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Closing the Health Gap in East Austin

Healthy People, Healthy Places Austin

This month marks the one-year anniversary of a project between the City of Austin and the UT's School of Public Health to reduce the gap in public health between ethnic groups in Austin.

The partners are using a five-year Community Transformation Grant to make Austin’s Eastside and Dove Springs neighborhoods healthier places to live.

Over the past year, the group Healthy People, Healthy Places has launched six separate initiatives in those two neighborhoods. The goal is to empower people to make healthy choices and improve neighborhoods to make them healthier places to live. Alfred McAlister with UT’s Public Health School says the project tries to connect with residents at the grassroots level.

“That's so folks really understand what the issues are and the magnitude and what solutions are needed. When you do that folks in community themselves can come up with solutions and small steps that we can take little by little to solve some of these problems," McAlister says. 

McAlister is presenting the project’s progress to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission today.

Stroke, diabetes, cancer and heart disease are the leading causes of death for African-Americans in Travis County. There are 500 African-American deaths in Travis County from those ailments each year. One major cause of those ailments is obesity.

“African-Americans and Hispanics have higher obesity rates that are related to lifestyle but also environment. We have food deserts, neighborhoods that aren’t safe to have a walking group – and you’d better have a group to go walking in evening – the parks need improvement," McAlister says.

In Travis County, two-thirds of adults are considered overweight or obese.

To reach African-Americans and Hispanics in those neighborhoods, the project is turning to social media and the Internet to spread its message. In Dove Springs , the Latino HealthCare Forum launched an initiative to encourage more residents to walk. 

“Its much more inviting to be outside if you’re in an environment where you have sidewalks, trees where you don’t have a lot of litter. But if you have the opposite then who really wants to be in that kind of environment. It’s not only activity but overall quality of life that’s impacted by having walkable neighborhoods," says Marva Overton, Executive Director of the Alliance for African American Health in Central Texas.

Right now, the forum is working to improve parks in Dove Springs.

“There’s no way to access them, if there was really no sidewalks around the park, didn’t have any playground equipment a lot of it was city kept it a lot of trash around, ”says Jill Ramirez with the HealthCare Forum.

Ramirez says the group uses social media to spread its message.

She says while many residents may not have access to a computer, a study from the Pew Research Centershows Latinos use smartphones at a higher rate than other ethnic groups, “especially the younger generation,” Ramirez says. “So even if a community might not at home a computer they can use their phones.”

She says they also connect with residents through flyers and face-to-face communication.

This Saturday, the group is holding an event at Dove Springs Park to encourage people to use the park to exercise.

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