ESL classes may help deliver public health messages

A potentially effective way for recent US immigrants to learn about heart disease prevention may be in the English-as-a-second-language (ESL) classroom environment, according to a study that focused on San Diego, CA-based Latino immigrants.

"The ESL environment presents an ideal avenue for reaching immigrants and others with limited English proficiency, since people in these classes can be considered to be relatively motivated to improve both their general knowledge and their specific English language abilities," said lead author John P. Elder, PhD, MPH, of San Diego State University in California.

More than half of US minority populations are classified as functionally illiterate. Members of these groups experience difficulty complying with medical advice and suffer reduced access to public health messages, according to the study.

Elder and colleagues enlisted Latino ESL students in the San Diego area to take a series of three-hour classes on heart health and nutrition. The classes covered topics such as fat and cholesterol, eating habits, food labels, and blood pressure, and were designed for adults with limited English skills.

The researchers enlisted another group of Latino ESL students to serve as a comparison group. This group took a series of stress management classes instead of the heart-health classes. Elder and colleagues took blood pressure, cholesterol, waist and hip, and weight measurements of all study participants at the start of the study period.

Three months later, the cholesterol and blood pressure measurements, as well as nutrition knowledge and fat-avoidance behavior, of the students who took the heart-health classes had improved relative to the comparison group, the researchers found.

But some gains made by the heart-health group did not persist. After six months they remained superior to the comparison group only in terms of nutrition knowledge and fat avoidance. The comparison group had caught up

Contact: John P. Elder
Center for the Advancement of Health

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