Mexican Consulate using education to tackle diabetes
NOGALES, Ariz. – Alicia Sander holds out potato chips on a plate, asking in Spanish how many teaspoons of fat they contain.
Fernando Rivera, among a dozen people in this conference room at the Mexican Consulate, writes 1.5 on an answer sheet. His wife, Maria Silvia, writes 3.
Some participants exhale audibly upon learning the answer: 7 teaspoons in 15 chips.
The surprises continue as the quiz covers cheddar cheese, sour cream, sausage, baked beans. One woman is surprised that an orange contains no fat.
The takeaway from this exercise: Knowing what’s in your food can help prevent and control diabetes.
“As opposed to other countries, hunger is not killing us in the United States,” Sander tells the group. “What’s killing us is the excess of food.”
Sander, who works for Nogales’ Mariposa Community Health Center, has exchanges like this every Monday to educate Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans about diabetes and its complications as well as healthy eating habits.
Diabetes awareness is part of Ventanilla de Salud – Window of Health in Spanish – a Mexican government program providing health education through its consulates and connecting citizens in the U.S. with health care, said Cecilia Navarro, coordinator of the program in Nogales.
Nearly 700 people have attended the sessions on diabetes since they began in May 2010.
Participants are referred by health care providers. The program lasts eight sessions.
“It’s important to educate the population because a lot of them don’t know the kind of danger they are in,” Sander said.
Fernando Rivera, 58, who moved here from Nogales, Sonora, six years ago, said he didn’t check nutrition labels until he attended the diabetes sessions. He said the class has helped him learn to eat healthier, though he added that changing his habits hasn’t been easy.
“It’s hard because we are used to another diet,” said Rivera, who was diagnosed with diabetes over the summer. “We are not educated about how to eat healthy.”
Most attendees are 50 and older, Navarro said.
“The youth or immigrants of third generation are not interested in it,” she said. “They don’t think they can get the disease, or they are working.”
Diabetes, which can lead to heart disease, kidney failure and blindness, is an issue on both sides of the border.
It is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Mexico, diabetes is the leading cause of death among women and the second-leading cause of death among men, according to the World Health Organization.
A recent seminar at the consulate here included participants stuffing Play-doh balls into tubes to simulate the effects of cholesterol obstructing arteries.
Ending the exercise, Sander and Sylvia Ochoa, another presenter, took questions.
“Does the body produce cholesterol?” a woman asked in Spanish.
“Yes, but just the amount that is needed,” Sander replied.
“And slim people as well?”
“Yes, they do.”
Later, Sander said many people with diabetes simply don’t understand the dangers they face. Others don’t want to know.
“A lot of them can’t believe it, they don’t accept it, they say they can’t have diabetes,” she said.
At the end of the session, Rivera and his wife, Maria Silvia, got a round of applause and diplomas for completing their eighth class.
Rivera said the experience has taught him what to eat and what not to eat.
“Now we check what has fat, what has sugar, everything that does harm to you,” he said.
“We learned to have a healthier lifestyle,” his wife said.