Tag Archive | "diabetes"

Soundview’s booming juice bar market attracts customers, and some concerns

Carmen Arias, an employee at Blended Up juice bar, pours a pineapple smoothie customers coming in for the afternoon rush.

Carmen Arias, an employee at Blended Up juice bar in Soundview, preparing pineapple smoothies to-go. (JENNIFER LUNA/BronxInk)

Bright orange carrots and yellow cubes of mango spun into liquid inside large plastic blenders one September afternoon at Blended Up, a new juice bar on Westchester and St. Lawrence Avenues in the Bronx. A steady stream of customers ordered smoothies named “big-fighter” or “detox power." Many said they were grateful for a healthier option to the more established fast-food fare at the nearby Checkers, McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts, according to owner Maribel Vilas, 44, a native of Puerto Rico. “There’s a misconception that black and brown people don’t want to eat healthy,” said Yasmin Tejeda, 28, drinking a mango smoothie on her lunch break from Primary Care Information Project where she is a clinical quality specialist. “But if it’s affordable and it’s available we want to eat it.” Fresh juices are quickly becoming a staple in the local diet and economy. Vila’s business is the newest of four juice bars that have opened in the Soundview area of the Bronx within the last five years, three of them just within the last year. The trend began in 2010 when Rapper David Styles—known by fans as Styles P—opened the popular Juices for Life on 1026 Castle Hill Ave. Its success inspired other Bronx entrepreneurs to follow suit. Three years later, Fresh Take, a juice shop on 2245 Westchester Ave., opened its doors and four months ago, GP Smoothies and Gift Shop opened on Castle Hill Avenue. Fresh Take owner Eric Glisson, 38, said the shop sells up to 400 juices a day, with many of the customers coming in after a work out at the Planet Fitness gym above the shop.
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Dr. Samuel Walters recommends juicing to his patients, many of whom are diabetic or pre-diabetic. (JENNIFER LUNA/BronxInk)

“People were so excited and very receptive, saying, ‘Thank God something healthy is coming to the neighborhood,’” Glisson said. GP Smoothies and Gift Shop owner Geoconda Pin said she distinguishes her business from others by including a deli and groceries. Juices, however, are still her most popular product. “People like the concept of green juices,” Pin said. “We use vegetables and natural fruits and that’s why they buy a lot.” Affordability is key to business in Soundview. A small juice at Blended Up and Fresh Take sells for $3.50, compared to $5 at Juices for Life. Some customers compare the cost favorably to fries and a shake at McDonalds. “You can’t be a juice place coming in here selling a ten-dollar organic juice,” said Nancy Guevara, 28,a Bronx native who was visiting from Pennsylvania. Prices don’t seem to be a factor for many customers, especially when their doctors recommend the products. Dr. Samuel Walters, an Internal Medicine specialist in Unionport, estimates 20 percent of his patients to be diabetic and 70 percent hypertensive. Juicing, the doctor said, is a good way to get fresh fruit. “I am a naturalist in the way I treat patients,” the Jamaica born doctor said. “Patients ask if I recommend juice and I do.” But his recommendation comes with a caveat. Diabetes rates are high in Bronx neighborhoods. According to the New York City Community Health Survey of 2002 to 2004, the greater Pelham Bay area had a diabetes rate of 11 percent. In 2010, the Center for Disease Control reported that 8 percent of Americans have the disease. Restricting calories, Dr. Walters said, is the key to losing weight and keeping diabetes in check. An improved diet and increased exercise also helps. Orlando Castro of Soundview dropped 50 pounds over the last year by making these lifestyle changes. The 31-year-old lives near Blended Up and comes for breakfast frequently throughout the week. “My father died of diabetes and my mother has diabetes,” Castro said, sipping on a strawberry and pineapple smoothie. “I’m not going out that way.” Some health experts, however, are concerned about the dangers of the high sugar content found in fruit juices. An 8-ounce serving of juice with sugary fruits such as apple, pineapple or grape can have up to 44 grams of sugar. “Juicing has become a big hit with my patients,” said Priya Massand, a health educator at Montefiore Medical Group on 2300 Westchester Ave. “In an area that is so laden with diabetes it’s almost a dangerous trend because it’s not being done in an educational way.”
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Health educator Priya Massand warns patients about juice bars that add agave syrup, honey or enhanced protein powers that are high in sugar. (JENNIFER LUNA/BronxInk) 

Massand said she recommends that her patients drink juice that includes only one fruit, not several mixed together, and that they make sure no sweeteners are added. The educator keeps photocopies of the juice bars’ menus and points out which beverages are best—vegetable-based drinks—for her diabetic patients. “It can help but I think it requires so much attention to detail that is being missed that it’s not helping yet,” Massand said. “I’m concerned that it’s a trend and not a lasting change.”

