“Do you know how many servings of vegetables one needs to consume every day?” asked Marta Garcia, of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension, as she stood before an attentive crowd of Bronx residents of all ages on a recent Saturday afternoon.
The group, which had just moments before chattered loudly, grew quiet.
“Two and a half cups of vegetables should be the daily intake,” said Garcia.
She would know.
Garcia works as a program aide at the Extension’s outreach program, in which the Ivy League university’s College of Human Ecology partners with community-based organizations throughout distinct regions in New York State to offer specific nutrition, health, and resource management programs to help residents solve their problems, and strengthen their communities.
The programs are comprehensive, as they see to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity and chronic disease through improved nutrition and health practices.
These are not simple tasks in the Bronx, which was ranked the least healthy county in the state by the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation just last year.
Garcia, along with scores of other health related community organizations, were participants in the first Bronx CAN Health Initiative Check-In, which was launched in June with the aid, in part, of New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera.
“There are several factors as to why the Bronx is the unhealthiest county, including less healthy options than other boroughs, but we can take ownership of our personal health habits and behaviors,” said Sen. Rivera.
Sen. Rivera has made a personal commitment to lose 20 lbs. by October 24th, the last day of the Bronx initiative.
At the weigh-in this past Sat., July 16th, Sen. Rivera came in at 293 lbs., down six pounds from his original weight of 299 lbs. in June when the initiative was first launched.
Participants traveled from table to table and obtained specific healthy diet tips from professional nutritionists intended to modify less than ideal or unhealthy eating habits.
“Holding these events and urging Bronxites to participate in this program is an excellent idea because it is not only helping people to lose weight, but helping people in our community learn healthy habits that will be with them for the rest of their lives,” said Waheebah Shamsid-Deen, a CAN Health Challenge participant. “I have already lost three pounds as part of the challenge but plan to lose more in a healthy way.”
Dr. Myra White, director of the Three Graces Medical Center, did the honors and weighed the Health Challenge participants.
Aside from Sen. Rivera, Dr. White recorded Kenny Agosto’s weight loss of 10 lbs. Agosto serves as the District Leader for the 80th Assembly District.
“I decided to eat less and at the same time look closely at the things I ate,” said Agosto, who noted that he had not gained the weight overnight, and that he would not lose it immediately. “Because of this initiative, I am getting on track to having a healthy lifestyle.”
Bronx Health REACH, another participating organization, offered one of the most interesting pieces of information to many of those in attendance: a plate diagram customized for the typical diet of the average Dominican or Puerto Rican Bronx resident. The diagram was a plate divided into four sections. Its point was to show the kinds of dietary recommendations made by the NYC Department of Health: one fourth of your plate should contain protein, another fourth should be made up of starch, and finally one half of your plate should be filled with vegetables.
The surprise for many was finding that the typical Latin dish often contains all of these: proteins (red beans, gandules, and various meats), starch (platanos, yucca, rice) and vegetables (broccoli, carrots, tomatoes). The problem is the disproportionate amount of starches and proteins in lieu of the vegetables.
But even that proved a small problem for the organizers of the initiative.
Veggication, an organization that promotes the “delicious world of vegetables,” provided recipes that can transform even the seemingly lowly Brussels sprouts into a great and tasty snack.
NYC Green Carts also provided two health bucks for every visitor and offered fruits and vegetables so that the participants could start eating healthy right away.
“There is no excuse not to eat healthy anymore; the Bronx has a large amount of support in making the switch,” said Kelly Moltzer, Nutrition Coordinator of The Bronx Health REACH.
The Bronx CAN Health Initiative will continue until October 24th with various events throughout the borough. All Bronx residents interested in learning more about how to adopt healthier diet and exercise habits are encouraged to visit http://www.bronxcan.com or call Sen. Rivera’s District Office at 718.933.2034.