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K-State researchers investigate Hispanic health to better promote culturally sensitive health programs

By Kristin Hodges

 

A healthy lifestyle is not a one-size-fits-all kind of method, according to Kansas State University researchers investigating the current health status of some heavily Hispanic communities in southwestern Kansas to provide direction and ideas for improving health in the future.

Melissa Bopp, Elizabeth Fallon and Andrew Kaczynski, all assistant professors of kinesiology at K-State, are taking a community-based approach that targets Hispanics in southwest Kansas.

The researchers partnered with various community organizations in Dodge City, Garden City and Liberal to get a current snapshot of Hispanic health in the cities through discussions with community leaders and surveys.

The communities were chosen because of their interesting demographics and a need for preventive health programs, Bopp said. All three cities have Hispanic populations of more than 40 percent to more than 50 percent -- which is dramatically different compared to the rest of the Kansas and a significant change in the southwest Kansas area within the past 20 years.

"Nationwide we know that there are some ethnic health disparities," Bopp said. "We saw the need for having a better understanding of where Hispanic health is in the communities in southwest Kansas."

Bopp said the researchers wanted to develop tailored community resource guides for each city to educate and inform community members. The bilingual guides contain culturally appropriate information and local resources for exercise and nutrition.

Bopp said the researchers also wanted to get an understanding of how the cities, as well as Hispanics within the communities, are affected by different diseases like heart disease, diabetes and obesity -- diseases that nationwide have been found to have higher prevalence rates among Hispanics and other ethnic minority groups.

Understanding the current status of health within a community will help to guide programming, policies and initiatives, Bopp said.

"There's no good in trying to help a community if you don't know where they need assistance, or what their strengths and weakness are," she said.

After speaking with community members, partners and local K-State Extension agents, it was apparent that many people in the community were concerned about their health, Bopp said, and at this stage of the research, diabetes was often mentioned as a concern in the community. Though heart disease was not as big of a concern, she said the population is relatively young, so trends may be different in the future.

When addressing a community's health, Bopp said any recommendations should reflect the culture of the community.

"Tailoring programs to be culturally sensitive is a more effective strategy instead of taking a program from somewhere else and dropping it into a more diverse community where there may be different cultural norms associated with health, disease, nutrition and exercise," she said.

She said particularly in southwest Kansas, many Hispanics tend to be first- or second-generation immigrants, and individuals might be adjusting to meet Western diets, which typically include higher-fat, calorically-dense foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, shifting from their traditional diets which include healthier grains and more fresh fruits and vegetables. Limited financial resources also may limit access to healthy foods or opportunities for physical activity.

The project began in January 2007 and was funded by K-State's Center for Community Engagement and Community Development.

The next steps are to compile the information from the surveys and interviews with community leaders to develop a report with input from community partners, with the intent of brainstorming to develop different programs that are appropriate for the community.

Alicia Brooks-Torrico, program assistant in the K-State department of kinesiology, is leading the follow-up project, which is funded by the Sunflower Foundation of Kansas.