NHMA to tackle health disparities, obesity and diabetes among latinos

WASHINGTON, DC — To tackle health disparities and soaring obesity and diabetes rates among Latinos, the National Hispanic Medical Association, NHMA, is partnering on an initiative with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services‚ Office of Minority Health (OMH) to develop leadership training, education and outreach programs to improve Hispanic health.

The initiative will be announced March 24 at NHMA’s 10th annual conference, “Somos Unidos: United to Eliminate Health Disparities For Hispanics.” The conference will be March 23-26 in Washington.

“Everybody talks about health disparities, an issue we are addressing by developing a targeted framework to turnaround staggering obesity and diabetes rates among Hispanics,” said Dr. Elena Rios, president of NHMA, a nonprofit group representing 35,000 Latino doctors in the U.S.

“Increasing workforce diversity is a matter of improving quality and culturally competent care that can ultimately reduce health disparities in our nation,” said Garth N.Graham, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health.

Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely to get diabetes as non-Hispanic whites and have a 40 percent higher death rate related to the disease. Their girth is also growing. Hispanics ages 20-74 are more overweight than non-Hispanic whites, 11 percent higher in males; 26 percent higher in females and are more obese, 7 percent higher in males; 32 percent higher in females.

Rios said the initiative’s goals include recruiting Latinos for senior-level positions at HHS and developing a national leadership training program for Hispanic doctors and public health professionals in conjunction with NHMA’s National Hispanic Health Foundation. The foundation is affiliated with New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

The two-year initiative also calls for a national education campaign on diabetes and obesity in conjunction with NHMA’s medical societies in New York, Texas and California. “We want to work with our doctors, schools and elected officials in these states so they can be responsive to cultural competency and language and other issues that affect Hispanic health,” Rios said.

“Education programs can help Hispanic families better understand how regular exercise and healthy foods improve their well-being. Healthy families begin with health information that breaks the barriers of culture, language and access,” Rios said.

NHMA is developing a national advisory panel with English and Spanish TV, radio and magazines to combat obesity and diabetes. “We want to thank and support the many doctors who are helping to turn the tide against obesity and diabetes,” Rios said.

Obesity could surpass smoking as the leading cause of death in the U.S., said Dr. Carmen Zorilla, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Puerto Rico, School of Medicine who‚will speak at the conference. Nationally, an estimated 129.6 million Americans, 64 percent, are overweight or obese. Americans born today have a 1 in 3 chance of developing obesity-related diabetes, 1 in 2 if they are Hispanic. Diabetes costs the nation $132 billion annually.

NHMA’s conference will include panel discussions on adult health, Latinas and depression, Hispanic community-based research, cultural competence and medical student training, women‚s health, children‚s health, U.S.-Mexico bi-national health insurance, diversity in medical education, community health centers and the new Medicare program.

Dr. Virgilio Licona, associate medical director of Plan de Salud del Valle Inc. in Fort Lupton, CO, will discuss how community health centers are “currently the family doctor and health care home for up to 38 percent of all low-income Latinos, making them, after non-Hispanic whites, the largest population served by health centers nationwide.” The centers are helping to narrow the gap in infant mortality, parental care, tuberculosis and age-adjusted death rates among Hispanics.

Health disparities can mean decreased quality of life, loss of economic opportunities and perceptions of injustice, said Dr. Jose Castro, assistant professor, ID, at the University of Miami School of Medicine. He will discuss how Hispanics have a higher number of infectious diseases ˆ such as hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, STDs and tuberculosis, that translate into “less than optimal productivity, higher health-care costs, and social inequity.”

At the conference, NHMA also will announce a new partnership with Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN, the largest private, comprehensive historically black institution for educating health professionals and scientists in the U.S. “We are excited to be partnering with Meharry Medical College, and President John Maupin, as we work together to eliminate health care disparities in our communities,” Rios said.

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