Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and USC were awarded a $24.5 million grant for research on health disparities in Latinx community. (Photo courtesy of Creative Commons)
The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities awarded USC and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles a $24.5 million grant last month to establish a center focusing on health disparities in the Southern California Latinx community.
The Southern California Center for Chronic Health Disparities in Latino Children and Families is one of 11 NIMHD funded initiatives for research in Chronic Disease Prevention and Treatment in underserved communities and will involve a coalition of research and community-based institutions across Southern California, such as Kaiser Permanente, UC San Diego, Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Michael Goran, professor of pediatrics at USC Keck School of Medicine, said one of the center’s projects he founded was to better understand dietary issues and nutrition intervention required in the Latinx population. The center will address disparities in obesity, Type 2 diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and dyslipidemia in Southern California Latinx families, who represent almost half of the area’s population.
While researching childhood nutrition at USC for 20 years, Goran, who is also the director for diabetes and obesity at the Saban Research Institute at CHLA, found that Latinx are more likely to develop obesity at younger ages and submitted a proposal for the center to the NIMHD in mid-June. Since beginning operations in early-October, Goran said the center has received calls from Latinx organizations.
“Most research on how to address this problem is done among non-Latino populations, so, clearly, we need to work more closely with the Latino community to develop strategies that will be more effective,” Goran said. “Latinos have a huge disparity in terms of risk for the major chronic diseases that are shortening lives and costing healthcare dollars but yet, there’s not enough research in that community to help mitigate those problems.”
Goran and his co-director, Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati, hope to address the Latinx community’s diverse needs and disparities in Southern California during the five years the center will be funded, with a chance to renew funding.
“Our work is to really encompass the entire Latino population and be able to understand unique issues in these different groups,” said Baezconde-Garbanati, professor of preventive medicine and co-lead of community outreach core at the center. “It’s a very unique center and it has such a broad geographic spread in the entire region, that we think it can really make a difference in terms of really impacting disparities at that level.”
Baezconde-Garbanati said it is important to take different perspectives into account when working with the Latinx community, such as acknowledging that many Latinx are from various parts of Latin America.
She also said the center plans to take cultural sensitivity into account, writing educational material directly in Spanish without translating it from English first to understand the uniqueness and the cultural nuances that may be needed.
Baezconde-Garbanati said many obesity-related health disparities became even more prevalent during the pandemic. The lack of nutritious food and physical activity in the community led the researchers to believe they needed to intervene. To combat the rise of obesity-related health disparities that occurred during the pandemic, the center will work with its partners to offer telehealth nutrition counseling to Latinx families. The center also plans to spread information and research findings through its “promotores de salud,” or community health workers.
“What we hope to accomplish is to really improve the health of the Latino population in Southern California, to really reduce disparities, and to be able to impact the chronic disease burden that has suffered in these communities,” Baezconde-Garbanati said. “We’re hoping that that will be a place where we can make an impact.”
Kayla de la Haye, associate professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine and co-lead of investigator development at the center, said the center’s work is important because the first years of children’s lives are “so critical,” but many are not given treatment or intervention until already diagnosed. By then, it is difficult to reverse health outcomes, she said.
“If you can work with the whole family system to change the environment and change some intergenerational patterns that might have happened, you set these kids at a whole different trajectory, increasing their ability to have healthy options, and healthy eating and activity. I just think that that’s such a crucial shift,” de la Haye said.