Guatemala’s Sololá region, with its sparkling lake ringed by volcanoes, is exceptionally beautiful. But a hidden danger stalks the Maya people who live there.
Glucose tests conducted by Hospitalito Atitlán, WDF’s partner in the region, found that 15% of people tested had diabetes and 11% were pre-diabetic. More than 23% of the hospital’s patients are obese, and 43% are overweight.
Many factors contribute to this, according to Lyn Dickey, Hospitalito Atitlán’s Director of Development. Poverty and food insecurity have long challenged the region. Most residents speak only their maternal language - Tz’utujil, Kaqchikel or K’iche’ – and don’t understand the Spanish spoken by government and health authorities.
“Also, in this culture (as in many others), diabetes and other chronic diseases are largely accepted as the inevitable, ‘unlucky’ results of normal living. People do not accept that they have the power to control certain kinds of health outcomes.”
New factors are making the situation worse, she says. For example:
• Soft-drink deliveries are made to rural villages in the manner of milk deliveries in other times and cultures.
• The most popular foods sold by street vendors include meat deep-fried in overused oil, sweet fried dough, and a hot ‘coffee’ beverage with added sugar.
• Pre-packaged food with empty calories has displaced many traditional foods, especially plant foods high in micronutrients such as chipilin and squash seeds.
“These are seen as the best foods, desired by rich and poor, young and old,” she says.
“Changing perceptions about what is desirable, healthy, and possible requires persistence and a multifaceted approach.”
WDF’s 2021 fundraiser project 'Healthy Habits for Prevention of Chronic Disease in Guatemala' will work to change these perceptions by targeting the community’s major decision makers regarding family diet and lifestyle: women.
“This project will educate women community leaders to be agents of change. It is the first systematic effort to spread understanding about diabetes prevention to Maya villagers, and a sensible and useful next step in our nine-year effort to reduce diabetes in the area,” Ms Dickey says.
The project will be managed by Asociación K’aslimaal, the non-profit organisation that manages Hospitalito Atitlán. It will be rolled out in six villages over a 2-year period (2021-22).
Its targets include:
- 6000 illustrated booklets on nutrition, physical activity, hygiene and diabetes management in three indigenous Maya languages and Spanish distributed.
- 210 indigenous women in village-leadership roles trained to transmit primary prevention methods to reduce chronic disease risk.
- 1,050 people receive peer-to-peer training and educational booklets from Healthy Habits participants
- 6,000 people achieve better access to physical activities
- 300 families acquire family gardens, including instruction guidelines and seeds
- 75 women school leaders receive support in order to comply with existing laws prohibiting unhealthy food in schools