2006-04-14 / Columnists

Meeks' Message From Capitol Hill

Making Wellness A 6th District Family Affair
By Congressman Gregory Meeks

GREGORY MeeKS GREGORY MeeKS It was great seeing constituents from the Rockaways at the "Making Wellness A Family Affair" health fair I hosted at York College a couple of weeks ago. That event was part of the Black Health Empowerment tour co-sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus and AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical firm.The tour focuses on obesity issues.More than 500 people attended.It was particularly inspiring to see grandparents, parents, and children come out as a family on a chilly morning to learn about eating healthy, cooking healthy, and exercising regularly.

This made for a very spirited, constructive, and instructive event. There were health food vendors, games for children, information tables, video displays, blood pressure testing stations, panel discussions, and cooking demonstrations - including one by yours truly.(I don't want to boast, but you have got to try my salmon.)

For me, the highlight of the day occurred when noted fitness consultant and celebrity personal trainer, Kacy Duke, asked the crowd to join her in an exercise routine she said everyone could easily do several times a week. What a sight: hundreds of kids, teenagers, young adults, middle aged folks, and seniors - some of us for the first time in years - exercising to music! I even saw an elected official or two stretching, reaching, bending - right on the beat, no less.

Although the CBC-AstraZeneca tour focuses on the Black community, its outreach and message is not just for African Americans.We know about the health disparities experienced by African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and to a lesser extent, Asian Americans.But, sometimes the reporting of racial disparities leaves many of us with the impression that whites enjoy perfect health and have no problems accessing quality health care.Wrong!In fact, I know of very few families anywhere in the Sixth Congressional District- including those with good health insurance - that aren't worried sick that a catastrophic illness could strike a family member and devastate family finances. Besides, being overweight or obese cuts across race, religion, gender, and class.

New York City has over 800,000 diabetics - that's one out of every eight of us.Health experts believe there are hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers also have diabetes but are undiagnosed.There's been an explosion of type-2 diabetes among children and adolescents.This was virtually unheard of twenty years ago.The main reason for what The New York Times calls "The Stealth Epidemic" is obesity. Over half of all Americans are overweight or obese.With this situation comes the heightened risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease, and stroke.

Rockaway residents have reason to be concerned.For all the progress we are making in economic development and community revitalization, the Rockaways is in the bottom 10 of New York City's 41 neighborhoods in chronic diseases (includes diabetes, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses).We are in the bottom 10 in general health and in maternal and child health. Heart disease is 90 percent higher as a cause of death in the Rockaways than it is for New York City as a whole, chronic lung disease is 45 percent higher, and diabetes is 20 percent higher.Rockaway residents are hospitalized for drug-related causes and chronic lung disease at twice the rate as the city as a whole. Hospitalization here for pneumonia and is 90 percent higher.The asthma rates in Community Board 14 are the second highest among the city's community boards (some of which may be related to its proximity to Kennedy Airport). HIV/AIDS infections are also very high.

On the one hand, government and the private sector on all levels could and should do much more about health issues, especially those related to the environment and food.On the other hand, individuals and families could and should do much more to live healthier, exercise regularly, and make healthier choices about what we eat, when we eat, where we eat, and how much we eat.

The great turnout at my health fair and the enthusiastic participation in the fitness session got me to thinking that maybe there's a basis for a wellness movement in the Sixth Congressional District.What if our families, grade schools, middle schools, high schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, colleges, youth groups, employers, unions, civic associations, tenant organizations, community boards, neighborhood centers, local government agencies, non-profit service providers, elected officials, and health institutions came together to make wellness a Sixth Congressional District family affair.Building a healthier environment and healthier bodies should be part of building a new Rockaway.A wellness movement can help make ensure that building a new Rockaway also involves creating the space we need for exercise and recreation, as well as bringing in enough quality supermarkets where residents can get the fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish they need for healthy eating and happier lives.

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