236530 Farmworkers feed the nation while enduring health inequities at work and at home

Tuesday, November 1, 2011: 4:30 PM

Martha S. Vela Acosta, MD, MS, PhD , The Kresge Foundation, Troy, MI
Don Villarejo, PhD , California Institute for Rural Studies, Davis, CA
Jennie McLaurin, MD, MPH , Migrant Clinicians Network, Austin, TX
Domestic production and U.S. exports of labor-intensive agricultural products – fruits, vegetables and ornamental crops – have expanded rapidly during the past several decades. The most successful of these crops require hand labor to grow and harvest. Migrant and seasonal farmworkers (hereafter farmworkers) are the workforce supporting this growth. However, farmworkers are a socially vulnerable population: low-income, ethnic minority, mostly recent immigrants who often lack authorization for employment, low educational attainment, limited English proficiency, ineligible for nearly all needs-based government programs, and without any social support. Maternal and child health concerns are usually ignored under farmworkers' employment-based benefits, even if farmworkers have any such benefits. In the revolving door of this workforce, the newest entrants represent greater challenges: indigenous migrants from Central American villages and southern Mexico, speaking traditional indigenous languages, and limited Spanish; and farmworkers working under life threatening human trafficking debt-bondage. Review of national agricultural public data analyzed the effects of the increased labor-intensive agricultural crop production on the health of farmworker population and their families. Factors included demographics of the current farmworker population, living conditions, health care access, workplace risks, and longstanding disparities in Federal and state employment standards. Despite Affordable Care Act legislation, the denial of access to medical care continues for farmworkers, characterizing this major occupational group with the highest proportion of uninsured families. A plan of priority action steps is proposed to respond to the widespread prevalence of disproportionately adverse health outcomes for farmworkers and their families.

Learning Areas:
Advocacy for health and health education
Occupational health and safety
Provision of health care to the public
Public health or related public policy
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
1. Learn how the increased production of labor-intensive agricultural crops has impacted farm labor employment trends during last decades in the United States. 2. Analyze the impact of the nation’s agricultural system, health policy legislation, prevailing agricultural exceptions and regulatory provisions on farmworkers’ health disparities. 3. Discuss priority action steps to address health inequities among farmworkers and their dependents in the United States.

Keywords: Migrant Workers, Environmental Justice

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: Dr. Martha Soledad Vela Acosta received her medical degree from the University of Guanajuato’s School of Medicine in Mexico. She obtained her Masters in Environmental Health and Epidemiology, and her Ph.D. in Environmental Health and Industrial Hygiene from Colorado State University. During her service in the fields of medicine, research, academia, and community activism, she has been dedicated to addressing the health of underserved populations, in particular disproportionately-affected minorities, such as Spanish-speaking families. As a scientist, she has advanced the occupational health field, using community-based participatory research, and has established multi-disciplinary partnerships among educators, industry, scientists, advocates and policy makers in Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Guanajuato, Mexico, as well as along the Texas-Mexico border. She is well published in occupational, agriculture and environmental health and safety peer reviewed journals, particularly in relation to minority populations. She brings over 20 years of experience using an integrated systems approach for community health problem-solving. Dr. Vela Acosta is a program officer for the Kresge Foundation. She manages the Health Program’s Healthy Environments focus area, which fosters practices addressing health inequities among adults and children living in underserved urban and rural areas. As a bilingual Latina health professional and a former family practitioner, she brings a diverse background in public, environmental and occupational health and epidemiology. Dr. Vela Acosta’s efforts at the national level have succeeded in promoting collaborations between private grantmakers, organizations and governmental agencies. Her pioneering work and mentoring has been recognized by academic and public health organizations.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.