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Jamaica clinic confronts obesity

Photo by Rich Bockmann
By Rich Bockmann

On the heels of the American Medical Association’s designation of obesity as a disease, a downtown Jamaica health clinic is launching a culturally tailored campaign to help southeast Queens fight the battle of the bulge.

“I think that to designate obesity as a disease will help people think of it not just about body image terms,” said Catherine Abate, of the Community Healthcare Network, which last month cut the ribbon on its new clinic, at 90-04 161st St. “It’s really about making people healthier.”

In Jamaica, 23.9 percent of adults are obese with a Body Mass Index of 30 or greater, according to a survey conducted by the city Department of Health.

The network — which also has clinics in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx — has introduced “Everybody’s Plate,” a downloadable cookbook that offers up healthy versions of traditional regional dishes.

“It reflects the patients we have. We did some Chinese, Caribbean and African-American recipes,” Abate said. “We wanted to look at some of the most popular dishes and try to offer recipes that are simpler and also healthier.”

Recipes for Caribbean Shepherd’s Pie, Vietnamese summer rolls and alcapurrias — Latin American ground beef fritters — substitute herbs and spices for fats and salt to create healthier options.

A CHN nutritionist will take shoppers through the Key Foods on Jamaica Avenue Tuesday to show them how they can make healthy purchases for a family of four on a $150 budget.

The campaign also includes “BFit” texts in both Spanish and English that offer daily health tips.

“Get off of the subway or bus one stop before your regular stop,” one reads. “Extra walking is good for the body and the mind.”

Abate said the AMA’s decision is long overdue, and she hopes it will cause a sea change in the way medical providers think about the relationship between health and diet.

“Unfortunately, too many providers go through medical school and spend only a couple of hours on nutrition,” she said. “So many times doctors do not proctor their patients.”

Aside from diabetes and heart disease, obesity can lead to depression, Abate said, and depressed people are less likely to make healthier food choices.

She acknowledged the difficulty in cutting out bad habits and said people do not have to go cold turkey, just cut back gradually.

“One of the things I hear from nutritionists is that even a modest weight loss of 10 pounds can improve one’s health and even lower the risk of chronic disease,” she said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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