Staten Island Borough President James S. Oddo knows how unhealthy his borough is. And he’s not going to sit idly by while the health of the borough’s citizens gets worse.
While some may scoff at the idea that government should get involved in personal health, Oddo – a fitness and health buff himself– believes differently. “While government does have a role to play, I do not support silly efforts to ban 16 ounce sodas and similar efforts. While the idea is good – sugary sodas are detrimental to our health – such bans simply engender bad will amongst the people, who don’t want to be told what to do,” he said. Instead, Oddo proposes an education campaign and promoting healthy lifestyles on the Island. His first move on this front is to bring on a dedicated staff member to tackle these issues – a first for Borough Hall.
He held a press conference on Friday, March 14th to introduce his new Director of Health and Wellness, Ginny Mantello, MD, and broadly outline his plans to use his office to focus on the health of the 500,000 residents of Staten Island. Many Staten Islanders continue to have poor health indicators, which lead to many obesity related illnesses and increased health care costs.
The health issues facing Staten Islanders are staggering. Our numbers of smokers are higher than the rest of the city, with 21% of Staten Islanders smoking, compared with 16% in the rest of the city. Prescription drugs are a huge problem - from 2005 to 2011, there was a 261% increase in deaths due to prescription drugs. In comparison to the rest of the city, on Staten Island we are 33% more likely to suffer from heart disease, 37% more likely to suffer from chronic respiratory disease, and high schoolers are 9% more likely to binge drink. Our rate of heart disease is 378 per 100,000 people, compared to 283 per 100,000 in New York City as a whole.
Staten Islanders are also more obese than the rest of the city, a troubling trend across the country. The top causes of death on Staten Island stem from obesity while nearly 75% of Staten Island residents can be considered either overweight or obese, thereby increasing their risk of diabetes by two to four times, and dramatically increasing their risk of heart disease. In fact, 80% of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease are preventable with lifestyle changes; changes, Oddo said, his office can help those who are interested make.
During his campaign for office, Oddo spoke a great deal about the state of health in our borough and the need for policymakers to focus on promoting healthy lifestyles. With the hiring of Dr. Mantello, Oddo is demonstrating that health and wellness is among one of his priorities.
And you don’t have to be a doctor to make healthy changes. Oddo is constantly inspired by people - young and old - who have changed their lives by making positive changes, including changing eating habits and getting more exercise. In addition to the hiring of Dr. Mantello, Oddo will launch a Health and Wellness Advisory Council to come up with ideas to help those interested to get healthier.
Dr. Mantello, a neuroradiologist from Pleasant Plains, has experience setting up employee wellness initiatives and in overall mind/body wellness. “It is important to remember that health is not just absence of disease, but a state of physical, mental and emotional wellbeing,” she said. “Our goal at this office will be not only to motivate people, but empower them with knowledge in order to become more proactive in taking responsibility for their own health, that of their children and their community.”
In addition to Dr. Mantello, Oddo looked to high school student Joe DeCasperis who recently shed over 100 pounds in an effort to be healthier and lead a better quality life. DeCasperis, 16, has adopted a healthy lifestyle of cooking, weight training and cardio exercise.
“I didn’t like who I was becoming” said the Tottenville High School student. “I decided to make health and wellness a big part of my life.”
Oddo called DeCasperis “an inspiration at such a tender age.”
Oddo plans to partner with local agencies to promote good health. “No one will be forced to be healthy if they don’t want to. But, we will do our best to help those Staten Islanders who want to get healthier get the tools they need to do so,” he said.