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Leuze named “Healthy Kids Champion”

Published in the Star Ledger/NJ.com

Marguerite Leuze, special assistant for health services and nursing for the Newark Public Schools Office of Health Services, has received the “Healthy Kids Champion” award from the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Leuze received the award for her “dedicated and focused commitment to the children in the city of Newark especially those who are underserved and less privileged.” She was one of six community leaders honored for their commitment and contributions in the NJPHK-targeted communities of Newark, Camden, New Brunswick, Trenton and Vineland.

“It’s an honor to present the Healthy Kids Champion award to Dr. Leuze for her tireless advocacy and commitment to providing the specialized care she does in Newark,” said Darrin Anderson, deputy director of NJPHK.

“I feel privileged to have had the opportunity over the years to be able to make a difference in the Newark community,” said Leuze, who was honored Dec. 3 at the Building Healthy, Equitable Communities Conference in Edison, a day long conference on building healthier communities which was attended by more than 300 community leaders, dietitians, teachers, school nurses and social workers.

Community Involvement Called Crucial in Fighting Childhood Obesity

Originally published in NJ Spotlight

Experts at conference in Edison note importance of tailoring efforts to target different social groups, coordinating public-health efforts

While there are signs that the decades-long rise in childhood obesity is turning a corner, a national obesity expert said community-based public-health efforts in New Jersey and other states could be key to continuing to decrease obesity among both children and adults.

It will take a sustained effort with a consistent message, as well as outreach tailored to target different social groups, according to Dr. William H. Dietz, the former nutrition, physical activity and obesity director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dietz noted that national surveys are beginning to show declines in obesity in young children, with one study showing a drop in the percentage of obese 2- to 5-year-olds from 12.4 percent in 2005-2006 to 8.4 percent in 2011-2012.

“I think we may be at the corner — I don’t think we’ve turned the corner,” he said.

He compared it with the effort to reduce smoking, which reached a 15-year-long plateau in the 1960s and 1970s before beginning a steady decline.

But there’s a major difference between the two public-health issues, Dietz noted, and it may make anti-obesity efforts more difficult: While opposition to smoking grew at a grassroots level, concern about obesity began with the federal government and has not sparked the same kind of community-level concern.

“People don’t feel immediately threatened,” said Dietz, adding who that many people have the attitude that, “ ‘It’s not me, it’s not my family.’ I think that’s the challenge — how do we build that kind of grassroots investment.”

It might help anti-obesity efforts to use terms like “health” or “wellness” to draw broader public support, Dietz said.

With federal funding for anti-obesity efforts unlikely in the near future, state and municipal-level public-health efforts will be important, Dietz said at a conference titled “Building Healthy, Equitable Communities” held yesterday in Edison.

He noted that the roots of obesity are complex and require a multi-pronged response.

Community groups can be more effective when they band together to promote ways to improve children’s health, Dietz said. He noted that existing efforts to promote activities that lower obesity are often not coordinated.

“The people who support breastfeeding are not the same people who support reduced screen time or increased physical activity,” Dietz said. “Building a coalition of diverse groups is really a significant challenge.”

There are persistent differences in obesity levels among different racial and ethnic groups. And the social factors that affect these obesity levels also differ among these groups, Dietz said.

For example, while obesity levels are higher among white people with lower incomes, obesity and income levels aren’t linked for African Americans. Such differences illustrate why public-health efforts will be more effective if they are geared toward different communities, he said.

A potential model is a former federal program, the VERB campaign, which ran from 2002 and 2006. It encouraged children aged 9 to 13 to engage in more physical activity. The campaign, which federal data suggests was effective, used separate marketing efforts targeting children from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“The messages were handcrafted by groups that represent those communities,” Dietz said.

Laurie Shanderson, assistant dean of the Richard Stockton College School of Health Sciences in Galloway, added that students preparing for healthcare careers need to understand these disparities. However, they often don’t, in part because they don’t study the historical roots of these differences, she said.

“They don’t have the same historical perspective or background to know how much things have changed, and to even identify certain problems,” she said. “The students we’re training right now don’t really identify health disparities as being an issue.”

Diana Autin, executive co-director of the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, said parents are key in building community coalitions to improve children’s health.

“If we provide parents with information and assistance and the skills and knowledge that they need to make good decisions, not only for their own children, but also in their community and also in advocating for policies, then we will have a very significant impact on making the changes we need to make,” she said.

Autin added that that it’s important that families become aware of opportunities that are already available to improve their health, including the free preventive care, such as annual physicals, offered under the Affordable Care Act.

Dietz said the ACA could also directly contribute toward anti-obesity efforts in the long term. Since the law encourages linking healthcare spending to improving people’s health, it could lead to federal funding for anti-obesity efforts.

Daniel F. Oscar, president and CEO of the Princeton-based Center for Supportive Schools, said that schools can play an important part in community-based efforts to improve children’s health. But he said public-health efforts suffer from continued racial, ethnic and economic segregation in schools, which remains a barrier in working effectively across different groups.

Autin said that integrating physical exercise with lessons about healthy behavior has been linked to improved test scores, but schools are often so focused on increasing class time for math and other areas measured by standardized tests that that they find it difficult to focus on health.

One area where schools could make a difference is in reducing the stigma attached to obesity. Dietz said this remains an obstacle to efforts to get the public to help combat the problem.

He said efforts to decrease this stigma could start with changing terminology. Rather than saying “obese people,” Dietz said it’s better to say “people with obesity,” which emphasizes that it’s a medical condition rather than an identity. Using “obese people” is similar to saying “cancer people” instead of “people with cancer,” Dietz said.

The New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids, New Jersey YMCA State Alliance, the state Department of Health, the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, the American Academy of Pediatrics New Jersey chapter and the New Jersey Hospital Association hosted the conference.

Conference focuses on building healthier communities

Originally published in The Philadelphia Tribune

More than 300 attendees turned out for a conference focused on building healthier communities in New Jersey.

The New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids (NJPHK) hosted the Building Healthy, Equitable Communities Conference on Dec. 3 at the Pines Manor in Edison, N.J. The conference focused on providing participants with tools and best practices to build healthier communities by helping to incorporate health equity into current policies and practices, thereby helping to lessen chronic diseases such as obesity and address environmental factors contributing to health disparities.

“Nearly one-third of children in this country are overweight or obese, leading to a plethora of health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol — issues that have been generally associated with adults in the past,” Dr. Darrin Anderson, deputy director of NJPHK, said in a statement. “By bringing together experts and community advocates to share practical solutions and best practices, we can make an even greater impact on the health of New Jersey families.”

Since its inception in 2009, NJPHK and its community partners have made great strides in implementing policy and environment changes aimed at preventing childhood obesity, including: assisting with the development of wellness policies and school wellness policies, renovating playgrounds, securing commitments from local corner stores to provide healthier choices, creating bike lanes, and co-sponsoring fun and fitness events.

“With continued collaboration among our partners, we can make a huge difference in reducing childhood obesity rates and ensuring that all of our children have the opportunity to achieve their full health potential,” Anderson said.

Community leaders, dietitians, teachers, school nurses and social workers attended the one-day conference, which was co-sponsored by the NJ YMCA State Alliance; Shaping NJ, New Jersey Department of Health; Family and Community Health Sciences, Rutgers Cooperative Extension; and the New Jersey Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics.

Featured conference speakers included Dr. Dwayne C. Proctor, director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Disparities Portfolio; and Dr. William H. Dietz, director, Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness, Milken Institute of Public Health, George Washington University.

A panel discussion moderated by Mike Schneider, anchor and managing editor of New Jersey public television’s NJTV news program, examined the causes of health inequities and strategies communities can use to address the issue.

