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Your Health Matters: Reduce Type 2 Diabetes and Childhood Obesity

June 29, 2011


Something needs to be done about the sharp increase in reported cases of Type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents over the last two decades.

The epidemic of childhood obesity and the low level of physical activity among young people are now major contributors to the increase in Type 2 diabetes during childhood and adolescence. The statistics in the Bronx are particularly alarming. Nearly one in three children in Head Start programs is obese, and almost half are either overweight or obese.

Nearly one in four children in public elementary schools is obese, and nearly four in 10 are overweight or obese. About one in six public high school students is obese, and more than one in three is overweight or obese.

Being overweight or obese is unhealthy at any age. In addition to Type 2 diabetes, obese children are at risk of developing other medical conditions, such as hypertension, high cholesterol levels, obstructive sleep apnea, depression, or irregular menstrual cycles, just to name a few. Obese children, moreover, are more likely to become obese adults.

Weight gain occurs when more calories are consumed than are used through physical activity. Therefore, reaching a healthy weight means balancing food intake and physical activity. Eating sensible portions of nutritious foods and exercising regularly are important components of a healthy lifestyle. In the South Bronx, more than 43 percent of public high school students do not exercise at least 20 minutes per day, three days per week, and 59 percent watch TV at least 3 hours per day. About 80 percent of adolescents report eating fewer than five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

In order to prevent a child from developing Type 2 diabetes , prevention of childhood obesity is crucial. In order to achieve a healthy weight, lifestyle modification is key. It is very important that the whole family be involved in making these changes, and not just the concerned child.

“5-2-1-0” is a statewide public education campaign to bring awareness to the daily guidelines for nutrition and physical activity. Its message is simple and clear and represents some of the most important steps families can take to prevent childhood obesity:
5 - Eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day.
2 – Cut screen time to 2 hours or less a day
1 - Participate in at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.
0 – Restrict soda and sugar-sweetened juices, including sports and fruit drinks. Instead, drink water and 3-4 servings per day of fat-free or skim milk. These guidelines should also be followed very closely in children who have already been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

At Morris Heights Health Center the pediatricians consistently offer the 5-2-1-0 message to families whose children who are found to be obese or overweight at their yearly physicals. In addition these “at risk” children are referred to a pediatric endocrinologist, a specialist doctor at the center who performs specific testing to screen them for diabetes, pre-diabetes and high cholesterol and works closely with the family in achieving targeted weight loss.

If these children are already diagnosed to have Type 2 diabetes, they are also offered appropriate medical treatment and follow up. Patients also have the option of meeting a nutritionist who can assist the family with portion control and meal planning. In addition these children are referred to the peer-to-peer teen program called G-RAF (Getting Real About Food), which is a fun and interactive series of educational sessions geared towards healthy nutrition and exercise.

“Your Health Matters” is a regular column in the Mount Hope Monitor, written by staff at Morris Heights Health Center (MHHC). For more information, visit www.mhhc.org or call (718) 716-4400.

A Place Where Mexican Cowboys Can Suit Up

June 29, 2011

Mario Martinez, the owner of Rudy El Vaquero on the Grand Concourse, shows off an example of the embroidered Mexican cowboy clothing his store sells. Photo by Fausto Giovanny Pinto


Along the ethnically-diverse enclave that is the stretch of the Grand Concourse between 182nd Street and Fordham Road, lies African grocery stores, Dominican barbershops and a scene out of a Mexican-flavored Wild West movie.

Spurs, heavy-duty rope (to lasso bulls) and countless styles of cowboy boots and hats fill the shelves and walls that make up the niche clothing shop, Rudy El Vaquero.

“Here they have what I want, for good prices,” said Angelica Valerio, who has been shopping at the store for over a year. “And whatever they don’t have, they will get.”

The business opened 10 years ago as a record shop. Owner Mario Martinez said people were travelling as far away as Queens and New Jersey to get their Mexican music fix and he wanted to offer these tunes closer to home.

Then one day after the record shop opened, Martinez brought in a pair of cowboy boots, a style popular among native Mexicans, Martinez included.

A pair of boots grew to a few. Soon he had hats, shirts and a growing demand. Six years ago, he moved the record shop two stores down to a smaller location and opened Rudy El Vaquero in its stead.

According to the 2010 Census, Hispanics make up more than 50 percent of the Bronx population, including a fast growing number of Mexicans. From 2001 to 2009, the Bronx’s Mexican population nearly doubled, from 38,454 to 69,717. Martinez’s shops are a testament to that.

Originally from Puebla, Mexico, Martinez says business has doubled since his cowboy shop first opened. Families often come in together looking for clothes to wear at big celebrations, where more formal Mexican cowboy attire is often required.

While some people only prefer to dress the cowboy way on special occasions, Martinez says there are some such as himself who wear this type of clothing everyday. Recently he has noticed younger customers.

