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Organizations Take on Diabetes in Latino Communities

Educating families and providing healthy food to those in need

Laura KolodjeskiLaura Kolodjeski

While I certainly enjoyed sharing my favorite salsa recipe last year for Cinco de Mayo, there is so much more to the U.S. Latino community than just a simple recipe or a single holiday. In fact, when talking about diabetes, it is worthy of mention that the U.S. Latino population is a segment that may face unique challenges.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Minority Health, Mexican-Americans are 1.9 times more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes by a physician. While startling to learn that the numbers are so high, I did not realize there are so many organizations around the country working on education efforts to help combat the situation.Photo courtesy of San Antonio Food Bank

One organization that appears to be making a difference is the San Antonio Food Bank (SAFB). Not only is the Food Bank providing food and food education services to lower income people throughout the San Antonio metro area, but they are also educating specifically about diabetes. SAFB provides food to around 535 different organizations in the area, who then distribute it to those in need.

Census data shows that more than 63 percent of San Antonio residents are Latino, which presents some unique challenges for people like Luz Myriam Neira, MS, PhD, Director of Nutrition, Health & Wellness at SAFB. Luz said that for many of the lower income residents in San Antonio, access to healthy food may be an issue.

“Not every area of the city has access to healthy food,” Luz said. “They may not have a grocery store in every neighborhood. They may have transportation challenges to access healthy food. So it depends on the corner store, which is not the best avenue to get healthy food.”

Photo courtesy of San Antonio Food Bank
Photo courtesy of San Antonio Food Bank

SAFB supports the City of San Antonio’s efforts to bring in healthier foods to some communities through the city’s Healthy Corner Store program. Metro Health (San Antionio’s Health Department) has also launched a program called ¡Por Vida!, which helps residents of San Antonio make healthier choices when eating out by reviewing and approving menu items that meet specific nutritional criteria. Catalyst Catering (a catering enterprise of the SAFB) is one of the members of ¡Por Vida!, with schools and hospitals beginning to come aboard as well.

The Food Banks’ Viva Bien! Live Well With Diabetes classes talk about how to take better care of type 2 diabetes, ways to try and avoid the onset of type 2 diabetes through healthy lifestyles and engage participants by means of cooking demonstrations, which often show healthier ways of preparing Mexican food.

“There’s the wrong belief that eating healthy is more expensive,” Luz said. “The reality is that’s not the case if you’re eating the right amount of food. It’s not more expensive and in some cases it’s even cheaper. It’s definitely cheaper to cook your own food, rather than eat take out or at a restaurant.”

Photo courtesy of San Antonio Food Bank

I was also impressed to learn that the Food Bank has its own on-site community garden, Spurs Community Garden, that is growing its own food the Food Bank may then distribute to those in need.

“With the community garden, the idea is to grow organic food for the community,” Luz said. “And also we educate about the importance of growing your own food and we enjoy the garden as a physical activity. We also have a farmer’s market initiative where we are helping to make fresh produce available and connecting farmers to these consumers.”

The San Antonio Food Bank is not the only organization that is serving the need for education and distribution of healthy foods to these underserved populations. There’s a full list of food banks around the country doing great work, and here are some examples of organizations around the country with similar initiatives as SAFB:

  • Fresh Approach – This Bay Area, Calif., organization provides nutritional outreach through education and partnerships, especially with farmers’ markets.
  • Harvesters – In Kansas City, the Harvesters Food Bank offers a myriad of programs that educate and also partner with the community to add a row of vegetables to their garden that they may then donate.
  • Oregon Food Bank – This group has nutrition classes in both English and Spanish and offers different classes for a variety of age groups, in addition to their traditional food distribution work.
  • Community Food Bank of New Jersey – Here in my neck of the woods, the Community Food Bank offers a variety of food distribution channels, and much of their education efforts are focused on children.

It’s encouraging to see so many organizations serving the needs of Latino communities around the country. If there are programs in your area, we’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

All the best,

Laura K.

Photo credits: All photos are courtesy of the San Antonio Food Bank

Disclosure: Luz Myriam Neira received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

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