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Friday, September 16, 2016

Bicycle and Soccer Program Comes to Claremont Village

Bronx Lebanon Hospital, a partner with Bronx Health REACH, is creating a bike and soccer program for residents of the Claremont Village community. The goal of the bicycle program is to  provide exercise and, very importantly, to establish bike lanes for the Claremont Village neighborhood connecting Mott Haven, Hunts Point and Claremont, with safe bike routes.

The bicycle program offers, every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. the Claremont in Motion Bike Ride Program  free, learn to ride classes and group rides  open to anyone ten years and older. Held at the Claremont Neighborhood Center, participants are first evaluated on their biking abilities, and if needed, offered riding lessons. Participants also take a road safety course before heading out for a group ride. Group rides have consisted of trips to the Bronx Zoo, the Bronx Botanical Garden, Crotona Park, and Randalls Island. Bike New York assists in the riding lessons and group rides. Another aspect of the bicycle program is working with Recycle a Bicycle to refurbish old bicycles, which will provide participants in the program with an opportunity to learn basic bicycle mechanics.

Street Soccer USA, and Bronx Lebanon Hospital, with support from Bronx Health REACH, is partnering on a  soccer program. On Saturday, September 10th a “Back to School” event was held at CS 55, with soccer training workshops being held for youths aged 5 to 18. The main attraction of the event, the Street Soccer USA Stadium, is where youth participating in the event can play short, 15 minute games during the day. The goal of the soccer program is to establish an after school program at CS 55 starting in October, and eventually build a soccer court within Claremont Village using  an underutilized space on the property.

Assemblyman Victor M. Pichardo - Making Government a Force for Good

Bronx Health REACH continues its series on individuals who have made a significant contribution to not only the Institute for Family Health, but to the African-American, Black and Latino communities in the Bronx where they have been strong activists for needed change. A notable member of this group of change agents is New York Assemblymember Victor M. Pichardo, representing the 86th New York State Assembly District, which includes the University and Morris Heights, Mount Eden, Kingsbridge, Tremont, and Fordham sections of the Bronx.

Assemblyman Victor M. Pichardo became interested in public service following a family tragedy fifteen years ago. The Asemblyman’s cousin, who had been working as a livery cab driver, accidently bumped a motorcycle and the motorcyclist ended up stabbing his cousin to death. The suspect fled to the Dominican Republic. “It seemed like the case to get the guy that killed my cousin had stopped, so Senator Charles Schumer took an interest in the case and flew down to meet the President of the Dominican Republic to request extradition. Unfortunately word got around and the suspect then fled to Belgium. With the assistance of Senator Schumer, Interpol tracked down the suspect and he was later brought back to face justice. From that point on, I understood that government is, and should always be, a force for good.”

Assemblymember Pichardo's start in public service began as an intern for Senator Schumer, and eventually became the Community Outreach Coordinator/Latino Liaison. After taking a position at Mercy College, Pichardo discovered that public service was a better fit, and took a job as the Director of Community Affairs for New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera. In this position he saw the severity of health disparities faced by Bronx residents. “I have heard residents tell me, ‘My daughter is suffering from asthma, and I still have to wait three months to get an appointment,’ while others have confided that they are unable to get affordable cancer screenings and the only time they can get them is when a community health fair has them for free. But now with the Affordable Healthcare Act in place, health care must be provided to communities of all sizes, regardless of geographic and socio economic status, and individuals should receive the same equity of care in a timely matter.”

With the Bronx being ranked 62 out of 62 counties by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, Assemblyman Pichardo would like to turn around the negative stereotypes most people have about the Bronx. “It should not matter which zip code you were born in, you should be given and afforded the same resources and opportunities as anybody else in terms of jobs, housing, and education. Take the recent incidents of police brutality, which I feel has spiked in the last few years. Government has a responsibility to make sure that a young man of color, regardless of the neighborhood he lives in, be it the Bronx, Staten Island, Louisiana, or Minnesota, should be able to safely walk in his community, and not lose his life for an unfathomable reason.”

He adds, “People who feel more job and housing secure tend to be healthier overall, and their health outcomes tend to be better. We need to create sustainable safe communities with residents having gainful employment and affordable/stable housing. When that happens your mind is focused on taking care of your health, and the health of your family. The flipside is that being stressed out on things like a paycheck that won’t pay the rent and buy sufficient food, much less healthy food negatively affects ones health.”

Last April, when Bronx Health REACH held the #Not62 – The Campaign for A Healthy Bronx! Town Hall, the Assemblyman spoke to attendees after having spent an all-night legislative session in Albany to finalize the budget. He shared with the audience what he and the other Assembly members had been fighting for - a $15 minimum wage in New York State. “That $15 minimum wage means there is more money in the community for residents to purchase healthy fruits and vegetables, which means healthier outcomes, and that would be one of the first steps we can take to move from worst to the best, so the Bronx is no longer 62 out of 62.”

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Bronx Health REACH District 9 Physical Activity & Education Assessment

This small enclosure at a Bronx public school is considered to be an acceptable space for physical fitness.

Physical activity has been shown to have innumerable benefits. Exercise has been shown to improve student focus on school tasks and raise performance scores. It is also known that physical activity lowers the risk of childhood obesity and other chronic diseases which enables students to develop habits for a healthier adulthood.

Often, due to limited resources (e.g. funding, staffing, time, and physical space) many city schools are not able to meet student physical activity and physical education needs. According to the New York City Comptroller report, “Dropping the Ball: Disparities in Physical Education in New York City Schools,” over 32 percent of NYC schools lack a full-time, certified PE instructor. What’s more, 28 percent of schools lack a designated space for physical fitness.

