Friday, March 30, 2018

Creating Healthy Schools & Communities: A Worthwhile Investment for New York State

15 Girl Scout members and three teachers from Bronx Delta School, a Bronx Health REACH partner school, participated in a healthy celebration lesson which culminated in making fruit kabobs designed to look like caterpillars, lady bugs and butterflies.

Every year since 2009 the  Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Report has ranked the Bronx 62 out of New York State’s 62 counties in health outcomes. The obesity and overweight rates of our public school students is 39%. In 2015, with a five year grant from the New York State Department of Health through its Creating Healthy Schools and Communities (CHSC) program, the Bronx, along with 45 other counties across New York State, was provided an opportunity to create healthy environments in our school districts and surrounding communities. Since then, we have made tremendous strides with this program.

Through CHSC, Bronx residents can eat healthier through a collaboration between Bronx Health REACH, the Bodega Association of the United States and Goya Foods which has been stocking healthier products in Bronx bodegas, and providing taste tests and cooking demonstrations. We have been helping Bronx youth and low-income communities of color counter the targeted marketing of unhealthy foods and beverage products by supporting efforts for them to create their own counter-marketing campaigns. We have also trained school aides on fitness programming enabling them to structure physically active recess time for students. And, we have engaged community leaders and residents to advocate for street safety improvements. One of those leaders, a Bronx Health REACH partner church, Word of Life International, was named Transportation Alternatives’ 2017 Partner of the Year.

However, in 2017 significant cuts were made to the CHSC grant, and it is  under threat again this year to further cuts. With these cuts the question surely is, how can we ensure that the health and wellbeing of Bronx children, as well as the children in other high need New York communities, become a priority of our elected officials in Albany? Funding such a critical public health program helps the many community organizations across the Bronx and other areas of New York State make a difference in the lives of our children and community members.

Public health programming such as CHSC represents an investment with significant returns in New York State. In the first two years of funding, CHSC grantees have worked with 4.5 million New Yorkers, or about 23% of the state’s population, infusing wellness and health information and programming into 226 local communities, 83 high-need school districts, 358 retailers, and 498 worksites, enacted 51 policies and 120 infrastructure projects encouraging walkable and bikeable communities.

Our community partners have incredible capacity to create healthy and livable communities, as these successes demonstrate. CHSC and other public health funding goes a long way to improving the health and well-being of New Yorkers, and these programs should be further supported, not cut. Public health funds are important and well spent in the most vulnerable communities as they work to promote equity where all residents should have the opportunity to thrive.

The United States Department of Agriculture, recognizing the importance of the type of Policy, Systems and Environmental change work that CHSC grantees do, recently approved reallocating  SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education) funding to the New York State Department of Health from the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance for CHSC, but it is not guaranteed that this funding will continue to be used for the CHSC program. We hope to see CHSC funding maintained in the FY 2018-2019 Governor’s budget. The more funds provided for this program, the more grantees will be able to accomplish in the communities where we serve.

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