From the air in gyms to the food available on convenience store shelves, San Diego State University researchers are tackling the interconnected factors affecting community health.

Routine screening for cervical cancer can lead to earlier diagnosis, better treatment outcomes and reduced mortality. But when a family’s basic needs aren’t being met, testing can be delayed.

“When you’re worried about where your next paycheck is coming from or your kids’ ability to eat, you don’t necessarily prioritize cancer screening,” said one public health researcher. Corinne McDaniels-Davidsonwho adds that testing and follow-up rates are lower among marginalized populations.

McDaniels-Davidson is one of many SDSU faculty studying the disproportionate impact of health disparities on marginalized populations by partnering with communities to better understand and implement interventions that address inequities. deep-rooted social and economic.

“When we think about health disparities, we’re really talking about differences in health and health care between groups that stem from these broader inequalities,” said the speech-language pathology professor. Sonja Pruitt-Lord.

SDSU is well positioned to address health disparities. “We’ve been connected to the community for so long that the SDSU name is trusted in the community,” McDaniels-Davidson said. “It allows you to do work that others might not be able to do.”

Inequalities in health care

In addition to studying disparities in cancer screening, McDaniels-Davidson and her team partnered with San Diego County at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to implement an agent-led contact tracing program community health. She also collaborated with the epidemiologist Susan Kiene to implement a community screening program funded by the National Institutes of Health, an effort that included middle school students from the Sweetwater Union High School District and their family members.

“When you’re able to partner with communities to address any health issue that’s important to them, you start to build those really close relationships,” McDaniels-Davidson said.

SDSU’s South Bay Latino Research Center (SBLRC), co-led by psychology professors Greg Talavera and Linda Gallo, is another trusted community partner. He has long been a leader in community-based research on health disparities and culturally appropriate interventions to improve the health of Latinx populations.

SBLRC studies have revealed high rates of undiagnosed diabetes in the Latinx community, as well as a relationship between neighborhood environments and an increased risk of hypertension and diabetes.

The SBLRC has also shown that an integrated care intervention addressing the behavioral and physical health needs of people with diabetes improves both diabetes management and psychological well-being.

Environmental justice

The San Ysidro port of entry, connecting Mexico to the United States, is one of the busiest border crossings in the world. But few people living in the adjacent community benefit economically from the trade that passes through it. Instead, San Ysidro residents — mostly low-income and more than 90% of them Latinx — are breathing in pollutants from idling vehicles waiting to cross the border and trucks driving through their community.

Professor of Public Health Penelope “Jenny” Quintana has partnered with Casa Familiar, a community development agency in San Ysidro, to measure exposure to traffic pollutants for over 15 years.

Recently, she received funding from Caltrans, California’s transportation agency, to monitor air quality related to heavy truck emissions along the border and to share this information with the community. The project will serve as a baseline to assess the effect of continued improvements on truck movement and emissions in the border region.

She thinks the air quality data will help shape policy, for example by increasing staff at the border crossing to reduce wait times and building particle-free gymnasiums where children can exercise. safe exercise.

“When you start measuring and publishing the data, it really draws a lot more attention and political will to the issue,” Quintana said.

Food insecurity

Assistant Professor of Nutrition Amanda McClain saw the choices families face when they struggle to access nutritious and culturally appropriate foods.

“Food insecurity isn’t just about money, it’s everything that comes with living in poverty or near poverty in the United States.” she says. “One month you’re paying bills and not buying enough food, and the next month you’re buying enough food and you’re not buying needed medicine or paying your bills.”

His research has established links between the stress of marginalization – food insecurity, poverty, identification as a racial or ethnic minority – and the risk of developing obesity and cardiovascular disease. Recently, his team discovered that agencies in San Diego are tackling food insecurity holistically. In addition to connecting families to food and food assistance, inter-agency partnerships allow agencies to help families find affordable housing, pay bills and access mental health services. “All of these things are connected,” she said.

BrightSide Produce, the brainchild of a marketing professor Iana A. Castro, takes a direct approach to reducing food insecurity. Student interns and staff distribute fresh produce, purchased from local wholesalers and farmers, to underserved communities in National City and San Diego each week.

“BrightSide’s primary goal is to ensure everyone has access to fresh, affordable produce,” she said.

Castro said it was run as a non-profit organization and student interns took on responsibilities related to their interests and specialties.

National City, a community in San Diego’s South Bay, has neighborhoods that are considered food deserts because they’re more than a mile from a supermarket.

“With BrightSide’s presence in 13 National City stores, all residents now have access to products within half a mile of their home,” Castro said.

Family and community interventions

Family and community connections can be a powerful way to address health disparities.

Through a partnership with the YMCA, psychology researcher Elva Arredondo and her team recently tested a pilot project that promotes physical activity and wellness among Latina mothers and their preteen daughters. At this age, girls tend to become less active and are bombarded with body image posts on social media.

“We engage their mothers because mothers still have an influential role at this point,” Arredondo said. “They can serve as a model for physical activity, which is linked to a lower risk of depression, healthier eating, commitment and family relationships. So it’s a very holistic intervention and approach.

Arredondo is also studying how community interventions can be successful in the long term.

“SDSU has all of these programs at work,” she said. “We are constantly thinking about how to translate them into practice, adapt them to diverse communities and make them sustainable.”