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MCALLEN, RGV – Joined by numerous VIPs from across the Rio Grande Valley, Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp was keynote speaker at the “Healthy Families, Healthy Communities Expo” at the McAllen Convention Center on Saturday.

The Texas A&M-sponsored expo provided education, demonstrations and information about lifestyle changes to improve the well-being and health outcomes of more than 1,600 expectant mothers, young parents and their families in attendance.

Starr Flores
Starr Flores

In a bi-lingual presentation, Chancellor Sharp spoke about the importance of eating correctly. He stated that 85 per cent of being healthy is to do things in moderation, to eat correctly, exercise and get enough sleep.

“We’re reaching out specifically to young families because they hold the future: when their children are given a healthy start, we can look forward to a more vibrant community for generations to come,” Sharp said. “This event is just the beginning of that journey.”

The expo was part of the Healthy South Texas initiative, an unprecedented effort to promote preventive health across the region and one of Chancellor Sharp’s top projects. He said the expo was just the beginning. “We hope Healthy South Texas will, after infiltrating the Lone Star State, eventually serve as a national model for improved overall health.”

Focusing on the highest impact diseases in the region, including diabetes, asthma and infectious disease, Texas A&M says the Healthy South Texas initiative will bring together experts from medicine, nursing, pharmacy, biomedical science, public health, architecture and extension “to engage families, enhance education, promote behavior change, and improve quality of medical care and disease outcomes.”

“Our goal is to provide as many young families as we can with support, motivation, resources and knowledge that empowers them to take control of their health and serve as an example for future generations,” said Starr Flores, regional director of Healthy South Texas. “Lifestyle habits developed during the early years often become lifelong habits and we want to perpetuate a healthy lifestyle for all.”

Sharp was joined at the event by numerous VIPs from the Valley, including U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, state Senator Juan Hinojosa, state Rep. R.D. ‘Bobby’ Guerra, Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance co-founder Alonzo Cantu.

In addition to over 1,600 South Texas residents, the expo attracted more than 40 vendors from area organizations. They provided a host of information and interactive exhibits, including resources in wellness, nutrition, physical activity, parenting, safety, health education and more.

For example, Texas A&M AgriLife agents conducted cooking demonstrations with easy, nutritious recipes on the main stage, while health educators from the Texas A&M Health Science Center provided one-on-one education on diabetes, asthma and infectious disease prevention and control. Participants were also encouraged to sign up for programs that focus on reducing the highest impact diseases and their consequences, including diabetes, asthma and infectious disease.

The City of McAllen taught participants about mosquito control, and regional hospitals and local clinics performed health screenings.  “Today we got to witness top performing hospitals—like Doctors Hospital at Renaissance and Rio Grande Regional—working alongside community-based organizations, private medical practices and, of course, Texas A&M University to give McAllen residents the very best resources for improving their health and well-being,” McAllen Mayor Darling said. “It’s a truly unique approach, and, in my opinion, is the best approach we’ve seen so far at reaching our common goal: a healthier, more vibrant South Texas.”

In his remarks, Senator Hinojosa spoke in English and Spanish. He said: “We must not eat too much tortillas, barbacoa and menudo.” Chancellor Sharp had earlier noted that “without Juan Hinojosa, your Senator, this effort could not be happening.” Sharp pointed out that in his capacity as vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, Hinojosa had been able to secure $10 million dollars for the state to help fund Healthy South Texas.

In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Senator Hinojosa returned the compliment. “John Sharp has been a very good friend to the Valley and South Texas. He does not forget where he came from and he remembers his friends,” Senator Hinojosa said. Sharp and Hinojosa served together in the Texas House of Representatives in 1981 and have been good friends since.

“A strong and successful future for Texas is only possible if we ensure that the next generation of Texans is healthy and well-educated,” Senator Hinojosa said. “And it’s wonderful to see so many community members and representatives from organizations in the Rio Grande Valley coming together at events such as this one with a shared vision of creating a culture of better health in South Texas.”

Rep. Guerra said he was very impressed with Texas A&M’s attention to detail. “We are most fortunate to have this be the first program of its type here in the Valley,” Guerra told the Rio Grande Guardian. He suggested that because diabetes and obesity are so common in the Valley, promoting a program of eating nutritionally from an early age “could be a cultural game changer to make the Valley better.”

Doctors Hospital at Renaissance and Driscoll Health Plan participated as gold level sponsors, and McAllen Dental Associates (Dr. Joey Cazares) was the silver level sponsor.