As the end of day two of the PHAST Texas trip is coming to a close, I have begun to reflect on my initial impressions of the South Texan community. Prior to arrival in Texas, I was prepared to see a variety of public health problems in the area. Cameron County is not only one of the poorest areas in the United States, it is also one of the most overweight areas in the United States and overall health in the area is poor as a result.
On our first day in Texas, our project leader took us on a tour of the city of Brownsville, where we are working to analyze the walkability of neighborhoods in the area. While on the tour, we saw a neighborhood that consisted of houses in varying degrees of completion, with stray dogs roaming all throughout and large fences closely surrounding every house. We saw water stations where people go to buy purified water because in some areas the city water is too poor in quality for people to drink. Throughout the tour we heard about the variety of health problems faced by the area; over 80 percent of the population is overweight or obese, the city has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, the list goes on and on.
However, the experiences that have stuck out the most so far during my Texas trip are not those of the problems the area faces, but rather the positive attitudes and hardworking nature of the community. The Brownsville community hosts a variety of programs to promote healthier lifestyles and empower residents to take charge of their well-being. The city hosts a Biggest Loser challenge every year, which consists of weigh-ins, weekly physical activities, and occasional nutrition lessons for individuals to participate in. This year, the challenge has over 1300 participants from the community, who all are eager to take the first step in improving their health. The city also held an event last year where they closed down the roads to vehicles and encouraged people to walk through downtown Brownsville, all in order to promote new walking trails throughout the city. The event was a great success and thousands of people came to the event on a Friday evening to walk throughout their community. Tomorrow morning I will head to a Zumba class, which is only one of many of the free weekly exercise classes held in the community to which dozens of people participate in every day.
My impression of Brownsville is of a community that is highly engaged and determined to improve their situation. This is a community that is actively involved in the programs provided to them and is further motivated to bring about change and improve the health of their city.