April is National Minority Health Month! The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is teaming up with the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) to launch the Move Your Way campaign. For the second consecutive year, the theme is Active and Healthy.
This month, the observance looks a lot different than past promotions as our nation navigates a global pandemic. We are advised to self-quarantine, and the phrase social distancing is now a household name. Students are studying with screens, and adults are juggling families and work from home, here in Allegheny County and across the country. All of these factors increase anxiety and stress and decrease opportunities for physical activities. Live Well Allegheny and the REACH initiative wants to keep families safe and healthy during this time. So this April, we are highlighting how you can stay active even if you stay at home.
We are joined by local and national partners working together to improve health outcomes and highlight the benefits of incorporating small amounts of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity into our schedules as recommended by the 2nd edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Simple changes to one’s daily routine can transform lives and reduce the risk of chronic diseases and other conditions that often are more common or severe among racial and ethnic minority groups.
Although there are behavior changes that we can do to improve personal and community health outcomes, there are also system changes that must take place to truly bring about equity to ensure that you have a quality life no matter what zip code you reside in. That you have access to healthcare, hospitals, grocery stores, farmers’ markets and transportation. The first step is calling out the inequities occurring and recommending solutions to the problem.
Recently, the Allegheny County Health Department and the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health worked to do just that and issued a series of equity briefs to bring attention to inequities and disparities related to five focus areas, including chronic disease. They looked at how race, education and income influence one’s health and access to information and services. This month, we’re promoting the problem and seeking solutions.
Gyms like Freedom Fitness Facility may be closed to the public, but they are open online. Owner Charles Cook is churning out a home fitness series on his Facebook Page. You can get active with regular workouts. The videos are approximately 12-15 minutes long and use lightweight dumbbells or exercise bands, however, most sessions do not require equipment.
REACH partners are getting in on the online action! Robert Boatright of Grind Hard Training produced a Quarantine Workout series on YouTube and is providing live workouts, including spin classes and family fitness, via Zoom.
The Be Healthy and Smart Initiative (BHS) created by Pittsburgh Obama Academy PTSA is taking steps to help Obama students and the community get fit and healthy. The Facebook Page features self-quarantine yoga workouts and hip hop classes.
You can also download popular apps, such as Sworkit, which was co-founded by Black Enterprise’s 2015 Techpreneur Ben Young. Sworkit provides customized 5-60 minute strength, pilates and stretching workouts that require no equipment. Another app geared at the African-American community is GrpFit. The app offers customized workouts, on-demand classes, and a fitness community for people of color.
The coronavirus pandemic is forcing families to stockpile supplies. But what happens when you don’t have access to healthy foods during the statewide stay-at-home orders? The Allegheny County Health Department and the REACH initiative, a coalition working to eliminate health inequities and reduce chronic disease in African-American communities, is working to address this concern.
Last year, REACH, a CDC funded initiative, began to devise a nutrition strategy through partnerships with Allegheny County’s Health and Economic Development Departments, The Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, UPMC, The Food Trust, Just Harvest, Healthy Start and the Pittsburgh Black Breastfeeding Circle. Although the work was unrelated to the current crisis, the partners began to lay the groundwork for feeding more families and residents experiencing food insecurity. Here are some of the activities happening amongst REACH partners.
The Pittsburgh Food Policy Council is sharing key resources for people, non-profits, businesses across the food system. Click here to get connected or visit their Facebook page for additional updates. The Facebook page links to a searchable map of food resources available, including school grab and go sites and food pantries.
Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank continues to monitor the development of COVID-19 and take proactive steps to protect the community. Due to the logistics and observation of social distancing regulations, those in need of food can rely on the large network of food pantries. Find a pantry in your neighborhood at pittsburghfoodbank.org/get-help/locator/. You can stay up to date with announcements like new distributions or deliveries by following the Food Bank on Facebook.
Just Harvest is issuing a call to action to the public to urge state officials to swiftly adopt key measures to protect working families and other vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can sign the petition and read about other activations on their website. Just Harvest is also reacting to the pandemic on Facebook with a Covid-19 Response Phonebank.
Food Preparation Tips
If you are supplementing donation supplies with trips to the grocery store, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends only purchasing a one week supply. The guidelines take into consideration that even when freight flow is not interrupted, grocery stores need time to restock. Residents can assess what they already have in stock and check expiration dates. Prepare a shopping list, which includes staples and produce with longer shelf life, like potatoes, onions and citrus fruit. Also, consider salt alternatives, such as dried herbs or spices, to watch your sodium intake on a diet based on shelf-stable, nonperishable foods. REACH partners are committed to helping people maintain a healthy lifestyle during these uncertain times.
The Allegheny County Health Department is teaming up with local and national partners to address disparities in African-American communities. The REACH program, a CDC-funded initiative, aims to achieve health equity and prevent chronic diseases in the East End (East Hills, Garfield, Homewood, Larimer, Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar, Wilkinsburg), Hill District, Mon Valley (Clairton, North Versailles, Duquesne, McKeesport, North Braddock, Rankin) and the Northside. Through a diverse coalition, more than 25 partners will increase access to healthy foods and physical activities. Partners will also provide breastfeeding supports.
In addition to individual behavioral changes that improve personal and community health outcomes, there are also changes that must take place within systems, such as healthcare, grocery stores, farmers’ markets and transportation, to truly bring about equity and ensure that residents live well, regardless of their zip codes or race.
The REACH coalition has examined various local inequities, related to nutrition, physical activity, and access to care. Over the next five years, the coalition will focus efforts on healthy food policies; new or improved pedestrian, bike and transit routes; and, a pharmacist navigation and referral program.
Evaluator and Technical Consultant:
University of Pittsburgh
Allegheny County Economic Development Department
Duquesne University School of Pharmacy
Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank
Healthy Start, Inc.
Pittsburgh Black Breastfeeding Circle
Pittsburgh Food Policy Council
The Food Trust
UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
+ Dozens of Community Partners
REACH coalition members will work to increase the number of places offering healthier food in African-American communities through helping small businesses and corner stores buy healthy foods, creating nutrition guidelines for key organizations, increasing EBT/SNAP access at Farmers’ Markets and Farm Stands; and increasing breastfeeding support.
The REACH coalition will increase access to opportunities for physical activity for African-American residents of all ages. Plus the coalition will work to make communities more walking and biking friendly.
The REACH project is expanding the use of pharmacist navigators to increase referrals to, and access to community-based health programs. Community residents may participate in health screenings and preventive care programs offered by the Duquesne University School of Pharmacy and the YMCA, all at no cost. Additionally, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank is educating healthcare providers on food insecurity.
The REACH initiative bridges the gap between government, schools, churches, nonprofits and community members. The ultimate goal is to invest resources and programming into African-Americans neighborhoods, to promote optimal health and living well.
Each month, we will share information on Live Well Allegheny, including tips, recipes, resources, free events and more.