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A Place at the Table for Promotoras

Posted by Roxana U. Barillas, Deputy Director, USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in Food and Nutrition
Feb 19, 2013
La Clínica del Pueblo shares information on balanced meals utilizing MyPlate/MiPlato.
La Clínica del Pueblo shares information on balanced meals utilizing MyPlate/MiPlato.

Imagine going to the supermarket and being greeted right outside the store with a table full of healthy eating tips for your family, on a budget – in your language. That is just one way community health workers from the nonprofit La Clinica de Pueblo in the nation’s capital are promoting health and nutrition in the Spanish-speaking community, part of their initiative called “Your Health in Your Hands, The Table of Delights.”

All throughout the country, community health workers, known in Spanish as “promotoras” and “promotores”, are finding innovative, grassroots and effective ways to offer nutrition education to Latino communities that often do not have access to traditional healthcare services.

As part of the “Table of Delights” initiative, for example promotores staff a table placed in a market and invite people to talk about the food they purchased and the importance of a balanced diet. Promotoras talk about the importance of a balanced meal, the correct size of the portions and the importance of each food group. They have found that people are more likely to change their consumption habits in supermarkets to make them healthier.

Because of the critical work that promotoras are doing every day in cities across the U.S., it was my pleasure to recently welcome a few dozen promotoras from the Washington DC region to join us in conducting a webinar watch session at USDA headquarters. We gathered to discuss their critical role in nutrition education and access to healthy food on a budget. We also had hundreds of promotoras from throughout the nation join us via teleconference and online. Our objective was simple: to share why we launched the La Mesa Completa initiative, and how promotoras can use these resources to connect their organizations and the people they reach to USDA programs that promote access to healthy food in all communities.

In the Latino community, especially, hunger and food insecurity are a harsh reality in the United States. Consider these sobering facts:

  • More than 1 in 4 Latino households (27 percent) report that they don’t have enough resources to feed themselves adequately.
  • More than 1 in 3 Latino children (35 percent) live in homes that are food insecure. Households with children are twice as likely to suffer from food insecurity.
  • Latinos suffer disproportionately from childhood obesity rates higher than the national average – almost 40 percent of Hispanic children are obese or overweight.
  • Latinos eligible for SNAP, the largest supplemental nutrition safety net program, participate at significantly lower levels than the national average.

With this urgent problem in mind, USDA launched La Mesa Completa, an education initiative that aims to reduce hunger in the Latino community by providing information about federal nutrition assistance programs and nutrition education resources. Several of our community partners are also promoting healthy habits as part of Let’s Move Faith and Communities.

But we cannot do it alone. We recognize, in fact, the great work of the various networks of promotoras around the country in helping us share this valuable information as trusted messengers in the Latino community.

At the Spanish Catholic Center in the Washington, DC area, promotoras visit grocery stores where parents discuss how they can maximize their resources, including SNAP and WIC benefits, to purchase healthy, nutritious food. At Catholic Charities in Atlanta, they offer a pre- screenings and help in completing application forms for food programs, including SNAP, in Spanish. At the Chula Vista Community Collaborative, part of the Network for Health California, promotores conduct community presentations that include information on the benefits of fruits and vegetables, the importance of physical activity, and the importance of nutrition. They also direct families potentially eligible for SNAP/CalFresh benefits to their Family Resource Centers.

These are just some examples, and only some of the federal nutrition assistance programs they talk about. This is why we decided to conduct a webinar with promotoras and for promotores.  We want to make sure that everyone has a place at the table, no one goes hungry and everyone has access to the nutrition they need. We are glad to count on promotores to help make a difference promoting healthier generation of children and adults.

USDA Center Deputy Director Roxana Barillas (in red) engages promotores workers in a discussion following the webinar watch session.
USDA Center Deputy Director Roxana Barillas (in red) engages promotores workers in a discussion following the webinar watch session.
Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition