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Research seeks to improve Latinas’ health

UC Merced professor Susana Ramírez will lead a five-year project to help bicultural Latinas reduce their risk of breast cancer.
UC Merced professor Susana Ramírez will lead a five-year project to help bicultural Latinas reduce their risk of breast cancer. Special for Vida en el Valle

When it comes to reducing the risk of breast cancer in bicultural Latinas, knowing how to effectively communicate with them about these risks can make a huge difference in their lives.

And Susana Ramírez, a professor at the University of California, Merced, hopes to find the best answer within the next five years.

Ramírez is leading a five-year research project to create messages to help bicultural Latinas improve their eating habits and reduce their risk of breast cancer.

The project, which is funded by a $639,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute, aims to fight breast cancer one message at a time by improving communication of health information to bicultural Latina women.

The project is funded by a $639,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute.

“We know a lot about making messages effective, but not for bicultural audiences,” said Ramírez, a professor of public health communication with UC Merced’s School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts.

“There’s a disconnect between the theories and how people are actually communicating. I want to test theory by putting it to work in interventions, and ultimately to reduce the burden of breast cancer among Latinas,” she added.

UC Merced officials said research indicates that obesity can increase a woman’s risk of developing and dying from breast cancer.

Ramírez said she is focusing on bicultural Latinas in the San Juaquín Valley between the ages of 18 and 29 because they have widely varying language skills and family structures, making effective messaging quite a challenge.

She said many of these women are also young mothers who can pass down new healthy habits to their families and good candidates to test messages that focus on behavioral changes for a child’s sake.

Ramírez said as the Latino population continues to grow in the U.S., Latino children “will be raised in bicultural homes, meshing Mexican and American beliefs and traditions, along with English and Spanish languages. This makes it trickier to understand what kinds of messages will resonate with them.”

While advertising companies do a good job in at reaching diverse populations, Ramírez said that the field of public health needs to be better and do a better job at reaching diverse populations with effective health messages in order to fight chronic disease such as childhood obesity and diabetes.

We know a lot about making messages effective, but not for bicultural audiences.

Susana Ramírez

Ramírez said that a one-size-fits-all approach to communicating to Latinos could be misguided, especially in the Valley where Latinos not only speak Spanish, but also might speak indigenous languages or might have different English proficiency skills.

Ramírez said the project will begin with a year-and-a-half effort which includes an interview process to learn more about the bicultural Latinas in local area. The interviews will measure cultural factors that affect their diet behaviors, as well as the ability to be persuaded.

María G. Ortiz-Briones: 559-441-6782, @TuValleTuSalud

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