To better understand student access to physical activity in the Bronx, Bronx Health REACH has been assessing physical activity and physical education in District 9. Each of the thirty-one public elementary schools in the district were surveyed to determine what space each school has for indoor and outdoor physical activity and physical education; and the quantity of PE the students were receiving. Each school principal was contacted by phone, email, and in person to complete the surveys.

The findings, to date, reveal that 75% of the schools surveyed have an indoor gymnasium space, and 17% of the schools surveyed lack a fully functioning playground. Disturbingly, only 8% of the schools are meeting the weekly physical education recommendation of 120 minutes for K through 12 students. The final findings of the assessment will be reported widely to staff, parents and students of District 9, as well as with community members and leaders. Bronx Health REACH will present the findings to the District 9 Community Education Council in September. As part of the report, Bronx Health REACH will propose solutions to improve those spaces with Active Design and broader policy recommendations.

In response to the initial findings of the assessment and to begin addressing the deficiencies, Bronx Health REACH is partnering with Grant Avenue Elementary School on their current Active Design Project to create a more engaging play yard. Grant Avenue Elementary School is a co-located school sharing the space with a middle school and high school. At present the outdoor space is a barren, narrow strip of concrete, and even more disturbing to the students and parents, the school’s play yard faces a fully-functioning playground of the neighboring school. Students and staff at Grant Avenue Elementary School have developed a creative solution to their small space - an imagination playground, which features movable pieces (“big blue blocks”) that allow for more dynamic and creative play compared to the fixed structures of a typical playground. Grant Avenue Elementary School’s imagination playground should be ready for students by this fall.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Senator Gustavo Rivera – Legislating Health Equity for the Bronx

Bronx Health REACH continues its series on individuals who have made a significant contribution to not only the Institute for Family Health, but to the African-American, Black and Latino communities in the Bronx where they have been strong activists for needed change. A notable member of this group of change agents is Senator Gustavo Rivera, a New York state senator representing the 33rd Senate District, covering the Bronx neighborhoods of Kingsbridge Heights, Kingsbridge, Fordham, University Heights, Van Nest, Tremont, East Tremont, and parts of Morrisania and Parkchester.

You would think being a member of the New York State Senate would be enough of a commitment of time and energy, but to also publicly commit to shedding twenty pounds? That type of commitment was made by State Senator Gustavo Rivera. Elected in 2010 to represent Bronx District 33 in the New York State Senate, Senator Rivera was aware of the health disparities many Bronx residents faced in his district. "Dr. Christopher Malone, who had been my long-time policy director was doing research on District 33 in the Bronx, and it became clear that there was enough data, demonstrating that health was an issue impacting Bronx residents, not just in my District, but in the rest of the Bronx as well, and it needed to be addressed," says Senator Rivera.

One of the first steps Senator Rivera took after getting elected was introducing legislation that would impact the overall health outcomes of his constituency. "I asked to be appointed as the ranking member of the New York Senate’s Health Committee since health care issues not only in the Bronx, but across New York State interested me policy wise, and if I wanted to enact legislation, this was an important step for me to take on a leadership role in that Committee."

A recent legislative success he has championed is bill S779, known as the "Happy Meal Bill" that has passed the Senate Health Committee. This bill sets nutritional standards for restaurants distributing incentive items aimed at children. "The idea is simple, you have a ten year old child that wants one of the X Men toys that comes with the meal; that child is not thinking about the Big Mac, large fries, and super-size soda that comes with it, they just want the toy. We felt it was important that certain nutritional requirements in terms of the amount of fat, sugar, and caloric amounts be met when an incentive item is offered with a meal.”

Another bill Senator Rivera has been working to pass is a requirement for all sugar sweetened beverages sold in New York State have a warning label (Senate Bill S 6435 & Assembly Bill 2320-B). Unfortunately when legislation came up for a vote this past May, the bill failed to pass the Agriculture Committee. "It is rare for some pieces of legislation, when introduced, to be passed immediately. In this case, there are people who oppose the idea of labeling what they see as a benign product. Many do not understand that the reason the soda and fast food industry has had success in selling their products is that the salt, fat and sugar content go right to the pleasure centers of our brain - they make us feel good, but excessive consumption of sugar, fat, or salt causes serious negative health outcomes.”

Even though this bill has stalled for the moment, there has been some positive change since many fast food establishments are now under pressure to reconsider their food offerings. "McDonalds is now offering some healthy choices such as fruit and water with children's meals, and when one company starts doing that, all the others offer similar alternatives, creating smaller positive changes."

When Senator Rivera came together with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. in 2011 to form the Bronx CAN (Change Attitudes Now) Health Initiative, Senator Rivera decided to make a public commitment to lose weight. “I wanted to use myself as the model since I live in the same Bronx neighborhood as many of my constituents, and have the same access (or lack thereof) to healthy food options and places to exercise for free or low cost. Would I be able to lose weight and maintain a more healthy lifestyle given the choices in my community?” He lost 30 pounds back in 2011 but has since gained most of the weight back. “When I turned forty last November I had a small health scare which made me realize that the one thing I had not been doing on a regular basis was getting more physical activity, so I am committed to losing fifty pounds for this year by eating smaller portions and exercising on a daily basis.”

When asked what it would take to improve the Bronx ranking as the unhealthiest county in New York State, Senator Rivera replies, “From the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report there is clear evidence that health disparities are directly connected to socio economic conditions. When you have consistently high unemployment rates, high poverty rates, food deserts, lack of access to fruits and vegetables as we do in the Bronx, all of these things are going to have a direct impact on the health and well-being of its residents. This is generational which means we cannot easily just snap our fingers and wish it away. However I believe with the work of the many community organizations partnering on Bronx CAN and other initiatives, combined with the work of elected officials, the needle can be moved.”