It’s common knowledge that being overweight or obese can lead to health issues such as Type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease. And if that isn’t bad enough, carrying too much body fat appears to increase the risk of certain cancers, including esophageal, colon, pancreatic, breast, uterine, kidney and thyroid cancers.
Obesity-related cancer is a major health problem in El Paso County, where 69 percent of the population is considered overweight or obese¹ — a troubling percentage that shows no sign of decreasing.
Fortunately, a faculty member in Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso’s Center of Emphasis in Cancer is taking on the challenge of rising obesity rates and obesity-related cancers in our community. Assistant Professor Jennifer Salinas, Ph.D., has been awarded a three-year, $1.2 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to fund an innovative obesity-related cancer prevention program. Titled Pasos Para Prevenir Cancer, the program combines lifestyle education and fun physical activities to help El Pasoans achieve healthy weights and lessen their risk of cancer.
Obesity-related cancers accounted for approximately 40 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States in 2014, the most current data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection².
Salinas’ program has three components to it:
- Education on obesity prevention, physical activity and nutrition delivered by promotoras, community-based bilingual health workers.
- Obesity-counseling training for physicians, nurses and other health care workers through continuing-education workshops.
- Regular community events that encourage physical activity, such as walking challenges.
Salinas, who has organized walking challenges for TTUHSC El Paso and the broader El Paso community, said the events help encourage participants to follow through on their weight loss and healthy lifestyle goals.
“We target employers and employees to get people at the job site to say, ‘Hey, let’s do this challenge. Let’s motivate each other,’” Salinas said. Walking challenges “get people to be more conscientious of physical activity and incorporate the activity at the job site.”
The promotoras, who make regular visits to community centers and clinics, will be responsible for teaching healthy behaviors and helping families learn how to make healthy meals by modifying menus or substituting traditional ingredients with healthier ones—like swapping lard for olive oil and replacing high salt with other tasty herbs and seasonings.
Salinas and her team are finalizing the components of Pasos Para Prevenir Cancer, and plan to launch the program in early 2019.