Free medical services offer help for ailing Valley

BY Bill Reagan

One of the great challenges we face in the Rio Grande Valley is the complicated interconnections between poverty, hunger, obesity and diabetes. We have very high rates of all these maladies.

About one third of our population is poor. Almost one in five is food insecure. Obesity rates are around 38 percent. Diabetes rates are twenty percent higher in the Valley than in the rest of Texas, at 28 percent.

There are about 1.3 million people in the Rio Grande Valley. Nearly half a million people are obese, 364,000 have diabetes.

Diabetes and obesity are not exclusively a problem for the poor, but they are a bigger problem for the poor than for other segments of society. The highest rates are among the third of our population living below the poverty line.

The solution to the problem of poverty is not just more jobs and higher wages, though greater economic opportunity is important. In the Rio Grande Valley the relationship between health and poverty must be addressed. There are some great resources.

Culture of Life Ministries in Harlingen serves the medical needs of people at no cost to the patient. Valley Care Mobile Clinic provides basic medical care free of charge at various locations across the Rio Grande Valley. There is a new mobile clinic, operated by the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley Medical School serving patients across the Valley.

But there needs to be a change on a more basic level. The kind of change that happens through education and cultural shifts. In Harlingen, the Mayor’s Wellness Council is working to bring about some of those changes. The city is developing parks and trails to provide citizens opportunities to get active.

Many people are poor because they are unhealthy, and they are unhealthy because they are poor. When we break the link between these two things, we’ll solve, in large measure, both problems.

Bill Reagan is executive director of Loaves & Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley.