by Amber Parcher | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008
Despite the music, Latin food and a soccer tournament, the largest crowd at the county's Hispanic health festival at Wheaton Regional Park gathered around a group of medical volunteers and physicians.
More than 130 adults lined up at the table run by the National Kidney Foundation for a free comprehensive health screening during Saturday's festival — a test that usually costs about $100, officials said.
The mostly Hispanic crowd was receiving an important message at the table, said Sonia Mora, the program manager for the county's Latino health initiative: Prevention is the best way to stay healthy.
"By coming and getting checked out, it gets them in the habit of doing screenings on a regular basis," which is vital to staying healthy in a population that is especially threatened by America's obesity epidemic, Mora said.
Mora said diabetes disproportionately affects Hispanics. Many Latinos are overweight and many more don't have a regular doctor or health insurance that can help them address the problem, even as their children become more obese, she said.
More than 52 private and public organizations, such as county police, Washington Adventist and Holy Cross hospitals and local health care clinics, participated in the Ama Tu Vida, translated as "Love Your Life," festival to help educate almost 3,500 Hispanics on how to live a healthy life.
But the key to a successful festival was more than education, Mora said. It was taking action to help a community that usually waits until it's too late to be proactive about their health.
Every person with an abnormal test result had a consultation with a physician and was sent to another booth to make an appointment with a free local health care clinic.
"They have a connection immediately to a health care provider that's going to serve them even if they're low income and if they don't have insurance," she said.
Teresa Valdivia was one of those people using the health festival for both education and action. Valdivia, a diabetic, was looking for a booth where she could get her ear and eye checked out because they were bothering her. While there, the Olney resident said she wanted to learn more about the symptoms of her disease so she could share that information with her friends and family.
Valdivia said she hoped that knowing the consequences of diabetes could help someone else take control of their health to avoid the disease.
"I've understood the best health is prevention," she said in Spanish, echoing Mora's words.
Both Valdivia and Veronica Ontiveros, a resident of Mexico City who is visiting the area, said they were impressed with how the 300 volunteers communicated the festival's message — a rather sensitive topic for a fairly machismo culture.
Instead of scaring people into eating right and walking more, there was a real dialogue about how to live a healthier live, Ontiveros said.
"They let you know without being, ‘Oh, you are going to die,'" she said.