MCALLEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The Rio Grande Valley is facing a diabetes epidemic. Wednesday, South Texas Health System and South Texas College held a panel discussion about the challenges communities face.

Type two diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and is typically related to poor diet and exercise which is a common problem in the Rio Grande Valley.

The McAllen-Edinburg-Mission tri-city area came in as the most overweight and obese city in America. Around 30% of the valley population has a weight-related health issue.

Dr. Sujan Gogu, a family, sport, and pain physician in Hidalgo county, said the issue is getting worse.

“A lot of times I think we neglect our health, unfortunately. I think the pandemic really fostered that even further with the other factors that are economically, with the factors of people losing jobs, losing insurance,” he said.

Dr. Gogu added that diabetes can be a silent threat and that people can have the disease for a while without realizing it.

“I think it’s really important that we get patients to seek care, routine care, not just when things are bad but when things are also going good for you. It’s just like your car: you need to get an oil change,” Gogu said.

The panel of health and nutrition experts said part of the reason the valley has issues with weight is due to culture.

“You need to understand our culture and you need to understand that our culture revolves around food,” said Moises Arjona Jr., who represented Unidos Contra la Diabetes RGV at the event. “How do you take away the one thing that comforts us, which is food?”

Hidalgo County Precinct 2 Commissioner Eddie Cantu said his district is battling food and health issues on a generational level by instilling healthy habits in children.

“We’ve always known that children sometimes teach adults,” Cantu said. “And they set an example for their parents. So, we’re trying to get them to eat well and be active.”