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Health Promoters in West Sacramento Start With a Walk Around the Block

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Rocio Martinez is a "promotora" in West Sacramento. The spanish word means 'promoter' - and that's just what she does as a community health worker in her neighborhood.

The Yolo County Children's Alliance trained her in skills that range from blood glucose monitoring to public speaking. She volunteers to help lead a six-week walking program in West Sacramento, designed by the Arthritis Foundation.

"In this community, we don't have enough parks. Families don't have anywhere to go," Martinez says as she walks with a quick pace one morning in her West Sacramento neighborhood.

Martinez helps lead a group of more than a dozen women walking laps around a few square blocks. They're a lot like her: they're spanish-speaking, foreign-born mothers of young children. Some are overweight.  

"We started walking together, so that we can be able to have better health," Martinez explains."Because in the Latino community, our food is really rich… We know those foods are bad for our health because they have a lot of fat. It's easy for us to buy fast food knowing it's not good for us. So we're making a change in our lives now."

After the program is over, they hope Martinez will continue to advocate for health at local events and in private conversation.  

"We know if we eat well, and lead an active life, we can prevent illness," she says.

One of the neighborhood walkers, Bernarda Pena hasn't missed a day.

"I feel really good on this walk," says Pena, while walking with labored breath. "The promotoras give you information, you learn new things."

Pena repeats what the promotoras have taught her like a mantra. Exercise brings cholesterol under control, she says, and helps regulate blood pressure.

"You have more energy, you sleep better," says Pena."[Walking] makes you more hungry…  It's good for us, and the kids."

It may be simple information to some, but to this group, basic health advice is critical.

Organizers said many of them hadn't walked for exercise in years.

Statewide, about 29% of low-income Latinos are uninsured. And only about half of California Latinos get the minimum exercise they need.

"There's a lot of diabetes, high cholesterol, a lot of heart diseases within our culture, here in the Latino culture," says Dalila Martinez who helps organize the promotoras for the Yolo County Children's Alliance. "We need to prevent, we need to educate and orient the people how to prevent diseases." 

Dalila Martinez herself is a promotora. The health promoters may not have formal medical training. But they must be eager to educate and connect people with health resources in a variety of settings.  
"Promotoras are floaters," says Dalila Martinez, speaking as a promotora herself. "They're not just at one site. They could be at a school, they could be your neighbor next door, they could be greeting you at a grocery store, passing out flyers."

A UC Berkeley expert says there may be as many as seven thousand promotoras statewide. Some volunteer, some are paid by California health institutions. Dalila Martinez says promotoras can reach people in their own communities in ways doctors can't.

"If it comes from a promotora that has gone through situations similar to the ones that the community is going through, it's more legit and it's more credible… A lot of these families have needs, and don't know where to go to," says Dalila Martinez.

The goal of the walk today is to inspire a dozen women to stay active. At the end of the walk they'll get a demonstration in healthy food preparation.

"Not only are they helping the community, but they're putting it into practice in their own homes," says Dalila Martinez. "And they're teaching those good habits to those kids."

Today is the last day of the six-week walking group.

But the Children's Alliance says the promotoras will be at upcoming health fairs and school events.

They may even be spotted organizing for a new public park so their neighbors will have another place to walk to.  



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