NJPHK also presented Healthy Kids Champion awards to community leaders for their commitment and contributions in the following NJPHK-targeted communities: Camden — Meishka L. Mitchell, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, vice president of neighborhood initiatives; New Brunswick — Michael G. Blackwell, superintendent of recreation in New Brunswick and executive director of “The First Tee of Raritan Valley”; Newark — Marguerite Leuze, special assistant for health and nursing, Office of Health Services of the Newark Public Schools; Trenton — Francis Blanco, chief of staff to Trenton Mayor Eric E. Jackson; Vineland — Stanley Burke, a longtime, dedicated community volunteer; and State Program Office — Barbara George Johnson, executive director of the John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy at Thomas Edison State College.

NJPHK is a statewide program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The goal of the program is to convene, connect and empower community partnerships across the state in order to design and implement childhood obesity prevention strategies that support access to affordable healthy foods and increase opportunities for safe physical activity in the cities of Camden, Newark, New Brunswick, Trenton and Vineland.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the largest private foundation in New Jersey and the nation’s largest philanthropy working to improve health care.

John S. Watson Institute executive director receives award

Originally published on NJ.com

Barbara George Johnson, executive director of The John S. Watson Institute of Public Policy at Thomas Edison State College, is the recipient of the Healthy Kids Champion award presented by the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids (NJPHK).

NJPHK is a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with technical assistance and direction provided by the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance. The goal of the program is to convene, connect and empower community partnerships across the state in order to design and implement childhood obesity prevention strategies that support access to affordable healthy foods and increase opportunities for safe physical activity in the cities of Camden, Newark, New Brunswick, Trenton and Vineland.

“It is an honor to have been selected for this award,” said George Johnson. “New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids and its community partners have made great strides in implementing policy and environment changes aimed at preventing childhood obesity. Some of the undertakings include assisting with the development of wellness policies, renovating playgrounds, securing commitments from local corner stores to provide healthier choices and co-sponsoring fun and fitness events.”

Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson’s chief of staff wins ‘Healthy Kids Champion’ award

Originally published on NJ.com

The New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids presented a “Healthy Kids Champion” awards Wednesday to several community leaders from around the state including Francis Blanco, who works as chief of staff for Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson.

Blanco was among six individuals to receive the award which honors contributions individuals have made to the New Jersey Partnerships for Healthy Kids (NJPHK). Blanco is chairwoman for the Trenton Healthy Food Network, which promotes the availability of healthy food in local stores and bodegas in urban communities.

“My passion for improving Trenton and the conditions of people’s lives is very important to me,” Blanco said. “I am honored to receive this award, but I also feel privileged to be able to work to make a difference in a city whose people I want to see healthy and vibrant,” said Ms. Blanco.

“It’s an honor to present the Healthy Kids Champion award to Ms. Blanco for her tireless commitment to the residents of Trenton,” said Darrin Anderson, deputy director of NJPHK. “She is an exceptional role model for youth in our community. Her capabilities and enthusiasm are boundless, and NJPHK Trenton is fortunate to have her as a partner and supporter.”

Obesity is a national health and labeling problem, expert tells statewide conference

Originally published on NJ.com

To find a solution to the nation’s ongoing obesity crisis, people first need to change the way they talk about it, one of the nation’s leading experts on obesity told a statewide audience of health and nutrition experts Wednesday in Edison.

Dr. William H. Dietz, director of the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness at George Washington University, told the crowd of about 300 that obesity is “the most stigmatized condition in our society.

“We can’t continue to confuse the identity with the disease,” Dietz said at the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids’ conference on Building Healthy, Equitable Communities.

“We should be talking about people with obesity in the same way we talk about people with diabetes,” he said. “We don’t talk about ‘cancer people.’ We don’t talk about ‘diabetes people’.”

Obesity, Dietz said, is not a choice, but a development caused by any number of personal and external factors.

Once the naming issue is settled, clinicians and other health officials have to figure out a way to galvanize public opinion against the condition in the way public attitudes changed about smoking.

