Obesity Epidemic in the Border Region: ICF Advancing Solutions to Preserve Public Health in our Backyard

In recent years, the border region between California and Baja California has experienced an alarming trend of increased rates of obesity among the Hispanic/Latino population. In California’s Imperial County, more than 35% of the population is obese. While just across the border in Baja California nearly 40% of people are obese. This growing health crisis, classified as an obesity epidemic, is clearly not a health issue endemic to only this region. However, there exists certain structural factors in the California Border region that contribute to a disproportionate percentage of the population being affected by obesity.   

The aim of the Third Binational Obesity Symposium, held on Sept. 26, 2018 in Tijuana, was to bring together a multisector, binational group of experts and stakeholders to share programs, practices, and strategies in removing the barriers to a healthy lifestyle for those living in the California/Baja California border region.  

Innovative Approach 

This event and the stakeholders focused on this issue are taking a unique approach using a Policy, Systems, and Environmental Change frame to better understand root causes and develop long-term solutions. This approach, dubbed PSE, seeks to go beyond programming to address the overarching, systemic issues that create the structures in which we work, live, and play. It is through this expanded strategy that experts have been able to identify some of the upstream causes of this public health crisis as it relates to our region: 

  • Difficulty in accessing healthy foods (food deserts, higher cost, etc.) 
  • Barriers to regular physical activity (lack of bike lanes, green spaces, etc.) 
  • Cheap and abundant unhealthy food options 

Now What? 

For over 25 years ICF has been a committed changemaker in the San Diego-Tijuana border region, diligently contributing to the research and funding opportunities necessary to create a healthy, resilient, and thriving border region. Through past multisector initiatives such as Dulce Wireless Tijuana (combining the chronic care model, peer-led education, and wireless technology for diabetes management), we have achieved improved patient care and health outcomes for marginalized communities.  

In 2017, ICF responded to the grim reality that 7 out of 10 households experience food insecurity in Baja California Sur. Through close partnerships, the Southern Baja Food Security Alliance was formed to deliver initiatives such as demonstration gardens at feeding kitchens, nutrition education programs, and a food recovery program to reduce food waste and distribute fresh produce to those in need.  

Moving forward from the success of these past initiatives and benefiting from shared best practices and programs from our partners at the Binational Symposium, ICF is reaffirming our commitment to finding solutions to the obesity epidemic in our border region. In 2019, one of our foundation goals will be to increase collaboration between sectors and embrace new opportunities to invest in efforts to secure the health of residents in California/Baja California for generations to come.

Contact Senior Program Office for Health, Alana Ortez (alana@icfdn.org), to join us in this endeavor!

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