Chapter 05: The Problem of Diabetes among Hispanics


Chapter 05: The Problem of Diabetes among Hispanics



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In this segment, Dr. Rodriguez explains why she abandoned her original intentions to work with diabetes in the Hispanic population. She explains that obesity is a cultural and medical issue for all patients. She talks about the centrality of (unhealthy) foods in Hispanic culture and the challenges of changing deeply engrained habits.



Publication Date



The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center


Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

Overview; Story Codes Professional Path; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents; Personal Background; Professional Path; Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine; Cultural/Social Influences

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History


Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

OK. You said you had gone to San Antonio to—with also the intention of providing some kind of medical care for the Hispanic community. And I’m wondering where that piece, how that evolved over the course of your increasing interest in oncology.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Well, it didn’t evolve. And I can’t say exactly why. But I did not meet anyone who was particularly, if you will, engaging, or interested in bringing the residents into their projects, or their research or their initiatives. A lot of the work that we would do, or the training that we received in the management of diabetes was largely in the clinics, in the ambulatory clinics. And diabetes is a very difficult illness. It’s a chronic illness. It’s very difficult, because it is so directly linked, or at least adult onset diabetes is so directly linked to lifestyle and diet. And I’ve come to appreciate, as I’ve grown older, how much we are, if you will, defined, or married, for lack of a better word, to habit in diet. It is one of the most—I think next to cigarette abuse, dietary changes are another very challenging and difficult aspect of health. And, you know, despite all of the recommendations of the food pyramid and despite all the models being very thin on television, and despite the entire obsession of our culture with being thin, etc., etc., we are growing more obese as a nation, which is a very interesting disconnect, if you will, of what is presented on the surface of the culture, versus what is the reality of the culture. And the same is—so, in Hispanic culture it is very hard to shift dietary habits. We love to eat, and I speak for myself as well, we love to eat, first of all. Food is an important part of our daily family rituals. Certain types of foods are very engrained in our history as a culture. And most of them taste very good, and most of them are not very good, if you’re a diabetic.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:


Alma Rodriguez, MD:

So, I felt, honestly, in my diabetes clinics week to week, I felt like I was just holding hands and telling my patients, well, your blood sugar is high again. There was very little that changed from visit to visit. You could change the medications, we could change the dose of insulin, the timing, etc. But they still work with—they work where they were.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Right. And they were going to go home to families.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

And they were going to go home to the same pattern of behavior.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

So making a move into something you could really have an impact on, then?

Alma Rodriguez, MD:


Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, makes sense. Makes a lot of sense. OK, well, I just wanted to kind of pick up that piece, because it seemed like such an important motive. And we kind of lost track of that long the way.

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Chapter 05: The Problem of Diabetes among Hispanics