“There has not been a united, grassroots movement around obesity,” said Dietz, the former director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I think that’s the challenge, is how do we build the kind of grassroots investment where things are learned and shared in the way they were around the tobacco use.”

A report by Trust for America’s Health and the foundation said New Jersey’s overall obesity rate was 26.3 percent of all adults in 2013. Among all African-Americans, the obesity rate was 34.5 percent, seven percentage points higher than the rate for Latinos and about 10 percentage points higher than the rate for whites.

Among 10-to-17 year-olds, however, the rate was 10 percent, one of the best rates for any state nationwide, they said.

Despite the lack of a united front, Dietz said the steady growth in obesity rates has moderated recently. Fourteen states — New Jersey is not one of them — have seen a decline in the prevalence of obesity, he said.

“Overall, we haven’t turned a corner,” he said, “but we may be turning the corner.”

Still, it is a significant health issue. According to the CDC, about 35 percent of all American adults are obese. For children and adolescents between the ages of 2-19, the rate of obesity is 17 percent – or 12.7 million individuals with obesity, CDC said.

People with obesity increase their risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and some cancers, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The underlying issues that drive obesity, Dietz said, are not based on whether an individual is rich or poor.

They have more to do, he said, with body image, so while African-American women have disproportionately high rates of obesity, they have lower rates of eating disorders than white women.

That poses another challenge to clinicians: How do they reverse the strong obesity trend in African-American women “in a way that doesn’t make [them] crazy about their weight the way white women and girls already are?”

Because overweight children have a high likelihood to become obese as adults, it makes sense to instill changes in the systems they use, Dietz said. Switching from whole milk to low-fat milk, eliminating high-calorie, empty snacks and having fresh fruit and vegetables at every meal would help. Schools could take a new look at recess time, physical education classes and encourage in-class activities to help kids burn off energy and make themselves more alert for learning, Dietz said.

The conference focused on equity, as well as health, and Dietz and other speakers emphasized that what works for one group might not work for another.

For example, legislators could direct money to build playgrounds and sidewalks in urban communities, but that spending might not make sense in rural areas, he said. The proof is in data that shows obesity rates varying for males and females, as well as ethnic groups, he said.

Like Dietz, other speakers during the daylong conference said creative thinking is necessary to attack the problem on different fronts.

Dr. Robert C. Like, director of the Center for Healthy Families and Cultural Diversity, said a problem like obesity should be viewed not just as a weight issue, but an issue of weight, health and, in many cases, a chronic disease such as diabetes. He called it not an epidemic, but a “snydemic.

“Many times, different disease have shared underlying causes,” Like said. Experts experts might want to consider “diabecity.”

Dwayne C. Proctor, director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Eliminating Health Disparities Portfolio, said research on adverse childhood events – things like witnessing violence, or having parents divorce, or observing substance or alcohol abuse – shows that problems started in childhood can manifest themselves later in life. That means addressing family, environmental and neighborhood issues as matters of health, he said.

Six Workshops Highlight Strategies, Best Practices and Policies

IMG_1896During the conference, six interactive workshops presented progress on policy and environmental change strategies that can increase opportunities for healthy eating, wellness and physical activity. Each moderated session featured discussion among experts in the field and enabled the audience to interact through questions, feedback and comments.

Topics, moderators and panel members were as follows:

Workshop A: A Fresh Perspective: The NJ Healthy Corner Stores Initiative overviewed the NJ Healthy Corner Stores Initiative which works with store owners and others in the community to increase access to healthy foods in underserved areas by making those foods available at corner stores. Successes, impacts on the communities throughout NJ and implementation strategies were shared.

  • Moderator: Corinne Orlando, director of Government Relations for the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association in New Jersey
  • Speakers: Marissa Davis, project manager for NJPHK-Trenton; Maria Hollander, M.P.H., manager of National Partnerships, American Heart Association; Miriam Manon senior associate for The Food Trust’s National Campaign for Healthy Food Access; Ana Ramos, New Jersey Food Coordinator, The Food Trust.

