Fun, entertainment, and health services were all part of the Camden-hosted “Let’s Move: Olympic Day” at Pyne Poynt Park on June 25. The event was free and open to the residents and offered plenty of space for children to run, play games, swim, and dance in one of the city’s beautiful parks. Health vendors lined walking paths and provided free health screenings and health services information to more than 200 visitors.
“Creating a culture of health has been a big push for Get Healthy Camden and events like Olympic Day and Connect the Lots show residents how important it is to live a healthy lifestyle,” said Valeria Galarza, Senior Project Manager, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership and Project Director for New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Camden.
The Camden Olympic Day event was a great tie-in to the August 2016 Summer Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This year, there are 30 New Jersey natives competing in a variety of Olympic Games and Trials.
Worldwide events like the Summer Olympics also can be a motivator in kick starting a healthy journey in our local communities. Here are five Olympic-sized tips families can do to participate in the Olympic fun– both before and after the Olympics have ended:
Make healthy snacks readily available – Olympic athletes aren’t born overnight! Keeping fresh produce and healthy snacks ready helps the whole family get healthy. When you find yourself craving something salty or sweet, swap these great alternatives for chocolate or potato chips.
Go swimming – Swimming is a great activity for families to stay cool during the summer heat. Swimming is also easy on joints and an awesome way to burn calories year-round – not to mention all the water games you can play!
Take walks together – Walking is a great form of exercise and a good way to get moving. No matter your age, take advantage of the warm summer nights!
Have fun as a family – The competitive nature of the Olympics can take over if you let it. Remember to have fun together and try different activities. You can even make Olympic medals!
The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio run from August 5-21. Click here for a full broadcast schedule of the events.
Mothers are instrumental in shaping their kids’ diets; so it’s important that they understand how the food and behavioral choices they make can impact their child’s health from prenatal through childhood.
A summer parenting workshop at the YMCA of Newark and Vicinity is bringing that knowledge to expectant mothers. The round-table discussion gets moms-to-be together twice a week to discuss pre-natal and post-delivery health and nutrition.
Meanwhile, YMCA campers ages seven through 12, are also learning about nutrition and trying their hand at food preparation every Thursday.
Christina Pin, a Montclair State University graduate student who is interning with the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Newark (NJPHK-N) this summer, is facilitating the two nutrition programs. Pin is pursuing a Master of Public Health and is bringing her knowledge into the workshops to help educate kids and expectant moms.
“Health Promotion Intervention Aimed at Increasing Nutrition Education,” is the formal title of the project, but Pin takes an informal and highly interactive approach to educating both the moms and the kids.
Courtney Price, NJPHK-N Project Manager, works with Pin and helps prepare the curriculum for the classes. “Christina incorporates best practices for providing nutrition education into her sessions in a way that will spark interest for the participants,” said Price. “She explains nutrition in terms the children can understand.”
In week one of their hands-on lesson, the campers made red, white and blue fruit kabobs to commemorate Independence Day. An upcoming class will incorporate math and science by involving the kids in measuring the sugar content of common kid foods like fruit roll-ups and breakfast cereal.
Both programs strive to engage participants and encourage them to make their own discoveries about what’s healthy, what’s not, and why. According to Christina, “What tends to go unnoticed is how nutrition has a significant impact on our daily lives. I hope that what we have been discussing in our sessions will help them make better food choices, which will ultimately help children grow up healthier.”
Nearly 350 people attended the Greenwood Ave. Farmers Market on Monday, June 27 and previewed art displayed as part of a pop-up gallery entitled “Gear Up with Nature” as part of a special Art Fest event. The gallery contained creations made by students at Artworks in Trenton, a downtown visual art center. The students created silhouettes of desert scenes on rice paper using bicycle parts and paper as stencils in a workshop.
Residents also participated in various art-centered activities, and SAGE Coalition donated sketchbooks to make the event possible. Sidewalk chalk, acrylic paints, colored pencils and drawing paper were available for children to create their very own masterpieces on site. Market visitors also had the opportunity to have their portraits drawn by a 17-year-old local Artworks artist Bayron Calderon. “The event encouraged people to be creative because art is an aspect of living a healthy life,” said Lori Johansson, Greenwood Ave. Farmers Market Manager.
