Entries in Philadelphia (3)


Philadelphia Students Slimmer; Schools' Anti-Obesity Efforts Cited

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA) -- Researchers found a drop in Philadelphia high school obesity rates between 2006 and 2010, the first time a large evaluation has suggested that a school system's efforts to curb obesity were effective.

Philadelphia researchers, including city health commissioner Donald Schwarz, looked at the BMI (Body Mass Index) numbers of 120,000 students from elementary school through high school, and found a five-percent decline in obesity rates over the five years studied. Though it's hard to prove for sure that the school system's efforts were the greatest cause of the improvement, Philadelphia clearly tried to make a difference. Schools banned soda and sugary beverages, removed all deep fryers and sold only low-fat milk in their cafeterias over the last 10 years.

"You've got to give the school system in Philadelphia credit for doing this stuff," said Dr. Louis Aronne, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital and the Weill Cornell Medical Center. "It's not just one step, but many steps that are going to be necessary to stem the tide of obesity."

Similar studies have been conducted in California and Arkansas, but in neither of those places was there a significant weight reduction over time.

Aronne said perhaps Philadelphia students weren't able to leave school -- and buy unhealthy foods -- as easily as students in California, who were more likely to have cars. The Philadelphia health efforts also included telling kids to leave unhealthy snacks at home, and cooperating with nearby corner stores to put healthy choices -- instead of candy -- near the cash register.

But Commissioner Schwarz says the decline isn't what most surprised him. He said he was more struck by which groups saw the biggest slim-down: African American girls and Hispanic boys.

In other studies, Schwarz said, the students who had the greatest success against obesity were wealthy, but African Americans and Hispanics in Philadelphia typically aren't.

Students might not always be able to choose healthy snacks at home, but they'll get healthy snacks in school, said Lisa Rudi, who manages Eat.Right.Now, a 13-year-old program in Philadelphia to end hunger and promote healthy eating. The program features after-school cooking clubs, school assemblies and field trips to farms. School farm stores even sell produce inexpensively and offer recipes to parents.

"They're getting to taste vegetables they've never tasted before," she said. "Last year, we did sweet potatoes for 2 and a half pounds for a dollar."

Bettyann Creighton, the district's director of safety and physical education, said teachers are also encouraged to provide non-food rewards in the classroom, and clubs are encouraged to sell healthy treats -- instead of candy and cupcakes -- when they hold fundraisers.

Aronne, who was not part of the study, said he thinks preventing obesity in children is a crucial step toward curbing it nationwide. He said relatively new research indicates that fatty or sugary foods "injure" the weight-regulating areas of the brain early and lead to obesity, which could point to why Philadelphia's actions to foster healthy eating early are important.

"If we're going to stop the epidemic of obesity, it's going to be in childhood," he said.

He added that Philadelphia's results are not a miracle. "It's the result, in my opinion, of applying a number of techniques over several years."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Furor Over Shirtless Pose Contributed to Firefighter's Suicide, Family Says

ABC News(PHILADELPHIA) -- Jack Slivinski Jr.'s decision to pose for a hunky firefighters' calendar that would benefit widows of fallen colleagues reflected what he loved about the Philadelphia Fire Department's elite rescue unit: "We don't leave anybody behind."

The former Marine took pride in upholding the ethic that made his job so satisfying. "To be able to help the citizens of Philadelphia is super-rewarding," he said in an online video accompanying the 2012 calendar being released Thursday.

From day one, Slivinski was going to be featured on the cover, and not only because of his looks.  "Mr. Philadelphia" also would represent the city where Benjamin Franklin started the nation's first volunteer fire department.

But his high-profile role had unanticipated consequences.  He shot himself to death at home on June 25 -- a month after his 32nd birthday.  He left no suicide note.

Now, like others who lose a son or daughter to suicide, his parents, John "Jack" Slivinski Sr. and Gerry Slivinski, are struggling to find meaning in his death.

Sure, Jack Jr. had his share of troubles, including a separation from his wife, although he had hoped for reconciliation.  They knew he was unhappy; he'd recently begun taking antidepressants.  He might have experienced residual sadness from the death of Lt. Derrick Harvey, 45, a close friend and colleague who died after trying to rescue Slivinski and another firefighter from a burning house, unaware they'd escaped.

The Slivinskis say, however, that his unanticipated censure for baring much of his buff body in the Nation's Bravest: Firefighters Unite calendar fueled their son's despair.

Despite the rawness of their grief, the two are coming to New York for Thursday's calendar launch party at a SoHo nightclub, where they'll meet the other featured firefighters.  They'll attend another calendar party in Philadelphia on Sept. 7, with proceeds funding the Widows Fund of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22.

"We're going to support my son," Gerry Slivinski, 56, said Tuesday in an interview from her Philadelphia home.

"It makes me feel good that they're doing these things for my son and the widows, but I don't know if it's helping me or not," said Jack Slivinski Sr., 60, an original member of Philly's elite rescue unit.

Fellow firefighters have been exceptionally helpful to him, his wife and their daughter, Jennifer.

"Anything we need," he said.  "They're bending over backwards."

Firefighters have expressed support for Jack Jr.; a Facebook page attests to the many people who cared about him.  More than 1,000 people came to the memorial service honoring the former altar boy.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Philadelphia Gives Condoms to 11-Year-Olds

upiterimages/Comstock/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA) -- With the largest rate of teens having sex in the country and the fifth-highest HIV/AIDS rate in that age group, Philadelphia has launched a campaign to reverse those trends with a website that offers mail-order condoms to children as young as 11.

A similar effort in Provincetown, Mass., last year stirred up vigorous protest from parents when the school board made condoms available to children of all ages, as long as they went to a school counselor and asked. After the uproar, officials limited access to fifth-graders and up -- or those 11 and older.

But so far in Philadelphia, the parental reaction has been minimal, according to city health department spokesman Jeff Moran.

Though not much data exists on sexual behavior among kids as young as 11, the 2009 CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows that 15 percent of children under 13 have had their first sexual encounter.

"I haven't heard much in way of public outcry -- not yet -- but I anticipate it," said Gary Bell, executive director of Bebashi-Transition to Hope, a local nonprofit that works with teens on prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

"We hear from teachers and school counselors and sometimes the principals that kids are cutting school in the afternoon and leaving early to go have orgies -- and that's in middle school," said Bell.

"They get groups together with kids of different genders -- sometimes same-sex and sometimes mixed. The parents are not home and so they go there and have sex and trade partners."

He also reported that city teens use different colored lip stick to signal "how far they will go with oral sex with a guy," according to Bell. "We are hearing about them acting out in school in the bathrooms and the stairways. This is not entirely new, but we don't think of it in middle school."

And, he said, most teens have no idea that they are exposing themselves to the dangers of risky sex. The organization's 24/7 hotline gets questions like, "Can I get pregnant standing up?" or "Can I get pregnant with anal sex?"

"We had another kid kicked out for a ménage a trois -- three boys who were 10 and 11," he said "It's really apparent that many do not realize they can get sexually transmitted infection with oral or anal sex."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio