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Op-Ed: Tackling Obesity For a Healthier Brooklyn

Chizoba Jennifer Ndulue, a graduate student at SUNY Downstate School of Health Sciences, shares her thoughts on how to tackle obesity in our borough.
Running to keep fit.

Obesity has become a growing concern in our vibrant borough, affecting both the well-being of individuals and the overall health of our community. 

Many factors contribute to this health issue, ranging from the enticing array of delicious food vs the lack of healthy food options to our sedentary lifestyle. 

Obesity is a complex disease involving having too much body fat. This isn’t just a cosmetic problem; it’s a medical problem that increases the risk of many other illnesses and health issues including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver disease and sleep apnea.

The consequences of obesity extend beyond individual health outcomes. As obesity rates rise, so do healthcare costs, placing a burden not only on individuals but also on the healthcare system. The financial strain of obesity-related conditions places a significant burden on Brooklyn’s already stretched healthcare infrastructure, compromising the quality of care available to all. 

Furthermore, the stigma of obesity has a negative impact on mental health, with overweight individuals experiencing greater rates of depression. 

According to a community health assessment done by New York Methodist Hospital in 2016, it was discovered that the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene estimated the number of obese adults in the borough of Brooklyn to be 505,000 in 2014. This was noted as the highest number of obese adults in any borough. Approximately one in four adults in Brooklyn is estimated to be obese and at risk to develop health issues including diabetes and cardiac events. In 2011, Brooklyn had the highest number of overweight or obese youth (19,000) compared to any other borough. Brooklyn also had the second-highest percentage of overweight and obese youth at 29.1%.

Understanding the underlying factors that contribute to obesity is important for developing effective remedies. Obesity has been exacerbated by modern urban life, which is characterized by sedentary habits, processed meals and a culture of convenience. In certain regions, fast food restaurants outnumber fresh produce markets, while spaces for safe and accessible physical activity are limited.

Various policies have been implemented to address obesity in different countries. These policies were proven to be effective and will have the same effect if successfully implemented in Brooklyn. 

For example, the U.K. government in 2018 placed a tax on sugary drinks. After two years, it was noted that there was lower demand for high-sugar drinks. There was also a marked shift of producers reducing sugar levels in drinks to avoid the tax. 

Another policy was the ban on the sale of sugary drinks in Chilean schools. This was a direct way of limiting the availability of sugary drinks, a significant cause of childhood obesity.

The local government should implement policies aimed at creating healthier environments, like investing in safe walking and cycling paths, improving access to affordable and nutritious food options, encouraging the establishment of grocery stores in underserved areas and providing incentives to local farmers to increase fresh produce availability to support the local economy.

The fight against obesity in Brooklyn is more than simply looking at individual waistlines, it is a collaborative effort toward a healthier city. The importance of this public health issue cannot be overemphasized as there are unforeseen outcomes for individuals, the community and our healthcare system.

This is a call to action to prioritize the well-being of Brooklynites and to encourage an atmosphere in which health is a shared responsibility where and no one is left to carry the weight of obesity alone.

Chizoba Jennifer Ndulue is originally from Nigeria and a graduate student at SUNY Downstate School of Health Sciences. She is passionate about public health policy and advocacy, with a focus on promoting and empowering individuals and communities to make healthy lifestyle choices.