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New grant supports NMSU health literacy program for low-income families

The New Mexico State University Foundation, on behalf of the College of Health and Human Services, recently received a $20,000 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico to support health literacy education for low-income ethnic populations in Otero and Sierra counties in southern New Mexico.


People standing with big check
Pictured left to right, Kassie Ckodre, NMSU Foundation; Dr. Karen Kopera-Frye, NMSU College of Health and Social Services; Craig Holden, NMSU Foundation; Brien Murphy, NMSU Foundation; and Consuelo Bolagh-Cowder, BCBSNM

Funding for NMSU’s Intergenerational Health Education and Active Living Training program for Homes, or IHEALTH, comes from Blue Cross Blue Shield’s signature community investment initiative, “Healthy Kids, Healthy Families.” This program partners with nonprofit organizations that offer sustainable, measurable programs that positively affect the health and wellness of children and their families.

IHEALTH is a yearlong program designed to address and reverse the growing trends of adult obesity and diabetes in ethnically diverse families, specifically targeting the Hispanic population in Sierra county and the Mescalero Apache tribe in Otero county.

Led by NMSU College of Health and Social Services Associate Dean Karen Kopera-Frye, Ph.D., IHEALTH is natural extension of two innovative and successful programs recently completed in Doña Ana County, and will teach families how to eat a healthier, culturally relevant diet through nutritional education, increase exercise and physical activity, improve and evaluate well-being and share what they learn with at least one additional family member.

“These programs have had a truly lasting effect on raising the health literacy in our area,” Kopera-Frye said. “It’s not that people don’t want to change and make the right choices. Oftentimes, they just don’t know how to make those changes. What we are assessing is knowledge gained, and we did see positive results in our previous programs.”

Kopera-Frye said the IHEALTH program will target 90 family cohorts, consisting of at least one child under the age of 8, one parent and one additional relative (grandparent, aunt, uncle or cousin). And, many families bring more than one child to community programs, according to Kopera-Frye, which means the impact of IHEALTH has potential to be greater than anticipated.

Once families are signed up, Kopera-Frye and her team – which includes NMSU Public Health Science alumna, Ashley Graboski-Bauer – will travel to centralized locations within each county to both educate and demonstrate to participants how to improve their quality of life and how to sustain it when the program is over.

“Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico is proud to support the IHEALTH program,” said Janice Torrez, divisional vice president and chief of staff, BCBSNM. “This program is making a difference by educating participants in healthier eating habits and increased physical activity. Healthier habits can lead people to better wellness, and helping our communities live healthy lives is part of our mission.”

The grant covers the operational costs of the program, including $10 Walmart gas cards to aid participants in covering costs to travel to training sessions and $15 vouchers for participants to purchase fresh, seasonal produce from local farmers at area farmers’ markets.

“We show families how to use fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables in our cooking demonstrations and then, we give them recipes to take home,” Kopera-Frye said. “The collaboration is good for our families and our local farmers.”

Kopera-Frye said that she has already been contacted by additional community partners who recognize the potential of IHEALTH and hopes to secure additional network collaborations to have an even greater impact on the health and wellness of southern New Mexico’s Native American and Hispanic populations.

“We are always seeking ways to improve the quality of life for our residents and community partners. IHEALTH, and programs like it, have been a joy to implement and watch succeed. One family tells another family, and then they all flock to our program.” Kopera-Frye added. “Thanks to the monumental support of Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico, now we can reach even more of our New Mexico families.”

Kopera-Frye said she and her team are still in process of recruiting families to participate in IHEALTH. To learn more, or participate, call 575-646-4693 or email Kopera-Frye at kfrye@nmsu.edu.