HARTFORD, Conn.--()--As part of its efforts to promote equity in health and health care, the Aetna Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Aetna (NYSE: AET), has bestowed a $130,000 grant on the New York-based Hispanic Federation. The funds will be used to launch the organization’s pilot program that will engage Brooklyn teenagers in the drive to improve Latino health outcomes and reduce health disparities in the North Brooklyn community of South Williamsburg.
“Latinos want to be healthy, but food choices and environmental factors in our neighborhood frequently contribute to poor outcomes. Thanks to the Aetna Foundation’s support, we are able to develop a project that explores the relationship between environment and health using data-driven methods.”
The initiative, called Youth Health Explorers, will train 36 Latino teenagers, aged 14 to 19, in the science of community mapping, on-the-street interviews and data analysis, to determine the environmental factors in their predominately Hispanic neighborhoods that can influence their communities’ high rates of obesity, especially among young people.
The initiative’s goal is to develop a significant pool of useful data to guide neighborhood health policies in South Williamsburg and coach young people to work with community leaders to address environmental factors that contribute to obesity. The teenagers will be trained in leadership, public speaking, and community mobilization skills. Upon completion of their analysis, they will present their findings to local public officials, community groups and civic organizations. When the pilot program is concluded, the Hispanic Federation hopes to expand the project to other communities across the country.
“Nearly two in five Latino youth are overweight or obese – the highest prevalence rate in their age group by race or ethnicity,” said José Calderón, president of the Hispanic Federation. “Latinos want to be healthy, but food choices and environmental factors in our neighborhood frequently contribute to poor outcomes. Thanks to the Aetna Foundation’s support, we are able to develop a project that explores the relationship between environment and health using data-driven methods.”
Gillian Barclay, D.D.S., Dr.P.H., the Aetna Foundation’s vice president of programs, said, “Teaching young people the fundamentals of public health assessments and advocacy to improve the health of their own neighborhoods can be a powerful force for change. By engaging teens in this endeavor, we not only expect to get a clearer picture of how the built environment can influence obesity rates in urban neighborhoods, but also inspire a young generation of Latinos to become leaders in public health.”
Central to the Hispanic Federation’s goals is Latino youth empowerment. El Puente, a member agency of the Federation and leader in youth development, will recruit Latino teenagers from local high schools for the project and provide training in leadership skills. MATRIX Public Health Solutions, Inc., experts in chronic disease epidemiology, will teach the young researchers how to scientifically map their South Williamsburg neighborhoods, conduct on-the-street interviews with residents about their eating habits and physical activity, and analyze the data they collect.
The Hispanic Federation expects the trained high school students to hit the streets during the first months of 2013 to begin their inventory of South Williamsburg’s health assets and risks, such as recreational facilities, parks, community health clinics, hospitals, shops selling fresh fruit and vegetables, tobacco vendors, and fast-food restaurants, among others. Using GPS devices and Google Maps, the young researchers will be able to create high-tech, cartographic representations of their neighborhood’s resources and impediments to good health, including of the number and accessibility of each.
“Ultimately, the Youth Health Explorers’ health mapping is about community empowerment,” said Calderón. “We believe this program will clarify the ‘health makeup’ of our neighborhoods as a first step in advocating for change in these neighborhoods. We are excited about the possibility of this project being a potential game-changer in the long-term health of residents of South Williamsburg and other Latino communities.”
The Hispanic Federation anticipates that the Youth Health Explorers’ final report on the impact of South Williamsburg’s built environment on residents’ obesity rates and health to be completed in May 2013.
About the Aetna Foundation
The Aetna Foundation, Inc. is the independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna Inc. Since 1980, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation have contributed $413 million in grants and sponsorships, including $19.2 million in 2011. As a national health foundation, we promote wellness, health, and access to high-quality health care for everyone. This work is enhanced by the time and commitment of Aetna employees, who have volunteered more than 2.6 million hours since 2003. Aetna’s current giving is focused on addressing the rising rate of adult and childhood obesity in the U.S.; promoting racial and ethnic equity in health and health care; and advancing integrated health care. For more information, visit www.AetnaFoundation.org.
About the Hispanic Federation
The mission of the Hispanic Federation (HF) is to empower and advance the Hispanic community by providing grants and services to a broad network of Latino nonprofit agencies serving its most vulnerable members. Form offices in New York City and Washington, D.C., HF advocates locally, regionally and nationally with respect to the vital issues of education, health, immigration, economic empowerment, civic engagement and the environment. For more information, visit www.hispanicfederation.org.