Did you know that kidney disease kills more Americans annually than breast cancer or prostate cancer? Yet, while virtually everyone is aware of breast and prostate cancer, few people think about kidney disease. That’s one reason why it’s called “a silent killer.” Another is that kidney disease often has no symptoms until it is at an advanced and dangerous stage.

That’s why it’s so important to understand the risks and warning signs of kidney disease.

By far the greatest risks are obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. The good news is that all four of these conditions can be alleviated, managed, and in many cases prevented, by diet and lifestyle changes. However, one of the populations most vulnerable to the risk of kidney disease is children—because they depend for information and lifestyle opportunities upon the adults in their lives.

Right here in Santa Barbara, up to 40% of children living on the eastside of Santa Barbara in the Milpas Corridor, which is predominantly Latino, are overweight. Sadly, a whopping 71% of adult Americans nationwide are overweight, while nearly 38% of them are obese, regardless of ethnicity.

To help protect Santa Barbara children and their parents, I am proud to be working with the Eastside Wellness Initiative, a newly formed nonprofit housed at Franklin Elementary School and Community Service Center.

The initiative offers a comprehensive program of nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle information and support to residents of the Milpas Corridor. What is really unique about the approach is a focus on the “stressors” facing this low-income community, which increasingly include living in a state of fear because of the present administration’s anti-immigrant policies.

Utilizing questionnaires, the Eastside Wellness Initiative will determine the emotional wellbeing of each family and then, with the help of college students in psychology and social service, support the families’ emotional health so that they will be able to better apply healthy lifestyle changes.

Alejandra Gutierrez, the executive director of the Eastside Wellness Initiative, is well-acquainted with both the trials and triumphs of kidney disease because her father is a patient of mine who is doing well with his third donated kidney. She has recruited a team of bilingual pre-med college students to help her educate and inspire students and their families to eat better, exercise more, reduce their stress, and improve their chances for living long and healthy lives.

Her program will include a community garden and a twice-monthly on-site farmers market full of fresh fruits and vegetables; games and sports offered after-school, as well as opening the gym in the evenings and on weekends so that families can exercise together; stress-reduction offerings like yoga and meditation; and periodic health presentations from local healthcare providers and the pre-med volunteers. Her goal is to dramatically lower the prevalence of childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes in Santa Barbara.

The program is a resurrection of the one I created as the Diabetes Resource Center before I was diagnosed with lung cancer. Not having the personal stamina to keep the DRC going while I was battling illness, I am so honored and grateful that Alejandra and her team are offering it the community. In addition to improving the health of children and their parents, the program is supporting first generation college students in pursuing their dreams of going into medicine. I am proud to serve as medical director of such a fine and worthy program.