This month, a University of California hot line began offering 20 recorded messages on healthier eating habits.
The service is targeted at the poor people and recent immigrants, who often find their weight increasing when they abandon traditional diets for American fare. The obesity-prevention and weight-management tips are in both English and Spanish.
Suggestions include common-sense tips such as getting more exercise and avoiding fatty foods. The messages also advise families to grow their own vegetables and get rice, beans and fresh fruit from food banks.
The toll-free service also explains the connection between economics and obesity. A recent study by university researchers found that dietary changes such as substituting wheat bread for white, lean ground beef for regular and lowfat cheese for whole-fat can boost monthly food spending by $70 to $80 for a family of four.
Tips on good parenting and how to avoid heat stress - a problem for farm workers who spend hours in the broiling sun - are planned next.
The tip line idea was first tried about a year and a half ago with messages in Spanish on diabetes, an especially serious problem among Hispanics. About 350 people called during a three-week period.
University scientists followed up with tips on how to recover from the wildfires that hit Southern California. Those messages drew 500 calls over two weeks.
"We saw that was an excellent tool to provide information to people who don't have access to the Internet and who perhaps prefer to use a friendlier tool like the telephone," said Myriam Grajales-Hall, manager of Spanish broadcast and media services for the university's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The toll-free number is 1-800-514-4494.
By Michelle Locke