Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Port Towns Youth Council wants to combat obesity and diabetes

Group lobbies lieutenant governor to back legislation

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Representatives from the Port Towns Youth Council hope to educate and prevent obesity and diabetes in their community, and they have called on Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) to help them.

The council has created an action plan and hopes to find a state legislator who will sponsor a bill that would mandate replacing junk foods in school vending machines with nutritious snacks and require daily physical activity in all Prince George’s County school. Sen. Gwendolyn Britt (D-Dist. 47), who died Jan. 12, had planned to partner with the PTYC on its campaign this year.

The Rev. Gail Addison, council founder and director, said the grandmother of the PTYC vice president, who is one of Brown’s neighbors, was so impressed by what the PTYC does, she asked if she could arrange a meeting with the lieutenant governor.

‘‘In his position, he influences legislation. His influence and partnership [in the campaign] could mean other sponsors, other resources, other players and partners could come in and help [with the campaign],” she said.

PYTC is a program that teaches youths between ages 8 and 18 how to lead others by taking responsibility for their own actions. It is part of End Time Harvest Ministries Inc., a Bladensburg-based nonprofit faith-based organization whose vision is to heal communities by healing youth.

The goal of the PTYC’s campaign is to promote healthy lifestyles and a healthy community by increasing the awareness of the impact of diabetes and obesity on both youth and adults.

PTYC President Patrick Macatangga, 17, of Colmar Manor said the council held a roundtable discussion with Britt late last year when he asked her what could be done to combat the occurrence of obesity and diabetes in youth.

‘‘We started with looking at the youth and then expanded to the families and then to the community,” he said, adding that they hope eventually to take their campaign nationwide. ‘‘We know it’s a nationwide issue.”

Macatangga said school vending machines are filled with junk food like chips, cookies, honeybuns, candy and chocolate.

‘‘None of it is healthy...It should be replaced with snacks like trail mix or granola bars,” he said. ‘‘Some schools don’t even have water [available] in their vending machines.”

Brown, who met with the youth Monday evening, said he is excited to work with the council members in the future, offering guidance about where to apply for grant money since obesity and diabetes are serious issues.

‘‘There’s a high instance of obesity and diabetes in the African-American community. So even though the benefits extend outside the community, it’s good that they’re addressing the issue at home,” he said.

But the council members know it’s not something that will happen overnight, said PTYC Chaplain Gleanza Industrious, 17, of New Carrollton.

‘‘[Brown] told us it’s not going to be easy and that people are going to be against us. It’s going to be an uphill battle,” she said.

Addison said she is in talks to partner with Kaiser Permanente. She said Kaiser already has a national obesity prevention campaign.

‘‘They want to do a demonstration model in the Port Towns. And they’re interested in a youth-led initiative,” she said.

The PTYC plans to launch its community-wide campaign on April 19, when the youth will begin distributing educational materials throughout the Port Towns community and lobbying elected officials to propose legislation that falls in line with their campaign.