One day this past July, Sergio Bermudez, a middle-aged father of two, suddenly fainted, hitting his head hard as he fell to the floor. When his anxious family rushed him to the hospital, they received some shocking news: he was diagnosed with diabetes. Fortunately, everything turned out all right, because Mr. Bermudez is just a character in a comic strip. And because the strip he appears in, Baldo, is one of the country’s most popular Hispanic cartoon strips, nationally syndicated in more than 200 newspapers, the whole episode was designed to help raise awareness of diabetes risks, prevention and treatment in the Hispanic community.

According to the federal Office of Minority Health, more than 2.2 million Hispanic adults in the U.S. have diabetes. On average, Hispanics are 1.6 times more likely to have the disease than non-Hispanic whites, while Mexican Americans (the largest Hispanic subgroup) are almost twice as likely to have diagnosed diabetes than non-Hispanic whites. And here’s the most troubling disparity of all: In 2005 the death rate from diabetes in Hispanics was 60% higher than for whites.

To help spread the word about this serious health threat, Baldo co-creators Hector Cantú and Carlos Castellanos partnered with the National Alliance for Hispanic Health. In the final installment of the special series of diabetes-related Baldo strips, which ran from June 30 to July 10, readers were encouraged to call the Alliance’s toll-free Su Familia National Hispanic Family Health Helpline—(866) 783-2645 or (866) SU-FAMILIA— to learn more about the disease. Callers to the hotline can speak to a health promotion advisor in Spanish or English to get a free bilingual booklet about diabetes, answers to their questions, and referrals to diabetes services in their community.

Baldo (www.baldocomics.com), the first nationally syndicated comic strip about a Latino family, was launched in 2000 and now appears daily in newspapers like The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Dallas Morning News, as well as Spanish-language newspapers. The strip’s hero is 15-year-old Baldo Bermudez, a “daydreaming teenager who’s trying to be the coolest kid in school and have the best wheels in town.” In addition to Baldo’s widower father Sergio (Papi), the Bermudez family also includes little sister Gracie and great-aunt Tia Carmen, who helps Sergio raise the kids.

Baldo

In the diabetes awareness strips, Baldo helps his father learn to manage his disease by encouraging him to exercise more, while Gracie volunteers to help Papi eat a healthier diet. The complete sequence of strips can be viewed at http://baldocomics.com/blog/2009/07/. Previous Baldo storylines have addressed other Hispanic health issues, such as the need for linguistically competent health care and the problems that can arise when kids—in this case, Baldo—are asked to serve as interpreters for non-English-speaking patients. “The key to taking charge of diabetes in our community is awareness, diagnosis and treatment,” says Cantú. “That’s why we [were] so proud to partner with the Alliance to get the word out about diabetes and what we can all do for good health.”

Adds Dr. Jane L. Delgado, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, “It [was] an inspiration to work with Mr. Cantú and Mr. Castellanos, two talented young men who are putting their artistic and creative gifts behind an effort to help all families achieve better health. Their work is an example of how we can each use our gifts to help our neighbors and communities build a healthier America.”

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