From Our Team
Improving health for the past 20 years
Posted on September 7, 2015 by Jon Law
You may have noticed the mysterious blue “20” lighting the El Paso skyline on the Wells Fargo building at night. I’ll let you in on the secret – the “20” is in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Paso del Norte Health Foundation.
Have you heard of the Health Foundation? Do you remember Walk El Paso? Have you seen the commercials with former smokers, sitting on a blue coach, with dates above their heads? How about the mom in her car practicing what she’s going to say to her daughter about the new boyfriend? These are some of our projects.
The mission of the Paso del Norte Health Foundation is to promote health and prevent disease. We provide health education and modify systems so that it’s easier for people in our community to eat healthier, be more active, quit smoking, drink less, and to embrace other healthy behaviors.
Health researchers recognize five factors that impact our health: genetics, social circumstances, environmental conditions, behavior, and medical care. For most of us, these variables don’t operate in isolation. They overlap and intersect, such that a disruption in any combination of the five can make us ill or exacerbate chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Nonetheless, of the five variables, our behaviors are most likely to affect our health over the long term. Behavioral choices account for at least 900,000 deaths in the U.S. each year; of these 40% are early deaths. We all know that we should make the healthy choice. It’s the execution that gives us trouble.
Over 20 years, what has the Paso del Norte Health Foundation done to build healthy behaviors? Our greatest success is reducing cigarette smoking, the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Since 1996, we have seen adult cigarette smoking in El Paso drop from 22% to 12%. In a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, UTEP researchers found that smoking in El Paso dropped faster than in Austin and in San Antonio during the same period. Less smoking correlates with less disease. During the same period, El Paso County had a reduction in deaths from lung cancer, from 30.4/100,000 (2004-2008) to 26.2/100,000 (2007-2011).
Beyond tobacco control, we’ve sponsored dozens of initiatives and awarded hundreds of grants. Over 20 years, the Health Foundation invested $140 million toward its mission, more than the original corpus ($130 million) received from the sale of Providence Memorial Hospital. These community investments include 1,739 grants to 330 organizations. A few of our projects: funding the biking/walking trail on the Rio Grande in the Upper Valley, starting the Texas Tech Baby Café, and developing a comprehensive health education curriculum for EPISD.
In the next 20 years, my colleagues and I are working toward population-wide changes as we’ve seen with tobacco use. Increased physical activity, decreased sedentary behavior, improved dietary habits, and reduced alcohol consumption are all important goals. However, promoting healthy living isn’t a job that any one organization can do alone. Success will require collaboration with dozens of partner organizations, local government, businesses, and committed community members. We look forward to working with you to create a region driven by the power of healthy living.
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