Will you tune in to HBO’s obesity films, ‘Weight of the Nation?’

On Monday (May 14) HBO will premiere the first two parts of its documentary series, ‘The Weight of the Nation.’

The films – presented by HBO and the Institute of Medicine, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, in partnership with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Kaiser Permanente – feature case studies, interviews with health experts, and the stories of individuals and families struggling with obesity, according to the film’s website.

Here’s a trailer for the films:

Will you be tuning in? And do you think this film can make an impact in the San Joaquín Valley, where 70.9 pecent of Latino adults are overweight or obese?

If you don’t have HBO – or if you are interested in watching the films again with other Valley residents – consider attending a partial screening at the John W. Wells Youth Center in Madera on May 30 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The event, hosted by Central Valley Health Network’s HEAL Zone and Kaiser Permanente, will also include a panel discussion intended to inspire ideas about how to make Madera a healthier place to live.  

Pictured above: There are already some great obesity-prevention efforts in the San Joaquín Valley, including the Community Food Bank’s food demonstrations, and a walking path at the Selma flea market.

Report: Place, Zip Codes Matter

Consider these facts, from a new study out this week:

  • Life expectancy varies by as much as 21 years in the San Joaquín Valley depending on zip code. Zip codes with the lowest life expectancy tend to have a higher percentage of Latino and low-income residents.
  • Areas of the Valley with the highest levels of respiratory risk have the highest percentage of Latino residents, while areas with the lowest levels of respiratory risk have the lowest percentage of Latino residents.
  • The health status of first-generation Latino immigrants is similar to the white population, but on average health deteriorates for second and subsequent generations of Latinos, largely due to economic vulnerabilities, inadequate educational opportunities, and a lack of political power relative to whites.

These new statistics are highlighted in ‘Place Matters for Health in the San Joaquín Valley: Ensuring Opportunities for Good Health for All,’ a report prepared by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, in conjunction with the Center of Human Needs at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The report underscores the strong correlation between income and educational attainment, and premature mortality. As the income level and educational attainment of an area decrease, premature mortality generally increases, according to the study.

This information is hardly surprising. You only need to spend time in some of the Valley’s poorest communities, talking to people about their health and environmental concerns, to know there is great inequity in our region.

What struck me about this report, though, is how it frames the Valley’s health disparities in a larger social context. The report describes how the Valely is bolstered by agribusiness; neighborhoods are shaped by waves of immigration and patterns of class and racial segregation; and the region has been the home of national movements for human rights.

The report concludes:

“In this context, this study adds to the growing and consistent literature showing how the region’s striking social class and racial/ethnic health inequalities are at least partly explained by historical forces and current policies that concentrate low-income people, people of color, and recent immigrants in urban neighborhoods and rural settlements that lack many of the most fundamental supports for health and well-being.”

Read the full report here.

More from Harvesting Health on health disparities in the Valley: 

‘The Youngest Parents’ series

For the past six weeks, between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Vida en el Valle has run a multiple-part series called ‘The Youngest Parents’ about teen pregnancy. In case you missed any of the stories, they are listed below.

Profiles of teen moms:


Have you been following this series? What do you think could be done to lower the teen pregnancy rate among Latinas in the Valley? Do you have a teen pregnancy experience you would like to share?

 Top two photos by Daniel Cásarez. 

Vaccinate your Teen!

UPDATE: Read the Vida en el Valle story, ‘Pertussis vaccine required at school,’ here.

Hey, California parents! Did you know the state’s vaccination laws have changed?

Beginning in the 2011-2012 school year, all students entering 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades will need proof of a whooping cough vaccination (known as Tdap) before starting school. (If children received the Tdap shot on or after their 7th birthdays, they do not need another.)

The law applies to students enrolled in public and private schools.

The Fresno County Department of Public Health is encouraging all parents to schedule an appointment with their teens’ health care providers for a Tdap vaccination, other vaccinations, and a complete health check-up.(Click here to hear some of the county health department’s “Vaccinate Your Teen” PSAs.)

Between Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 3

Why is this important?

Between Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2010, California experienced the most severe whooping cough epidemic in 63 years, according to the California Department of Public.

The epidemic hit the state’s Latino community especially hard. Nine of the ten infants who died of whooping cough last year were Latino.

Read more from Harvesting Health about whooping cough:

Photo above by Daniel Cásarez.

The top community health stories of 2010

In a previous post, I declared December the time for making resolutions for the New Year.

December is also the time for making lists: gift lists, In/Out lists, and, in this case, lists of the top news of the year.

Below is my list of the top community health stories of the year. (Click here to read the version that ran in the Dec. 29 edition of Vida.)

I’m sure there are more local health issues that should be recognized in this list – so feel free to add your voice in the comments section below!

1. Kettleman City gets attention
Last year, Kettleman City residents were begging for state officials to investigate the rash of birth defects in their majority Latino community of about 1,500 people.

In January, the community’s concerns finally got the attention of state officials, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzengger ordered the state Department of Public Health and state Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the birth defects in the tiny Kings County community.

In November, the state agencies released the results of their investigation, and said there was no common cause for the at least 11 babies born with birth defects between 2007 and March of this year.

