A Community Health Worker-led Program is Creating a Pathway to Healthy Living for Hispanics in the Rio Grande Valley

August 2019

Our Community Health Worker (CHW)-led program, Juntos Podemos (Together We Can), is helping residents in the Rio Grande Valley change their lives by providing education and classes that promote healthy lifestyles. The program works specifically with Hispanic families who are enrolled in or eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP). It lasts 4-weeks and runs multiple times throughout the year to help as many families as possible.

Those who qualify for Juntos Podemos attend classes taught by a CHW that cover an array of health topics to promote diet and exercise. During the classes, CHWs lead families in activities that are uniquely designed to increase healthy habits within this specific community. For example, CHWs present each participant with a nutrition label print out and walk them through each section in Spanish. The CHWs explain what the sections mean and how they impact an individual’s health.  Participants then practice using foods that they’re familiar with so that they can make healthier choices with the foods available to them in their communities.

Juntos Podemos participants

Another impactful activity is how to determine proper food portions. CHWs use foods families are familiar with to show them correct serving sizes. To ensure families adopt this practice at home, they provide them with plastic plates that are sectioned off to represent the appropriate sizes.

One activity that has a long-lasting impression on the participants is a low-impact, 15-minute workout at the end each class. CHWs coach them through movements they can replicate in their daily lives using the resources available to them. Participants have been known to record these sessions with their phones so that they can share the routines with others in the community.  It has also been reported that multiple communities have started neighborhood walks after a Juntos Podemos session has concluded. The initiative of these acts shows how this program has health benefits, not only for its participants, but for the community at large.

Evidence of the success of Juntos Podemos lies within the fact that many of the families report improvements in their behaviors around health after the program concludes. These improvements include an increase in the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat and the time they spend doing physical activity. The changes these families were able to make are proof of the effectiveness of CHW-led programs, particularly in communities that face unique health challenges.

Addressing Health Barriers for Hispanics in the RVG

Juntos Podemos serves Hispanic families in the Rio Grande Valley (RVG) of Texas. Here, access to fresh and healthy foods is challenging. In fact, 50% of the region is considered a food desert.1  An individual living in a food desert has to travel ten or more miles in a rural area or more than 1 mile in an urban area to access fresh fruits and vegetables.2 Many of the families that participate in Juntos Podemos live within a food desert. In addition, many are low-income and don’t have access to a car or adequate public transportation services. This makes it especially difficult for them to leave their food deserts for alternative food choices. The lack of transportation also makes it harder for families to access gyms and community centers for exercise and physical activity.

Little to no access of these resources is troubling for individuals trying to prevent and manage health issues like chronic disease, which is a major problem in this community. Prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is about 20% higher in the RVG than that of Texas as a whole.3 Eating healthier and exercise are crucial to the prevention and management of diabetes and other health problems, which is why families that participate in Juntos Podemos are so appreciative of the program.

The community finds the program really helpful. And we know they enjoy the classes because they complete the program. I’ve seen parents take out their phones and record activities so they can take it home and do them with their families.

Jiovanna Torres, Program Director

Community Health Workers Programs Work

The success Juntos Podemos has in bringing health information to these communities is due largely in part to the use of Community Health Workers. Because CHWs are from the community they serve and speak the language, they know what outreach methods work best with their populations. They work in a variety of settings like schools, churches, and community centers. This allows them to identify families that need services quickly. It also assures the program is accessible to surrounding neighborhoods.

What sets CHWs apart, though, is their ability to build relationships with families in hard-to-reach communities. For example, in Juntos Podemos, CHWs work within the Colonias. The colonias are residential areas along the Texas-Mexico border that lack basic living necessities like sewer systems, electricity, paved roads, and safe housing. Regardless of the living standards, these predominately Hispanic communities are tight-knit, and thus, trust must be earned from outsiders. CHWs are trusted members of the community and use their trusted status to build long-lasting relationships. These relationships allow families to participate in activities and demonstrations around diet and exercise comfortably.

Empowering parents to pass on healthy habits to their children is perhaps the most promising outcome of Juntos Podemos. At the end of the program, parents reported that their children had also increased their amount of physical activity. This information shows how Juntos Podemos not only impacts the individuals served directly but how it works to create a pathway to healthy living for generations to come.

Learn more about the Community Health Worker Model and how we’re using it to address a wide variety of health and social topics.

About MHP Salud 

MHP Salud has over 35 years of experience implementing CHW programs and training organizations looking to start and/or strengthen their own CHW programs. For more information about MHP Salud, our services, and how we can help you, please email us at info@mhpsalud.org.

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References

  1. https://www.axios.com/americans-struggling-drug-costs-goodrx-0b487b1b-a362-4776-8f43-8b118651d606.html
  2. https://www.healthcostinstitute.org/research/annual-reports/entry/2015-health-care-cost-and-utilization-report-1-1
  3. https://medlineplus.gov/diabetesmedicines.html