Workshop B: Community-Based Strategies to Build a Culture of Health featured exciting strategies being implemented throughout NJ to build healthier communities. Attendees learned about innovative work being done by the NJ Healthy Communities Network and how communities became engaged.

  • Moderator: William J. Lovett, executive director at the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance.
  • Speakers: Ernest Bryant, executive director for East Orange, YMCA; Steve Jobin, president and chief executive officer of Raritan Bay Area YMCA; Lisa Scheetz, Chief Operating Officer , Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA; Kathy Smith, MA,CHES, program officer at Partners for Health Foundation

Workshop C: Community Health and Urban Planners – Stronger Together! Highlighted how choices made by decision makers at the state, regional and local levels have had tangible impacts on the health of citizens. Health and planning practitioners are finding common ground in implementing projects and policies that address healthy behaviors, the built environment and quality of life.

  • Moderator: Leigh Ann Von Hagen, AICP/PP, senior research specialist at the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center and the NJ Health Impact Collaborative Rutgers
  • Speakers: Charles Brown, MPA, senior research specialist, Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center (VTC) and adjunct professor, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers; Atif Nazir, MS, Health Officer, Township of Irvington Health Department; Darleen Reveille,R.N., Senior Public Health Nurse, Garfield Health Department; Laura Torchio, AICP, program coordinator for Eat, Play Live…Better.

Workshop D: The Crossroads between Clinical and Community Prevention Efforts showed how hospitals are critical partners to ensuring that communities remain strong, vibrant and healthy. Attendees learned how hospitals across the state are working in partnership with their communities on innovative ways to improve population health and to sustain change through a variety of coordinated efforts and resource-sharing strategies.

  • Moderator: Maria Mera, project manager for the New Jersey Hospital Association/HRET at NJHA.
  • Speakers: Laura Engelmann, CSW, MHA, health educator for AtlantiCare; Chris Kirk, PhD, Director, Community Health, Atlantic Health Systems; Joshua Rosenblatt, MD, Chair, Department of Pediatrics and Director, Academic Affairs, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center; John Slotman, Vice President, Graduate Medical Education (GME) Policy and Teaching Hospital Issues, New Jersey Hospital Association.

Workshop E: Proven Strategies that Promote Health and Wellness in Youth and Adults focused on the infrastructure for obesity prevention that is being implemented as well as the many promising practices being implemented across the state, including promoting healthy food retail sales in WIC-authorized corner stores. Discussion ensued around creating health nutrition and physical activity environments in early care and education centers, urban school districts and diverse communities.

  • Moderator: Peri L. Nearon, MPA, Director, External Affairs and Strategic Initiatives for Community Health & Wellness for the Division of Family Health Services, NJ Department of Health.
  • Speakers: Michelle F. Brill, MPH, Family and Community Health Sciences/educator/assistant professor Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences; Alexandra Grenci, MS, RD, LDN,CDE, Family and Community Health Sciences educator/associate professor, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Hunterdon County; Janet Heroux, Obesity Prevention Specialist for the Community Health & Wellness Unit of the New Jersey Department of Health/Juliet Jones, BSW,MBA, coordinator, Early Care and Education Learning Collaborative Initiative for the NJ Department of Health/ Kathleen T. Morgan, PhD, Professor and Chair, Family & Community Health Sciences Department, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Rutgers University.

Workshop F: Translating Equity into Policy and Practice explained how residents in rural areas, low-income communities and communities of color are most affected by limited access to healthy options, making it difficult to make healthy choices. The focus of the discussion was on how to design strategies that address inequities and to learn how to enhance your organization’s capacity to advance healthy equity through policy and practices.

