Soto, a community health specialist with The University of Texas-Pan American's Border Health Office (BHO), was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes as a teenager, and when she began working with the BHO about 15 years ago, she learned how changing her diet and exercising helped her take control of the disease.
"We teach our children about the dangers of drinking and driving, or taking drugs, but we do not talk to them enough about healthy eating," Soto said.
With about a third of the Rio Grande Valley's population either diagnosed with or at risk for developing diabetes, UTPA's College of Health Sciences and Human Services (CHSHS), the BHO and other partners are hosting its MORE (Maximizing Opportunities in Research and Education) Health @ UTPA April 25-27 to educate the public about the complications caused by obesity and diabetes.
MORE Health begins Thursday, April 25 with the college's Student Research Competition, where undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students will showcase their research and vie for prizes, including a Kindle Fire for the top student in each category. Students' research posters will be on display from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Bronc and Cenizo Rooms next to the UTPA Ballroom.
On Friday, April 26, and Saturday, April 27, the college will host two daylong conferences: Obesity and its Complications and Diabetes and its Complications.
The conferences will include keynote speakers Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of health for the Texas Department of State Health Services, and Rear Admiral Epifano Elizondo, the regional health administrator for Region VI of the U.S. Health and Human Services. Jay Hewitt, Ironman Triathlete and member of the U.S. National Long Course Triathlon Team who has type 1 diabetes, will also give a presentation at the Saturday conference.
On April 27, the University and partners will host its Community Health Fair at the UTPA Quad from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. that will include sessions on teaching people how to prepare healthy meals and Zumba demonstrations, Soto said. The Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Department will offer free immunizations to children on a first-come, first-served basis.
Cosponsors of the conference include the CHSHS South Texas Border Health Disparities Center, UTPA Office of Continuing Education, Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Department, South Texas Juvenile Diabetes Association, Rio Grande Valley Diabetes Association and Rio Grande Regional Hospital.
The college is always looking for ways to interact with the community to help and educate people about maintaining healthy lifestyles, and with the rates of diabetes and obesity in the Valley being so high, the conferences and health fair is another way to reach out, said CHSHS Dean Dr. John Ronnau.
"It is important for us to be out front raising awareness and, hopefully, helping people find solutions about the major health problems facing the Valley and diabetes and obesity are among them," Ronnau said. "We also hope to ... get people talking to each other and, hopefully, there will be additional solutions there, certainly additional research, for people to understand more about what the problems are and what we can do together."
Ronnau added that the college plans to make MORE Health @ UTPA an annual event.
For more information, visit the MORE Health website or call (956) 665-2291.