Isolated by language, culture and poverty, many Latino immigrants in Kansas City face chronic health risks often made worse by their limited knowledge of nutrition and inadequate access to healthy foods.
El Centro Inc., a 40-year-old area nonprofit, is reducing that isolation with an innovative program that draws from the oral tradition to educate vulnerable populations in the pursuit of healthier eating and disease prevention.
Known as Comprando Rico y Sano, or Eating Healthy and Flavorful Foods, the initiative creates educational radio novellas that air regularly on three area Spanish-speaking stations. The 5-minute segments are broadcast weekly through mid-to-late summer and present dramatic, real-life narratives as a way of engaging at-risk listeners about the importance of healthy eating.
The program is now in its ninth year and is an offshoot of El Centro’s Promotoras de Salud, or Promoters of Health program. Promotoras is modeled on community health initiatives adopted in developing countries that enlist citizens to help friends and neighbors access health and nutrition resources.
“The novellas are a great way to connect with people we couldn’t otherwise reach,” said Cielo Fernandez, chief program officer at El Centro. “By using music and realistic characters, we’re able to highlight common problems and present effective solutions.”
A recent novella story line focused on a new immigrant woman with diabetes who lacked the knowledge to control her illness. Successive episodes underscored the importance of healthy eating in managing the disease and identified ways diet could be improved on a limited budget. Information on portion size, food groups and how to prepare healthy recipes also was incorporated.
One of the key objectives of the program is to promote farmer’s markets as a means of obtaining economical fresh fruits and vegetables. Historically, Fernandez said, new Latino immigrants have avoided farmer’s markets, in part because of the stigma associated with the belief that only the poorest people shopped there.
Thanks to the radio narratives and market changes designed to better accommodate Latino shoppers, however, a rapidly growing number of immigrants are embracing the venues and the produce they offer.
The radio program has also produced significant results in other areas. Before the broadcasts began highlighting the availability of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for eligible low-income and mixed status families four years ago, enrollment in the federal-state food aid program was extremely low among Latinos throughout the Kansas City area.
But now Latinos are enrolling in the program at a rate of about 2,500 people annually, due to a combination of the novellas and the hard work of the promotoras across the community.
Fernandez said the Health Forward Foundation has supported the Promotoras program from its inception and has also played a role in helping assess the program’s ongoing impact.
“The Foundation’s support has been enormously helpful,” Fernandez said. “They understand that this is one of the few programs in the metropolitan area that is focused on primarily on prevention, particularly within the Latino Community. They can see the value this produces for our most vulnerable residents.”
Learn more about food insecurity at costoffoodinsecurity.com