Whittier Street Health Center opened its community vegetable garden on June 24. (Courtesy of Chris Aduama)
By Marina Renton
When it comes to health in Boston, it’s hard to deny there’s a great divide across neighborhoods.
Need proof? A 2013 Boston Public Health Commission report found that, from 2000 to 2009, the average life expectancy for Boston residents was 77.9 years. But in the Back Bay, it was higher — 83.7 years — compared to Roxbury, where the average life expectancy was 74.
If you want to get even more local, you can analyze the same data by census tract, where life expectancy varies by as many as 33 years: 91.9 years in the Back Bay area between Massachusetts Avenue and Arlington Street, and 58.9 years in Roxbury, between Mass. Ave. and Dudley Street and Shawmut Avenue and Albany Street. That’s according to a 2012 report from the Center on Human Needs at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
The Whittier Street Health Center in Roxbury is trying to tackle the disparities in a very concrete way. With the launch of a new fitness club and community garden, the center is trying to make healthy food and exercise opportunities available and affordable to all, despite geography.
“What we’re trying to do is to remove those social determinants and barriers that are causing these [health] disparities,” said Frederica Williams, president and CEO of the health center.
‘If I Sweat, I’m Doing Something Right’
The fitness club and garden initiatives just launched June 27, but the Whittier Health and Wellness Institute is already drawing in community members.
Eight months ago, Wanda Elliott weighed 256 pounds. On a visit to her Whittier Street physician, she learned her blood pressure was high — high enough that she had to start taking medication. That was the wake-up call that motivated her to change her diet and start exercising.
“I was dragging,” she said.
Elliott began exercising at a local Y but joined the Whittier Street fitness club when it opened. In eight months, she has lost 52 pounds, leaving her 4 pounds shy of her 200 pound goal weight.
“I have two knee replacements, so I have to keep active every day,” she said. Trainers at the center helped her learn to use the exercise machines, and now it feels like a routine, she said.
“I feel addicted to working out. I feel like if I sweat, I’m doing something right,” she said. “From 256 to 204, I feel like a model. I can walk the runway; that’s how energized I feel now.”
Elliott is now off her blood pressure medication. She is working on making changes to her diet “slowly but surely,” drinking more water, eating more salad, and cutting back on red meat. Continue reading