The Greenwood Ave. Farmers Market hosts themed community events on the last Monday of each month. Future events include Water Fest on July 25, Fit Fest on August 29, Bike Fest on September 26, and Fall Fest on October 24. For more information on the market, please visit www.greenwoodavefm.org.
Build it and they will come. That sort of visioning worked for baseball in Iowa in the film “Field of Dreams.” Could it produce a community garden behind a hardware store in Vineland?
That’s what John Ruga wondered as he surveyed the empty field behind his store and envisioned Vineland residents planting, growing and harvesting fresh produce. Ruga, owner and operator of UR Hardware & General Store, knew that fresh vegetables were often hard to come by in the City of Vineland, and those that were available were expensive. He wanted to expand the garden section of his store, offer garden plots to residents and then watch those gardens grow.
He shared his vision with Kim Tomlin a healthy living activist and community garden organizer, and it took off from there. Within a week Tomlin and Ruga put together a plan for establishing a community garden. They reached out to David Calderetti, New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Vineland Project Manager and Harry Behrens of Impact Harvest, a faith-based organization with a mission to bring fresh produce into the community. Produce from Impact Harvest’s farm fed 160 families last year.
UR Hardware cleared 30 five-by-10-foot garden plots and offered several ways for the community to benefit. Residents could “lease” a plot for $30 and receive a $25 gift card from the store for seeds, plants and garden tools. Non-profit organizations could claim a plot at no cost as long as they committed to planting and tending the garden. Also, UR Hardware created “public” plots for people who wanted to learn about gardening and try their hand but couldn’t make a summer-long commitment to nurturing the plants along. The bounty from the public plots will go to Impact Harvest for distribution to Vineland residents.
“Our aim is to make gardening fun, educational and entertaining,” Tomlin said. “We want to offer the gardening experience and show that these community gardens are growing good food that benefits your health and saves you money. It’s a shared responsibility and social activity.”
The May 14 public kick-off was a great success and underscored the fun of gardening. With the help of Impact Harvest and the Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA, children learned how to plant vegetables. Everyone enjoyed barbecue, and all the garden plots were claimed.
“This is the perfect intersection of commerce, community organizations and residents working together to make Vineland a healthy place to work, live and play,” said Calderetti.
Meanwhile, the visioning continues. “We will begin experimenting with vertical gardens and learning gardens,” Tomlin said. We want to introduce people to a different way of life, with fun for everyone coupled with a level of commitment to see the garden through its season.
Live Healthy Vineland recognizes that funding one infrastructure project focused on the construction of new, or the enhancement of old pedestrian and bicycling facilities, will not be enough to change behavior and shift culture.
That’s why New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Vineland (NJPHK-V), Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA, Vineland City’s Health and Engineering departments, and Vineland Public Schools—together applied for a second Safe Routes to School Infrastructure Grant. The goal is to continue the process of creating safe travel corridors for children to walk and bike to and from school. The grant focuses on the safety of children within a two-mile radius of a K- 8 elementary school, but the infrastructure projects facilitate travel for all residents in the community.
“Vineland’s priority is increasing the safety of all those who bike or walk or would like to do so,” said David Calderetti, NJPHK-V project manager.
The first phase of infrastructure improvements focused on the area surrounding Gloria M. Sabater Elementary School, located in the center of Vineland where most of the pedestrian and vehicular activity occurs. The next phase, when funded, will facilitate safe pedestrian travel along Landis Avenue. “We want to increase visibility for drivers to notice pedestrians crossing streets. We also want to expand the pedestrian and bicycle network that flows off Landis Avenue,” said Calderetti. “These projects will not only facilitate student travel, but also assist others in our downtown area.”
“Safe Routes projects also increase access to foot traffic generators such as bodegas around schools, recreation areas and other amenities,” Calderetti said. “If done correct, improvement projects have the ability to stimulate commerce and enhance the quality of life for our residents and businesses.”
