State health officials offer programs to help minority populations

Posted at 10:02 PM, Apr 26, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- In honor of National Minority Health Month, the Utah Department of Health is hosting a series of programs that are meant to improve health in vulnerable populations.

Getting to the doctor isn't always easy for Utah’s minority populations, and coordinators hope to change that.

Jacob Fitisemanu, an outreach coordinator for the Office of Health Disparities, spoke about the challenges faced by many in Utah.

“Life gets busy,” he said. “You can imagine the challenges people have coming from one country--a very different health care system and very different way of life--into our system here, which can be complicated to navigate sometimes.”

Lydia Afualo of the Pacific Islander Coalition said other factors can make maintaining health a greater challenge for minorities.

“We’re coming from an indigenous lifestyle, island lifestyle,” Afualo said. “We come here, we’re having a different diet, so just a lot of different things that come into play. There’s a lot more stress here.”

She added: “Our community is pretty unhealthy. We have a high rate of obesity and diabetes.”

But a non-profit organization called Early Morning Zumba is trying to change that, and specifically they hope to combat high rates of obesity and diabetes among Pacific islanders.

The group hosts free Zumba sessions Monday through Friday at the Sorenson Center, 855 West California Avenue, from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.

Afualo said so far the effort has brought about results.

“I personally have lost at least 80 pounds over the last three to four years, so I’m extremely grateful for everything they’ve done," she said.

Miguel Gonzalez attends Early Morning Zumba, and he said it’s a great opportunity.

“It provides them a venue where they can do exercise, and it’s in a very casual way where they don’t have to be very skillful... it’s just dancing, having fun," he said.

The Office of Health Disparities at the Utah Department of Health also conducts free blood screenings for minorities in order to detect critical issues like high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure.

“Screenings are a great way to find out what some of your risk factors are, and a lot of people that may not have gone to the doctor recently or may not have access to a doctor can actually come and get free screenings,” Fitisemanu said.

Ghulam Hasnain, an adviser for Somali Community Self-management Agency, also spoke about the value of that testing.

“If it's found through testing that they do have those issues, sometimes people don’t know they have those issues, they then are referred to clinics that can help with this sort of financial profile," he said.

For more information on health screening events and other resources, click here.