Monday, April 25, 2011

Our YMCA Battles Diabetes in NYC

Our city's YMCA is taking on diabetes before it takes hold, with a comprehensive approach designed to bring those at the highest risk back from the brink while conquering the leading causes of diabetes, such as obesity, poor nutrition, and a lack of physical activity.

Obesity on the Rise

As we have stated previously, while obesity is rising nationally, New York City's increase in obesity (17%) was nearly three times the national average (6%) from 2002 to 2004. Indeed, the majority of New York City residents are overweight or obese, and Upper Manhattan has some of the highest rates of obesity in our city.

Poor nutrition and a lack of physical activity characterize far too many families in Upper Manhattan, and those realities have translated directly into poor health and obesity. These health realities result in higher health costs (more than $6 billion of additional costs across New York City), lower quality of life, and shorter lives for the people of our communities.

Across our city, 23% of residents are obese, and many of those residents underestimate how overweight they are. With nearly one quarter of our city's residents enduring the health risks of obesity, we see that obese residents in New York City are three times as likely to suffer from diabetes as those at a normal weight. For overweight New Yorkers, they are nearly twice as likely to suffer from diabetes.

YMCA to the Rescue

Our city's YMCA has more than 20 locations and operates in all five boroughs. The YMCA of Greater New York serves more than 400,000 of our neighbors and provides tens of millions of dollars of free and subsidized programs to residents in our city each year. The legendary Harlem YMCA is one of those many locations and was home to many of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, had Jackie Robinson as its Chair, and continues to be the headquarters for healthy living and a safe place for children to learn and enjoy life in Upper Manhattan. Recent Harlem YMCA Chairs include Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, Larry Dais, and Gerri Warren-Merrick, among others.

The YMCA of Greater New York is making the battle against diabetes one of its highest priorities and focusing its assistance on residents in our communities who suffer from prediabetes. As stated by Jack Lund, the YMCA's President and CEO, "Diabetes is an irreversible diagnosis, but it is not impossible to stop it before it develops." The attack on diabetes by the YMCA takes the form of a 16-session program for groups of eight to fifteen individuals with prediabetes. The program is led by trained YMCA lifestyle coaches who guide the participants toward an improved understanding of healthy eating, strategies for increasing physical activity, and other behavior modifications. The effort continues after the 16 sessions with monthly follow-up sessions to maintain and enhance the impact of the 16 session program.

The program is called the YMCA's Diabetes Prevention Program and would cost each participant $325 if not for the sponsorship and support coming from the YMCA's public-private partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and the UnitedHealth Group. As a result of that sponsorship, the cost per participant is only $40 for YMCA members and only $80 for non-members (membership at YMCAs is inexpensive with a family of two parents and their children paying only $99 per month for membership at the Harlem YMCA; one parent and his or her children pay only $76 per month for membership).

Individuals interested in participating in the YMCA's Diabetes Prevention Program can register at

Potential Impact

A recent study showed that with a modest reduction of 5% to 7% of body weight, a person at risk for diabetes can reduce her/his chances of acquiring the disease by nearly 60%. With 1.4 million people in New York City suffering from prediabetes (nearly a quarter of the population of New York City) and more than 90% of those people unaware that they are at serious risk of becoming diabetic, the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program is exactly "what the doctor ordered" to raise awareness, reduce risks, and improve lives.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Stringer's Food Fight Continues as the Space Shuttle Lands in Manhattan

Last week, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer issued a report regarding the NYC government's barriers to the expansion of farmer's markets, and his proposed solutions deserve immediate attention. Also, Manhattan's Intrepid Museum was awarded a Space Shuttle in a highly competitive battle with museums around the country.

Scott Stringer's Food Fight for a Healthier NYC

As a follow-up to his earlier report regarding the "food deserts" in New York City, Manhattan Borough President Stringer released a report last week detailing the challenges for farmer's markets created by NYC rules and regulations, and he proposed six groups of very specific recommendations for improving access to healthy, fresh food in New York City through expansion of farmer's markets.

Specifically, the report found challenges for farmer's markets caused by local regulations including:

1) Red Tape: The permitting process for markets is decentralized, inconsistent, confusing and expensive. In some cases, a market starting in July would have to apply for permits a full seven months in advance.

2) High Cost of Entry: Permit fees are based on the number of days a market will operate for an entire season. The cost of the entire season must be paid upfront, with a single permit often exceeding $800. When combined with required insurance coverage, a market operator, in many cases, must pay over $1,300 before the market season begins in order to obtain a permit. This can be a heavy financial toll for small market operators with limited resources for whom running markets is often not their primary job.

3) Lack of Operational Procedures for Parking: Because traveling to the city for market days is expensive for farmers, free parking is critical to the success of a market. However, the Department of Transportation has no official operating procedure for requesting signage or issuing placards to reserve parking on market days. Some markets reported waiting years to receive reserved parking signage.