A new analysis reveals that the difference between living in Trenton and nearby Princeton Junction isn’t just quality of life, it’s 14 years
Click map to see larger
When it comes to living a long and healthy life, it turns out that few miles or a few digits in a ZIP code can mean a decade or more. Or 14 years, when it comes to the life-expectancy difference between those who reside in Princeton Junction and those who call Trenton home, according to a new analysis released today.
The news — the work of researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation— came as no surprise to local healthcare officials and nonprofit leaders in Trenton. They’ve been working for years to help city residents live longer, healthier lives, by having access to doctors and mental health providers; homes free of lead and other health hazards; options for healthy food at an affordable price; and safe places to play, exercise, and socialize.
Health experts have long known that poverty, access to jobs, and environmental and social conditions contribute to people’s longevity. Scores of data sets show how that plays out, with individuals in low-income communities often suffering higher rates of asthma, obesity, gun violence, and other conditions that can cause their lives to be far shorter than people living in wealthier communities.
The Virginia Commonwealth team has mapped the often-stark difference in life expectancy between neighborhoods separated by just a few miles, or train stops, in cities nationwide, including New York and Philadelphia. RWJF has backed a number of these projects, including the Trenton map, and is now using the graphic illustrations to highlight the gaps in healthcare and opportunity, and to help fuel efforts to reduce these disparities.
“Life expectancy is powerful because it is an easily understandable metric,” explained Gregory Paulson, executive director of the Trenton Health Team, a public-private partnership that runs the city’s Accountable Care Organization, which connects hospitals, doctors, and dozens of local groups to improve health outcomes in the Capital City. Among other things, the group has used data analysis to identify and improve care for high-risk patients who depended on the city’s hospitals for their primary care, reducing emergency room use by 45 percent. Robert Wood Johnson also funds aspects of the THT’s work.
Paulson said a recent survey conducted by the Team, organized in 2006, found that more than half the residents who responded said they still find it hard to live a healthy life in Trenton. “Trenton is trying to redefine itself. And a lot of it has to do with health,” he said, adding, “We still have a lot to do.”
For the Trenton study VCU researchers used population data from the U.S. Census, ZIP code maps, and death data from the New Jersey Department of Health and discovered that those living near the train station in Princeton Junction have an average life expectancy of 87 years, compared to 73 years for residents around the Trenton train station – just two train stops and less than 20 minutes away. Lawrenceville residents were found to live an average of 83 years; Hamilton dwellers 80 years; those in Ewing just 75 years.
“It’s one of those things we already knew,” said Samuel Frisby, CEO of the Trenton YMCA, who helped launch the Greenwood Ave. Farmers Market, just blocks from the train station. “The length of your life – and how well you live your life – is based on zip code.”
In addition to fresh produce, visitors to the urban market can get blood-pressure screenings, enjoy dance classes and bicycle programs, get a free, healthy meal for their children, and connect with other health and welfare services. A DJ spinning salsa music helps attract the largely Latino residents nearby.
“If you are going to shift and create a culture of health, it has to be fun, it has to be convenient,” notes Frisby, who also worked for City of Trenton. “If we know better, we do better – but we have to have access.”
Matthew D. Trujillo, a research associate with RWJF, said Trenton made sense for a study because it was close to the foundation’s headquarters and the region was familiar to many involved and because the disparity between some of its urban neighborhoods and wealthier enclaves nearby clearly illustrated the service gaps. “It’s almost an instinct,” he said, “and then you see the numbers and realize it’s accurate.”
In addition, Trenton made sense because of the impact made by groups — like the Trenton Health Team, the YMCA, the Greenwood Ave. market, and others — trying to tackle these problems, Trujillo added. That said, it can take many years to make a dramatic difference in life-expectancy numbers.
Another Trenton nonprofit, Isles, has worked since 1981 to try and reduce some of the disparities that harm those living in low-income zip codes. The group retrofits homes to reduce asthma and lead hazards, helped plant more than 70 community and school gardens, and trains high-school dropouts in ways that build personal and job skills, while contributing to the revitalization of their community.
