WESLACO, RGV – An associate professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health campus in McAllen gave the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council an update on the level of diabetes in the region.

Ann Millard said one of the ways to reduce diabetes in the Valley was through more exercise, so she recommended the council of government work on multi-modal transportation projects.

“Our rate of diabetes in the Valley, according to the best, most iron-clad scientific evidence that we have is that 28 percent of people who are aged 18 and up have diabetes,” Millard said. “Another about 30 percent have pre-diabetes so the situation is, we have an epidemic existing and accelerating.”

Millard works in the Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences division at A&M’s School of Public Health campus in McAllen. She has worked for the university for the past 16 years.

“When I first came to the Valley I was asked by people in the community, please help us with diabetes. I have found out a lot about diabetes since moving here. It turns out a lot of interesting and saddening research has been done over the last ten or 15 years,” Millard to the LRGVDC’s board of directors.

“But, there is also good news in this research. One of the things we have found out is that in the Valley is we have a very high rate of diabetes. It was not news to the community. It was news to me. That is bad news, but the good news is there are some very cheap and appropriate ways to prevent and reverse diabetes.”

Millard said the cheap and appropriate ways to prevent and reverse diabetes involves healthy eating and physical activity.

“So, why am I here, talking to the Development Council today? The way to reverse and prevent this epidemic is partly related to economic development and multimodal transportation. With multimodal transportation, people get more physically active. That is a really big step forward. You all are in charge of planning for the Valley so if you would help with that, we would really love it.”

Millard said healthy eating is another important part of the equation. “We have been working on that at Texas A&M and with many organizations in the Valley. Coordinating our efforts is something that is going to be important and helpful for the future.”

Asked by incoming LRGVDC President Norma Garza if she was impressed with the healthy lunch on offer at the COG meeting, Millard said yes. “Drink water,” she said, noting that water was the only drink available with the lunch.

Unidos Contra La Diabetes

Immediately after Millard spoke, Salomon Torres Unidos, program manager for Unidos Contra La Diabetes (UCD) made a pitch to the LRGVDC board. UCD is a non-profit group that is hosted by UT Health Science Center-Houston, in affiliation with the School of Public Health in Brownsville.

Torres explained that he had recently met with Ron Garza, executive director of LRGVDC and his staff to discuss a “funding opportunity that may be good for the Development Council to take the lead on.”

Torres said UCD would be exploring this opportunity within the next few weeks to see if it something that the council would like to move on.

“I represent Unidos Contra La Diabetes, it is a coalition that has been around, very low-key for several years. They are now embarking on more action-oriented activities that will bring resources to local communities in order to reduce the rate of diabetes that Dr. Millard just told you about,” Torres said.

“One of the ways we want to do that is, if we find funding opportunities that fits the mission of our coalition… our coalition is comprised of the two university systems, A&M and UT, and local clinics, also non-profit groups, community-based groups, colonia groups. It is a pretty diverse group.”

Torres said one potential opportunity to increase funding to fight diabetes has come about through the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

“The Center for Disease Control would fund applicants around the country, between $1.5 and $3 million a year for five years – if you are going to do innovative strategies to reduce diabetes, to help people manage it,” Torres said.

“We have lots of ideas on how to put money into innovative strategies that local committees could do here, through health departments. We want to bring those ideas to the Development Council in order to turn it into a very competitive grant.”

Torres said the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention will only make 15 grants across the country.

“The total funding is $150 million. We want a piece of that. We want to take a stab at this rate of diabetes that is way too high. Our mission at UDC, between now and 2030, we have a numerical goal, which is to reduce the rate of diabetes in the Valley by ten percent. It is ambitious, but we have got to reach high given the economic and personal cost that is being incurred due to this high rate of diabetes.”

Torres said the next step is for UCD to continue the dialogue with LRGVDC staff.

“If we are in a position at your next board meeting to submit to you a competitive proposal, we are going to present it to you, jointly with the Development Council, in order to compete for it (the CDC grant). It is due July 9. We think sleep is overrated so we are willing to give it a good go in order to get some of that funding into the Rio Grande Valley.”

LRGVDC President Garcia thanked Torres for the “good information.”