This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page.
UConn, Hispanic Health Council launch
research-based nutrition campaign in Hartford
March 30, 1998

UConn's Family Nutrition Program of the Cooperative Extension Service and the Hispanic Health Council of Hartford this week launched two new Spanish-English programs to help the city's Latino population improve their health.

An education program, called PANA, which stands for "Programa Aprender Nutrición y Alimentación" or "Program for Learning about Food and Nutrition," will help educate Latinos to avoid high fat foods and eat more fruits and vegetables. PANA includes a puppet show being performed in Hartford schools and elsewhere, and dozens of activities geared to different age groups.

Also launched this week was an advertising campaign, with billboards featuring Spanish soap opera stars holding fruits and vegetables. Called ¡SALUD!, "to your health," the campaign builds upon research on the eating habits of Latinos in Hartford.

The research showed that many Latinos are obese, including 20 percent of young children; that less than half of the infants have been breast fed; that lead poisoning, and asthma are commonplace among children; and that among adults obesity and diabetes are widespread. The diet of Latinos in Hartford, who make up 30 percent of the population, tends to be based on fried foods, says Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, assistant professor of nutritional sciences and a co-principal investigator on the project.

"The overall health of the population is not good, and there are many areas where there is room for improvement of nutritional knowledge," he says.

David Himmelgreen, associate director for research at the Hispanic Health Council and co-principal investigator on the project, said the project is an example of a perfect partnership between UConn and the council, and offers many opportunities for students in nutritional sciences who are doing Hartford-based internships.

"The technical expertise of the University complements the expertise here," he says. "UConn has the nutrition information and the resources of a university, and the council has the trust of the community."

Himmelgreen, who has a Ph.D. in biological anthropology, says the goals of the program are to increase knowledge about eating habits, change behavior, and assist the community in maximizing their grocery dollars by using coupons, looking for sales, and other techniques.

"Information about nutrition goes first to the upper middle class, then the middle class, and lastly to those close to poverty," he says. "There is a great need for a program like this."

Himmelgreen says the program demonstrates how much can be accomplished when organizations work together, and has the potential to become a national model.

PANA and ¡SALUD! use materials developed for the community, including a sample food label developed by Lauren Haldeman, a graduate student in nutritional sciences. Her project is now a semi-finalist in the student paper competition of the Society of Nutrition Education, and will be included in national judging in July.

Other materials include a food pyramid that takes into account the starchy vegetables called viandas that are often a staple of the Puerto Rican diet, Pérez-Escamilla says. "Viandas are not acknowledged in other nutritional education materials," he says. More than 90 percent of the Latinos in Hartford are Puerto Rican.

Karen Grava Willia.