SON Researcher Partners with Local Latino Center to Help Women and Children Lose Weight

From the University Gazette:

Everyone knows what happens when you toss a pebble into a pond: The ripples start out small and grow larger, reaching farther. That’s how

Latino moms and children are participating in Diane Berry's weight-management study to help parents and children learn to control their weight and make good exercise and food intake choices.

Latino moms and children are participating in Diane Berry's weight-management study to help parents and children learn to control their weight and make good exercise and food intake choices.

Diane Berry, assistant professor in the School of Nursing, describes her work with Carrboro’s El Centro Latino – a nonprofit organization that provides educational and social services and cultural activities to help improve the quality of life for Latinos living in and around Orange County.

Hispanics or Latinos now represent 12 percent of the population of Carborro and almost 6 percent of Orange County.

“Chapel Hill/Carrboro as well as areas in and around Orange County have seen significant growth in their Hispanic populations, particularly among migrant workers and other laborers and their families, who tend to be vulnerable to isolating factors,” Berry said. “The transitory lifestyle, limited education, language barriers and challenges to accessing services create a sort of ‘silence’ among these  populations. My goal is to help give them a voice and access to support both from the community and Carolina.”

Berry has worked with El Centro Latino directors, community health educators and a core group of Spanish-speaking women in the area from Mexico to implement health education classes focused on topics they select. Berry and her team have examined the women’s concerns regarding immigration, weight gain, nutrition and decreased physical activity in themselves and their children. Using Community-Based Participatory Research and working with this core group of women during a three-year period, they refined, adapted, translated and tested a weight management intervention designed for Spanish-speaking women and their young children.

They delivered a feasibility study in the community and included 12 weekly two-hour classes followed by three monthly two-hour classes, after which the women and children had three months on their own to see how they did. Overall, results were positive. These women lost weight and decreased their body fat percentage, improved nutrition and physical activity knowledge, and developed eating and exercise self-efficacy. The children stabilized their weight gain.

Berry’s efforts contributed significantly to her selection by the University as one of eight 2009–10 Faculty Engaged Scholars (FESP), an initiative launched in October 2007 by the Carolina Center for Public Service and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Public Service and Engagement.

The two-year program enables scholars to connect their faculty work with the needs of a community and apply their skills to make a difference. Scholars receive an annual stipend of $7,500, have opportunities to interact with like-minded faculty from a variety of disciplines to address relevant issues through service and engaged scholarship, and participate in workshops, panels and case studies by experts to help scholars get the most from their experiences.

A grant from Strowd Roses Inc. of Chapel Hill to the Center for Public Service is helping fund Berry’s stipend, which she is using to further the partnership she has developed with El Centro Latino and community health educators and expand it to other communities with large Spanish-speaking populations.

In only its second year, the FESP is gaining local and national recognition as an innovative, effective program to further faculty involvement in the scholarship of engagement. Lynn Blanchard, the center’s director, has presented FESP to more than 20 universities through the national project Faculty for Engaged Campus supported by Community-Campus Partnerships for Health, with a grant from the Fund for Post-Secondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education. There has also been Canadian interest in learning how this program fosters faculty and community partnerships to create positive change.

Berry has partnered with El Centro Latino for several years to help bring the University’s knowledge and resources to bear on critical issues in the community. Berry’s weight-management intervention is helping community health educators and Latina participants improve nutrition and physical activity within their families. The goal is to reduce the incidence of overweight and obesity, and slow the development of type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes.

“Many of the women and children we work with are uninsured and have limited access to health-promotion programs,” Berry said. “Preventing type 2 diabetes will ultimately decrease healthcare costs in the long-term, but more  importantly will empower families to take charge of their health.”

Berry said her involvement with El Centro Latino has added dimension to her work, inspired her teaching and enriched her perspective.

“I have always had a passion for public service, and to be able to directly apply my scholarly work in the field is tremendously rewarding to me, my team, and beneficial to my students,” she said. “It is extremely exciting when you start with a clinical problem, like type 2 diabetes, and begin to address it at the core, and maybe even prevent it, long before we have to intervene clinically.”

As a Faculty Engaged Scholar, Berry said she has learned as much or more from her experience as those she is working to serve.

“I have gained so much more than just advancing my research or collaborating with scholars outside the confines of our campus,” she said. “I have seen firsthand that Carolina, or any institution, can and should partner equally with its surrounding community to bring contributions to the table that will ultimately affect positive change.”

Through the FESP, Berry and Carolina have set the ripples in motion. Their partnership with El Centro Latino is broadening horizons and creating solutions.


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