Stringer proposed the following six solutions:

1. Eliminate Daily Permit Fees for Markets in Low-Income Areas

2. Simplify and Clarify the Process

• Assign oversight of farmers markets to a single City entity

• Create a uniform application process

• Create a guide to operating a farmers market

3. Create Standard Procedures for Farmers Market Parking

• Department of Transportation must create a clear policy for requesting signage

• Appropriate agencies must develop farmers market parking placards

• NYPD traffic officers must be trained regarding enforcement for farmers market parking

4. Create Information and Outreach Campaign About Using Federal and State Nutrition Supports at Farmers Markets

5. Increase Access to Urban Land for Farming

• Assess land availability and suitability for urban agriculture

• Create a citywide urban agriculture program

• Ensure the permanence of community gardens

6. Increase Access to Commercial Kitchen Space

• Explore use of City-owned kitchens

• Create online portal of available kitchen space

To eliminate food deserts and improve the health of the people of New York City, we all need to follow the lead of the Manhattan Borough President and advocate for less red tape and barriers to success for farmer's markets. The fresh fruits and vegetables that are found at farmer's markets are the solution to the problems of poor nutrition and obesity in our communities.

Space Shuttle Lands in Manhattan

The people of New York City should be proud to have been awarded a Space Shuttle for display at the Intrepid Museum as the Space Shuttle program shuts down.

We asked more than a year ago for your support for this effort, and the effort was successful. Senators Gillibrand and Schumer as well as the rest of the elected officials from in and around NYC and New York State deserve enormous credit for their determination and for their willingness to cooperate on this issue.

While some individuals have criticized this achievement because the Space Shuttle selected for Manhattan never flew in space, we should be pleased. There were only four Space shuttles available to be provided to museums around the country. Houston, the headquarters of space flight in our country, was not awarded a Shuttle. Manhattan's Shuttle, Enterprise, flew test flights but never escaped our planet's atmosphere to fly in space. It has all of the same elements of any of the Space Shuttles that have been in space, and it will be an inspiration to the youth of our city to aim high and pursue careers in science and technology. Enterprise was the first Space Shuttle ever built and gave birth to all of the others.

Enterprise will create significant economic opportunity in New York City, bringing new visitors to our city and drawing nearby residents back to the Intrepid Museum.

As New Yorkers, we should be excited to obtain any Space Shuttle and share it with all who visit our great city.

Pace University Shooting Insult

Last week, police in Westchester County named the officer who killed an unarmed football star from Pace University as the officer of the year. The choice speaks volumes for the police culture in Westchester County. Killing innocent, unarmed young black men is heroic in the eyes of the police there. In reality, these killings are too frequent and are criminal.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Republican Incarceration Strategy Exposed

The New York State Republican Party has exposed itself as favoring incarceration as a strategy for maintaining and expanding Republican political power, and all New Yorkers should be outraged by their cynical and destructive approach.

Incarceration Expands Republican Political Power

As we have discussed in the past, incarceration approaches in New York State have been designed to increase and solidify Republican political power. Nearly all incarcerated individuals are from urban parts of New York State that traditionally vote for Democrats in State Assembly and State Senate races. Nearly all prisons in New York State are in Republican areas of the state. Incarcerated individuals have traditionally been counted as residents of the community in which the prison sits rather than being considered residents of the community in which they chose to live prior to incarceration. The increased population coming from counting incarcerated individuals (who cannot vote) gives voters in Republican areas extra voting strength; their votes carry more weight, and they elect more State Senator and Assembly members than their non-prison population(who are permitted to vote) would be entitled to elect based on population size. The loss of population from urban areas such as New York City reduced the political strength of those areas and undermines urban political influence in our state.

The shift of population from urban area to Republican areas also provides those Republican areas with an unfair advantage in the battle to receive funding from the state and federal governments. Population size affects how state and federal dollars are dispersed for housing, education, transportation, and nearly every area of state and federal funding. The incarceration strategy drains funds away from the poor neighborhood where almost all incarcerated individuals come from and sends those funds to Republican areas.

The elected leaders in the Republican Party have sought to increase the number of incarcerated individuals in order to increase Republican voting power and increase funding to Republican areas.

There is a strong racial element to the incarceration strategy. More than 90% of those incarcerated in New York State on drug offenses are Black or Hispanic (80% of all incarcerated people in New York State are Black or Hispanic), even though all studies show that Black and Hispanic residents of New York State use illegal drugs less than other ethnic/racial groups. By putting large numbers of first-time, non-violent drug offenders behind bars, Republicans have gained political power and funding. They have also taken populations that have traditionally voted for Democrats and made them ineligible to vote, thereby adding to Republican voting power.

