Leaders of New Haven’s Health Department gathered at Wexler Grant’s school gym to kick off the city’s Health Matters effort. They just had to watch out for an errant kickball in the wild game that immediately preceded it.
About 100 New Haven children and their LEAP counselors filled the air with whoops and screams. One kicker’s shoe went flying in the air almost as high as the ball, which with every kick invariably ricocheted off the gym rafters before landing back, unpredictably, on the gym floor.
Community Services Administrator and acting Health Director Chisara Asomugha (pictured on right) laughed and called it an appropriate backdrop to the news conference she organized at the school Friday.
“These kids are being active, and they’re our future,” she said. In other words, they were what the announcement was all about.
The announcement kicked off a city effort to get all of New Haven involved in tackling health problems, especially those disproportionately found in poorer neighborhoods.
Health Matters! brings together health service providers, researchers, data experts and others focused on improving people’s health. According to a handout, it “expands the responsibility of health promotion to all sectors of our community.” As if to underscore that point, health officials were joined by the heads of the city’s elderly services and transportation departments.
(Click here to take a community health survey the group is promoting.)
Asomugha touted the Health Department’s 2009 Annual Report for some impressive accomplishments—like a 37 percent reduction in childhood lead poisoning between 2002 and 2006—as well as some problems needing more attention, like an increase in hospital visits for asthma and a rise in infant mortality since 2002.
Asomugha introduced Shanta Evans (center in agove photo), program director of the Health Equity Alliance. That group aims to move beyond individual behaviors to focus on conditions in the wider community. The alliance is part of the Health Matters! Coalition. “Everything from the video being produced by the Color of Words to dialogues in the community,” Evans said, “it’s all to help Health Matters! set their priorities and add a human face to some of the policies they’re going to be working on.”
Another statistic that inspired the creation of Health Matters!: Half of fifth and sixth graders in New Haven are overweight or obese.
Many of the kids gathered in the gym looked to be about that age, with some younger. It was hard to find an overweight child in the lot, much less an obese one. When a reporter suggested in jest that the group was not representative, junior LEAP counselor Amir Bess (pictured at left in photo at the top of the story, surrounded by some of his charges and a fellow counselor) replied, “Some of them are here, but we make them play. We get ‘em into everything, and make it fun for them. All the kids are physically active.” He said being a counselor for the past two years (he’s a rising senior at Notre Dame High School in West Haven) “keeps me on my toes.”
City officials hope to see that kind of activity and enthusiasm spread throughout New Haven.