Councilman Ritchie Torres finds himself at the epicenter of “a public health crisis,” and is funding an innovative plan to address his concerns.
Torres, a young councilman with a lot of energy and new ideas, says he has become the first council member to have allocated $10,000 to the city Department of Health’s Health Bucks initiative.
Health Bucks provides $2 coupons for people to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at farmer’s markets. Local community organizations distribute the vouchers to the community.
Like A Natural Disaster
In making the announcement of the budget allocation on Tuesday, July 29 at a farmers market just off the Grand Concourse near Poe Park, Torres likened the public health crisis of diabetes and obesity to a natural disaster.
“Suppose for a moment that our city were struck by a natural disaster that cost our city billions of dollars and led to the loss of thousands of lives,” the councilman said at the announcement. “We would rightly consider that an emergency and we would mobilize resources and respond. Well, here in the Bronx, we are at the epicenter of not a natural disaster, but a public health crisis that is costing our city billions of dollars and costing us thousands of lives.”
The crisis of obesity and diabetes needs the kind of response like those given to natural disasters, indicated Torres.
It is impossible to live a healthier life unless you have the resources, and Health Bucks allow families to have the purchasing power to buy healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, explained the councilman.
Torres was joined by a coalition in making his announcement, including the League of Conservation Voters, Bronx Health REACH, the Mary Mitchell Community Center, Union Community Health Center, GrowNYC, and the city Department of Health.
“When our coalition came together more than a year ago, we wanted to tackle the big challenges facing this community, like hunger, access to sustainable foods and making our city greener and healthier,” said Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “Health Bucks will make a real difference in this community by connecting the dots between healthy food, healthy New Yorkers and a healthy environment.”
In an interview, Dr. Nelson Eng, the chief medical officer at UCHC, said that the Health Bucks program gives people the chance to purchase healthier food.
“We are giving out coupons and this gives them a chance to access green vegetables that they may not have tried because it is so easy for them to get processed foods,” he said, adding that coupons for items such as cookies are plentiful.
Just coming to the farmers market is exercise, he said. But Eng acknowledged that changes to people’s habits are also required, and that is tough, he said.
“Resources like Health Bucks are an innovative way for us, as providers, to get patients to try new fruits and vegetables that they would never had considered,” said Eng.