Republican Party Files Suit to Maintain Their Incarceration Advantage

During David Paterson's reign as Governor, the democratically controlled State Legislature and the Governor agreed to end the practice of counting incarcerated individuals at the location of the prison and agreed to start counting them at the place of their most recent home. It was a major change, and it signaled the latest attack on the incarceration strategy (previously, the Governor and the State Legislature agreed to end the mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders).

Last week, the Republican Party sued our state to try to reverse the change in how incarcerated individuals are counted. Some of the Republican districts at the heart of the suit would not have sufficient population to remain as districts if they did not count incarcerated individuals in their population counts.

Attorney General Schneiderman will defend New York State against the attack by the Republican Party, and we should be pleased that he was successful in the 2010 election cycle. His Republican opponent and one of his rivals in the Democratic primary were supporters of the incarceration strategy. Schneiderman led the fight to end the counting of incarcerated people at the prison location, and he'll be the right person to defend the law he championed.

In some ways, it is a relief to see the Republican Party admit that incarcerating large numbers of people of color is part of their electoral agenda. Now, the debate is clear. Do we want more non-violent individuals to serve long sentences in order to aid the Republican Party? Do we want the existing incarcerated population used to boost Republican political power? The Republican Party has answered with a strong, "Yes!"

It is up to all of us (as well as Attorney General Schneiderman and the New York State courts) to defeat their efforts.

Bye Black and Enter Walcott

Cathie Black's reign as Chancellor of the New York City school system was brief and humiliating for all of us. It was less a reflection of her lack of knowledge and more a reflection of the arrogance of Mayor Bloomberg.

In a strange twist that seems to deserve explanation, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott will become the Chancellor but will not receive the Chancellor's $250,000 salary. Oddly, Walcott is claiming that he chose not to accept the increased salary, while the Mayor insists that Walcott would not have been permitted to receive the raise. One could assume that the Mayor is being frugal in refusing to pay Walcott for the job Walcott will now undertake, but you'd wonder why he is being frugal with Walcott's paycheck when he pushed for massive retroactive raises for his staff during the height of the recession. One might wonder whether Walcott is not really the Chancellor, since he won't be paid as the Chancellor. Perhaps Bloomberg will be the Chancellor, which has always been the problem. We've had a bad Mayor for education. Our Chancellors have suffered because they worked for the wrong leader in our city. The failure of our school system (where only 28% of Black males graduate from high school) is a failure of the Mayor and not a failure of his Chancellors. Dennis Walcott cannot fix the school system until we get a Mayor in New York City who wants our schools to successfully educate our children.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sense-less Census in NYC

The 2010 Census failed to capture the full population of New York City, and New York City is officially demanding that the Census Bureau fix the Census.

Hidden Homes

In New York City, there are many more homes than are obvious at first. Homes are subdivided (some illegally). Families move in together during tough times. New buildings are constructed that fail to appear on lists of addresses with dwellings. Many foreign-born New Yorkers are concerned that filling out Census forms, which are sent out by the federal government once every ten years, will subject them to mistreatment.

In the 2000 Census, the Census Bureau missed 240,000 residents in New York City.

In 2010, as the Census count was beginning, New York City had to provide 127,000 addresses to the Census Bureau for homes that the Census Bureau did not have on its list of homes.

The problem of hidden homes is particularly difficult in densely populated areas like New York City, where families may be hiding in plain sight.

Now, we see the hidden homes problem in the outcome of the 2010 Census.

2010 Census Undercount in New York City

New York City views the 2010 Census count of its population as an undercount of at least 200,000 (which is consistent with the 240,000 residents missed in the last Census). The 2010 Census put the New York City population at 8,175,133, but New York City estimates its population at 8.4 million. Making the Census numbers difficult to accept is the lack of population growth in growing sections of Queens and Brooklyn.

Brooklyn grew by less than 2% over the last 10 years according to the Census figures, and Queens experienced essentially no growth in a decade based on those same figures. The Census Bureau itself had estimated in 2009 that Brooklyn had grown by more than 4% since the 2000 Census, but their figures now suggest growth of less than half of that number.

The Census figures showing very little growth for New York City are a threat to the funding of New York City. A large portion of federal and state funding provided to New York City is based on the size of the New York City population. The type of major undercount that New York City believes has occurred in the 2010 Census could result in underfunding for New York City in housing, education, healthcare, and many other key funding categories.

As we have stated previously, the faster growth of states in the West and South relative to states in the Northeast has resulted in a shift of Congressional seats and electoral votes from the Northeast to the West and South. New York State is expected to lose two Congressional seats in the upcoming reapportionment. Though we and many others had expected the lost seats to come from Upstate New York where populations have declined, the disappointing growth figures in New York City may result in lost Congressional representation and political power in New York City.

New York City must successfully obtain corrected figures from the Census Bureau and overcome the problem of hidden homes in order to protect its funding and its political influence.