By Jaleesa Baulkman
In a loose white T-shirt and sweat pants, flanked by 10 elementary school-aged children and middle-aged, State Senator Gustavo Rivera danced across St. James Park. Rivera’s personal fitness quest will once again play a major role as his attitude-adjusting health initiative heads into year two.
During a health fair that was put together with the help of Montefiore Medical Center and other community health partners, Rivera and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. announced that they want to expand the Bronx Change Attitude Now (CAN) initiative they started in the northwest Bronx last summer. The Bronx CAN initiative tackles issues of obesity and malnutrition.
The initiative attempts to bring together doctors, health providers and members of the community to promote the types of behaviors that lead to healthy lifestyles. The purpose of the initiative and health fair was to let people know there are things they can do to be healthier, Rivera said.
“The most important part is awareness,” Rivera said. “If we’re healthier as individuals, we can be healthier as a community. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Diaz said they plan on expanding the initiative to other areas of the borough, raising awareness about healthier habits such as eating smaller portions, eating more fruits and vegetables, and incorporating more exercise into their daily routine. He said they also plan on educating Bronx retailers and store owners about the minor adjustments they can make to provide healthier options to their consumers.
“[Last year,] we concentrated just on the 33rd senatorial district. Now what we’re doing is taking it to other zip codes,” Diaz said. “Everyone wants to live a long and healthy life and sometimes people don’t know how to go about it.”
At the fair, Rivera talked about three legislative bills he hopes to pass that were developed from the dialogue he had with health partners and community members during the 2011 Bronx CAN campaign.
The first bill, which addresses the issue of second-hand smoking, will ban smoking near school exits and entrances. Rivera said that since smoking is already prohibited within schools, this bill will extend that to 100 feet outside of the school building. On June 18, Rivera and Assembly member Jeffrey Dinowitz passed this legislation in both the state senate and state assembly.
The second bill will require schools to have a certified physical education teacher in every school. According to a 2009 report prepared by former Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Jr., 21 percent of Bronx public schools lack a certified physical education instructor.
The third bill, which is called the “Happy Meal” bill, states that any meal that is incentivized with a toy to appeal to younger children must meet nutritional requirements. He said kids develop habits early and that these toys shouldn’t be accompanied with a “big greasy burger with French fries….and a sugary drink.”
The Bronx CAN Health Initiative was created last year in response to a Robert Wood Foundation study that marked the Bronx as the unhealthiest county in New York state. It showed that 26 percent of the adults living in the borough are in poor or fair health compared to 16 percent statewide and 10 percent nationwide.
“We’re just tired of being first place in everything that’s bad,” Diaz said.
This year the launch focused on physical fitness and exercise. The health fair offered interactive dance lessons, a free zumba class and blood pressure and diabetes screening.
Rivera helped launched the initiative last year by participating in a public weigh-in that showed he weighed 299 lbs. At the health fair this year, he weighed in at 270 lbs.
Betty Diaz (no relation) attended the fair and was inspired by Rivera’s weight loss to change her lifestyle.
“The next step is to eat less and think of life more,” she said.
Editor’s note: A version of this article appears in the June 28-July 11 print edition of the Norwood News.