2011 Year in Review: Top Health Stories of the Year Through Walks and Weigh-ins, Senator Promotes Healthy Living

Gustavo Rivera

January 09, 2012

by Jeanmarie Evelly - Norwood News

Through Walks and Weigh-ins, Senator Promotes Healthy Living 

Bronx State Sen. Gustavo Rivera spent much of this year — his first in office — looking for ways to make the Bronx healthier. Citing a slew of statistics that rank the borough last in terms of health indicators, Rivera launched the Bronx CAN (Changing Attitudes Now) Health Initiative this June. 

Partnering with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., local hospitals, a number of faith and community-based organizations and local schools, Bronx Health CAN held health-themed events across the borough throughout the spring, summer and fall, encouraging Bronxites to set small health goals for themselves, like cooking more meals at home or working out a few times a week. Rivera hosted weekly walks, health screenings and free exercises classes. He worked with bodega owners in an effort to get them to sell more fresh fruits and vegetables in their stores. 

The publicize the initiative, the Senator made it personal: at the launch of the program last spring, he pledged to lose 15-20 pounds before the first leg of the initiative wrapped up, and held weekly “weigh-ins” where he stepped on the scale. As of November, Rivera has lost 16 pounds. 

“There’s no better way to do it than to set an example myself,” he said.


Bronx Students Grow Food, Get Jobs 

What started a couple of years ago as a science lesson in the classrooms of Discovery High School ballooned this year into a full-fledged, borough-wide nonprofit that trains students in growing and selling their own food.

The Green Bronx Machine was started by a group of Discovery students and science teacher Steve Ritz, who for years has had his students grow their own plants and vegetables in their Walton campus classroom, part of his lessons on biology and earth science. The program became so popular that it expanded beyond the school, and students were soon planting rooftop and urban gardens across the Bronx, selling the produce to local restaurants and farmers’ markets, or donating it to soup kitchens. This year, Green Bronx Machine began offering students the option of completing a certified training program. 

“We’re not just growing vegetables, we’re growing citizens and engaged communities,” Ritz said.

Their efforts have won the group citywide and national recognition. They won an “Excellence in School Wellness Award” from the Strategic Alliance for Health, and an “Above and Beyond Award” from ABC news this year.


Smoking Bans Expanded 

The Bronx became a less welcoming place for smokers this year, with the passage of a citywide bill that bans lighting up in parks, beaches and other public plazas. Health advocates had been pushing for the legislation, which went into effect in May, making anyone caught smoking in a city park or beach eligible for $50 fine.

Supporters of the ban included a number of local organizations and many Bronx City Council members, who said it’s a key step in reducing the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. 

“The Bronx has one of the highest asthma rates in the whole city,” said Juan Rios, of the Highbridge Community Life Center, which is teaming up with the Bronx Smoke-Free Partnership to raise awareness about the dangers of smoking. “Hopefully the legislation will give us sanctuary for nonsmokers, and also smokers who are trying to quit.”

Last spring, Montefiore Medical Center, the Bronx’s largest employer, expanded its own campus no-smoking policy to ban cigarettes around any of its 100 locations across the borough.