CHALO! : Helping Immigrant Mothers Learn Healthy Oral Habits

South Asian immigrant mother and baby

More than ⅓ of Bronx residents are immigrants. These communities face language barriers, limited access to health resources, limited income opportunities, and other barriers to “The American Dream”. Obstacles faced by immigrants often increase their risk of health problems. Furthermore, an insufficient education on personal health care extends the risk of oral health problems to the children of immigrants. CHALO! is a program targeting immigrant mothers and their families.



Albert Einstein College of Medicine published an article in July about a dental initiative reaching out to immigrants in Bronx, NY. Called Child Health Action to Lower Oral Health and Obesity Risk, or CHALO!, this home-based program targets South Asian immigrant families. CHALO is a Hindi word meaning “Let’s Go!”. In this spirit, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine were granted $3.7 million to “go” intervene on behalf of South Asian immigrants in the Bronx.  South Asian women trained as community health workers will visit immigrant mothers in the Bronx. The goal is to teach them healthy feeding habits to improve oral health/hygiene of their children. Their main concern is excess bottle- feeding and prolonged use of sippy cups.


Baby drinking water from cup, South East Asian Thai baby boy


“We’ve found that many new mothers bottle-feed more frequently and delay weaning to a later age than is optimal for their children,” said Alison Karasz, Ph.D., associate professor of family and social medicine at Einstein and principal investigator on the project. “This can result from overcrowded homes, where mothers feel pressure to keep their children quiet, or concerns about children getting enough to eat. Based on our pilot program, we expect that when mothers are provided resources and support from someone they see as their peer, feeding practices will improve — and so will children’s health.”


Educating Immigrant Mothers of Proper Dental Care

Behaviors and habits formed in the first few months of life can have lasting effects on the long-term oral health of children, By intervening early, teaching mothers how to listen and respond to hunger/fullness cues, instilling a need for dental regular dental visits, and ending the practice of using food to pacify children, these health workers will make powerful changes in the healthcare practices of mothers.


Six month old South East Asian Chinese baby girl sitting in a yellow seat, being spoon fed


These health workers plan to visit over 350 south Asian families with children between 4 and 5 months old. They will make 6 visits over the year and will evaluate the progress as the child turns 6,12, and 18 months old. Dental professionals will review images taken of the baby’s teeth. These photos will help researchers as they evaluate the effects of modified feeding practices.


This research grant, “Obesity and Caries in Young South Asian Children: A Common Risk Factor Approach” is making it possible for immigrant families to access health and dental care information. For some families, the efforts of these community health workers will be the difference between a lifelong struggle with cavities and a healthy set of pearly whites. How cool is it to see work being done to improve the lives (and smiles) of sweet little babies!