New Institute to Promote Physical Activity, Nutrition

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP News Service

A new initiative by the Paso del Norte Health Foundation (PdNHF) will leverage the resources of three area universities, including The University of Texas at El Paso, to promote healthy lifestyles and reduce obesity among people living along the U.S.-Mexico border region, especially children and youth.

The PdNHF recently announced the establishment of the Paso del Norte Institute for Healthy Living, a four-institutional partnership that involves the PdNHF; UTEP; The University of Texas Health Science Center-Houston, School of Public Health; and The Texas Tech University Health Science Center-Paul L. Foster School of Medicine.UTEP College of Health Sciences Dean Kathleen Curtis, Ph.D., discusses the mission of the new Paso del Norte Institute for Healthy Living at a press conference Aug. 13 at the Paso del Norte Health Foundation’s offices. She is joined by Jacob Cintron, chief executive officer of Del Sol Medical Center, and UTEP President Diana Natalicio. Photo by JR Hernandez / UTEP News Service UTEP College of Health Sciences Dean Kathleen Curtis, Ph.D., discusses the mission of the new Paso del Norte Institute for Healthy Living at a press conference Aug. 13 at the Paso del Norte Health Foundation’s offices. She is joined by Jacob Cintron, chief executive officer of Del Sol Medical Center, and UTEP President Diana Natalicio. Photo by JR Hernandez / UTEP News Service

Funded with an initial $2.2 million for five years, the institute’s purpose is to advance healthy nutrition and physical activity and to reduce childhood obesity across the Paso del Norte region.

“The PdNHF currently has a great deal of ongoing activity with community organizations and our three universities will continue to work with these organizations to help develop their capacity to do evidence-based programs and to effectively evaluate how they’re making a difference,” said College of Health Sciences Dean Kathleen Curtis, Ph.D., the institute’s principal investigator.

The institute’s three priorities are to:

-Promote healthy lifestyles, especially in regard to choices around food and exercise.

-Advance proper nutrition and physical activity across the Paso del Norte region through effective programs, the built environment, and public policies.

-Provide regional leadership and technical assistance to adapt, disseminate, and implement evidence-based approaches to foster healthy eating and active living in neighborhoods, schools, public facilities and businesses.

According to the PdNHF, 12 percent of preschool children in El Paso County (ages 2-4) are obese. Seventy percent of adults are overweight or obese.

The institute will focus on lifestyle change in the Paso del Norte region, including far West Texas, southern New Mexico, and Juárez, Mexico. The faculty and staff of the institute will work with community leaders, organizations and agencies across the region to promote change from the individual level to broad community-wide policy initiatives. The partnership will build on existing community assets and is committed to meaningful community engagement to ensure sustainability and change.

“The overall purpose of this (Paso del Norte Health Foundation) and the funds that were used to form this foundation is to improve the health and the lives of the people in our region,” Allan Goldfarb, PdNHF board chair, said during a press conference Aug. 13. “That is why it’s so important that this foundation has partners and we are committed to enhancing the relationship with these and many other partners.”

UTEP President Diana Natalicio said that these types of partnerships in low-resource settings help make a difference in the community.

“We are very fortunate in this particular Institute for Healthy Living to have two other partners with whom we have worked very closely through the years and we know exactly how steadfast they are in joining forces to accomplish goals that none of us could accomplish on our own.”

The institute is conducting a national search for an executive director. Officials hope to have someone in place by the beginning of 2014. 

“We’re looking forward to many new initiatives to emerge from the institute and seeing how we can work together with our community partners to advance our institute’s purpose,” Curtis said. “So please stay tuned for more information to come as we move forward in the implementation of the institute.”