Bronx Health: Senator Looks to Shed Pounds, Promote Healthy Living

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Story and Photos by Fausto Giovanny Pinto

Dressed in Rocky-esque training attire — hooded sweatshirt, jogging pants and sneakers — State Senator Gustavo Rivera walked into the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center and challenged himself to a weigh-in.

Rivera was joined by Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. (sans workout attire) and numerous organizations, to launch the Bronx CAN Health Initiative.

CAN, which stands for Change Attitudes Now, looks to promote a healthier lifestyle among Bronxites, who often rank last on health polls. To help promote the initiative, which will encourage Bronxites to set healthy goals, Rivera said his goal was to lose 20 pounds by the end of the summer without using any gimmicky diet or workout program.

“There is no magic,” said Rivera. “Eat three-fourths of a plate, less fat, less sugar, less salt, less everything.”

Dr. Jane Bedell, assistant commissioner for the Bronx District Public Health Office, prefaced the weigh-in with some grim facts. One-third of Bronx adults are currently obese, she said. Even more startling was the prediction that if trends don’t change, as many as 50 percent of Bronx children will develop diabetes.

“We have come together before when our children were in danger and now it’s time to come together again,” said Bedell, comparing how Bronxites passed laws in the past for child hazards such as lead poisoning. She encouraged everyone to take a brisk walk for at least 20 minutes a day and substitute unhealthy snacks for better ones such as fruits and veggies.

The event included a mini-health fair with organizations, such as St. Barnabas Hospital, the American Heart Association, and the Bronx Green Machine, among others. Attendees were also treated to a healthy meal consisting of baked chicken, steamed broccoli, and fresh fruits.

Diaz encouraged all adults to lead a healthier lifestyle, paving a way for kids to follow. “If the Bronx has come so far in other areas such as housing, jobs, and crime, what is it all for, if we don’t improve our health?”

“I’m Puerto Rican, I love me some pork, and some fried food,” said Rivera. “There’s all this temptation, but it’s about small changes, eating in moderation,”

After jumping on the scale and tipping the scales at 299 pounds, Rivera joked that Diaz’s noticeably slimmer physique was what his weight loss after-shot would look like.

Rivera said he hoped to reach 250 pounds over the next 40 weeks and would have public weigh-ins showcasing his progress each month at future Bronx CAN events. He encouraged all participants to accept a health challenge.

Bronx CAN is currently being tested in the 33rd senatorial district (which makes up much of the northwest Bronx) before being expanded in the rest of the Bronx.

“I want to cut smoking and go to the gym for an hour a day. If anything, I’ll at least walk,” said local resident Laquetta Holmes, who signed up for the challenge. “It’s better than nothing.”

Editor's note: A version of this article was first published in Norwood News.