TOAW Keynote Spotlight: Dr. Amelie Ramirez
Published: August 22, 2018
Texas Obesity Awareness Week (TOAW) including the Texas Health Champion Award Ceremony was established in the 80th Legislative Session (2007) by House Bill 2313 and is designated to occur in the second week of September each year. The purpose of TOAW is to raise awareness of the health risks associated with obesity and to encourage Texans to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
In this 11th year of recognizing public health leaders in Texas, we would like to introduce this year’s keynote speaker Dr. Amelie Ramirez.
Dr. Ramirez is an internationally renowned health disparities researcher at UT Health San Antonio and has 30 years of experience conducting behavioral and communications projects to reduce cancer, increase screening rates and clinical trial participation, prevent tobacco use, and improve healthy lifestyles among U.S. Latinos.
Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez
Professor and Interim Chair of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio
Director of Salud! America
We wanted to get to know Dr. Ramirez a little better so we asked her a few personal questions as well as her thoughts on public health. Read her answers below:
What is your favorite type of physical activity on a weekend?
I love to do yoga to decrease stress from the week. I also love working on my lavender garden.
What is one thing the general public should know about health disparities and what resources are available to help drive policy and system change at the local level?
Health disparities are preventable differences in the burden of disease or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations.
That’s why we need to promote health equity. Health equity is realized when everyone has a fair and just opportunity to succeed and be as healthy as possible.
To achieve health equity, everyone plays a role. The one thing we can all do is to make sure our voices are heard. We can participate at all levels of our society (local, state and national) by volunteering, providing public comment, serving on local boards and commissions, and voting.
You can also sign up for health equity updates with Salud America!, our national program based at UT Health San Antonio that seeks to inspire people to drive healthy community changes for the health of Latino and all families. You can check out our program’s action opportunities or use our Salud Report Card to see local data on obesity, food access, physical activity, and health equity issues compared to the state and nation, and comparing Latinos to non-Latinos. You can then share this data with colleagues, health departments, and elected officials to push for healthy policy and systems change.
In your 30 years of experience conducting behavioral communications projects, what was one of the most surprising results that came from these studies?
The toughest thing is how to encourage people to change their behaviors, even when it’s for their own good. Health behaviors are so entwined with the way we were brought up, our families, and our culture that it is difficult to change learned behaviors.
That is why I’m a firm believer in the Dr. Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory premise that we can be motivated to change by learning our behaviors from others that are similar to us, and the importance of encouraging self-efficacy to create positive changes. Our Salud America! program, for example, uses Social Cognitive Theory to develop case studies of Salud Hero role models who have made healthy policy and system changes in their communities and schools. We have ingrained this theory into all our communications projects over the years, resulting in increased screening behaviors, increased healthy lifestyle choices, and decreased risky health behaviors.
From your experience in public health, what is one thing that young aspiring professionals should know about this kind of work?
Young and aspiring health professionals should know that your work is forever changing, especially now with so many new multimedia channels to disseminate health information and finding a reliable and trustworthy source to deliver your health information. There is a tremendous need to capture your audience’s attention and deliver much-needed health messages, but we have so many competing mediums and channels that pose a challenge for all of us. My own work has expanded into areas I never thought imaginable, from using social media to raise health awareness, to developing apps to help breast cancer patients adhere to their prescribed medications, to creating a bilingual text messaging program to help South Texans quit smoking. These new technologies keep you on your toes, and keep you searching for innovative ways to take advantage of them and reach people where they are, in real time, to change behaviors. My work in this arena has been extremely rewarding. I embrace the change and the challenges and, if you start with an open mind, you will always enjoy what you do.
What’s a good takeaway message for attendees at the Texas Health Champion Award Ceremony?
With regards to health promotion and prevention, the main message still boils down to eating healthy and natural foods and regular physical activity are the keys to good health—so enjoy and make the right choice the easy choice—let’s be good role models for our future generations.
Tell us one thing we don’t know about you.
I’m a pretty much an open book—I love my family and enjoy being around my friends and deeply appreciate the wonderful team of colleagues that I have at the Institute of Health Promotion Research. I also enjoy ranching in our little piece of heaven in the Texas Hill Country (Rancho Cielito Lindo) raising Dorper sheep, feeding our pet longhorns, T-bone and Sirloin, and growing our lavender to create some Zen in our lives.
You can see Dr. Ramirez’s keynote address, "Salud America! Promoting Health Equity Using Digital Strategies in Texas and Beyond" on September 13, 2018 at the 11th Annual Texas Health Champion Award Ceremony!