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Sen. Gillibrand wants more fresh-food infrastructure in ‘food deserts,’ NY Daily News

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) focused on the Bronx's "food deserts" during Tuesday's annual Farm Day, calling for more fresh fruits and vegetables in impoverished areas, New York Daily News. Gillibrand sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee and is pushing for "food hub infrastructure" funding initiatives into the 2012 Farm Bill. The Daily News reports that such funding would help places like the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market. The Bronx is the worst borough in the city when it comes to obesity and diabetes, according to the city Health Department.

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Bronx food stamp recipients say no to ban on sugary drinks

Bronx food stamp recipients say no to ban on sugary drinks

At some Bronx grocery stores, drinks like Coca-Cola Classic, Fanta Orange, Nestea and Seagram’s Ginger Ale are cheaper than water. A recent weekly special at C-Town Supermarket in the Belmont neighborhood offered five 1.5-liter bottles of Coca-Cola for $5, while advertising the same-sized bottles of Poland Spring water for $7.45. The incentive to buy drinks that promote obesity and diabetes can be seen and heard loud and clear on the supermarket shelves in the Bronx.
Sugary drinks on sale at C-Town Supermarket in the Belmont neighborhood. Photo: Brent Ardaugh

Sugary drinks on sale at C-Town Supermarket in the Belmont neighborhood. Photo: Brent Ardaugh

Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson want to discourage people -- that is, poor people -- from consuming too much sugar, by banning food stamp recipients from using their benefits to buy certain sugary drinks. Many Bronx residents believe this effort unfairly targets the poor, and worry about what's next on the mayor's hit list. “If you drink too much of anything it’s not a good thing,” said Irving Scott, a Bronx carpenter, who receives food stamps and believes he's responsible enough to moderate his own behavior. “Let people have the freedom to buy what they want.” Outside a Fine Fare Supermarket in Hunts Point, another construction worker said the proposal felt like discrimination. “I think we should be able to have the same benefits as everyone else,” said Richard Cruz, who also relies on food stamps. “We aren’t even able to get hot sandwiches right now; they have to be cold.” On Arthur Avenue, Virginia Martinez, who uses her food stamps to buy soda, found the proposal invasive. “Bloomberg is over-doing it,” she said. “This time it’s soda – what’s next?” Under the two-year plan, food stamp recipients would not be able use their electronic benefit transfer cards – the card recipients use to buy subsidized food – to buy drinks that contain more than the equivalent of one packet of table sugar in a 12-ounce serving. The only exceptions would be milk products, milk substitutes and fruit juices without any added sugar. “The [food stamp] program has always excluded certain categories of products without nutritional value – like cigarettes and alcohol – and we believe that a strong case can be made for adding sugary drinks to that list,” Bloomberg said. Many New York City residents are asking how far is too far, but particularly in the Bronx, where according to the U.S. Census, nearly one-quarter of Bronx residents received food stamps in 2007. If approved by the United States Department of Agriculture, food stamp recipients in New York City could not use their benefits to buy sugary drinks. Other items already excluded from the food stamp program, also called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, include tobacco, liquor, vitamins, medicine, pet food, paper products, hot food and household supplies. This proposal is not the first time elected officials have tried to block access to sugary drinks. In 2004, the Minnesota Department of Human Services asked the United States Department of Agriculture to ban sugary drinks and candy from food stamp purchases. The federal agency rejected the proposal, claiming it would cause customer stigma at supermarket cash registers and the belief that low-income people do not buy nutritious foods. According to the department of agriculture, research showed that food stamp recipients are wise shoppers and their nutrient intakes are similar to those of higher income consumers. In a related attempt earlier this year in New York, Gov. Paterson pushed for a penny-an-ounce tax on sugary drinks to help narrow the state’s $9.2 billion budget gap, but lawmakers eventually slashed the proposal from the revenue bill after the New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes released series of unrelenting anti-tax ads. One of the ads featured a woman saying, “Tell Albany to trim their budget fat, and leave our grocery budgets alone.” Now Bloomberg and Paterson are preparing for round two – this time with a proposal that applies to only food stamp recipients in New York City. “There’s no denying that childhood obesity is an epidemic, and there’s no denying that it’s hurting our children in low-income communities the most,” said Bloomberg. “Eliminating these beverages from allowable food stamp purchases would give New York families millions of more dollars to spend on food and drinks that provide real nourishment to them and their children." Unlike the Minnesota plan, the current proposal focuses only on sugary drinks, not both candy and sugary drinks. But health officials say it is enough to put a dent in sugary drink sales, especially those coming from food stamp users. According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, $75 million to $135 million in nutrition assistance benefits were spent on sugary drinks in New York City last year. Many store owners and managers, some of whom are just starting to rebound from the recession, are concerned their sales will drop if the ban goes into effect. Wally Hassen, the manager at Day & Night Deli Grocery in Little Italy, said his store makes about $700 a week from sugary drinks, and most of his customers use food stamps. “It’s going to affect the small businesses,” Hassen said. “They [the government] are not fixing the economy like that.” Spokespeople for the department of health and mental hygiene would not comment on whether a plan is in place to reimburse small businesses for sales lost because of the ban. A statement issued by the American Beverage Association, the trade association representing companies that manufacture and distribute non-alcoholic drinks, criticized the proposal saying it is just another attempt by government to tell New Yorkers what they should eat and drink, and will only have an unfair impact on those who can least afford it. Carl Smith, a food stamp user who was recently shopping with his wife at a Key Food Supermarket on Westchester Avenue, said the ban would affect what drinks he buys. “I won’t be able to buy it [soda] because I have no money,” Smith said. “I think it’s stupid. We should be allowed to buy food.” Carl’s wife, Lori, said she buys four cases of soda a month, and Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Sprite are among her favorites. She, too, thinks the ban goes too far. “What’s next? Coffee?” she asked. Although the proposal has many Bronxites fired-up, it is part of a larger citywide effort to fight obesity and Type 2 diabetes, two conditions exacerbated by eating or drinking too much sugar. A 2007 neighborhood report from the Bronx District Public Health Office found that obesity is more common in the Bronx than in New York City overall. The long-term care required to treat these conditions puts stress on the health care system, causing local and national health expenditures to skyrocket. The New York State Department of Health estimates that treatment for obesity-related diseases – like Type 2 diabetes – costs the State more than $7.6 billion every year and the U.S. $150 billion. In 1998, Medicare and Medicaid financed approximately half of the costs of obesity-related diseases in the U.S., according to a study published in the Health Affairs journal by Eric Finkelstein and his colleagues. Obesity-related diseases affect more than just the patients; these diseases also affect current and future generations of taxpayers. “We feel strongly that the government should not be subsidizing or promoting a product that we know makes people sick, especially in the name of nutrition,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the New York City Health Commissioner. Farley said the proposal targets drinks that are essentially nothing more than sugar water. A 12-ounce serving of water contains no sugar, but original lemon-lime Gatorade has the equivalent of about five packets of table sugar and Coca-Cola Classic has nearly 10. Under the ban, most drinks with more than one packet of sugar would be excluded from allowable food stamp purchases. Sugary drinks contain empty calories, which pump extra energy into a person’s diet without providing nourishment, just like a roommate who takes up space in an apartment but does not help with chores. Most sugary drinks run up calorie intake without giving the body a satisfied appetite in return, causing people to consume even more calories than they would by drinking water alone. These extra calories promote excess weight gain, a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough of the hormone insulin – the ticket sugar uses to gain admission into cells – or when the body ignores it. When sugar cannot move into cells, it backs up in the blood, sometimes with insulin, acting like a line of people waiting to get inside a movie theatre. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage the kidneys, eyes, heart and blood vessels. There is a clear, independent link between sugar consumption and risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to Dr. Frank Hu, a professor at Harvard Medical School, who studies the effect of diet on Type 2 diabetes. “The increase in consumption of sugar has paralleled with the epidemic of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in the U.S.,” Hu said. “Sugar-sweetened beverages have not been on the radar screen for most health professionals until recently. In the past, so much emphasis was put on fat, but now we recognize that sugary drinks are more deleterious.” Hu said the evidence against sugary drinks is now strong enough to start making public health recommendations. But is the best way for a city government to combat obesity and diabetes through restricting soda for the poor? Another solution to tax all soda drinkers crumbled earlier this year after Paterson’s penny-an-ounce tax faced opposition from the New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes. Reducing the size of cans and bottles in vending machines is also an alternative, according to Dr. Robert Kushner, a professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “It makes intuitive sense that the key is to reduce access,” Kushner said. One of the challenges of reducing access, though, is identifying the many different sources of sugar available to consumers. According to Kushner, sugar is not like cigarette smoke, which comes from a single source. Other experts, and some food stamp users, argue that restricting access alone is not enough because it does not teach people how to adopt healthier behaviors. “There needs to be education to complement the SNAP program,” said Amy Lesh, the clinical nutrition manager at St. Barnabas Hospital. “Nothing is going to work without education.” Food stamp recipient, Richard Cruz, a 34-year resident of Hunts Point, said he understands what the mayor is trying to do, but he does not think Bloomberg is going about it the right way. “If he would have a class on things that make you fat, then may be people would relate to that better,” Cruz said. “I would attend one even though I’m not overweight – it’s for my health.” Bloomberg admitted in early October that banning soda from food stamp purchases is not a perfect solution, but after a failed tax proposal, he said it is another way of going about the problem. Dr. Peter Selwyn, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, said political officials should speak with different stakeholders in the affected population before making policies. “This should inform the decision making,” said Selwyn. “I’m not aware this was part of the process or not.” The proposal is currently in Washington, D.C., where it is undergoing thoughtful and careful review, according to Hans Billger, a public affairs specialist at the United States Department of Agriculture. Some Bronxites said even if the federal agency does approve the proposal, they are not convinced it will actually stop people from buying sugary drinks. “If they don’t buy it with food stamps, they’re going to buy it with cash,” said Ivette Lee, a food stamp user who buys ginger ale at C-Town. “Are they going to stop making cash, too?”

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