Downside to Crossing the Border

Many Latinos come to America for the promise of a better life. While they may gain new possessions and freedoms, recent reports also show that this new life has a downside: damaging their health. The American diet of carb-rich, fat-rich, supersized foods is not doing them any good; the rising instance of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes among the Latino population here is a growing cause of concern. And so many of them remain without health insurance

This news caught my eye because:
1) I grew up in Southern California, where the issue of Mexicans charging the border was part of our daily lives (lots of them were being hit by vehicles as they tried to run across a US highway to make it to America). We always assumed their native diet was overly starchy and fatty and devoid of valuable nutrients. Now it seems that description fits food on this side of the border better.


2) As I noted when I moved back to America from Europe a few years ago, food here is over-abundant and excessively large. Notice how today’s muffins are the size of at least 3 of what we called muffins 5 or 10 years ago? Notice how every event in America is accompanied by either people schlepping copious containers of sweets, starchy salt-stuffs and other “snacks”, or concession stands selling overpriced mass quantities of same? Even hotel rooms now throw junk food in your face, with mini-bars chock full of “economy size” candies.

Recent data from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) show that the Latino community is developing diabetes at twice the rate of the general population.

Luckily, there’s a lot of buzz about this issue — generated by a number of organizations, media, andObesity corporations working to “break down the health barriers,” i.e. provide the Latino community the education, treatment, and access to health insurance coverage they need. A few programs, which I thought were interesting, include:

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MiPirámide Spanish-language online guide, which helps Latinos make healthful food choices. The interactive website lets users type in personal data to calculate their
    suggested daily menu and calorie consumption
  • The Neighborhood marketing company focuses on Latino education and marketing for the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries (created a campaign for Sanofi-Aventis)
  • The Diabetes: ¡Infórmate! campaign
    from Novo Nordisk targetted the 2 million U.S. Hispanics over age 20 affected by the deadly

This activity seems a nice example of the good that can result from community-corporate cooperation: healthy, informed consumers are better consumers, after all.


8 Responses

  1. Nick
    Nick May 28, 2006 at 5:19 pm | | Reply

    What I learned from following Dick Bernstein is that proportionality is wrong.

    Proportionality is the notion that I can eat as many carbohydrates as I want for dinner. So long as I accurately tally the total carbohydrates in the fettucine alfredo and inject a proportional number of insulin units, in the end everything will work out fine and in balance.

    Proportionality is wrong.

    It just doesn’t work that way. There are small but appropriate amounts of carbohydrates that are appropriate for optimal physiology of a guy who takes all his insulin out of a bottle. If I exceed those limits, I risk the complications of diabetes and obesity.

    Since I don’t have health insurance, it is imperative for me to avoid the complications of diabetes.

    You are right, Amy. Junk food is abundant. Tasty carbohydrates packaged with copious amounts of fat, sugar, and salt. Thanks to diabetes mellitus, I know better. I no longer stop at Winchells for a jumbo blueberry-filled glazed burrito to go with my morning java. Junk foods are no longer in my life.

  2. Kathleen Weaver
    Kathleen Weaver May 28, 2006 at 5:43 pm | | Reply

    I personally wonder how much of the Latino diabetes problem is hidden below the border and how many of Latinos would be diagnosed if they received medical care in their own country.

    I spent the first half of this school year teaching new immigrants and met my first child who was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. FYI: Since she was 14 she was treated with insulin, not oral medications.

    She was diagnosed in our Intake center which puts each child through a full medical workup before they have contact with the general school population — we catch many undiagnosed diseases that way. This leds me to wonder how many other children are in her home country who have Type 2 diabetes and have not seen a doctor ever?

    And how many adults?

    And yes, she was morbidly obese.

  3. JasonJayhawk
    JasonJayhawk May 29, 2006 at 2:12 am | | Reply

    I have to wonder how many immigrants have access to the Internet in order to access the on-line Spanish versions of the information.

    In a recent dLife poll, I found it interesting that over 10% of voters believe that illegal immigrants should be given free diabetes care. It leaves one asking where the percentage would have been if it asked if legal Americans should be given free diabetes care!

  4. AmyT
    AmyT May 29, 2006 at 3:41 pm | | Reply

    Interesting comments, guys. Especially Kathleen — you may have a very valid point about lack of diagnosis in their home country.

  5. Jana
    Jana May 29, 2006 at 8:12 pm | | Reply

    I loved the link to the article about the change in American clothing sizing. Makes you think a little bit more about the legend that Marilyn Monroe was a size 8 (or 12 or something, I can’t remember). What would that size 8 (or 12) be today…a size 2?

  6. Hamish
    Hamish May 30, 2006 at 11:21 pm | | Reply

    I was diagnosed with diabetes in November 05, two months before relocating from the UK to San Francisco (truly great timing). In the UK my specialist (I’m still confused by the terms of reference for these guys) told me he was seeing an explosion of type 2 diabetes in the UK immigrant population originating from the Indian sub-continent. Cases of teenagers being newly diagnosed were increasing exponentially. Whereas in India, Pakistan and Bagladesh, diabetes (type 2 at least) is a very much rarer disease. It seems the combination of the sedentary western lifestyle, western diet (it’s probably worse in the UK than California, to be honest) and consequent increase in childhood obesity were causing the problem – and to make matters worse, these people seem to be genetically pre-disposed to diabetes. Of course I never talked with him about the Latino population in the US, but it seems to have a lot of parallels.

  7. AmyT
    AmyT June 1, 2006 at 7:49 am | | Reply

    Hmm, interesting Hamish.

    And Jana: right! I’m a Size 4 by today’s standards, which means in Marliyn’s time I woulda been a… what? Size 14?

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