Become a Healthy Beverage Zone

Here’s some sweet news about a county that is rated the least healthy in the state. Thanks to the work of a Bronx-wide campaign – the Healthy Beverage Zone (HBZ) Project – the borough is one of 50 communities nationwide to be recognized as a finalist in the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge.

Dr. Vanessa Salcedo, a pediatrician at Union Community Health Center (UCHC), has been a driving force behind this campaign and she is urging BPHC members to join the Healthy Beverage Zone Project and help the Bronx win top recognition and up to $500,000 to support the campaign. The Healthiest City & Counties Challenge is a partnership of the Aetna Foundation, the American Public Health Association and the National Association of Counties.

The Healthy Beverage Zone Project aims to help Bronx residents make healthier choices by reducing the amount of sugary drinks they consume and, therefore, lower the rate of chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Studies show a direct correlation between sugary drink consumption and these diseases which are disproportionately found in the Bronx.

At UCHC, Dr. Salcedo initiated the health center’s SSB (sugar-sweetened beverage) Free Zone to educate patients about the sugary content of many popular drinks and steer them to water or other healthier beverages. The effort has earned attention in media across the state and the American Heart Association.

“Our patients are inundated with the marketing of sugary beverages,” said Dr. Salcedo. “This was a small intervention that could make a huge impact in our community.”

Dr. Salcedo says one key factor in the campaign’s effectiveness is role modeling. Union is an official SSB Free Zone – for patients and staff alike. Physicians, administrators and all employees signed pledges to eliminate SSBs from their workplace to encourage better habits among their patients. SSBs are no longer offered in vending machines or provided at staff meetings; water is made more readily available.

“Role modeling is so important,” said Dr. Salcedo. “Patients hear the message in a different way when they see that their doctor, nurse and all clinic staff are taking this message very seriously.” In forming an SSB Free Zone, UCHC partnered with the New York Department of Health to secure educational resources that have been made available to staff and patients.

Patients who visit Union can’t miss the SSB Free exhibits that line the hallways and walls of doctors’ offices featuring empty bottles of sugary beverages popular in the Bronx alongside packets of sugar that show the amount in each bottle. Dr. Salcedo and doctors at Union’s six clinics talk to patients about the sugar content in drinks and its link with tooth decay, liver disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Salcedo says she is starting to see improved liver enzymes and lower blood sugar levels in patients. Staff members are also reporting weight loss and better healthy habits. The campaign has gained momentum and even Bronx elected officials have taken the pledge and made their offices SSB-free zones.

The next step is to take the campaign to the entire Bronx. “The Healthy Beverage Zone Project benefits our patients and staff, and it is an opportunity for the borough to be seen as a nationwide leader in making healthy choices,” says Dr. Salcedo. “We urge organizations to join us and help the Bronx win the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge.”

To learn more about becoming a Healthy Beverage Zone, visit