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$3 million study aims to boost health of immigrant Latino farmworkers

May 12, 2014

Zumba key to farmworker health

Zumba classes, included in this current study, were pilot tested earlier and pictured in this video as an ideal way to help farmworkers combat obesity, one of their most serious health hazards.

Video (1 min 57 sec)

Videography by Ken Zukin and Kristen Simoes

A new, collaborative study aimed at designing and evaluating worksite-based health programs to lower the risk of obesity and diabetes among immigrant Latino farmworkers has been launched under the leadership of the University of California, Davis.

The new five-year study, to be carried out through a partnership between UC Davis; Reiter Affiliated Companies, a large California berry grower; and the Health Initiative of the Americas at UC Berkeley; was recently funded with more than $3 million in grant funds from the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

“Latino farmworkers harvest much of our fruit and vegetables, yet they face obesity and diabetes rates much higher than the general population,” said lead investigator Marc Schenker, director of the UC Migration and Health Research Center and the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, and a distinguished professor in UC Davis’ Department of Public Health Sciences.

He noted that the prevalence of obesity and diabetes has rapidly increased during the past decade in the United States. Among Latinos, the prevalence of overweight and obesity is now an alarming 78 percent, markedly higher than in the general population. Furthermore, the prevalence of diabetes among Latinos in the U.S. is almost twice that of non-Latino whites.

“To address that problem, we have created and are evaluating an obesity and diabetes prevention program that can be delivered to workers in the field,” Schenker said.

The study will include food and nutrition educational programs at the participants’ on-farm worksites, as well as exercise activities such as Zumba classes. All programs are led by community health workers or “promotoras.”

The study focuses on ranches in Salinas and Watsonville, but the ultimate goal is to disseminate the intervention program to farms throughout the state and country.

The program is designed to improve health outcomes among the farmworkers participating in the study and to evaluate those outcomes, as well as the economic impact for the employer.

“We hope that the economic benefits -- which we anticipate will be demonstrated and quantified through this study -- will help convince other companies in the agricultural industry to adopt similar programs,” Schenker said.

He added that Reiter Affiliated Companies is a model industry partner for this study because it is already invested in the health of its workers.

Co-investigators on the study include Daniel Sumner, a professor of agricultural and resource economics at UC Davis and director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center; Nancy Keim, an adjunct professor in the UC Davis Department of Nutrition; Heejung Bang, a professor of biostatistics at UC Davis; and Xochitl Castaneda, director of the Health Initiative of the Americas at UC Berkeley.

About UC Davis

UC Davis is a global community of individuals united to better humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the California state capital, UC Davis has more than 34,000 students, and the full-time equivalent of 4,100 faculty and other academics and 17,400 staff. The campus has an annual research budget of over $750 million, a comprehensive health system and about two dozen specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and 99 undergraduate majors in four colleges and six professional schools.

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