More than $3.9 million from the federal government will help the UA research obesity. It will also go toward promoting community health advocacy in towns along the Arizona-Mexico border.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded the UA Canyon Ranch Center for Prevention and Health Promotion. The Canyon Ranch Center has received money every five years for the last 15 years.
This installment of the grant is meant to further advocacy efforts and policy change rather than funding obesity research.
“At the end of this five years, we [want to] see communities that feel empowered to make healthier communities,” said Lisa Staten, director of the center at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. “The goal is not just to stay here; it’s to create something and understand the kinds of things that happen that we can then describe to other people and send out to other places.”
Minorities in impoverished towns along the border often fall victim to poor nutritional variety, strained financial resources and a lack of knowledge about food.
These struggles lead to escalated rates of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity — something the center is working to reverse.
“In this one piece, you’ve got these incredible human assets that really care about their community, and on the other, you’ve got really high unemployment, the issue of low wage jobs, less than quality education … so people are struggling,” said Jill Guernsey de Zapien, associate dean for community programs at the College of Public Health.
The center has programs which promote diet and exercise in border towns. They have a walking club called Pasos Adelante, “Steps Forward” in English, and a farmer’s market program in stores and schools to encourage healthy eating.
Both Staten and Guernsey de Zapien agreed that the key to correcting this problem is in empowering communities and their leaders.
Susan Kunz, director of health promotion and disease prevention in the Mariposa Community Health Center in Nogales, is excited about empowering her community.
“The staff at the research center has a really good sense of how to partner in a respectful way with communities, and together we can maximize our resources as providers,” Kunz said. “I’m really glad to be connected to the prevention research center.
“Incremental changes by individuals will happen over time,” she added, “and the focused attention of the center to each town really helps that to happen.”
By Jazmine Woodberry