Salud para su Corazón, a unique community-based heart-health education program for Latinos, is rapidly expanding across the U.S. - making a difference in underserved communities in Texas, Illinois, New Mexico, and California.
Created by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health, Salud para su Corazón trains Latino lay educators - promotores - to teach individuals and families in local communities how to prevent and control heart disease.
Salud para su Corazón began in 1994 as a pilot project in Washington, D.C. and is not only expanding geographically but has now joined in partnership with the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the nation's largest Hispanic grassroots organization, and the University of North Texas.
"Heart disease is the leading cause of death among Latinos, as it is for all Americans. But Latinos are generally unaware that the risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, overweight, physical inactivity, and cigarette smoking can be controlled and prevented," said NHLBI Director Dr. Claude Lenfant.
"The good news is that research has shown that the burden of illness and death associated with heart disease can be reduced by simple lifestyle changes. NHLBI is committed to taking results of ongoing studies and applying them to serve the public health. Salud para su Corazón does that by training the promotores to help Latinos make those changes and live a healthy lifestyle," Lenfant added.
Through a variety of creative activities, including cooking demonstrations, "weigh-ins," and participation in physical activity, the promotores bring life-saving heart-health information to their neighbors and families. Salud para su Corazon's culturally-appropriate educational materials are offered in both English and Spanish.
At 35 million persons strong, Latinos constitute 13 percent of the population, making them the largest minority population in the United States.
"Latinos are one of the youngest population groups," said Matilde Alvarado, NHLBI's coordinator of Minority Health Education and Outreach Activities. "This is a plus because they have a chance to learn heart-healthy behaviors at a young age and hopefully will continue those behaviors throughout life."
According to Hector Balcazar, Ph.D., Department Chair and Professor, School of Public Health, University of North Texas, Latino children are experiencing a dramatic increase in obesity. In addition, he notes that high blood pressure levels and the rise of diabetes in young Latino children are alarming developments and must be addressed through prevention efforts in Latino families.
"Salud para su Corazón's promotores know the problems that our families face and are realistic about teaching them how to make small changes in their behavior that lead to improved health," said Dr. Balcazar. The north Texas Salud para su Corazón program in Dallas-Fort Worth recently was named one of 6 NHLBI-supported cardiovascular disease information Enhanced Dissemination and Utilization Centers (EDUCs). The EDUCs are part of a network of partners working in high-risk populations at the community level. Their goal is to increase the quality and years of healthy life and eliminate cardiovascular health disparities.
NCLR President Raul Yzaguirre addressed the importance of the alliance between his organization, NHLBI, and the University of North Texas. "We are working together toward a common goal - to improve health outcomes in the Latino community," he said. Yzaguirre also acknowledged the significance of funding from the MetLife Foundation, which enabled NCLR to expand the program further.
Teresa Andrews, a promotores coordinator in Escondido, California, changed not only her own life but is now helping to improve the health of others in her Latino California community. After moving to the United States, she says, her support group of friends and family was gone. She didn't speak English and, although she had been able to walk everywhere in her native country, she hesitated to venture outside of her new home in California because nothing was near enough to walk to. She had to rely on the car, which her husband needed each day to get to his job. In addition, instead of preparing meals at home with natural products like fresh fruits and vegetables, Teresa found herself turning to fast food for most of her family's meals. Her sense of isolation, lack of physical activity, and the increase in high fat foods seemed insurmountable; she became depressed and gained weight. When Teresa became a promotora, she suddenly was part of a group of Spanish-speaking people who shared many of her experiences and had found innovative ways to cope.
"The training I received as a promotora helped me learn how to protect my own and my family's heart health by modifying the new lifestyle I picked up after moving to the U.S.," Teresa said. Her spirits rose and her weight fell, partly thanks to the Spanish-language aerobics class she attended and which she now has led for four years.
"I am proud of the personal and professional successes I have had and I am excited about working with a group of 25 promotores in Chula Vista, California who want to be trained to teach Salud para su Corazón," Teresa said. "This will expand the program and its heart-health message many times over," she added.
All of Salud para su Corazón's materials can be found online - so Latinos everywhere can learn about heart health - and so community planners can bring the program to their own community. Go to: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-pro/resources/heart/hispanic-health-manual/
Note to editors and reporters:
To contact NHLBI call the NHLBI Communications Office at (301) 496-4236.
To contact NCLR call (202) 785-1670
To contact Dr. Balcazar call (817) 735-5430