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“If we’re lucky, our holiday shopping lists include some special items for the children we love. There’s a present we ought to give them all year long, too: the gift of good health. Last week brought hopeful news that we’re helping more young New Yorkers enjoy healthier lives – and that we’re also helping more adult New Yorkers find health care jobs, too.
“Bucking a national trend, our city is starting to turn back a decades-long rise in childhood obesity. Over the past five years, the rate of obesity among students in our public elementary and middle schools has dropped 5.5 percent. It’s down among children of all racial and ethnic groups, and it’s also down nearly 10% among the very youngest students: our five- and six-year-olds. Even as childhood obesity continues to get worse in many other parts of the nation, it’s lessening here – and that’s decreasing the chance that thousands of children in our city will develop such serious, chronic health problems as diabetes and heart disease.
“Many factors have contributed to this turn-around. Our schools deserve a lot of credit – because in recent years, we’ve raised the nutritional standards of meals served in public school cafeterias, eliminated deep-fried foods, limited the availability of sugary beverages, and taken other steps to encourage healthy eating habits. Since 2005, the schools have also sent ‘fitness-grams’ home with students: individualized reports that let parents and guardians know whether their children are maintaining a healthy weight, and what to do if they’re not. Our ‘Move-to-Improve’ program has also shown teachers how to integrate more exercise into classroom activities. And combined with our success in making healthier food more available in neighborhoods where it’s been lacking, and in turning 200 schoolyards into day-long and year-round playgrounds where youngsters get the exercise they need, these efforts are paying off.
“Now, we also know that we’ve got a lot more to do. Obesity remains a problem for roughly one out of every five students in kindergarten through the 8th grade, and for many adult New Yorkers, too. That’s why last week we also instituted new standards for food vending machines in all City facilities. Similar to what we’ve already done in public schools, we’ll greatly reduce the saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, sugar, and calorie counts of these snacks, and increase the range of healthy food choices. We also set up a new task force of more than a dozen City agencies that will attack the problem of obesity from every angle.
“Not only do we all share a responsibility to promote good health; for many of us, good health is also how we make our livings. Even in this rocky economy, there continue to be job opportunities in health care – and the City’s Workforce 1 Career Center that specializes in health care has connected more than 600 New Yorkers to good jobs as nurses, lab technicians, dieticians, and in related fields this year alone. That’s caught the attention of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which came here last week to take a close look at how such efforts can be replicated elsewhere in the nation. To build on this record of success, in 2012 we’re also going to launch a new “transition to practice” initiative for recently graduated nurses. It’s going to help them get their careers off to healthy starts – at the same time that we’ll keep helping our kids get their lives off to healthy starts, too.
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