New UT research initiative focuses on Latino health issues

Updated Oct 21, 2016

With the help of $7.6 million in grants, the Latino Research Initiative at the University of Texas will begin researching health issues that disproportionately affect Latino communities.

The initiative targets the Hispanic population in Texas — the second largest in the nation, according to the Pew Research Center — to better understand the growing demographic.

“Latinos are going to be outnumbering non-Hispanic whites. … If they’re not healthy, then we’re going to have a population that’s ill,” said Deborah Parra-Medina, inaugural director of the UT institute and a professor of Mexican-American studies. “If we can establish these patterns of health early, when these children become adults, hopefully we’re preventing obesity and diabetes and cardiovascular risks.”

The institute officially launched in May 2015 and will focus on three separate projects: “Healthy Frio” is a family-focused obesity intervention program in the rural Latino communities of Frio County, southwest of San Antonio. “Míranos” focuses on more than 20 Head Start schools in San Antonio to promote physical activity and healthy eating among preschoolers. “Entre Familia” will promote HPV vaccinations to Latina teens and young adults in South Texas, which accounts for some of the highest rates of cervical cancer mortality, Parra-Medina said.

“Latinos are underrepresented in research,” Parra-Medina said. “Many times when research is conducted … the vast majority of what we call the evidence does not include Hispanic-Latinos in the population. We know that those environments, those cultures, those experiences, the resources are so different.”