Para tu salud – Health and wellness in Latino communities

Last month I participated in a focus group that sought to collect feedback from various local communities and residents. I was invited as part of a group that gave insights about health and wellness in relation to Latino communities in Grand Rapids and West Michigan. What I found interesting were the parallels between most of the participants’ answers when it came to the subject of access to health care for Hispanic families. Many that recognized Latinos in Michigan underutilized health care and it was often a challenge to connect Hispanic individuals with the value of ideas like preventative measures and health education. Listening to the feedback, I was inspired to consider how marketers can use cultural relevance to break down barriers between education and access to health care for Latino communities.

A recent post in the Imperial Valley Press of Southern California featured a program in conjunction Latino Health Awareness Month in September. The Healthy California Latino campaign kicked off efforts to promote lifestyles that embodied health and wellness. Among the many initiatives were educational presentations about eating well and making better choices about food. One challenge the program faced was that within areas where Hispanic families reside, there is limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The solution was to build and maintain a community garden that receives support from both the program and local residents. In combination with the additional programs about exercise and wellness through nutrition, this effort provides a relevant method of encouraging healthy eating.

Often, though, access is only one part of the disconnect between health and Latino communities. At times, a lack of cultural relevance can become interference. In their book, Hispanic Marketing: Connecting to the New Latino Consumer, Felipe and Betty Ann Korzenny acknowledge the role cultural attitudes play when communicating to Hispanic communities. For many Latinos, especially those that are immigrants from countries like Mexico, fatalism defines how much control they perceive having over their own lives. For individuals that feel their lives are beyond their own control, what values need to be emphasized? Can a general market campaign for health care that seeks to motivate individuals to take control over their own well-being (and ultimately over their own condition of mortality) have much resonance with Latinos that may view their lives being “in God’s hands”?

Additionally, for many Latinos, culturally relevant communication can be both within the message and the medium. The Waisman Center, a developmental disability research facility at the University of Wisconsin, sought to help educate Hispanic families about children with disabilities like cerebral palsy or autism. Research indicated many Latino families that have children with special needs felt marginalized within their communities due to a lack of understanding. Within popular Hispanic media, the novela is a favorite entertainment medium and the Latin American equivalent to the soap opera. The Waisman Center, with the help of Latino parent groups and local media, produced a multiple episode radio novela that told the story of one family’s struggles and triumphs in raising a child with a developmental disability. Recorded in Spanish, the novela series aired in 2007 on a local Hispanic radio stations and included interviews with experts about topics related to disabilities. Using the cultural insight that novelas capture the attention of and resonate with many Latinos households, the Waisman Center was able to break barriers with education about developmental disabilities.

With regard to access, communication, education for Latino communities about health and wellness, here are some questions for marketers to consider:

  • What are the unique conditions that exist within the Hispanic communities of your area that may affect access to health care and wellness?
  • Are your current marketing efforts truly culturally competent to communicate the value of health and wellness to Latinos? Do services need to be re-aligned to become more culturally competent?
  • Are there attitudes within your local Hispanic communities that also inhibit access to health care and treatments such as lack of education or stigma about illnesses and disabilities?
  • Do you need to evaluate the media purchasing within your general market campaigns and re-align them with media that may have more resonance with your local Latino communities?

After we finished our focus group session, the discussion continued about how we as a community in West Michigan can influence our region to become a leader in health and wellness statewide. We recognized such a goal would require the mobilization of all communities in our area – Latino, Asian, African-American, Caucasian and beyond. Hispanics in particular have now become a widespread part of the greater American landscape. In recognizing this, leading research firm Phoenix Marketing International recently announced it was launching the start of the Hispanic Health Measurement Index. The intent is to capture a comprehensive review of Hispanic attitudes and behaviors regarding health and wellness. Hopefully this research will reveal insights about how we can better connect Latino communities to health care.

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