WBZ Cares: Social Determinants Of Health

BOSTON (WBZ-AM) -- Each month, “WBZ Cares” highlights a worthy non-profit organization and tells the story of what that organization does for the community. This month WBZ is profiling the American Heart Association which has grown into the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke.

WBZ's Shari Small looks into the good work the American Heart Association is doing on a local level by helping to improve the social and environmental impacts on our health.

While cardiovascular health research is the cornerstone of the American Heart Association, Executive Director of the Boston region, Jay Blackwell, says some of that research is leading to new approaches to getting and staying healthy. 

“It's not just enough to be able to talk to people about walking more, taking better care of themselves personally. There are some systems that are built into the city that affect whether a person has an equal chance of health or not and so we're really trying to work with community leaders to say, ‘What can I do to remove barriers for people? How do we make it just so that everyone has a fair chance?’” said Blackwell.

Ben Perkins is the Executive Director of Health Equity Strategies for Greater Boston. 

“In 2015, we issued a scientific advisory statement on what we call the social determinants of health. So those are the factors where one lives, where one works, where one plays, goes to school - that those environmental factors can have a profound impact on someone's health. The fact that you can go two, two and a half miles and see life expectancy decrease by 30+ years is pretty astonishing and troubling,” stated Perkins.

Perkins works with local cities and the state to identify and improve some of the social and environmental issues that have been proven to impact health.

“We've looked at the data and we found that there are roughly four neighborhoods that are of particular concern. You look at things like obesity, you look at smoking, you look at exercise, you look at diabetes, those four neighborhoods consistently come up. So Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, East Boston, so paying attention to those neighborhoods in particular. So one of the things we worked with is looking at ways to advocate for safer streets for folks to walk, to get exercise, to bicycle. So the state just passed a bill, an additional $11.5 million dollars, that's gonna go into the issue of transportation equity. That's just one example of some of the work that we're doing,” concluded Perkins.

WBZ NewsRadio1030's Shari Small Reports

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