By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Obesity and diabetes are among the top five reported health concerns for the Hispanic community in Liberal, and most local health officials agree that a lack of physical activity is related to both problems.
The Hispanic Health Needs Assessment, a collaboration between community members and National Alliance for Hispanic Health, was recently released for 2010, and the report also mentioned that obesity, particularly in childhood, was mentioned several times as a problem. Many leaders suggested that partnering with schools to address the issue could be helpful.
The report indicated 25 percent of the more than 70 Liberal Hispanic community members surveyed did not get enough physical activity to get health benefits, and 64 percent said they watch television or play video games for more than an hour each day.
The numbers likewise show 35 percent of those surveyed sit while using a computer for more than an hour a day, and most people walk or bike to or from work less than two times a week.
“Liberal Hispanics are less likely to meet the five-a-day fruit and vegetable recommendation than non-Hispanics in Liberal and nationally,” the report read.
One of the factors in this, according to some community leaders, is that fruits and vegetables were too expensive and the cost made it too hard for low-income Hispanic families to eat healthy.
In Liberal, when asked about their neighborhoods, 44 percent of those surveyed reported there were no sidewalks, 36 percent said traffic made it difficult to walk, and 41 percent felt it was unsafe walking at night.
Surveys also said 37 percent felt there were no free or low-cost recreation opportunities nearby, and 31 percent believed there was no safe park in their neighborhood.
Community member surveys also revealed several health concerns for the Hispanic community including alcohol and drug addiction, obesity, diabetes, cancer and depression.
Although a leading cause of death among Hispanics, community members did name heart disease as an important concern for Liberal Hispanics.
Liberal has lower obesity rates compared with state and national levels, but lowering obesity is still important due to the link between obesity and diabetes.
Liberal community leaders also mentioned occupational safety and teen pregnancy as important health issues.
Access to health care was also a significant issue, and some of the findings of the HHNA study are:
o 19.1 percent reported problems accessing health services, with high cost as the most common problem;
o Nearly 40 percent reported seeing a health care provider in the last year; and
o 10 percent never had a physical exam from a health care provider, much worse than the national rate of 3 percent for Hispanics.
Community members’ suggestions to increase the number of Hispanics seeking preventive medical services include:
o Lowering the costs of services and medications;
o More education about health conditions; and
o Access to health insurance.
Community leaders also indicated that better access to preventive care would help decrease health problems. Education was mentioned by most of the leaders as a way to improve knowledge on health issues, working through churches, community media (newspapers, radio stations) and health fairs.
The HHNA provided the following suggestions for improving Hispanic health:
Improving environment for healthy habits
o Consider conducting a needs assessment to better understand what features or programs within parks and recreation areas would increase the utilization of these areas among the Hispanic community. Use the Physical Activity and Nutrition Guide to promote existing parks;
o Consider developing walking and biking trails and sidewalks to make it safer and easier for people to walk or bike to workplaces that have a large Hispanic workforce. Install secure bike parking at these work sites; and
o Work with K-State Research and Extension to deliver information on growing fruits and vegetables at home.
Building a strong community foundation for health
o Form a task force or coalition specifically addressing chronic disease prevention;
o Feature weekly/monthly health topics on Spanish language television, radio and newspapers;
o Build and maintain a bilingual Web site for health education and promote health-related in the community;
o Engage faith organizations and churches for health programming such as: hosting farmers markets to provide low-cost access to fruits and vegetables, screenings for chronic diseases or hosting health fairs;
o Engage school districts for better health and wellness of children as well as their families. Some ideas for school district policies include: requiring daily physical education and regular nutrition education, improving the standards for school lunch or restricting or prohibiting the sale of sugar sweetened beverages in schools;
o Engage Liberal High School students interested in health careers to become fluent in Spanish;
o Encourage Seward County Community College to offer a Spanish minor/certificate for the health professions; and
o Social marketing or mass media campaigns could be used to promote healthy habits and disease prevention. Messages should be culturally appropriate and delivered in both English and Spanish.