Meet Salud America! Grantee Dharma Cortes
When it comes to Latinos' health struggles, Dharma Cortes has seen it all.
The paradox of poverty and obesity. The struggle to manage chronic diseases. The lack of appropriate nutrition information.
In response, Cortes' new Salud America! pilot research project, Esto Es Mejor, is teaching low-income Spanish-speaking families in Lynn, Mass., how to shop and eat healthy food despite financial and environmental constraints.
"I want to be able to help Latino parents and grandparents figure out the best and most efficient way to eat healthy food even when they face challenges finding healthy food in the neighborhoods where they live," said Cortes, PhD, a senior research associate at the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
Cortes is one of 20 pilot researchers funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through Salud America! for $75,000 over two years.
Cortes' project is examining current food-purchasing patterns and food nutritional values of 20 low-income, Spanish-speaking Latino families. She also will map convenience stores, grocery stores and restaurants that offer healthy food options in Lynn.
Researchers will examine if efforts to improve nutrition education among people with low literacy rates could influence families' consumer behaviors by increasing their food literacy. To develop a descriptive narrative of potential communication strategies, data are being collected from the families using semi-structured interviews, cognitive interviews and Photovoice—a technique in which participants take photos of environments to help tell the story of a health issue.
The program will develop social marketing messages and other communications to promote healthy food purchasing and consumption practices among Latinos.
Messages will be spread via local government-sponsored programs and obesity-related initiatives, as well as a local community health center.
"We want to find out what changes are observed in participants' grocery receipts before and after nutritional education, and what are the 'before and after' changes in their food preparation and eating patterns," Cortes said.
The answers could impact health policies for Latinos across Massachusetts.
"We are going to inform local and state policymakers about how to maximize social marketing and communication outlets to deliver healthy eating messages at the micro- and macro-level food environments of low-income Latinos," Cortes said.
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