Kettleman City residents and activists hope that is not the end of the state’s investigation into the community’s health crisis.

“I feel that they need to continue the investigation, and it needs to be more thorough,” community member Maricela Mares-Alatorre said. “They need to find out actually why the birth defects happen, so people can continue to have babies without fear.”

2. Whooping cough hits state’s Latino community hard
This year, there were 7,824 cases of pertussis — or whooping cough — reported between Jan. 1 and Dec. 15. That was the most cases reported in 63 years, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Latinos were hit hardest by the whooping cough epidemic this year. Nine of the 10 infants who died from pertussis were Latino.

There is no conclusive evidence explaining why Latino infants have been particularly hard hit by the pertussis epidemic. But pediatric disease experts suggest that since Latino infants tend to live with large, multi-generational families, they might have more chances to catch the disease from relatives or caretakers.

3. State’s epic budget impasse causes community clinics to struggle
Community health clinics across the San Joaquín Valley struggled to keep their doors open this fall as the governor and state legislature sat at an impasse over the state budget for a record 100 days.

The state government did not reimburse clinics for Medi-Cal payments during that gridlock, denying clinics 50 to 80 percent of their revenues. During that time, some clinics were forced to chop their operating hours or lay off staff.

“We are the safety net for health,” Harry Foster, president and CEO of Family HealthCare Network, said at that time. “We’re drowning, and no one pays attention to us.”

4. A new face of hunger in the Valley
As the San Joaquin Valley economy withered and unemployment rates remained stagnant, food banks across the region reported providing food to people that never before had needed it.

“The face of hunger has changed,” said Mike Mallory, CEO of the Second Harvest Food Bank, which serves Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. “It could be a relative, a friend, a co-worker, a next door neighbor – they people that you least expect.”

In response, the Community Food Bank in Fresno held its largest food distribution ever in September.

During the event, about 650 volunteers distributed about 1.275 million pounds of food to residents of Fresno, Kings, and Madera counties.

“This is one day when nobody in the Central Valley should say they’re going without food,” said Dayatra Latin, director of programs and development for the Community Food Bank.

5. White House focuses on childhood obesity
First Lady Michelle Obama cast a national spotlight on the country’s childhood obesity epidemic when she kicked off the ‘Let’s Move’ campaign in February.

But a movement to end childhood obesity began in the San Joaquin Valley long ago.

This year, the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program and other community groups did some awesome work this year to improve access to healthy foods, and create safe places to play, in Valley communities.

For example, parents from John Burroughs Elementary School established a joint-use agreement with the Fresno Unified School District, ensuring the community’s children had a safe place to play after school hours and on the weekends.

What are the emerging health issues for 2011?
I think unincorporated communities – like the Stanislaus County community of Parklawn – are going to be a major news story in 2011.

Organizations like California Rural Legal Assistance and PolicyLink are already doing great work to bring health, infrastructure, and environmental justice to see these small, voiceless communities, and there is definitely more to come.

Living with Diabetes

In recognition of American Diabetes Month, I’m working on a story about diabetes among Latinos in the San Joaquín Valley.

The story, which will run in the Nov. 24 edition of Vida en el Valle, will focus on the individual experiences of a few Latinos in the San Joaquín Valley who are living with diabetes. (UPDATE: Read the full story here.)

In the San Joaquín Valley, 11.3 percent of Latinos have been diagnosed with diabetes. Across California, more than 2 million adults have been diagnosed with diabetes, according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research report, “Obesity and Diabetes: Two Growing Epidemics in California.”

For now, I’d like to introduce you to a few of the people who are featured in the story.

Jesús Sánchez
: 29
Time with diabetes: 3 months
Birth place/Current home: Oaxaca, México/Madera, CA
Advice for people recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes: “Don’t lose heart. Do your best: pay attention to your doctor, eat healthier food, and follow the diet.”

Esperanza Aguillón
: 60
Time with diabetes: 14 years
Birth place/Current home: Mexicali, México/Porterville, CA
Advice: “You have to accept that you have this disease and you have to take care of yourself. If it’s not for you, it should be for your loved ones.
“You have to make the sacrifice. At first it is difficult, it is very difficult to become accustomed to another way of eating, but it’s worth it to take care of yourself and feel better.”

Azucena Durán
Age: 25
Time with gestational diabetes: 1.5 months
Birth place/current home: Jalisco, México/Stockton, CA
Advice for women with gestational diabetes: “It’s really all going to be worth it in the end – the dieting, the insulin. As much as it’s stressful and tedious, it really will all be worth it in the end.
“Yeah, I really want that piece of cheesecake, but then it’s not good for your baby, and ultimately your goal is to have a healthy baby. It’s all worth it in the end.”

Age: 13
Time with type 1 diabetes: 4 years
Current home: Selma, CA
Advice for kids diagnosed with type 1 diabetes: “At first it starts off bad – you don’t know what is happening. But once you start learning about it, you start to understand that it’s not your fault, it just happens. And things are going to change, but you will start getting used to it, and pretty much your life is going to go back to how it was, and diabetes is going to be another part of you, like your personality. You’re going to be a normal person like you were before, just having to do things a little differently.”

For more information about Latinos and diabetes, check out these sites: