A Young Girl Making a Pitch for Her Family’s Health

Kaleah was a cheery 11-year-old who loved spending time with her family, but when I first met her in the clinic during her annual check-up, she was depressed and suffering from childhood obesity.

I learned that Kaleah’s 17-year-old brother, who she idolized, and was a standout player on his high school baseball team, had recently suffered a stroke. He was in therapy relearning how to walk and talk. When the doctors explained to Kaleah and her parents that the stroke was probably connected to her brother’s diet and weight, Kaleah became doubly concerned.

At home there always seemed to be a pot of frijoles with carne on the stove and fresh, homemade tortillas. Kaleah’s Abuela loved to spoil them with soda and encouraged them to drink tall glasses of orange juice or ‘liquado,’ which was rich with whole milk. Kaleah wondered if this could have caused her brother’s stroke and wanted to help improve her family’s health.

I connected Kaleah to free nutrition and healthy lifestyle classes offered by Santa Cruz County’s migrant education program. Kaleah was a sponge! She not only attended every class, but she began researching how to read nutrition labels. She made it her mission to work on eating healthy, buying healthy food and getting regular exercise…not just for herself, but for her whole family, and especially for her recovering brother. In addition, I connected Kaleah and her family to the ParkRx program of Santa Cruz County with Friends of County Parks. The ParkRx program promotes equitable access to parks and outdoor spaces as a way to improve the health of local communities. The program made it easy for Kaleah to register herself and her family for their park visits and classes.

The physical and mental health benefits of being out in nature are enormous. Yet, in the U.S, 28 million children, more than one-third of all children, lack access to public green space within a 10-minute walk. (1)  It is imperative for city and county governments to ensure residents have safe access, to and in the use of parks. The rewards include creating healthier and happier communities. Construction of ‘pocket parks’ is one simple way to increase park access. Pocket parks are smaller but provide easy access within neighborhoods.

The last time I saw Kaleah, her smile was radiant. She was brimming with pride as she told me about the cooking classes she’d taken, her expertise in reading nutrition labels, and the nutritious picnics and walks to the park she organized for her family. Her entire family had lost weight and they were feeling better than ever. Kaleah excitedly told me that her brother’s health had improved and that he was even able to teach her a few baseball tricks. With his coaching and access to safe parks and outdoor spaces in her community, Kaleah was now considering joining her school’s baseball team in the coming spring.

  1. America in a New Light. National Geographic Magazine. September 2022.

Madhu Raghavan is a pediatrician who was in private practice in Watsonville, Calif.  She is committed to making the lives of children better. She recently joined Salud Para La Gente Clinic, a Federally Qualified Health Center, providing care and serving the health maintenance of the community.

A Young Girl Making a Pitch for Her Family’s Health

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