But Marty Johnson, the founder and CEO of the organization, noted that poverty data now shows how the same problems that have traditionally faced Trenton and other urban hubs are showing up in older suburbs, as income levels continue to drop in some bedroom communities around the cities’ edge.
“Poverty is not respecting municipal boundaries,” he said. “We need to look at our work as regional.”
Children whose mothers had higher BPA exposure in their third trimester had more body fat in their school-age years
More BPA exposure before birth could mean more body fat and larger waists during early childhood, according to a New York City study released today.
The study, published today in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, is the first to show this link between fetal exposure to bisphenol-A (BPA) and body fat in children at age 7. While there are a number of factors in obesity—genetics, diet, exercise, disease—the study adds to evidence that environmental chemicals may be playing a role in the health crisis costing the U.S. lives and dollars.
“For years when we thought of obesity we thought of eating and exercise, but we’re learning that it’s more complicated than that,” said Kim Harley, associate director of the University of California, Berkeley Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health.
“There are clues that there are chemicals that also impact later body weight,” said Harley, who was not involved in the current study. “BPA is one we’re really concerned about.”
From pregnancy through early childhood, researchers checked the urine and children body sizes of 369 mother-child pairs in New York City. They found that higher exposure to BPA before birth—estimated by looking at the mothers’ third trimester urine—meant the children at age 7 had higher body fat masses and waist sizes.
Researchers did not see an association between body fat and BPA levels in the children themselves at ages three or five. That finding, the scientists said, suggests fetal exposure may be a time of heightened vulnerability to the chemical.
“The prenatal window is a time when there really should be caution exerted for unnecessary exposures,” said lead author Lori Hoepner, an investigator at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health and assistant professor at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.
Health officials for years have been warning about the child obesity crisis in the U.S. An estimated 17 percent of children and teens aged 2 to 19 years old are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
BPA can leach out of can linings and into the food and studies show that just about everyone has traces of the chemical in their body—researchers believe diet is the major exposure route. Ninety-four percent of the women in this study had the chemicals in their urine.
The study doesn’t prove prenatal exposure to the chemical causes obesity, but BPA—used to make plastic hard and shatterproof—mimics the hormone estrogen and acts as an endocrine disruptor. Properly functioning hormones are crucial to reproduction, as well as development, brain function and immune systems. “Our fat is an endocrine organ and hormonally active,” Harley said. “The fat in our body produces hormones, is regulated by hormones, and hormones tell our body how to lay down fat cells, and regulate our hunger and how we mobilize fat,” she said.
Animal studies have found prenatal BPA exposure linked to offspring obesity.
“There are clues that there are chemicals that also impact later body weight. BPA is one we’re really concerned about.”-Kim Harley, University of California, Berkeley
“When you dose pregnant rats, BPA is associated with increased fat mass in offspring, even later in life. As the offspring reach adulthood, there’s more fat tissue, heavier body weight, and insulin resistance in rats,” Harley said.
Other human studies have found a similar link between BPA exposure and signs of child obesity, but have focused on children’s exposure. The few studies looking at prenatal exposure and children’s body mass have been mixed.
“Some will say the human [research] isn’t completely consistent, but with human health science it often never is,” said said Dr. Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor and researcher at the NYU School of Medicine who was not involved in the study. “We have to decide whether we should act based on the evidence before us. The FDA consistently chooses to not act to limit BPA in food uses, despite bans in baby bottles and sippy cups.”
Trasande pointed to the crushing economic impact of obesity. In a series of papers over the past couple years, he and others have been slapping price tags on health issues due to exposures to endocrine disrupting compounds, including BPA, pesticides and phthalates.
In the U.S. alone, Trasande estimated BPA exposure was linked to more than 12,000 cases of childhood obesity in 2008, along with 33,800 cases of new heart disease, another suspected health impact from exposure. The total cost of that additional obesity and heart disease? An estimated $2.98 billion.
