Connecting with the Latino Community

Published on January 27, 2015

Members of Ottumwa's Hombres Necios men's health support group, based in Ottumwa. The group was founded with help from the Prevention Research Center.
Members of Ottumwa’s Hombres Necios men’s health support group, based in Ottumwa. The group was founded with help from the Prevention Research Center.

Part of the Prevention Research Center’s project focuses on Ottumwa’s Latino population, which has grown from just 200 residents in 1980 to represent nearly 12 percent of the town today. Himar Hernández, a member of the Ottumwa Community Advisory Board, says some of that increase is from Cargill’s recruitment of workers for its meat processing plant in Ottumwa. More than 30 nationalities are represented at the plant.

New immigrants, from places like Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras, have not adjusted their diets and activity to reflect the more sedentary lives they lead in the United States, he says, especially those who left rural areas where walking was the primary mode of travel.

“There is a lot of education we need to do,” says Hernández, associate director for community and economic development for Iowa State University Extension & Outreach. The Latino population is generally younger, with more children but less education and lower income compared to the rest of the population, Hernández says. Some also work the night shift or multiple jobs, which makes leisure activity more challenging.

Hombres Necios

One of the projects the center has conducted with the Latino community is a men’s health group called Hombres Necios (Stubborn Men).

The Hombres project engaged Latino men in a series of discussions around their understanding of what influences or impacts their health as both Latinos and small town residents in the Midwest. The group was led by Hernández and Jason Daniel-Ulloa, assistant research scientist for the PRC.

The project used the Photovoice methodology, which involves giving participants cameras to record aspects of their lives, in this case images of the food they ate and their physical activity. Diets tend to be high in fat, and soda has become a staple. Some of the workers also immigrated without their wives and children. “The men end up eating out and eating a lot,” Hernández says. “It’s not a good recipe for health.”

Participants in the group are informal community leaders— church volunteers, business owners, and others— who will be able to share “best practices” developed for Ottumwa with residents who trust them, Hernández says.

“We don’t want them to give up their culture,” he says. “But do we always have to have a soda at home or watch TV as we eat dinner?”

The participants presented the Photovoice results at a community forum, and the experience has helped the Hombres participants to better understand health issues, establish a social support group, and increase their confidence and social standing in their community through their newly acquired knowledge, says Daniel-Ulloa. The group is currently exploring next steps, including finding resources for a larger applied health intervention.

Redes de Salud

Another project, Redes de Salud (Network of Health), explored community-based places and networks that Latinos in Ottumwa trust and rely on to conduct business, obtain services, and connect with other Latinos. The study investigator, Barbara Baquero, first established a Latino advisory committee to work with her in developing and implementing the study.

The purpose of the study was to both introduce the UI College of Public Health and the Prevention Research Center to the Latino community in Ottumwa and to explore the social networks, sources of influence, and community-based places that would be important for subsequent health promotion and disease prevention programs for Latinos. In the study, staff interviewed customers, clients and patrons, managers, and owners of these community-based businesses and services to obtain their perceptions of the important community structures for the Latino population as well as the resources available and the needs of the community overall to address the recent influx of Latinos in Iowa.

The Redes study provided valuable information to develop community-based intervention strategies to address Latino health in Ottumwa and other communities. The information has also been used in establishing partnerships with the Latino communities of Iowa City and West Liberty. These studies have not only galvanized the Latino community and stakeholders in Ottumwa to address their health needs and concerns, says Baquero, but also have helped “the Latino community in Ottumwa to establish strong and positive relationships with UI researchers and students.”