New communitywide initiative to promote healthy eating and active living in Laredo

Laredo, Texas (June 21, 2010) — After several months of planning and communication by a group of communitywide stakeholders, a new Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Initiative will be officially launched today. A breakfast meeting for media is planned for 9:30 a.m. Monday, June 21, in Room 2.102 of the Academic Building at the UT Health Science Center’s Regional Campus in Laredo, 1937 E. Bustamante St.

Community stakeholders will explain why the HEAL initiative was created, what its goals are and how it will be implemented to address the chronic health issues in Laredo.

Faculty from the UT Health Science Center’s Regional Campus in Laredo and community stakeholders have worked with a fellow from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Hispanic-Serving Health Professionals Schools (HSHPS) to develop the initiative.

“What began as an assessment of the feasibility of developing a community initiative focused on nutrition, physical activity, obesity and diabetes prevention is now a citywide effort to promote an environment that supports healthy eating and active living, said Steven Lopez, M.P.P., M.P.H., a CDC/HSHPS fellow who has been working to spark the initiative through the UT Health Science Center with a large group of community stakeholders.

HEAL Initiative stakeholders plan to execute their mission and vision through strategic health promotion and targeted, sustainable environmental and policy change. Preliminary efforts will focus on:

• Increasing community awareness of existing resources for healthy living, such as the community’s numerous venues for physical activity,
• Producing guides that include strategies and other information on improving nutrition and increasing physical activity, and
• Supporting efforts to establish a farmers’ market in downtown Laredo.

Longer-term efforts may include enhancing joint-use facility policies, promoting a healthy restaurant campaign, and implementing and enhancing wellness programs.

“In the last three decades, obesity and being overweight have become the fastest-growing epidemics in the United States,” said Carmen Román-Shriver, Ph.D., RD, LD, director of the dietetics and nutrition program at the UT Health Science Center. “Texas, in particular, has one of the highest rates of obesity, with nearly one out of every five Texans considered obese. In addition, the rates of chronic illness are not spread equally, with the state’s border regions facing some of the worst health outcomes.”

A study* conducted by the UT Health Science Center’s Institute for Health Promotion Research found a higher prevalence of obesity and diabetes in South Texas than in the rest of Texas or the nation. Compared to the state population, more Laredoans have been diagnosed as diabetic or obese, and more report poor dietary intake and a lack of physical activity.
“The HEAL Initiative is committed to empowering our community to improve its health, one neighborhood at a time, by creating an environment where healthy eating and active living are supported and promoted,” said Sister Maria Luisa Vera, R.S.M., chief executive officer for Mercy Ministries of Laredo.

*Note: The report is available online at

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