  • Moderator: M. Carolyn Daniels, M.Ed., DHSc, Executive Director, Office of Minority and Multicultural Health, NJ Department of Health.
  • Speakers: Niiobli Armah IV, MA, Director, NAACP Health Program; Cara Johnson, MS, Technical Advisor, Healthy Living for the YMCA of the USA.

Dr. Dietz Explores Obesity Myths and Misconceptions

IMG_1833“Obesity is the most stigmatized condition in our society,” said Dr. William H. Dietz, director of the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness at George Washington University.

Obesity is not a choice but a development caused by any number of personal and external factors. Once awareness is increased, health officials can marshal effort to change public opinion against obesity very much like in the campaign against smoking.

“The best investments we can make, said Dr. Dietz, are people-based.” Use people first language and start to move from what to how. Use authority to set standards for ECE and as health professionals, agree on consistent messages and strategies. Collaboration is key so align with other efforts: Let’s Move, YMCA, United Way, hospitals, community-based organizations. Always institute measures that capture progress and benefits.

Healthy Kids Recognition

IMG_1798There was much to celebrate and acknowledge at the NJPHK Building Healthy, Equitable Communities Conference with the presentation of Healthy Kids Champion awards to six community leaders for their commitment and contributions in the NJPHK-targeted communities of Camden, New Brunswick, Trenton, Newark and Vineland and in the State Program Office.

This year’s winners are as follows:

Meishka Mitchell, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership (CFP) Vice President of Neighborhood Initiatives, was acknowledged for being an established community leader in Camden, respected by government officials, community partners, city residents, and peers. She brings a keen, unique perspective and expertise in community planning and neighborhood revitalization to CFP based on her education, experience and as a Camden native, brings a deep knowledge of this community to her leadership.

Michael G. Blackwell, Superintendent of Recreation in New Brunswick and Executive Director of “The First Tee of Raritan Valley” was acknowledged for his work in New Brunswick as an NJPHK partner focused on youth and recreation.  Michael serves as a chairperson for programming and logistics for Ciclovia, a healthy living festival, which creates opportunities for residents to live healthier lives.

Marguerite Leuze, Special Assistant for Health and Nursing, for the Office of Health Services of the Newark Public Schools was recognized for her dedicated and focused commitment to the children in the city of Newark especially those who are underserved and less privileged.  Students and their families benefit from her significant attention to specialized care particularly for the medically fragile students.

Francis Blanco, Chief of Staff to Trenton Mayor Eric E. Jackson was recognized for her tireless efforts in leading several advocacy and partnership initiatives designed to foster broader policy and planning approaches to promote healthy communities in Trenton.

Stanley Burke was recognized for his community-minded leadership and dedication by working more than full-time as a volunteer with the NJPHK-Vineland team. He is a leader who shares his passion, wisdom and desire to make a difference, inspiring the partnership to think ‘outside the box’ resulting in innovative ways to collaborate for the benefit of the Vineland youth.

Barbara George Johnson, Executive Director of the John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy at Thomas Edison State College is the State Program Office recipient of the award. She was recognized for her commitment, dedication and statewide partnership to the NJPHK since its inception. She co-chaired the Community Partners subcommittee in the development of the strategic plan.

Mike Schneider Moderates Panel on Collaboration

IMG_1760NJTV News program Anchor and Managing Editor, Mike Schneider moderated a panel of experts that included:

  • Diana MTK Autin, executive co-director, Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN)
  • Robert C. Like, MD, MS, professor and director, Center for Healthy Families and Cultural Diversity, Family Medicine and Community Health, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
  • Mariam Merced, MA, director, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Community Health Promotion Program
  • Daniel F. Oscar, president and chief executive office, Center for Supportive Schools
  • Laurie Shanderson, PhD, MPA, assistant dean in the School of Health Sciences at the Richard Stockton College. Read more

The panel discussed examples of health equity changes that have been incorporated into policies and practices to build healthier communities. The role that community partnerships and collaboration played in building healthy and equitable communities was explored and was a topic about which the audience asked questions and offered comments during the town hall portion of this forum.

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