ADA's Feria de Salud Reaches Latino Communities
Ana Gonzalez likes to tell people with diabetes that if her dad can do it, so can they. What she's referring to is the weight loss, improved blood glucose control, and overall better health that her father, Francisco Gonzalez, has achieved since Ana started bringing home information about type 2 diabetes, which he has had for 20 years. As program manager for Latino and youth initiatives for the American Diabetes Association in San Diego, Ana Gonzalez hopes to help ignite similar success for other fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters in the San Diego area through ADA's Feria de Salud (Health Fair).
Held in various locations across the country, the event focuses its efforts on Latinos, whose risk for diabetes is nearly double that of non-Latino whites. Through Feria and its parent program, Por Tu Familia (For Your Family), ADA promotes healthy lifestyles using tools developed specifically for Latinos, taking into account traditional food choices and the importance of family. Materials are available in both Spanish and English.
San Diego's fifth annual Feria took place in March at the Boys' and Girls' Club in National City, Calif. About 4,000 people came to the one-day event. Residents of the San Diego area who otherwise might not see a doctor or diabetes educator all year could attend a workshop on prevention of type 2 diabetes and its complications. Feria also offered free foot exams, exercise and cooking demonstrations, and plenty of tips on healthy living. "It's vital to have a program like this," says Gonzalez, noting the high rate of diabetes in heavily Latino places like National City along the U.S.-Mexico border.
For the last two years, ADA has hosted an annual Feria in another border city, Laredo, Texas. There, some 16.5 percent of the predominantly Latino population, or 1 in 6 residents, have diabetes. Last year, Laredo's Feria featured a popular cooking demonstration led by a local chef and caterer, Chano Aldrete. He blames the rise of type 2 diabetes in Laredo in no small part on poor diet. In his demonstrations, he trumpets the virtues of cooking with whole foods and offers healthy alternatives to traditional Mexican-American fare, which he says too often means fatty meat and flour tortillas, and the heavy-handed use of lard and vegetable oils in cooking. When it comes to calories and saturated fat, "a few flour tortillas . . . stack up quickly," he adds. Laredo is also chock full of fast-food eateries, whose menus are high in fat but low in nutrition.
At every demonstration, Aldrete repeats his mantra about processed foods: "If you can't read it, don't eat it." He teaches Feria audiences how to read product labels and to avoid foods with unknown or hard-to-pronounce ingredients. And he offers tips on replacing the heavy cream sauces of some traditional recipes with fruit compotes, salsas, or spices and other flavorings. "I've always been in line with the healthy way of eating and I exercise [as much as] I can," he says. "I'm just trying to do my part and share a little bit of that knowledge with the community."