It’s no secret that the South Bronx is the poorest congressional district in the country or that our borough, as a whole, is often viewed as the “gutter.” Recently, however, we were named the unhealthiest county in New York for the seventh year in a row - which is why we have decided to do a three part series on healthy eating and living in The Bronx.
According to a recent Daily News article, “The Bronx ranked at the bottom for quality of life, which included poor physical and mental health and low birth weight, and in health factors, such as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity” (Cutler, 2016). For the next few months, we will share some of the issues Bronx residents face with healthy living, why we continue to be the unhealthiest borough, and the steps we can and will continue to take as a community to resolve it.
Disclaimer, I am not a professional health expert and will only provide a perspective based on research and my personal experience of growing up in the Bronx.
As a child, healthy eating was not really a priority in my life. My family’s main concern was affordability and accessibility, so we made ends meet with the little money we had. Unfortunately, the same also goes for a lot of my peers - as well as, the children growing up in today’s society. I do not entirely fault them, nor their parents. Our neighborhoods are drowned in fast food chains like McDonalds, Popeye’s, or Burger King. As far as we’re concerned, “we’re getting our money’s worth and putting food on the table.” It’s quick, easy, affordable, and filling. Our attitudes may be different, though, if we truly understood that we are doing more harm than good to our bodies.
We must realize that a healthy lifestyle isn’t only for those who can afford it. Those of us in impoverished communities also have options. In order to come to this realization, more people need to be educated on these topics. As adults, we do have a responsibility to educate ourselves and our families on healthy eating, but we should also be provided with the basic tools necessary in order to do so. In communities like the South Bronx or Norwood, we are often overlooked and sometimes isolated, which hinders us from being fully aware from the health disparities we face and the initiatives we have to help change this epidemic.
The importance of healthy eating and living is not at the forefront of our minds partially because we are not actively exposed to these practices in the same way we are to our local high school star athlete or a crime on the front page of the newspaper. Initiatives such as the Montefiore Health System Program, Bronx Borough President’s Not 62 initiative, or Senator Gustavo Rivera’s The Bronx Can Health initiative aren’t heavily promoted or barely even recognized by many Bronx residents. Outside of these limited community based initiatives, there aren’t a wide number of health-based organizations that actively seek to educate Bronx residents in the same manner fast food restaurants consume our communities.
In a 2015 press release, health commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett stated, “The health disparities that arise in the Bronx are a reminder that we need to do more to address the health needs of populations that face the most significant social, economic, and health challenges” (Lewin, 2015). Misconception and unawareness are some of the key attributes that contribute to an unhealthy Bronx. Some of us have a perception that a healthy lifestyle is expensive and others simply may not be aware of healthier food options. As a community, it is our duty to encourage others to live a healthy lifestyle and break the chain of childhood obesity, low birth-weight, and physical inactivity amongst other health disparities we face in our borough. One’s geographical location or finances should not determine one’s physical and mental well-being, but this is a sad realization in our borough and other communities like ours that must be addressed.
Next month, in part two of the series, we will speak directly with Bronx residents of various communities of the borough to share their personal thoughts on healthy eating and living. In the meantime, you can check out a few healthy establishments in our borough such as Healthy Fresh, Juices for Life, and Vegans Delight.