Overcoming Barriers to Achieve Health Equity With Latino Communities

Nov 2, 2012, 11:59 AM

Economic constraints cause many Latinos to settle in low-income neighborhoods that have limited access to affordable healthy food options, playgrounds and parks, and pedestrian and bike-friendly streets. Instead, these neighborhoods have fast food restaurants that offer primarily nutrient poor food and, limited resources for rec­reation which limit physical activity options.

“Latinos will tell you it’s too hard to get fruits and vegetables,” Said Dr. George R. Flores, MD, MPH, Board of Directors, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California at APHA 2012. “Inequality in the social and physical environments in Latino communities contributes to the obesity epidemic by failing to provide opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity.”

Latino populations on average have some of the highest rates of obesity, which can have the severe consequence of type 2 diabetes. The diets of Latino children are higher in fat and lower in fruits and vegetables.

Ideas like community gardens, which are popular in Latino communities, offer physical activity as well as access to fresh produce but also build a sense of community. Also, spreading information through trusted networks like churches and Latino newspapers increases awareness.

In closing, Flores said, “Actions can be taken to assure that no neighborhood is without access to affordable fresh produce and other healthy foods, and that every neighborhood is safe.” 

Another barrier to health among Latinos is the lack of access to health care and an even wider-spread lack of access to culturally appropriate care. Debra Pérez, MA, MPA, PhD, assistant vice president for Research and Evaluation at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, spoke about critical efforts to engage more people from the Latino community into health care careers. This has the dual benefits of bringing more health care options to underserved communities as well as increasing the cultural competency of care delivered.

Diversity is also critical for the research community. New Connections: Increasing Diversity of RWJF Programming, is a national program that works to develop and retain a diverse, well-trained leadership and workforce in health and health care to meet the needs of all Americans. Talented individuals from underrepresented communities can often be isolated in their early- or mid-career pathways and overlooked for funding, but New Connections looks to turn that situation around. 

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.