Addressing Health Inequities
What are the two factors that best predict a community’s health?
Kristine Suozzi, Ph.D., coordinator of the New Mexico Health Equity Working Group, pauses before she provides the answer: zip code and color of your skin. She begins her presentations with this illuminating fact when she speaks about health equity. Then she continues with other startling statistics:
- People’s life expectancy in Bernalillo County differs by 22 years, depending on where they live.
- People who live in poor neighborhoods in Bernalillo County are two-to-three times more likely to die of diabetes before age 65 than those who live in affluent neighborhoods.
- Americans rank 29th in the world for life expectancy and spend more than twice as much per person on health care as any of the other industrialized countries.
“We created this system of inequities, and we can create the circumstances to change them,” said Suozzi, Bernalillo County Place Matters team interim leader.
The concept that your health depends on where you live—“Place Matters”—has been gaining attention as more organizations are looking at ways to achieve health equity: when everyone has an equal chance at leading healthy lives. This is an important focus of Con Alma Health Foundation, the state’s largest private foundation dedicated solely to health. The foundation believes everyone should have the same access to health services and the same opportunities to make healthy choices. Con Alma invited Suozzi to present information about health equity to advocates, health, business, nonprofit and government officials as a kickoff for a collaborative effort to promote health equity in NM.
While this has always been a mission of Con Alma’s, the nonprofit recently received a national grant to promote health equity in NM. Con Alma is one of 13 foundations across the country that received funding from the Convergence Partnership, a collaboration of eight of the nation’s leading funders and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With support from the Convergence Partnership of Tides Foundation, Con Alma is launching a Healthy People – Healthy Places initiative to address health inequities that Suozzi describes as systemic, avoidable, unfair and unjust.
In NM, some communities don’t have safe places where their residents can walk, and they can’t get fresh fruits and vegetables without driving long distances. Con Alma is distributing grants to NM nonprofits this summer that work to address some of these inequities. Their work involves providing rural residents with equal access to fresh produce through school- and community gardens, local farmers’ markets and mobile food pantries.
With a Healthy People – Healthy Places grant, El Valle Women’s Collaborative will work on building relationships between the school, corner store, restaurant, churches and health clinic so they can work together on addressing issues in the valley. People who live in rural El Valle are land-rich but live in poverty, according to Yvonne Sandoval, one of the 35 members of the women-led collaborative.
El Valle, about 40 minutes north of Santa Fe, used to be a farming community, but the last couple of generations have become disconnected from the land, Sandoval said. The collaborative is planning to bring back that cultural tradition by developing a seed bank, expanding the local farmers’ market and conducting workshops with young people to help them learn how to grow food. “We want young people to see that raising their food and having a relationship with food is important,” she said. “Right now many of us go to Las Vegas to buy food when those potential food sources are already here.”
Con Alma awarded grants based on a nonprofit’s ability to create systemic, long-lasting change. Another priority is honoring NM’s rich cultural traditions. That includes supporting locally grown and culturally significant foods, preserving agricultural traditions and encouraging elders and indigenous people to share cultural and traditional practices with their families.
Oso Vista Ranch, which is receiving a grant through the Healthy People – Healthy Places program, has developed the Blue Corn Enhancement Project. It is a perfect example of working toward health equity by connecting NM’s cultural traditions with economic opportunities and health improvement. “We want to revive blue corn as a native food and help people learn how to grow native crops so they can include more healthy, traditional native foods in their diet,” said Margaret Merrill, executive director of Oso Vista Ranch.
The project teaches people in the Ramah Navajo community to grow blue corn, including how to make the soil healthy, build fences to keep out elk, install a drip irrigation system and how to harvest and grind the blue corn, a native food for Navajos. As part of the program, an elder in the community is teaching young people traditional growing techniques. “By teaching people how to grow blue corn and native food, we are helping bridge the cultural gap in a hands-on way, bringing elders together with youth,” Merrill said. “Another thing I hope to be able to mitigate is the generational poverty. Growing native foods, as small businesses, would give people an opportunity to create additional income for their families.”
As with all the work Con Alma does, this effort involves multiple partners. Some have joined Con Alma’s steering committee or advisory committee to identify and support specific strategies that make it easier for people to get healthy food and be active. Others are contributing financially by matching the three-year $150,000 grant with another $155,000. Con Alma is also contributing $145,000 for the project, for a total three-year budget of $450,000.
“Farm to Table is delighted to have the opportunity to work with Con Alma Health Foundation, NM foundations and community partners in addressing system health-change,” said Pam Roy, Farm to Table’s executive director. “As a partner in this initiative, we look forward to working alongside NM’s communities as they look for innovative approaches to creating healthier food options, increasing opportunities for safer and more accessible community-friendly spaces, and uniting their voices towards informing policy change.”
In addition to the national funding partners and Con Alma Health Foundation, NM foundations that helped make this project possible by providing financial support are: McCune Foundation, New Mexico Community Foundation, Notah Begay III Foundation, PNM Resources Foundation, Santa Fe Community Foundation and Simon Charitable Foundation.
To learn more about Healthy People – Healthy Places, visit Con Alma Health Foundation’s website: www.conalma.org or call Dolores E. Roybal, executive director, at 505.438.0776, ext. 3.
Con Alma’s HP – HP 2013 Mini-Grants
As part of the Healthy People – Healthy Places initiative, Con Alma Health Foundation awarded mini-grants to several nonprofits that are trying to help their communities achieve health equity. Those grantees are:
Amigos Bravos is working with community organizations in Bernalillo County to quantify how many community members supplement their diets by catching and eating fish and shellfish along the Río Grande. The nonprofit will try to determine what health impacts there may be for people who eat these fish. Fish contaminated with PCBs, which can disrupt hormone balances and cause reproduction problems, have been found in the Río Grande. The project will also look at who is most at risk and what can be done.
El Valle Women’s Collaborative is working to address health disparities in El Valle, a community in northern NM, by teaching young people how to farm, care for livestock and cook meals. The collaborative is trying to encourage healthy eating and future farming by helping connect people to their land and the food they eat. The group builds local partnerships by bringing organizations together to determine how they can work together to improve the health of the community.
New Mexico Farmers’ Market Association received a grant to increase awareness and knowledge about farmers’ markets as sources of healthy, culturally appropriate food. The association plans to improve communication between community health workers, farmers’ markets and other community stakeholders. The goal is to reduce nutrition-related disparities by linking more people to fresh, local produce through farmers’ markets.
Oso Vita Ranch is teaching people how to plant blue corn, a native food of Navajos, to improve the diets of people living in the Ramah community. The Blue Corn Enhancement Project will provide people with the knowledge and tools to farm and produce blue corn as a way to enhance families’ income and encourage them to include traditional foods in their diet. Tribal elders will teach mostly women and young people how to farm as a way to encourage intergenerational and intertribal exchanges.
Valle Encantado is promoting health and equity through its La Cosecha Community Supported Agriculture Project. The project will make local, organic food and nutrition education available to low-income families in Albuquerque’s South Valley. The grant will help the project develop partnerships to expand the South Valley community’s knowledge of food access issues and create a reliable market for local produce.
Volunteer Center of Grant County in southwest NM will use its grant to provide technical assistance and training on policy and advocacy for the Grant County Food Policy Council. This training will ensure the council’s future viability as an organization that reflects the demographics of Grant County.