MADERA -- When Fidelina Espinoza watched a segment of 'The Weight of the Nation,' a documentary presented by HBO and the Institutes of Medicine, she saw her own community's struggles reflected on the big screen.
Like in the Orange County city of Santa Ana, which is featured in the film, Madera is home to many poor, Latino residents with chronic diseases and limited health insurance.
In both cities, there are few safe places for children to play, and healthy, affordable food is hard to access.
"It is a real story that we are living," Espinoza, a Madera promotora and a mother of four daughters, said in Spanish.
"We have poor nutrition because we do not make enough money to feed ourselves well and buy the food we need to be healthy," she said.
Local parks, "are not accessible to people and are not in safe places -- especially the parks where people have been shot and killed."
Espinoza was one of about 120 Madera residents who discussed the barriers to health -- and the causes of obesity and other related diseases -- during a community screening of 'The Weight of the Nation' at Washington Elementary School last Wednesday evening.
The event was organized by the Madera HEAL Zone, a group of organizations working together to increase opportunities for healthy eating and active living in the community.
Event participants acknowledged that simply watching two exceprts from the documentary could not improve health statistics in Madera, where about about 34 percent of adults are obese. (In the San Joaquín Valley, an estimated 36 percent of Latino adults are obese. Statewide, about 23 percent of all adults are obese.)
But, they said, watching the films, and then engaging in group discussions about the highlighted issues, could begin an important dialogue about solutions to curb Madera's obesity epidemic.
"I think with our population, it is more of a jumping-off point," said Dr. Jesús Rodríguez, a Madera native who works in family practice at Kaiser Permanente in Fresno. The event, he said, could start "hopefully a long dialogue with residents of Madera and different partners."
Last Wednesday evening, after families had enjoyed a healthy dinner of chicken, rice pilaf, salad, and fruit, and children had gone outside to play, the mothers and fathers in the room watched the film excerpt, 'Latino Health Access: A Model of Community Action,' about promotoras in Santa Ana who are striving to improve health outcomes in their community.
Afterward, the parents broke into smaller groups to discuss how to improve the health of the Madera community.
Dolores Sánchez, of Madera, said parents must do a better job of introducing their children to fruits and vegetables. Yesmani González, 12, said there should be more farmers markets in the area, so families have easier access to fresh produce.
Like the promotoras in the film, Marta Zarate is already working to improve the health of children and families in Madera. As a promotora with the Centro Binacional para el Desarollo Indígena Oaxaqueño, Zarate and other parents are advocating for area schools to serve more fruits and vegetables, and less frozen beverages.
The film, she said, was motivational, because it described "how a group of parents can make changes."
Visit www.theweightofthenation.hbo.com to view the obesity films and learn how to take action.
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