Community Health Promoters to Reach Out to Fellow Latinos: Preventing Heart Disease is Goal of Outreach

December 3, 2001

FORT WORTH, Texasâ??A network of trained volunteers will soon bring the message of how to prevent heart attacks and stroke into the homes, churches, community centers, and other nerve centers of local Latino culture.

Next week, Latino lay educators – promotores â?? will learn how to teach individuals and families to prevent and control heart disease as part of a nationally known community-based heart-health education program, called Salud para su Corazón or Health for Your Heart. The program is being implemented locally by the School of Public Health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

Local promotores will undergo an intensive four-day training Dec. 3-6, 2001, that includes lessons on how to identify those at risk for heart disease and how a healthy lifestyle helps prevent or control heart disease. Most importantly, it offers them resources and proven methods to share this message with family members, friends, and others in their community.

Created by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health, Salud para su Corazón began in 1994 as a pilot project in Washington, D.C. The program now reaches across the United States to make a difference in underserved communities in Texas, Illinois, New Mexico, and California.

â??Heart disease is the leading cause of death among Latinos, as it is for all Americans. But Latinos need to understand that the risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, overweight, physical inactivity, and cigarette smoking can be controlled and prevented,â? said NHLBI Director Dr. Claude Lenfant.

â??The good news is that research has shown that the burden of illness and death associated with heart disease can be reduced by simple lifestyle changes. NHLBI is committed to taking results of ongoing studies and applying them to serve the public health. Salud para su Corazón does that by training the promotores to help Latinos make those changes and live a healthy lifestyle,â? Lenfant added.

Through a variety of creative activities, including cooking demonstrations, â??weigh-ins,â? and participation in physical activity, the promotores bring life-saving heart-health information to their neighbors and families. Salud para su Corazonâ??s culturally-appropriate educational materials are offered in both English and Spanish.

According to Hector Balcazar, Ph.D., department chair and professor in the School of Public Health at the UNT Health Science Center, Latino children are experiencing a dramatic increase in obesity. In addition, he notes that high blood pressure levels and the rise of diabetes in young Latino children are alarming developments and must be addressed through prevention efforts in Latino families.

â??Salud para su Corazónâ??s promotores know the problems that families face and are realistic about teaching them how to make small changes in their behavior that lead to improved health,â? said Dr. Balcazar.

Earlier this year, the UNTHSC Salud para su Corazón program was named one of six NHLBI-supported cardiovascular disease (CVD) Enhanced Dissemination and Utilization Centers (EDUCs). These EDUCS are the first in what will eventually be a nationwide network of community-based organizations implementing targeted, culturally sensitive heart health education strategies aimed at preventing and controlling CVD and promoting heart-healthy behavior in communities with far higher than average CVD death rates.

The UNT Health Science Center is working with staff from nine network organizations and community-based groups, including the UNTHSC Northside Family Practice Clinic, the City of Fort Worth Public Health Department, the Tarrant County Public Health Department, The Dallas Concilio and others. Together, these partners hope to develop a comprehensive health promotion, health education and outreach initiative to increase awareness and knowledge about cardiovascular disease prevention and promote heart-healthy lifestyles among Hispanics. In addition to developing the network of promotores, the intervention will also create a variety of neighborhood and community-wide awareness and education activities, such as guided group discussions, or charlas, community health fairs, cooking demonstrations, and mass media activities to reach community residents with heart health and family wellness messages.

Diana Cervantes. Assistant Professor Biostatistics & Epidemiology
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