Health Promotion Students Sponsor Diabetes Education, Awareness

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP News Service

With more than 300 million people living with diabetes worldwide, World Diabetes Day on Nov. 14 was an opportunity to engage millions of people across the globe in diabetes awareness and education.

Among them were health promotion students from the College of Health Sciences, who are also members of The University of Texas at El Paso’s Eta Sigma Gamma chapter, a national honorary association for health education students and practitioners.UTEP health promotion students promote good nutrition in support of World Diabetes Day on Nov. 14. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/UTEP News ServiceUTEP health promotion students promote good nutrition in support of World Diabetes Day on Nov. 14. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/UTEP News Service

They set up a buffet of tasty snacks on Leech Grove to encourage students, faculty and staff to change unhealthy eating habits and prevent diabetes.

“These are all diabetic-friendly foods, meaning that they are low in sugar and low in fat and very nutrient dense, which does help a lot in preventing type two diabetes,” said Eta Sigma Gamma President Aileen Soto. She stood by an assortment of turkey wraps, cottage cheese and strawberry salad and fruit skewers.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million people in the United States have diabetes. Out of those, 7 million have not been diagnosed. Seventy-nine million Americans age 20 or older have pre-diabetes.

“One in two people don't know they have diabetes,” Soto said. “They might be suffering symptoms but they don't know because they haven't been diagnosed.”

To spread the word about healthy eating on campus, Eta Sigma Gamma members used food props to illustrate portion sizes.

Crystal Montes, a health promotion major, held replicas of tacos, rice and vegetables to show that a reasonable serving should fit in the palm of a person’s hand.

“If you go to a fast food joint and the burgers are this big and I'm only supposed to be eating what's in my palm, it’s kind of astounding when you start thinking of it that way,” said Montes, who stretched out her hands to indicate the size of a hamburger. “These are the kind of portions you should be eating even if they are not too health conscious. At least you know now it's supposed to fit in the palm of your hand.”

Students also prepared snacks using easy healthy recipes, such as a tuna salad mixed with romaine lettuce, tomato and submarine dressing instead of mayonnaise. Students also offered tips on how ingredients like cream cheese, sour cream and sugar could be substituted for healthier choices including olive oil, lemon juice and honey.

“This food is so easy,” Soto said. “You don't have to bake. You don't have to cook at all. They're cold dishes and they're very healthy.”

The affordable recipes are ideal for hungry college students like Alexandra Cardwell, whose busy schedule and limited income makes it difficult for her to plan healthy meals.

Cardwell, a junior studying communication, helped herself to a spoonful of black bean and corn salad.  

“It tastes really good,” a surprised Cardwell said. “I would definitely consider making this at home because I don't always do what’s healthy, I do what’s cheap. I eat whatever's available and sometimes I only eat once a day and that's usually fast food.”

Eta Sigma Gamma’s message about eating healthy has gone beyond campus.

Members have participated in different community events such as the San Elizario Health Fair on Nov. 2, where they not only demonstrated their healthy recipes but also educated the public about their sugar, sodium and fat intake.

They used test tubes to display how much sugar, fat and salt content is in popular food items. For example, the tubes contain the amount of sugar in a can of soda or the amount of salt in a quarter-pound cheeseburger.

“It is recommended that you eat no more than this of salt a day,” said Soto, holding up a test tube that contained a teaspoon of salt. She compared it to a test tube that contained the amount of salt in a cheeseburger, which exceeded the recommended daily allowance for sodium.  

“This is like a visual for people to see how much their intake is and then compare it,” she said.

Participants of all ages also played the Spin Smart Nutrition Game to test their knowledge of good nutrition. Players spin the wheel, which is divided into eight food categories, and then answer multiple-choice questions about healthy foods.

“Our students are effective agents of change in our communities in relation to promoting a healthy Paso del Norte region,” said Thenral D. Mangadu, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at UTEP.

As future health promotion professionals, Soto and her fellow students are putting into practice what they’ve learned in the classroom about reducing health risks through education and prevention.

“I was not very conscious of what I ate or how much physical activity I was getting and as I got further along in my classes, my perspective changed,” Soto said. “They show you a lot of things that you don't think about. I started eating better and I've lost about 30 pounds in one year.”

Soto is passing that knowledge to others to help them be more health conscious.

For Daniela Marquez, participating in public events has helped her get a jumpstart on her career in health promotion.

“Events such as these give us a vision of what we’re going to do in the real world,” Marquez said. “I think of it as practice. I love doing this. I love educating people about their health and I hope to create programs to educate people in the community.”

UTEP offers a Bachelor of Science degree in health promotion. Graduates help individuals make informed decisions about lifestyle and personal health behaviors which can play an important role in preventing and controlling many current health problems, such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS and obesity.