John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, along with Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, Representative R.D. “Bobby” Guerra and County Judge Ramon Garcia, served as special guests at a first-of-its-kind, region wide community event titled “Healthy Families, Healthy Communities Expo” at the McAllen Convention Center on Saturday. The event, hosted by Texas A&M Healthy South Texas, offered education, demonstrations and information about lifestyle changes to improve the well-being and health outcomes for more than 1,600 expectant mothers, young parents and their families in attendance.

“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.”

A number of vendors from area organizations provided resources in wellness, nutrition, physical activity, parenting, safety, health education and more. 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. The City of McAllen taught participants about mosquito control, and regional hospitals and local clinics performed health screenings. Doctors Hopsital at Renaissance and Driscoll Health Plan participated as gold level sponsors, and McAllen Dental Associates (Dr. Joey Cazares) was the silver level sponsor. A host of information, interactive exhibits and education was provided by more than 40 different vendors.

“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,” 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.”

An inaugural event of Healthy South Texas, an unprecedented effort to promote preventive health across the region, 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.

“A strong and successful future for Texas is only possible if we ensure that the next generation of Texans is healthy and well-educated,” Hinojsa 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.”

Every hour, door prizes were given, such as a crib complete with mattress, sheets and a mobile; an all-in-one convertible car seat, a pack and play playard, a toddler bed, activity table and toys. The first 750 families through the door received diaper bags loaded with essentials; and the first 300 families received diapers.

“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.”

Healthy South Texas is the pilot project of Healthy Texas, and according to Sharp, it’s 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.”

— Lindsey Hendrix

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