Researchers at UC Davis recently received a grant of $3 million from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health, to conduct a study that aims to improve the health of Latino farm workers.
Marc Schenker, the lead investigator of the study, a UC Davis professor and director of the UC Migration and Health Research Center and the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, said that the grant money will be used to conduct careful evaluations of body weight distributions of Latino farm workers, especially when exposed to different food and diet programs. The studies will primarily take place on ranches in the Watsonville and Salinas, Calif., areas, but Schenker hopes that the findings will apply to farm workers everywhere.
“The money will be going towards a careful evaluation of effectiveness that may lead to an international program,” Schenker said.
Schenker said that this study was started after conducting numerous pilot studies that show that many Latino farm workers are susceptible to diabetes and other health problems.
“The origin from my end was work I do on farm workers and realizing the challenges of diabetes in that population,” Schenker said.
According to Daniel Sumner, the economist for the study, the fact that many Latino farm workers are susceptible to diabetes surprised health professionals. They believed that the exercise farm workers are exposed to in their jobs would prevent these health problems from arising.
“I was surprised by how much we had to explain to people that this is a problem,” Sumner said. “We had to convince them that what they thought is true isn’t.”
Schenker said that one of the main reasons for these health problems is due to poverty among farm workers.
“A healthy diet costs more,” Schenker said. “Cheap calories tend to be unhealthy and cause diabetes.”
Schenker said that although the poverty among farm workers is a major concern, the study will focus on limiting the diabetes. The study will include trying to educate Latino farm workers on how to have healthier diets and to provide exercise programs such as Zumba dance classes.
Dr. Christine Hunter, director of behavioral research at the NIDDK, said in a statement that the study will produce results to show if these interventions will prevent health problems among Latino farm workers.
“The farm-working Latino population that will be reached through Dr. Schenker’s work often has limited access to health care,” Hunter said. “With this grant, we hope to determine if bringing a culturally sensitive program to improve diet and activity habits to the farm worksite can lower the participants’ risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes and also be cost-effective for employers to implement.”
Schenker said that this study will be used to see if worker productivity and retention increases through the interventions used through the study. This will allow other employers to pick up the methods used in the study to help increase worker productivity and health of workers.
“We’ll be looking a lot at productivity and absenteeism as a unique part of what we’re able to do through this study,” Schenker said.
Sumner said that although a large goal within the project is to encourage employers to pick up these techniques, the main goal is to help farm workers gain healthier lifestyles.
“We want to provide something that will help this group of people become healthier,” Sumner said. “We want to put this together in a way that will be sustainable and will last not just during the project but after.”
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