MENDOTA — When customers come into his store, Joseph Riofrio sees the positive effects of an ongoing study in Mendota on the health of farmworkers and their job risks.

Hispanic farmworkers are more concerned about diabetes and their sugar intake, something Riofrio did not see a few years ago.

“Now they’re reading the sides of the foods and drinks for sugar content,” said Riofrio, the owner of Westside Grocery and a Mendota City Council member. That education process is one part of the MICASA study, which is being conducted by the University of California at Davis. MICASA is an acronym for “Mexican Immigration to California: Agricultural Safety and Acculturation.”

Such a project is vital because of the role farmworkers play in the Valley’s farming economy, study coordinators and health experts say.

“Without a healthy work force to support, the ag industry will suffer,” said Laurie Primavera, associate director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute.

It’s important to study and manage the health conditions of farmworkers, because their occupation is physically demanding and exposes them to dust and other environmental hazards, she said.

Studies such as MICASA can lead to family discussions about diabetes, breast cancer and other illnesses, health issues that are less expensive to treat early on, said Dr. Anna Marie Gonzalez, a physician with the Kerman Health Center.

“Just by talking about it does in some ways change behaviors,” she said.

By changing their lifestyles, farmworkers also can set good examples for younger generations to seek better access to health care, which can help reduce public health costs in the future, Gonzalez said.

An additional benefit of the study is to help provide a safe and secure domestic food supply, said Norma Forbes, executive director of Fresno Healthy Communities Access Partners, a nonprofit that works to improve health-care access in the Valley.

Having healthy farmworkers “is key to achieving that,” she said.

The project studies on-the-job hazards and health risks for farmworkers, their muscular and skeletal problems and their adjustment to American culture.

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