“The type of exposure-response relationship we used in those studies is similar to what they found in this study,” he said, adding that BPA replacements, such as bisphenol-S (BPS), are another area of emerging concern as many seem to have the same endocrine disrupting effects.
The American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, has repeatedly defended BPA’s safety. In response to Hoepner’s study, Steve Hentges, a representative from the council, said in an emailed response that “statistical associations are not the same as causation, in spite of cleverly-worded headlines designed to imply otherwise” referring to the study’s press release.
Industry has long assured the public that BPA breaks down safely in the human body. But last year, in a study of mice, Health Canada researchers reported rather it seems the body transforms it into a compound that might spur obesity.
The exposure-body fat link was a bit stronger in girls than boys in Hoepner’s study, and she said more studies are needed to tease out whether there are different gender vulnerabilities.
Beginning in 1999, researchers have been studying this cohort of mothers and children since the mothers’ third trimester of pregnancy. Hoepner said they would follow the children up to age 18 to see if this effect persists into later childhood and adolescence.
Though the study is not definitive, mothers-to-be should take note, Hoepner said.
“This is one of potentially many exposures, and pregnant women should try to reduce their exposure to BPA,” Hoepner said. “Exposure could be a preventable factor potentially involved in childhood obesity.”
Ryan Kerrigan of the Washington Redskins sipped water during N.F.L. football training camp in Richmond, Va.CreditDean Hoffmeyer/Richmond Times-Dispatch, via Associated Press
Are we, with the best of intentions, putting young athletes at risk when we urge them to drink lots of fluids during steamy sports practices and games?
A new report about overhydration in sports suggests that under certain circumstances the answer is yes, and that the consequences for young athletes can be — and in several tragic cases already have been — severe and even fatal.
Visit a practice for high school football, soccer or other team sports at this time of year, when temperatures can be high and early-season fitness marginal, and you are likely to see repeated water breaks and exhortations by the coaches and parents to drink up.
“A lot of people, including coaches, think that it is dangerous for athletes to get dehydrated, even a little dehydrated,” said Kevin Miller, an associate professor of athletic training at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Mich., and co-author of the new report.
The coaches and others worry that dehydration leads to muscle cramping and possibly heat illnesses, including serious heat stroke. So, hoping to keep their athletes healthy and safe, they press them to drink fluids before, during, and after a practice, whether the athletes feel thirsty or not.
And if an athlete should develop cramps or feel excessively hot during the workout, they are told to down even more fluids, and if the cramps continue, still more, “until, before you know it, a player will have drunk a gallon or two of fluid or even more,” Dr. Miller said, “which is something that we know actually happens.”
The problem with this situation is that, according to the latest science, dehydration during sports is rarely if ever dangerous, but overhydration undeniably is.
Last year, for instance, in a heartbreaking incident, a high school football player in Georgia experienced cramps during practice, and hoping to alleviate them, began gulping large amounts of water and Gatorade. By the end of the practice, he had swallowed about four gallons of fluid, according to media reports. Not long afterward, he collapsed at home and was rushed by helicopter to the hospital, where, several days later, he died.
At least two other high school football players are known to have died since 2008 from drinking too much fluid during and after a practice, Dr. Miller said. These players had developed a rare condition, he said, known formally as exercise-associated hyponatremia and less technically as water intoxication.
Hyponatremia occurs when someone consumes so much fluid that his or her body can’t rid itself of the surplus through sweating or urination. As a result, water levels rise in the bloodstream and sodium levels, diluted, fall. Osmosis then draws water from the blood into the surrounding cells of the body to equalize sodium levels there, and those cells begin to swell like water balloons. If this process occurs in the brain, it can be lethal.
Until recently, hyponatremia had been associated almost exclusively with marathon races and other prolonged endurance events, especially among slow racers, who tended to sweat little but drink copiously, often for hours on end. But as the new report, which presents updated hydration guidelines developed by a consortium of scientific experts, points out, exercise-associated hyponatremia “is now being reported in a more diverse set of sporting activities,” including half-marathons, sprint triathlons, Grand Canyon hikes, Bikram yoga classes, and, of course, team sport practices and games, especially football, at the professional, collegiate, and now high school level.