Rudy’s embroidered clothing is especially popular, Martinez says. Many regional Mexican bands come from as far as Connecticut and New Jersey for embroidered shirts, and hats adorned with hand-stitched logos.

Out of his shop, Martinez also advertises and sells tickets to shows, whether its bull riding in New Jersey or Ranchera-style music show shows along the Concourse.

Since opening, a new store has popped up nearby selling similar items. Martinez takes this as a compliment, saying, “When you do something right people will copy you.”

Ed. Note: Rudy El Vaquero is located 2359 Grand Concourse. They are open Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Crucial Featherbed Lane Program May Close

June 29, 2011

Kids participate in fitness classes at the Featherbed Lane Improvement Association, which is in danger of closing after its funding was slashed. Photo by Fausto Giovanny Pinto
















For single mother Haile Rivera the time her three young children spend in the after-school program at Featherbed Lane Improvement Association is crucial. She uses the time to attend college classes, run errands, and, after recently being laid off, look for a job.

Soon, however, Rivera, 41, may need to find a new place for her kids to go after school. Earlier this month, funding for Featherbed Lane was completely gutted.

“We had a contract manager here in April who said she was impressed by the work we do, nobody said we weren’t doing our job,” said Alcee James, the center’s program director. “Then, the next month, they send a letter [saying] our funding is cut.”

Featherbed Lane receives funding from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS).

Besides tutoring, computer classes, dance fitness and running summer day camps, drug prevention is one of the organization’s primary goals. Every day students stand for a pledge that includes, “I will respect my body and not use [drugs].”

The program started in the nearby Sedgwick Houses by local resident Marvin York in the late 1980s as a way to rescue youth from the drug epidemic going on at the time.

Featherbed Lane, which picks up kids from nearby PS 109, is seen as a beacon for kids in a neighborhood riddled with crime and drugs. Previous attendees have come back as doctors and teachers and thanked program workers for their influence, James said.

One of those kids, Jennifer Rogers, now works at the center as a drug prevention counselor.

“It will just cause a trickle-down affect, it’s better to invest in prevention than work on the problem later on,” said Rogers, who said the program worked for her.

OASAS says Featherbed Lane was defunded because they did not meet their program goals.

“OASAS eliminated funding to prevention programs that could not attain more than 39 percent of their goals,” said spokesperson Jennifer Farrell. Featherbed Lane, she said, “attained only 28 percent of the work plan goals.”

Featherbed Lane staffers say OASAS’s data is wrong due in part to problems implementing a new computer tracking system last year. Farrell said Featherbed Lane never mentioned these issues.

Although OASAS says “we did not make across the board cuts,” similar defunding tales have recently popped up in Long Island and Albany County.

Staff at Featherbed Lane did not take the news lightly. They held rallies at the Bronx Courthouse and in front of OASAS offices in Albany. They garnered over 3,000 petition signatures protesting the cuts. Some parents have also sent letters directly to the governor’s office.

Local Assemblywomen Vanessa Gibson is fighting for Featherbed Lane in Albany. “Preserving the funding for Featherbed Lane Improvement Association is part of making sure our young people have the opportunities they deserve,” Gibson said in a statement.

While administrators look for alternatives, including the possibility of being funded by another city agency or finding foundation grants, Featherbed Lane has been given a reprieve. Their landlord is allowing them to stay rent free for the summer.

Robert Whetstone, the center’s executive director since 1989, isn’t giving up. “We’ve been up against a lot and forged through and it’s all for the kids and the community,” he said.

“This isn’t a luxury, this is a necessity,” Rivera said. “This is the other arm for me and many of the other single moms that bring our kids here. They shouldn’t be closing, they should be opening another one.”

Senator Looks to Shed Pounds, Promote Healthy Living

June 29, 2011


Dressed in Rocky-esque training attire — hooded sweatshirt, jogging pants and sneakers — State Senator Gustavo Rivera walked into the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center and challenged himself to a weigh-in.

Rivera was joined by Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. (sans workout attire) and numerous organizations, to launch the Bronx CAN Health Initiative.

CAN, which stands for Change Attitudes Now, looks to promote a healthier lifestyle among Bronxites, who often rank last on health polls. To help promote the initiative, which will encourage Bronxites to set healthy goals, Rivera said his goal was to lose 20 pounds by the end of the summer without using any gimmicky diet or workout program.

“There is no magic. Eat three-fourths of a plate, less fat, less sugar, less salt, less everything,” said Rivera.

Dr. Jane Bedell, assistant commissioner for the Bronx District Public Health Office, said one-third of Bronx adults are currently obese, she said. Even more startling was the prediction that if trends don’t change as many as 50 percent of Bronx children will develop diabetes.

