Health Matters

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Health Matters

Over the past few years there has been increased attention given to the importance of healthy living as the rise in obesity rates continue to surge. This often leads to serious medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart attacks. Unfortunately, many urban communities are particularly susceptible to environmental dynamics that limit access to nutritious food, recreational activities and vital information on lifestyle and wellness.

Oftentimes, a significant  factor is the lack of affordable fresh produce and healthy eating options available to residents living in such areas known as 'food deserts'. A local example of a food desert is Farmers Boulevard in the St, Albans section of Queens. Currently, there is only one supermarket located along this commercial corridor. The Farmers Boulevard Development Corporation, the Queens Economic Development Corporation and Councilman Leroy Comrie have been working with area stakeholders to address the need for improved wellness in Southeast Queens through community outreach and events that promote physical activity and proper nutrition.

Recently, with support from the New York City Department of Small Business Services we co-sponsored the second annual Farmers Boulevard Health Fair. The event attracted over 200 participants who took part in exercise demonstrations by professional trainers, a panel discussion on nutrition & health, and distribution of fresh produce. Additionally, health care providers were stationed throughout the event to provide information on insurance, local resources, diseases and medical testing including blood pressure screening and instant HIV testing. Events such as health fairs and physical fitness activities are constructive for the community because they help to improve the well-being of residents as well as unites neighbors to come out and engage in a positive cause.

Public authorities have also been developing new initiatives to help combat health concerns associated with lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats and other healthy food and nonfood items. In may 2011, the New York City Council adopted a text amendment to expand the FRESH program to shopping corridors throughout Community Board 12 including Farmers Boulevard. The FRESH program, initiated in 2008 by the New York City Departments of Health & Mental Hygiene, City Planning, and the New York City Economic Development Corporation, provides zoning and tax incentives to facilitate and encourage the creation of full-line grocery stores.

The push to promote health & wellness is beneficial in more ways than just public health and improved quality of life. Health & wellness can be a major factor in stimulating economic development especially in under-served neighborhoods. For example, the Farmers Boulevard Health fair also served the purpose of highlighting development opportunities for a produce market and full-service restaurant. If successful, these additions will help create new jobs and bring much needed products & services to t he community. A new Walgreens Pharmacy opened on Farmers Boulevard earlier this Spring at a long-vacant site previously occupied by an under-performing supermarket. Many in the community are hopeful that the arrival of Walgreens is the beginning of key investments on Farmers Boulevard that will improve the economic and physical health of the neighborhood. 

posted by Ricardi Calixte - Director of Neighborhood Development, 
Queens Economic Development Corporation