This post is written by Margaret (Peggy) Rafferty RN DNP MPH MA, CHMP Senior Fellow. She is currently an Associate Professor at CUNY’s New York City College of Technology (NYCCT). Dr. Rafferty is active in a number of public interest and community advocacy activities. She sends special thanks to Mac Levine, MPH, Founder and Executive Director of Concrete Safaris for her fact checking and edits on this post. Peggy is the ultimate collaborator.
In the photograph below Peggy Rafferty (L) and Mary Mantych (R).
Concrete Safaris is a not-for-profit founded in 2008 that provides children (ages 7-12) living in public housing with the opportunity to exercise and learn in their own backyard. Children can run, cycle, swim, fish, hike and play games that are usually only available to children who live in more affluent zip codes. A 16.000 square foot children’s garden at the Washington Houses transforms previously unused spaces into a sustainable, peaceful oasis that allows children to connect with the earth, grow, cook and eat healthy food. Empowerment and community building are important lessons learned. Concrete Safaris’ kids testified last in year at public political hearings that resulted in the extension of bike lanes to East Harlem. The agency, which just celebrated its fifth anniversary, currently serves over 1,200 children. Based on the success of the approach, they hope to expand to serve more children.
This upstream solution to combat the childhood obesity epidemic in East Harlem could not be more welcome. The statistics for childhood obesity in East Harlem are staggering with approximately 40% of elementary school children classified as overweight. Nurses recognize the incredible toll that childhood obesity is taking nationwide with increased incidence of abnormal glucose tolerance, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, asthma, and musculoskeletal disorders. Obese children are more likely to have low self-esteem, be depressed and have body image problems. Nursing interventions aimed at the individual level will have limited efficacy. A public health solution is required to reverse the course of the obesity epidemic. Concrete Safaris is an example of a community intervention that will make a big difference in battling the chronic health problems affecting East Harlem’s children.
Mary Mantych RN and Peggy Rafferty DNP RN helped the Concrete Safaris community celebrate their fifth year anniversary by volunteering at the medical first aid station for JungleGym 2013. Over 150 children enjoyed a full day of outside games on a beautiful sunny day in Jefferson Park. The day was a major success and epitomized the group’s mission. Concrete Safaris’ mission is to empower youth to be healthy leaders through outdoor exercise and education programs that enrich the mind, body, community and environment.
The Angry Birds Band-Aids turned out to be a popular nursing intervention, especially among the non injured! This intervention is not the usual band-aid of clinical interventions for obesity related disorders. Overweight and obese children grow up in a toxic environment with convenience stores, fast food restaurants; super-size portions, ever-present snacking and inactivity all conspire to promote weight gain. For an excellent summary of the factors that are driving the obesity epidemic in the United States view: Why We Overeat: The Toxic Food Environment and Obesity at the Harvard School of Public Health Forum.
Concrete Safaris is part of a national movement to prevent childhood obesity. Michelle Obama’s passion about eliminating childhood obesity is reflected in this quote when she launched her Let’s Move Initiative in 2010; “The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.”
written by Peggy Rafferty