Get Healthy Philly initiative tackles poverty, tobacco use and obesity
Philadelphia ranked as least health county in state
May 23, 2012, 10:57 pm · Updated May 24, 2012, 8:11 pm·
For the past two years, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, in collaboration with numerous members of the Penn community, has been working to revitalize the city of Philadelphia, one photograph at a time.
Through Communities Putting Prevention to Work, a program funded by the Center for Disease Control, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health has designed numerous projects and initiatives to improve the health of the city’s residents. Programs include a media campaign, plans to change legislation and Photovoices, a project at Penn that documents tobacco use and nutrition in Philadelphia through photographs and interviews.
The goal of this initiative, also called Get Healthy Philly, is “to focus on two of Philly’s most salient health problems: tobacco use and obesity,” Perelman School of Medicine professor Carolyn Cannuscio said. Cannuscio, who is the creator of Photovoices, added that the grant’s aim is to reduce the uptake of cigarette smoking and to make changes to the city’s environment that will encourage healthy eating and increase physical activity.
The $10.4 million grant has just been renewed, though School of Design professor Amy Hillier wrote in an email that only a “fraction” of the original grant was awarded for the next round.
“From my perspective, this program has allowed the city’s health department to become a leader in this movement for access to healthful foods and tobacco control, both locally and nationally,” Hillier wrote.
However, she added that the city’s health department has built partnerships and hired new staff that will continue these projects even after the CDC money is used up.
Hillier, who is also involved with this program, has a contract with the city to survey the city’s tobacco outlets and media campaigns. The project is expected to reach completion in July.
Earlier this year, Philadelphia was ranked as the least healthy county in the state, in large part because of the county’s high rates of poverty, tobacco use and obesity. Philadelphia is one of fifty communities to participate in this CDC-sponsored program.
According to the Department of Public Health’s Tobacco Policy and Control Program Manager Lorraine Dean, 25 percent of Philadelphians smoke. It is the highest smoking rate of the country’s top ten major cities.
Cannuscio added that smokers include many young residents, who are able to illegally purchase cigarettes sold outside the pack. She explained that many tobacco retailers are located within two blocks of schools, and that they are relatively cheap in Philadelphia. In New York, for instance, a pack costs $12, while in Philadelphia it is about half the price.
“Someone’s going to pay down the line for the consequences of smoking,” she said. She also said that the community is much more aware of obstacles to healthy eating than it is to the city’s high smoking rates.
Dean, a 2003 College graduate, explained that tobacco use is still socially acceptable in Philadelphia. “It should be seen as an addiction,” she said. “A lot of people want to see it as a habit.”
One of the initiatives designed to curb smoking, besides Photovoices, was a media campaign designed in conjunction with the Annenberg School for Communication and a separate ad agency that, according to Dean, ran for 16 months and reached 60-70 percent of the smoking community. In addition, Perelman School of Medicine professor Frank Leone leads a free community-based counseling program that supplies participants with nicotine replacement therapy.
As for nutrition, Cannuscio said the program is working on a healthy corner store initiative, which is meant to make it easier for corner store proprietors to stock healthy options. The program website also outlines goals to stop schools from serving junk food and to increase the number of walkers and bikers in the city.