“What is sad is that every case” of exercise-associated hyponatremia “is preventable,” Dr. Miller said.
The key, he said, is for athletes to drink when they feel thirsty — not before and not after they feel sated. “You do not need to ‘stay ahead of your thirst,’ as many people think,” he said.
Listening to your “innate thirst mechanism” provides a safe and reliable guide to hydration, the new report concludes.
This strategy also should not increase players’ risks for cramping or heat illness, Dr. Miller said, since, “based on current evidence, it does not appear that dehydration directly contributes” to those problems.
Similarly, if perhaps more surprising, other studies have found that being dehydrated does not increase athletes’ susceptibility to heat problems, and that athletes who collapse from heat illness often are quite well-hydrated.
Instead, both cramping and heat problems seem to result from athletes pushing themselves too hard. Muscles cramp, Dr. Miller said, when a muscle is fatigued and begins to spasm, not when an athlete is dehydrated, while heat illnesses generally occur in athletes who are not physiologically acclimated to hot weather (a process that requires slowly increasing the length and intensity of workouts in the heat) and who continue to exercise even as they start to feel awful.
So, he said, “the best advice” about how to keep young athletes healthy during warm-weather practices and games, “is common sense.” Don’t urge athletes to drink if they aren’t thirsty. And don’t make them keep playing if they aren’t feeling well, he said.
If they complain of feeling too hot, have them sit in the shade and remove clothing. Take their temperature if they remain lethargic, and seek medical attention if it is much above normal. Immerse them in an ice bath, too, to rapidly lower body temperature. (Dr. Miller and his colleagues recently completed a study in which they found that football players who overheated could be submerged wearing full pads and uniforms and cool off almost as quickly as players dressed only in T-shirts and underwear, which could save precious minutes when a player seriously overheats.)
Above all, remind them, and, if needed, yourself, that the point of this enterprise is to have fun.
Music celebrities from One Direction to Beyonce promote really unhealthy food
Almost every food or drink a music celebrity endorses and promotes through commercials and advertisements is unhealthy, according to a new study from NYU researchers. That’s a shame, the study authors argue, since most of the stars promoting these products—from One Direction to Beyoncé—are popular among kids and teens.
In the report, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, NYU Langone Medical Center researchers combed through Billboard Magazine’s “Hot 100” song charts from 2013 and 2014. They confirmed celebrities’ popularity by looking at who won at the Teen Choice Awards as well as the number of views of celebrity endorsements they had on YouTube. The study authors also looked at all food and drink endorsements between 2000 and 2014 recorded in the advertisement database AdScope. Overall, there were around 313 million views of YouTube videos of celebrity food and beverage endorsements.
The most common foods and drinks endorsed by the musicians were soda, sugary drinks, fast food and sweets. The researchers assessed the nutritional makeup of the products and of the 26 food products in the ads, 81% were “nutrient poor.” Only one of the food products—Wonderful Pistachio—had a healthy nutrition score, and was endorsed by Psy. Taylor Swift has promoted Diet Coke, which is not high in nutrients and there’s some evidence to suggest that artificial sweeteners are not as healthy as they’ve been advertised.
The study authors report that Baauer, will.i.am, Justin Timberlake, Maroon 5, and Britney Spears had the most food and drink endorsements. According to the report, several celebrities endorsed regular, full-calorie soda, including Nicki Minaj, One Direction, Mariah Carey, Calvin Harris, Blake Shelton, Enrique Iglesias, Beyoncé, Wiz Khalifa and others.
“Teens are seeing a lot of ads for these types of products that are associated with things like obesity and childhood diabetes,” says study author Marie Bragg, an assistant professor in the department of population health at NYU in a video about her research. “We already know that other studies have shown that exposure to food ads can lead young people to overeat in the short-term.”
