Harlem Word: Dr. Mary Bassett – What the Department of Health is doing to change the health of New Yorkers.

Editor October 19th, 2009

From 2002 – 2009, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, served as the Deputy Director of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention for New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene overseeing the District Public Health Program and the bureaus of Chronic Disease, Tobacco Control, School Health, Minority Health, and Maternal Infant and Reproductive Health. Originally from New York City, she graduated from Harvard and Columbia Universities and completed her medical training at Harlem Hospital Center. She serves as an Associate Editor for the American Journal of Public Health and recently returned to her passion of promoting primary health care in Africa. She is now with the Doris Duke Foundation and is serving as the Associate Director for its African Health Initiative.

Q: What is New York City Department of Health’s Division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention?

A: The New York City Department of Health’s Division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention collects information on a variety of health issues and develops a number of health policies and health programs to address chronic disease in New York City. The Department of Health and the Division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention are best known for their efforts to get calorie counts labeled on restaurant menus, the ban on trans fats in food and the ban on smoking in bars and restaurants.

Q: What is the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Division doing to change the health of New Yorkers?

A: To reduce tobacco-related deaths, one thing we have recently done successfully is to make it hard to smoke tobacco. Many people in the health industry are now looking at health issues in a new way which helps us at the Department of Health create programs that we feel will be more successful in improving the wellbeing of New Yorkers.For instance, for many years, even though a leading causes of death was heart disease, it wasn’t until our current health commissioner viewed heart disease as a public health issue (relating to things you do in your everyday life) that programs to reduce heart disease came about. Rather than simply treating the effects of heart disease, we began to help people follow a healthy diet through our healthy bodegas program and places for physical activity such as our Shape up New York program. These programs were designed to help prevent people from developing heart disease. In this way, the Department of Health has become more proactive in protecting health over recent years as attitudes about health have changed to deal with large obstacles that keep people from being healthy. Q: What are some new things the DOH’s Division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention is doing to help reduce health inequality?A: Researchers have recently changed their thinking about why there are health inequalities in certain communities. In the past, many researchers focused on the idea that people make bad choices that caused them to be unhealthy. This thinking has now shifted to address the fact that people only have bad options, and because they don’t have good options, they become unhealthy.Looking through years of health data, we noticed that some groups have poorer health and they tend to be centered around zip codes. Because of these trends, we established offices in some of the neediest areas of New York City, which includes East Harlem. These District Public Health Offices (DPHOs) were created to make certain that there are targeted strategies to improving health and communication in the community. Some of these programs include home visiting programs, free exercise programs and meetings with area doctors to improve care.

For more information on the Harlem District Public Health Office go to http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/dpho/dpho.shtml.

Read more from Dr. Bassett by click the links below:

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