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Congressman Ortiz secures federal funds to support Hispanic health research at UT School of Public Health Brownsville Regional Campus


U.S. Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz has secured federal funding to support further expansion of a successful major initiative at The University of Texas School of Public Health Brownsville Regional Campus. This initiative targets diabetes and other deadly, disabling and costly health conditions in the Mexican-American population.

The $390,000 federal appropriation will support the university’s Hispanic Health Research Center and its Cameron County Hispanic Health Cohort of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

“These vital funds will allow us to continue this important program dedicated to obtaining accurate information on the health status of people in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, particularly with regard to obesity, diabetes and mental health. It allows us to measure the impact accurately and to gain support for development and implementation of effective community-wide interventions,” said Joseph B. McCormick, M.D., regional dean and James H. Steele Professor at the UT School of Public Health Brownsville Regional Campus.

Ortiz, D-Texas, said, “Texas border communities—particularly among the Mexican-American populations— must work harder to educate themselves on healthy living. Diseases such as obesity and diabetes are reaching crisis levels along the border. The UT School of Public Health Brownsville Regional Campus is doing extraordinary research on many of these matters and providing insight and solutions to some of these challenges.”

Five years ago, McCormick established the Cameron County Hispanic Cohort with previous federal appropriations, as well as funding from the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities. It is the only cohort in the United States studying health disparities in a purely Mexican-American population.

Almost 2,000 individuals have been enrolled in the cohort. The results are now helping McCormick and other researchers to uncover the high levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, mental health conditions and other diseases that greatly affect this Hispanic population. This work has also developed and evaluated effective interventions for children and adults.

“It is difficult to overstate the urgency of addressing effective measures to prevent diabetes in our minority population. This is in the interests of improving health in the community,” McCormick said. “We have calculated that the combination of diabetes and obesity in the Lower Rio Grande Valley costs about $1.2 billion each year. It is in the best economic and social interest that a vigorous and evidence-based program of intervention be instituted as soon as possible.”

The cohort has benefited from previous support from federal funding with the help of Congressman Ortiz, and has provided key information helping to obtain funding from the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

Data collected thus far from the cohort has revealed alarming results, McCormick said. More than half of the individuals older than age 18 are classified as obese, with a BMI (Body Mass Index) of more than 30. Another 32 percent are overweight. Twenty percent of the residents have diabetes, which is associated with abnormally high levels of sugar in blood and can lead to such complications as eye, kidney, nerve and heart damage. The chronic condition may also impact mental health. At least half of the cohort participants who have diabetes are not on adequate treatment. Another 23 percent of participants in the cohort have pre-diabetes, a risk factor that is marked by a higher-than-normal blood glucose range that has not yet been classified as diabetes.

“Slowing the rate of increase in type 2 diabetes nationally is one of the most urgent health problems we face, and among the worst affected populations are the Mexican Americans along the U.S./Mexico border,” McCormick added. “Through the use of the Cameron County Hispanic Cohort, and with the support of Congressman Ortiz and others, we will be able to continue our studies especially those aimed at intense intervention, all backed by solid science.”


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