The Need

We are facing a childhood nutrition crisis in Los Angeles County. More than 35% of children and adolescents in the county are overweight or obese, according to a 2015 report by UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.*

The prevalence of overweight and obesity is nearly twice as high among children in low-income households (41%) versus higher-income households (21%), and more than double among Latino and African American students (45%) versus white students (21%).

Children who are overweight or obese possess a higher risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and high cholesterol, as well as social, emotional and academic struggles.

Several behavioral and environmental factors contribute to the high prevalence of childhood obesity, socioeconomic and racial/ethnic disparities. Nearly 65% of California children ages 12-17 consume one or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day, and about 44% eat fast food two or more times a week.

Children in lower-income neighborhoods often have limited access to affordable healthy food, recreational opportunities and safe outdoor spaces for physical activity. Language barriers often prevent parents and their children from acquiring the nutrition knowledge they need to be healthy.

* Wolstein J, Babey SH, Diamant AL. Obesity in California. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, 2015.

Our Student Population

Every year, SOSMentor serves 16,000+ students ages 5-18 in elementary, middle and high schools throughout Los Angeles Unified School District. Our student population comprises mostly lower-income children and teens, over 70% who qualify for free/reduced-price lunch. Our student demographic breakdown is approximately 74% Latino, 10% White, 8% African American, 6% Asian/Pacific Islander and 2% other.

A high percentage of our students and their parents are English-language learners. We produce educational materials in both English and Spanish to meet their needs. Ultimately, our aim is to reduce the disproportionate impact of childhood overweight and obesity on our student population.

impact - SOS

Program Evaluation

SOSMentor evaluates our programs by administering pre and post Nutrition Knowledge Tests and Health Behavior Surveys. We also use Video Voice Mapping, an innovative digital strategy that empowers students to identify and voice school-wide needs and their creative solutions for environmental change in their schools.

Our programs have proven successful in increasing students’ nutrition knowledge and improving lifestyle habits. Recent evaluation results found a:

  • 52% increase in the overall number of students who exercise or play a sport for at least 60 minutes more than 6 times a week
  • 21% average increase on the Nutrition Knowledge Test
  • 97% increase in students who eat fruits and vegetables as snacks 4 or more times a week
  • 73% decrease in students who drink fruit drinks, sports drinks or punch 4 or more times a week
  • 138% increase in students who use the nutrition facts label when shopping
  • 50% increase in students who help prepare meals at home, and
  • 100% increase in overall number of students who drink 8 or more glasses of water a day
  • 80% participation rate in environmental change projects such as starting a school garden, fundraising for installation of hydration stations, and school-wide health advocacy activities

Student & Parent Testimonials

“Before I joined the Imagine HEALTH program at my school… I wouldn’t think twice about what I would eat. I would just try to find something satisfying … Now when I feel stressed, I don’t go buy the brownie or buy the chocolate. I found a healthier, better way to cope with it… We practiced and we learned different stress management skills, breathing techniques … and when I feel stressed or I’m in a problem, I just go outside, I breathe in the air, and after that I feel way better and more focused than before.”Natalie Lopez, 16

Johnny Amaya, 15, said “Ever since this program started, I’ve been eating better.” His parents, who work at night, used to take him to the taco stand or burger joint for dinner. With his encouragement, they started making more home-cooked meals like salad and chicken. “Things are getting better,” he said.

“Arielle explained that we can make a list of healthy food at home before we go to the market and then skip the junk food aisles.”Maria Ramos, mother of Arielle (8th grader)

“Healthy eating and physical activity not only improved my life, it could’ve very well saved it.”Nia McClinton, 16