The study is the first to show how many music celebrities are involved in food advertising. “Which is important because some of these contracts are worth millions of dollars, suggesting that food companies really get a lot of value out of them,” says Bragg. For example, the researchers note that in 2012, Beyoncé signed an estimated $50 million endorsement deal with Pepsi, and Justin Timberlake received an estimated $6 million for his role in the McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” jingle.
You can check out the study here to see what unhealthy products celebrities are endorsing. The study authors are calling for more research on the effect of music celebrities’ endorsements on children and adolescents.
TRENTON — In Trenton’s South Ward, the average resident lives until 73. But in West Windsor, about 12 miles away, residents could expect to live up to 14 years longer, according to a new study released Tuesday.
Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released life expectancy calculations for Mercer County as part of a larger series whose aim is to raise public awareness and spur action.
“You can see pretty stark differences in life expectancy even in places that are relatively close to one another,” said Matthew Trujillo, a research associate with RWJF.
The study notes that a complex web of factors impact the disparities that exist, including poverty, environmental factors and access to education, jobs, affordable housing, nutritious food, places for physical activity, health care and social services.
“I think what we have done for quite some time is try to address things like life expectancy through the healthcare system alone and we’ve come to the realization that we may not be making the progress that we would like to be making,” Trujillo said. “To help us make that progress, it would require us to think about some of these other factors that we might want to address.”
Researchers praised local efforts already under way by the Trenton Health Team, Isles and the Greenwood Avenue Farmers Market.
Gregory Paulson, executive director of the Trenton Health Team, said the team has made strides in improving the city’s health outcomes, in large part because of its partnerships with more than 60 groups.
Among the initiatives he highlighted were the Faith in Prevention program, which has worked with 30 faith-based organizations to encourage healthier eating choices and physical activity, and a trauma-informed care program, which targets individuals who suffer lasting adverse health effects stemming from childhood trauma.
Earlier this year, the team received two multi-year grants: one from Novo Nordisk to educate parents and promote physical activity and healthy food choices for elementary school kids and another from Trinity Health System aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of city residents.
“I think while the map shows the disparity exists, Trenton is uniquely positioned to be able to make improvements here in the community,” Paulson said.
Marty Johnson, president and CEO of Isles, said that improving the quality of life can help rein in the ever-growing healthcare costs.
“The public is paying for it one way or another,” he said. “We might as well pay to solve the problem upstream than wait until the symptoms come and have foundations like RWJ pay for more healthcare services. It’s really expensive to do it that way.”
Isles, whose mission is to foster self-reliant families and build healthier communities, has focused its efforts on building 70-plus community and school gardens around the city; removing lead hazards in older homes to help reduce lead poisoning risks in children; and providing dropout students with academic success, life skills and job readiness training, which often helps them become change agents in some of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
“Our mission isn’t to build homes or grow food or train young people,” Johnson said. “Those are some of the things that we do only because we found them to be the most powerful way to get that outcome.”
Isles is also a vendor at the Greenwood Avenue Farmers Market, which is now in its second year of providing fresh, healthy produce to residents who might not have otherwise had access to it.
Sam Frisby, CEO of the Trenton YMCA and a county freeholder, acknowledged the many barriers to eating better — access to fresh produce, the cost of fresh produce and knowing how to cook fresh ingredients. But the farmers market saw these obstacles as opportunities to fill a void.
“When you know better, you do better but only if you have access,” he said. “It’s not only about having access, but it’s also about educating people. … We’ve got to make sure they understand what they are and how to use them.”
The market, which is open 2 to 6 p.m. every Monday through Oct. 24, also offers health screenings and health care referrals, exercise classes and summer meals for students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch when school is in session.
“It’s really about creating a culture of health,” Frisby said. “We’ve got to be able to do more of this and get it to a greater scale.”
Johnson cautioned that other towns in Mercer County are not immune to the problems that have plagued Trenton. Over the last decade, regional trends have begun to change as poverty has increasingly moved to the suburbs.
“It’s really important that we understand the spatial relationship between illnesses and quality of life,” he said. “When you start to see those regional trends, this isn’t just a Trenton problem; and therefore, we have to rethink the way we solve these problems.”