HKHC: Caguas, Puerto Rico

July 2014

Caguas sits in a valley nearly surrounded by mountains, just 20 miles south of Puerto Rico’s capital of San Juan. Historically, many people in the island’s fifth largest municipality worked in agriculture, especially sugar production. But recent years have seen a dramatic migration from farms and rural communities to urban areas without, unfortunately, a significant shift in economic progress.

Even before the recession, nearly half of Caguas’ 142,000 residents had incomes below the federal poverty level, and 92 percent of public school students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. Children’s health was dismally affected by families’ struggles, as well as by environmental factors. In 2004, 31 percent of local second-grade students were recorded as obese, a higher percentage than on the island as a whole. Another 16 percent were overweight.

As it confronted such daunting statistics, the Caguas Municipal government, in partnership with SANOS as lead organization and other private and public organizations, launched an initiative to expand physical activity, nutrition and healthy lifestyles.  SANOS, a local nonprofit dedicated to health promotion and disease prevention, adapted and used a toolkit created by the National Institutes of Health called We Can! Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity & Nutrition, translating the text into Spanish and making it culturally appropriate for families in Caguas. SANOS will share the new version of the kit within Puerto Rico and with other Latino communities elsewhere in the United States.

Some of their key accomplishments include:  

Project Coordinator Cesar Montijo Natal sees the Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities initiative heralding a new era in Caguas that supports a healthy and active lifestyle. He says, “We will continue working with partners and organizing communities to make health a priority in Caguas.”