Some of sports' most renowned Latino athletes are going under the spotlight, but don’t expect competition.
FC Barcelona player Gerard Piqué, Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo and black belt guru Ary Nuñez have teamed up for “Empuje,” a docu-series from bilingual network MTV Tr3s and the Pan American Health and Education Foundation (PAHEF) that follows three young Latinos as they struggle to improve their health. “Empuje,” which is narrated by Daisy Fuentes, explores how the youth undergo a grueling transformation. Nuñez, a celebrity personal trainer, says she felt empowered by the the chance to match a professional athlete with a child as a means to share advice on how to accomplish health goals.
“Latinos have the highest and most alarming numbers in terms of health,” she says. "We’re such a huge demographic, yet we support one another, which is why it’s so important to spread this message and bridge cultures. If you have to prevent any disease, you need to focus on your health. It’s more than just having a dream. It’s about making it happen.”
The rate of Latinos suffering from weight gain is an ongoing problem within the community. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Hispanic Americans were found 1.2 times as likely to be obese in 2010. In addition, 78 percent of Mexican-American women were overweight, as compared to 60.3 percent of non-Hispanic whites. In a different study, the amount of obese Hispanic children ages 6-17 increased from 1999 (21.6 percent) to 2008 (23.9 percent).
“Poor eating habits are a big problem,” says Fuentes. “Bad habits cause disease. It’s super hard to lose weight and change our habits. The statistics are alarming, especially in our Hispanic community.”
In “Empuje,” audiences are introduced to mentees suffering from health issues. They include high-school wrestler Mark, aka “Tank,” who struggles to control his poor eating habits, as well as Genny, whose hectic schedule prevents her from exercising and Juan, a father-to-be who recently emigrated from Mexico to Spain in hopes of having a better life. With the assistance of Cejudo, Nuñez and Piqué, the trio will explore how to take on a more active role with steady exercise and balanced meals. It’s an experience that influenced the mentors.
“This experience took me back to my youth and reminded me of the mentors that kept me on track growing up,” says Piqué, who is expecting his first child with Colombian pop star Shakira. “I can only hope that my leadership and guidance is as influential, and empowers young people to work harder, reach higher and stay committed to achieving their health and wellness goals.”
Nuñez was shocked to discover some of the many reasons why Latinos tend to suffer from increasing weight gain.
“I learned Cubans put sugar when they cook meat and stores actually sell powdered MSG, which I thought was illegal,” says Nuñez, laughing. “The food in our culture is rich, but combined with America’s supersized junk, where they inject animals hormones and preserve food to make it last longer… this is impacting our children. These foods are cheaper and more accessible, but fattening. And some schools don’t even make phys-ed mandatory. We put being healthy in the back burner. I’m not going to let that happen.”
Nuñez believes Latinos, regardless of their age, can take action now just by getting inspiration from their culture.
“Just put on your music, sweat and move,” she advises. “During any get-together, our family does karaoke, but you have to dance as well. I used to break-dance when I was young, so my cousin and I compete. We always have fun.”
Next episode airs on MTV Tr3s (Sunday, 11AM ET).
You can reach Stephanie Nolasco via Twitter: @SNolasco