Joseph Sharkey, Ph.D., M.P.H., RD

Joseph R. Sharkey, Ph.D., M.P.H., RD, professor and director of the Program for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) School of Rural Public Health, was awarded a $268,974 grant from the AARP Foundation Sustainable Solutions to Hunger for the PROMOTORAS Project to develop and implement a program to “Increase Food Security among Mexican-Origin Seniors in Texas Border Colonias: Promotoras as Agents of Change.”

“This project results from prior and current work in South Texas colonias and input from promotoras de salud (promotoras) and other community partners about the critical need for training and education to reduce food insecurity in older adults,” Dr. Sharkey said. “This project will fill this need and empower promotoras to reduce food insecurity among Mexican-origin adults 50 and older (older adults) through tailored education and skill-building.”

Texas ranks in the top four states for food insecurity among adults 40-49 years, 50-59 years, and age 60 and older.  The problem of extremes of food insecurity is more pronounced in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Project objectives are to: 1) determine educational and skill needs of Mexican-origin older adults and community promotoras; 2) develop and deliver curricula and instructional materials that provide promotoras with knowledge and skill-building training to improve food security in older adults through tailored education and skill building on food acquisition and preparation using community food resources; and 3) increase the knowledge and skills of Mexican-origin older adults to acquire and prepare healthy and affordable meals using existing resources.

The proposed training and education activities will develop and disseminate tailored Spanish-language training materials about food acquisition and preparation to promotoras and older adults.

For older adults, short-term outcomes include changes in knowledge, skills and food sourcing (accessibility, affordability, adequacy and appropriateness). Medium-term outcomes include improvement of dietary intake.

Community-level short-term outcomes include greater awareness of food insecurity among community groups and increased knowledge and skills for promotoras. Mid-term outcomes include increased community linkages and increased community capacity through promotoras and community partners to identify older adults at risk for food insecurity.

Dr. Sharkey serves as project director and is assisted by co-investigators Dr. Wesley Dean and Julie A. St. John; promotora-researchers Maria Davila, Thelma Aguillon, Mayte Garza, Esther Valdez and Hilda Maldonado; coordinators Raquel Flores and Melissa Gómez; graduate research associates Gabriela Arandia and Courtney Nalty; research interns Anyka Costilla, Natalie Rangel and Rebeca Salinas; and business coordinator Sandy Huelsebusch.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell