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Creating a healthier, more equitable Vineland.

Originally published in The Daily Journal

OPINION

Health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to attain his or her full health potential.

In Vineland, the well-being of our residents is threatened every day due to chronic diseases such as epidemic diabetes and poor disease management, accompanied by an increased burden of cardiovascular disease. Vineland children are also more likely to be overweight or obese compared to other children around the country. The rate of overweight or obesity is highest among our children ages 6 to 11 (40 percent vs. 21 percent nationally).

The solution is not to control or dictate what people eat but rather to expand the wealth of options available. As a community, we can improve access to fresh food and recreation so it’s easier for families to make healthy choices. Studies have proved that expanded opportunities can lead to a healthier community.

Thanks to a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that began five years ago, the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Vineland (NJPHK-V) embarked on a major initiative to help reduce childhood obesity and make our community a healthier place to live, work, learn and play.

By focusing on policy and environmental change, we have made significant progress in ensuring Vineland families have access to healthy choices. Our successes include creating bike lanes; sponsoring monthly fun and fitness events in the business district during spring and summer months; securing commitments from several Vineland corner stores and restaurants to provide healthier product choices; assisting with the development of a wellness policy and creating a wellness council in the Vineland public school district benefiting nearly 10,000 students.

While we celebrate our accomplishments, we must keep in mind the road ahead. There’s still much left to do. Now, as a result of a $450,000 grant from the Partnerships to Improve Community Health, which is funded by the Center for Disease Control, NJPHK-V can take a much bigger step towards wellness. The $450,000 is an initial grant toward a three-year award of $1.35 million and will allow us to expand our efforts to help reduce chronic diseases such as obesity and address environmental factors contributing to health disparities that currently affect nearly 75 percent of all Vineland residents. That’s great news for Vineland residents.

As part of the “Collective Impact for Health Equity in Vineland City” initiative, NJPHK-V was proud to partner with the Vineland Health Department, Family Health Initiative, Stockton College and the Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA to win the grant. We will continue to work with these partners and others within Vineland to advance health equity. Within three years, our goal is to have healthier food choices in more corner stores, increased access to physical activity for children, and improved opportunities for the prevention of chronic diseases through clinical and community linkages.

I personally want to thank all of our partners who are helping us improve the health and well-being of Vineland residents. Together, we are striving to build a culture of health that will enable all Vineland residents to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come.

Lisa Scheetz

MS, Project Manager

New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Vineland

 

Coming Soon: Green Wave Smoothie Pops

Green wave smoothie Pos2There’s a healthy alternative to ice cream and ice pops on the way.

New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Vineland (NJPHK-Vineland) is working with the Rutgers University Food Innovation Centerto produce and distribute green wave smoothie pops which blend fruits and greens to provide a refreshing and healthy summer popsicle. The pops will use produce from local farmers.

“Our goal is to sell healthy food at concession stands during the summer months,” says Lisa Scheetz, NJPHK-Vineland project manager. “We will distribute the pops to the Y for its summer camps and to concession stands at local ball parks, as well as to our corner stores and Vineland public schools.”

Vineland Board of Education and Administration Champions School Wellness

200298337-001The road to wellness in Vineland public schools has had some detours and standstills, but a critical milestone has been achieved: effective September 2014, Vineland Public Schools commenced the new school year with an improved Wellness Policy that commits to providing students with healthy foods; supporting nutrition education; and making daily physical activity a priority.

Several components of the policy are particularly important for addressing obesity among children in Vineland, according to Sara Paciocco, health education field representative for the city of Vineland Department of Health. The District has committed to championing nutrition education and to communicating with parents about healthy food and physical activity. The policy also endorses establishing staff wellness councils that can guide staff in how to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

A Safe Routes to School clause in the policy commits the board to assessing and “if necessary and to the extent possible” making improvements to facilitate safer and easier walking and biking to school. “Six percent of Vineland students walk to school,” Paciocco said. “This commitment can open the door to improving sidewalks, creating bike paths and getting school staff involved in ’walking school buses’ and other initiatives to generate foot traffic and cut down on car traffic around the schools.” NJPHK-Vineland, the YMCA, the city of Vineland Health and Engineering Departments and the Vineland Public Schools recently collaborated on a Safe Routes to School grant application. The partners hope that the District’s commitment to Safe Routes to School will demonstrate the commitment needed to win the grant.

Emma Lopez, health educator for the city of Vineland Department of Health and NJPHK-Vineland co-director credits the improved policy to the tenacity and vision of Paciocco and Ryan Long, a former health education field representative for the city of Vineland Department of Health; school superintendent, Dr. Mary L. Gruccio; and committed board of education members.

“We started developing a Wellness Policy for Vineland Public Schools almost three years ago,” Lopez said. “Ryan began researching wellness policies across the country aimed at reducing obesity within a school system. We incorporated best practices into a doable plan that could be integrated into the Vineland Public Schools.”

The initial policy was socialized, revamped, and sometimes put on hold due to changes in administration and turnover as a result of the board of education elections, which tends to shift priorities. “It was more lessons learned than successes for a while,” Lopez said. Finally, in early 2014, the policy was presented to the school board’s policy committee. That was the turning point and the policy was adopted shortly thereafter. Lesson learned: persistence pays off.

Living Hope Empowerment Center: A Valuable Partner in Keeping Kids Healthy

Living Hope empowerment centerFocused on youth, healthy living and community development, the Living Hope Empowerment Center (LHEC) is a faith-based community development corporation empowering residents of Trenton towards self-sufficiency and economic independence.

Led by executive director Francis Blanco, LHEC has been instrumental in several partnership initiatives, spearheading healthy corner stores and advocating for broader policy and planning approaches to promote healthy communities. Blanco has been the co-chair of the Access to Healthy Foods work group for the past two years and is now the chair of the Trenton Healthy Food Network.

”Francis Blanco is an avid supporter of NJPHK-Trenton and incorporates our goals into the mission of Living Hope Empowerment Center, an organization that is doing some amazing things in the areas of health and wellness,” said Marissa Davis, New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Trenton (NJPHK-Trenton) project manager.

Blanco joined LHEC in 2010 when the organization, founded by Living Hope Church pastors, went into full operational mode. She brings an impressive background in community economic development, and has served as director of the State Division of Minority and Women Business Development; director of the Department of Recreation, Natural Resources, and Culture for the city of Trenton; and executive director of Mercer County Hispanic Association (MECHA), a non-profit community-based agency dedicated to the needs of Mercer County’s Latino community.

LHEC’s focus on youth is about academic enrichment, life and character skills development and recreational socialization. Blanco said, “Developing the individual as a whole is critical, especially for inner city kids who may not have other resources or any wrap-around support systems and exposure to help them make it.”

LHEC’s Youth Soccer League, which has 240 attendees from age 4 to 12, gets kids involved, and in the process helps them build positive life skills and character as they practice team work, responsibility and sportsmanship.

The LHEC healthy living initiative has an ultimate goal of obesity prevention, with an immediate focus on cardiovascular health and maintenance of chronic disease. Given the state of health in the community, Blanco observed that “We have to get the community to the point where they can maintain their chronic disease before they work on prevention.” LHEC’s service delivery embraces the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 recommendations: get active, control cholesterol, eat better, manage blood pressure, lose weight, reduce blood sugar, and stop smoking.

“We’re carrying these messages to all age groups,” Blanco noted, “and achieving considerable success.”

Faith-Based Wellness

178470554Seven New Brunswick houses of worship and the pastoral care office of RWJ University Hospital are in the planning phase of drafting wellness policies that will orient their approach to food preparation and physical activity for church events and programs and outreach activities.

The churches previously participated in Faith, Body & Soul, an initiative with multiple phases of wellness education and fitness challenges. That three-year project ended in February and now each church wants to build a sustainable infrastructure that will ensure continued emphasis on wellness regardless of changes in leadership or programs.

Jaymie Santiago, project manager of New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-New Brunswick, is working with the churches to develop the wellness policies. “A wellness policy is the key step in creating the infrastructure that will enable health and wellness to thrive and continue. Each house of worship has informal policies in place that we need to gather, review and formalize, working with lay leadership, boards and committees,” said Santiago.

“The value in having eight interested organizations is that we can draw upon each other’s success, yet the policies will be culturally sensitive and relevant to each house of worship,” Santiago observed.

The houses of worship engaged in developing wellness policies include: Ebenezer Baptist Church, Mt. Zion AME Church, New Brunswick Seven Day Adventist Church, Sacred Heart Church, Second Reformed Church, Sharon Baptist Church, Suydam Street Reformed Church, and RWJ University Hospital – Pastoral Care.

 

Diane Sawyer Receives Produce from Camden’s Urban Promise Garden

Diane SawyerThanks to a Department of Health mini grant to NJPHK-Camden, Urban Promise students built a community garden, piloted a Farm-to-School program and recently shared their harvest with their good friend and supporter, Diane Sawyer, former anchor of ABC World News.

Two More Schools Develop Wellness Policies

IMG_1764NJPHK-Camden is working with UrbanPromise Ministries and Camden Community Charter School to tailor and adopt wellness policies that will influence nutrition, food choices and physical activity. Both schools also plan to pilot a farm-to-school community garden that will allow children to grow fruits and vegetables for the school cafeterias. Provided with a mini-grant from NJ Healthy Communities to help underwrite the effort, the schools hope to sign off on the wellness policies in time for the 2014-2015 school year.

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

178467120Nearly one in three children in the United States is overweight or obese. Childhood obesity puts kids at risk for health problems that were once seen only in adults, like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

The good news is that childhood obesity can be prevented. In honor of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids encourages families and communities to make healthy changes together. NJPHK and its partner organizations are focused on reversing the childhood obesity epidemic. We have developed strategies to change public policies and improve local environments to make all communities healthier—especially those in New Jersey that have the highest rates of obesity.

Our priorities include:

  • Making the healthy choice the easy choice
  • Working with policy leaders and community members to enagact changes that create healthier communities
  • Developing a sustainable food and physical activity system that provides local counties, municipalities and communities with healthy, affordable food options and encourages active lifestyles.
  • Partnering across the state to leverage assets, impact and share outcomes to reverse childhood obesity.

For more information, visit http://www.njhealthykids.org/.

Health and Wellness Expands to Additional Camden City Parks

Y_WebPhoto1This summer, children in East Camden will be able to play and engage in structured activities at four Camden parks, thanks to the addition of Stockton Park to the summertime programs run by the YMCA of Burlington and Camden Counties from June 30 through August 29. “We are thrilled to extend this popular program to another neighborhood park,” says Valeria Galarza, New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Camden (NJPHK-Camden) project manager. “The partnership has always advocated for the use of city parks, and working closely with the city of Camden, the YMCA was able to lead this program to continue its growth within the community.” NJPHK-Camden is also working with other organizations to present structured activities in city parks. Activities offered may include arts and crafts; clinics to teach and enhance skills in soccer, tennis, volleyball, basketball and field hockey; and CATCH (Coordinated Approach To Child Health), a YMCA program designed to teach children that eating healthy and being physically active every day can be fun.

It Takes All Hands on Deck to Curb Childhood Obesity

handsondeckThe beginnings of what would become an obesity “tsunami” in the U.S. tracks back to 1982 according to Dr. Nwando Anyaoku, MD, FAAP, director of General Pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey, and co-chair of New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Newark (NJPHK-Newark). By 2010, 44 percent of children ages 3 to 19 in Newark, NJ had a body mass index (BMI) of 44.2 percent, putting them at risk for obesity and in grave danger of developing serious illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes and pulmonary disease, normally associated with older adults.

Dr. Anyaoku has dedicated her career to helping families address childhood obesity through healthy lifestyle choices. In 2013, she was an early champion of “Let’s Move in the Clinic and Community!”, a healthy lifestyle toolkit designed to help health care providers talk with patients and families about setting small, achievable nutrition and physical activity goals.

The New Jersey Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics, is partnering with NJPHK-Newark to bring the “Let’s Move in the Clinic and Community!” obesity prevention program to Newark-based pediatric providers and their staff. The joint effort provides practices with the training and tools to: 1) strengthen quality improvement efforts related to obesity prevention and intervention within the context of the patient centered medical home, and 2) equip healthcare providers with tools to become policy advocates to improve the health of their communities, beyond the walls of their office.

In connection with “Let’s Move in the Clinic and Community!” Dr. Anyaoku conducted a webinar for healthcare providers on May 22, 2014 to further educate participants about obesity rates and trends in the US and NJ, and the principles of nutrition and physical activity for children and adolescents. The webinar also addressed using BMI to measure overweight and obesity, starting at age two, and providing age appropriate guidance and messaging related to physical activity related to physical activity and access to healthy foods.

Dr. Anyaoku called on healthcare providers to start talking to parents early about nutrition, healthy eating, and an active lifestyle. Between 12 and 24 months, children assume the eating habits of the family, so it’s crucial for adults to understand portion control and be aware of what constitutes fruits and vegetables. “French fries are the most common vegetable in the U.S.,” Dr. Anyaoku observed, noting the need for education. She explained that children should not drink juice before they are six months old and thereafter; only 100% fruit juice. She also noted that all screen time should be limited, not just time watching TV.

In 2013, the CDC reported a decrease in obesity rates among young children from lower-income families in 19 states, including New Jersey. Dr. Anyaoku believes that we have the power to reverse the trends. “It takes all hands on deck; and when patients and their families have the tools for better choices, it makes a difference,” she concluded.

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