“We have came together before when our children were in danger and now it’s time to come together again,” said Bedell, comparing how Bronxites passed laws in the past for child hazards such as lead poisoning.

She encouraged everyone to take a brisk walk for at least 20 minutes a day and substitute unhealthy snacks for better ones such as fruits and veggies.

The event included a mini-health fair and a healthy meal of baked chicken, steamed broccoli and fresh fruits.

“I’m Puerto Rican, I love me some pork, and some fried food,” said Rivera. “There’s all this temptation, but it’s about small changes, eating in moderation,”

After jumping on the scale and tipping the scales at 299 pounds, Rivera joked that the slimmer Diaz would be what his post-weight loss shot would look like.

Rivera said he hoped to reach 250 pounds over the next 40 weeks and would have public weigh-ins showcasing his progress each month at future Bronx CAN events. He encouraged all participants to accept a health challenge.

“I want to cut smoking and go to the gym for an hour a day, if anything, I’ll at least walk,” said local resident Laquetta Holmes, who signed up for the challenge, “It’s better than nothing.”

Students Hit the High Seas for a New Learning Initiative

June 29, 2011

Ryan Cooke, PS 306 teacher and creator of the Classroom Without Walls learning initiative, with a student and her catch on the Long Island Sound. Photo by Fausto Giovanny Pinto


At noon on a recent Friday, while most students across the city were hitting the lunch line, the students at PS 306 were busy tossing out fishing lines and reeling in fish onto a boat bobbing in the Long Island Sound.

As part of a new learning initiative that takes kids out of the classroom and into the real world, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade Special Education students at PS 306 set sail on a day-long fishing trip. It marked the culmination of this year’s Classroom Without Walls program.

“We want to give them a glimpse of what’s out there so they can see it and take it further,” said Ryan Cooke, a 4th-grade Special Education teacher at the Mt. Hope-area school and creator of the innovative program. “These aren’t just field trips,” he added.

During the trip, as the students waited for a bite on the line, a special skill was subtly being emphasized: patience. Young kids, in general, have short attention spans. But a lack of patience is especially prominent for Special Ed students. Fishing, Cooke says, teaches them to control their feelings and focus on a long-term reward.

Silence on the boat was broken as cheers erupted from one side of the boat.

“I got one!” screamed 11-year-old Alexander Sanchez. “Reel it in!” yelled Captain James Whitten.

“I wish I had trips like these as a kid,” Whitten added.

As the crew of the boat helped Alexander reel in the fish, his fellow classmates cheered him on with high-fives.

“I didn’t think I was going to get it, I thought my pole was going to fall in [the water],“ said Alexander, a 5th grader. “I’m going to tell my mom to cook it.”

Students receive a handful of lessons of relatable material prior to the excursion. On the trip they received a mini lesson and afterwards were asked to reflect on the experience in a journal. For the fishing trip, the students studied Marine Biology.

The students have also saw a Broadway show, “The Lion King,” and went on a backstage tour. On a trip to the Museum of Natural History, students went behind the scenes to see how the fossils are put together.

Cooke, a former Special Ed student himself, says a different approach towards Special Education has been long overdue. He said since the program’s inception four years ago, students have been more focused and excited about learning.

“[As Special Education students] they have labeled stereotypes,” said Edgar Irizarry Jr, a paraprofessional at 306. “This gives them motivation and tells them you can do this. Ninety-nine percent of these kids have never gone fishing as well.”

The program, which works closely with the school’s parent association, raised enough funds to take a record number of kids this year, more than 100.

As the school bus pulled up to PS 306 on West Tremont Avenue, after a tiring and exciting day out at sea, one of the more vocal students turned to his teacher and spoke with the excitement only a child could exhibit.

“I’m happy I got to catch a fish,” he said. “I never did that before.”

Rally for 15-year-old Shooting Victim

June 29, 2011


Local residents say witnesses need to come forward with information about the shooting of 15-year-old Yvette Marie Torres, who took a bullet to the back of her head while apparently trying to break-up a fight during a party in the Fordham area on June 11.

At press time, Yvette, a student at DeWitt Clinton High School, was in critical condition at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital.

With police apparently making little progress on the case, a group of concerned people, led by Nelson Figueroa, a childhood friend of Yvette’s mother, created a Facebook page, and set up a phone line and e-mail account so witnesses, who might be scared to talk with police, could come forward with information that might lead to the shooter.

On Saturday, June 25, near where Yvette was shot, on the corner of E. 187th Street and Valentine Avenue, the group had scheduled a “Rally for Yvette” to try and drum up witnesses and information.

Ed. Note: Anyone with information about this crime can call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477), submit to www.nypdcrimestoppers.com or text tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577. Additionally, local resident Nelson Figueroa says witnesses can call (347) 670-3843 or write to JUSTICE4EVIE@gmail.com.

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