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New York City (NYC) and Obesity
According to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), over the past 20 years obesity levels have doubled in the United States. In NYC, obesity has reached epidemic proportions: 56 percent of adult population is either overweight or obese. This problem begins early in life: almost one half of elementary school children and Head Start children are not a healthy weight. In NYC, one in five kindergarten students, and one in four Head Start children, is obese.
Overweight children and adults are at increased risk for: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, arthritis and cancer. Bad eating habits can also significantly contribute to higher obesity rates. The liklihood of obesity increases with age and is found to be more common among older adults, women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and the poor. Fortunately, obesity is preventable and even a modest weight loss of 10% can improve a person's health and reduce health risks.
Environmental factors and technological innovation have created conditions conducive for obesity. Highly processed foods containing high levels of sugar and fat are readily available and affordable. To combat obesity and reduce the health risks associated with it, NYC has created multiple initiatives under the Physical Activity and Nutrition (PAN) program. Many of the initiatives target communities with higher obesity rates characterized by lower rates of physical activity and fruit/vegetable consumption.
With many NYC children suffering from excess weight or obesity, major focus has been placed on school food programs in an effort to curb obesity and related chronic diseases. Many public schools currently promote healthy eating and regular exercise. One contributing problem to youth obesity is the unhealthy foods and beverages sold at school fundraisers. Foods are often packed with bad calories from fat, sugar, and salt. Such fundraisers increase the availability of junk food in schools and teach children to compromise their health for a profit. The Healthy High Schools Initiative works with high schools to implement healthy food and non-food fundraisers instead of unhealthy, junk food fundraising. GrowNYC and DOHMH launched a pilot project where a limited number of schools will be given the opportunity to try a plant or produce sale as an alternative to junk food ones.
The DOHMH works closely with child care centers, preschools and parents to provide some useful insights into child nutrition and physical activity. At eligible child care centers and preschools, registered dietitians from DOHMH provide lessons on the importance of good nutrition and physical activity for children aged 3 to 4. Related work shops for parents are intended to be enjoyable, engaging and often include food tastings and cooking. Topics include the importance of family meals; appropriate portion sizes; enjoyable ways to be physically active as a family; and how to include fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy into meals and snacks without spending too much money. This Eat Well Play Hard in Child Care Settings Program is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, and DOHMH partnered with the State of New York to bring it to child care centers in targeted neighborhoods within NYC.
Move-To-Improve is another initiative offered by the city. It is a comprehensive and engaging way to help teachers integrate physical activity into classroom academics. The initiative helps schools to reach the New York State Education Department mandated 120 minutes per week of physical education instruction.
In NYC, corner stores, or bodegas, are everywhere. New Yorkers often rely on them for their daily grocery shopping. However, healthy choices like fruits, vegetables and low-fat milk may be limited at these corner stores. Since 2005, the Healthy Bodegas Initiative has helped more than 1,000 bodegas in East and Central Harlem, the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn to increase their assortments of healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain bread, low-fat milk and dairy, and low-salt and no-sugar-added canned food. Bodegas are encouraged to apply for permits allowing them to sell fresh produce on the sidewalk in front of the store. The Healthy Bodegas Initiative also helps stores promote and advertise their healthier items to customers. Healthy Supermarkets Initiative, launched in August 2010, works with supermarkets in high-need areas across the city to improve access to affordable, high-quality fruits and vegetables.
Green Carts are mobile food carts that offer fresh produce in certain NYC areas. Local Law 9, signed by Mayor Bloomberg on March 13, 2008, established 1,000 permits for Green Carts - 350 permits for Brooklyn, 350 for the Bronx, 150 for Manhattan, 100 for Queens, and 50 for Staten Island. A Green Cart can only sell raw fruits and vegetables such as whole carrots, bananas, apples and berries. For food safety reasons, Green Cart operators cannot cut, slice, peel or process fruits or vegetables on the cart.
Obesity costs private employers an estimated $45 billion a year. It reduces the quality of life, increases employee absenteeism and contributes to lost productivity in the workplace. Sugar sweetened beverages are the single biggest contributor to the obesity epidemic. To combat obesity at workplace, NYC launched its own initiative to make workplaces healthier for the city's employees. The city encourages private employers to join in the efforts and provides some useful guidelines on what food and beverages to serve at meetings and events and what standards the beverage vending machines should follow.
Shape Up New York is a free family fitness program offered at parks, community centers and housing sites around NYC. Fitness classes are open to adults and children. Classes offer activities like step aerobics, fitness walking, light weight lifting, stretching and toning exercises. The program aims to encourage the development of healthy lifestyles and help improve participant self-esteem through energetic physical activity in a non-competitive environment.