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Grants to help tackle youth obesity in boro

Students in Long Island City’s “I Have a Dream” Foundation’s after−school bicycle club are learning about exercise and healthy living. Photo courtesy of “I Have a Dream” Foundation.
By Anna Gustafson

Four Queens schools and organizations will be tackling childhood obesity with grant money that the groups received last week from Youth Service America and UnitedHealthcare.

Youth Service America, a nonprofit, and UnitedHealthcare, an insurance company, gave a total of $3,000 on April 15 to the After−School All−Stars program at St. John’s University, the “I Have a Dream” Foundation in Long Island City, Queensborough Community College and PS 139 in Rego Park.

“The money enables us to focus on a specific project about health and fitness,” said Alan Fields, executive director of the After−School All−Stars New York at St. John’s. “We’re attempting to show students at IS 192 in St. Albans and MS 217 in Briarwood how to make healthy snacks.”

Ultimately, Fields said he hopes the 200 children involved in the after−school programs will incorporate the healthier ingredients into their daily diets and relay information about good eating practices to family and friends. St. John’s received a $500 grant.

The “I Have a Dream” Foundation will use their $1,000 grant to help fund its youth bicycle club, which promotes exercise with children living primarily in the Ravenswood Houses, a public housing development in Long Island City. The money will specifically help to fund activities for the foundation’s students this weekend, when the bicycle club will be taking a ride from Queensbridge Park to Astoria Park. The ride was scheduled for Sunday.

“We found there’s a high degree of children who are overweight, in poor health or at risk for obesity in the population we serve,” said Karlisle Honore, the program director of the “I Have a Dream” Foundation site in Long Island City. “Our students are predominantly black and Hispanic, low−income and 95 percent of them qualify for free lunches. We wanted to promote health and wellness with them.”

A grant of $1,000 also went to Queensborough Community College, so students can create a curriculum to be used in high schools that emphasizes good nutrition and healthy habits.

Science students at PS 139 will use its $500 grant to plant a vegetable garden on school grounds to learn about the benefits of healthy foods.

According to 2006 data from the state Health Department, 29.5 percent of high school students in New York City are overweight or obese. Minority youth are disproportionately affected and the rate of obesity was highest for black teens, 12.2 percent of whom were reported to be overweight or obese. About 10 percent of Hispanic teens and 7.4 percent were overweight or obese, according to the same set of data.

The prevalence of obesity among elementary school children increased between 1988 and 2004, when 24 percent of elementary school children were reported to be obese.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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