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In the ‘Zone’: Initiative helps the Bronx ditch sugary drinks

The Healthy Beverage Zone initiative is encouraging Bronx students to choose healthy beverage choices over sugary drinks.
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At the start of spring, the eager faces of the Bronx’s future walked down their school halls ready to not only be part of the borough’s Healthy Beverage Zone anniversary video, but also to take on a new task: paving the way for a healthier community. For the students at MS 327, the Comprehensive Model School Project, it was the first time they had tried fruit-infused water. The students curiously took a sip — then smiled.

“I was not expecting that. Can I take some home to let my mom try?” asked a student.

Representatives of the Bronx Healthy Beverage Zone, a committee motivating Bronxites to ditch sugary beverages, gifted each student a bottle of fruit-infused water, and in return, the students unknowingly rewarded the Zone organizers with the best anniversary present: the young ambassadors were going home to spread the word to their families about delicious, low-calorie alternatives to sugary drinks.

“Healthy beverages are an important factor to reversing the effects of weight gain, diet-related diseases (such as diabetes and heart disease), and poor dental health,” explains the Bronx’s Healthy Beverage Zone website, thebronxhbz.org.

In April, the Bronx Healthy Beverage Zone proudly celebrated its first anniversary. The Zone’s mission is to enlist and assist Bronx organizations, schools and businesses in creating an environment where the community can learn about and choose healthier beverage options by ditching sugary drinks. Today, the Healthy Beverage Zone has secured pledges from almost 50 worksites across the borough to not only rethink their drink, but actively select drinks that encourage a healthier tomorrow.

“Setting a positive example for our community is the first step in cultivating change. It’s a privilege to help lead a borough-wide movement of small changes that will help improve the health of our community,” said Dr. Vanessa Salcedo of Union Community Health Center, one of the Healthy Beverage Zone’s founding organizations which works in partnership with Bronx Health REACH, and the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Bronx Neighborhood Health Action Center.

After bringing national attention to the Bronx and receiving a grant of $10,000 from Aetna Foundation’s Healthy Community 50 challenge, the Healthy Beverage Zone is now in the running to receive a prize of up to $500,000 that will support their mission to change the borough’s grim health statistics. “Since 2009, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings Report has ranked the Bronx as number 62 out of New York State’s 62 counties in terms of health outcomes,” claims the Zone’s website.

“I supported this initiative since it began because the Bronx Healthy Beverage Zone works to make our community healthier,” said New York City Council Member Fernando Cabrera. “I am going to continue to support the Bronx Healthy Beverage Zone, and we are going to win!”

The Healthy Beverage Zone’s support expanded this year with the help of more than 40 partners. Bronx elected officials Borough President Rubin Diaz Jr., state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, Assemblyman Victor Pichardo, and Cabrera contributed by promoting the initiative and ensuring Bronxites understand how sugar-filled beverages affect the body.

PS 811, a public school partner of the initiative, became the youngest travel ambassadors by sharing their knowledge of the adverse affects of sugary beverages with their families. The students have committed to abstaining from consuming sweetened beverages, proving that the initiative is one that can be adopted by people of all ages.

“Thank you for working with us and for working with the Bronx,” Diaz Jr. told the Healthy Beverage Zone. “While we still have a long way to go, this anniversary is a milestone in that the Bronx is headed in the right way.”

For the Zone, celebrating its first anniverary is just the beginning. The initiative plans to keep working towards a healthier future for the Bronx. There is no statistic too scary, or drink too sugary, that the Healthy Beverage Zone won’t campaign to change.

To learn more about the Healthy Beverage Zone, visit its website at thebronxhbz.org.

— additional reporting by Lisa J. Curtis

Updated 5:06 pm, July 9, 2018
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