to childhood obesity, a problem too many children in Marshall Square face.

Situated between North and South Lawndale, Little Village is home to a large Hispanic community, vibrant Mexican culture and one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the city.

About 32 percent of its kids are overweight or obese. That’s twice the national average.

Marshall Square Resource Network works to improve kids’ health through efforts like the walkability study. Its findings will help community leaders resolve environmental obstacles that hinder outdoor activity, like unsafe intersections and hazardous sidewalks.

Together, we have a bold goal to increase the percentage of healthy weight children in Marshall Square from 51 percent to 60 percent by 2020.

To help get us there, our community partners will create programs that increase the availability of obesity prevention and weight loss services at neighborhood schools and produce obesity reduction programs at two community health centers. Starting this spring, an afterschool walking club for neighborhood kids will take its first steps.

But we will need your help, too.

Get involved and meet your neighbors outside of Cocula Restaurant in Little Village on Tuesday, April 24 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. to conduct the walkability study. You can also join the fight by donating to United Way’s health impact area. Your contribution will support our efforts to reduce childhood obesity and create healthier and more vibrant community for thousands of growing children across the Chicago region.

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