City campaign aims to address 'stark disparities' in health of residents

The city will offer a series of free health fairs, blood-pressure screenings and walks — including a workout with Ravens running back Ray Rice — later this month as part of Healthy City Days, a new public health awareness campaign.

The five-day series of events is intended to bridge the "stark disparities" between the health of the city's poorest residents and of those who live in wealthier neighborhoods, said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. A health department study showed that residents of some communities have an average life expectancy of less than 60 years, while in other neighborhoods, the life expectancy exceeded 80.

"We hope to show people that you do not need lots of time or expensive equipment to live a healthy life," Rawlings-Blake said Tuesday at a news conference at the C.C. Jackson recreation center in Park Heights.

Seniors and schoolchildren who attended the event took part in a workout led by a trainer from the Maryland Athletic Club fitness centers. Nathan Lawson, founder of Wheely Good Smoothies, handed out samples of fruity drinks produced by blenders attached to bicycles.

Healthy City Days events include screening at several branches of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, healthy cooking demonstations and a fair at City Hall.

Rawlings-Blake will kick the campaign off on Sept. 27 by walking from City Hall to the Inner Harbor, accompanied by the Western High School dance team. The University of Maryland Medical Center will offer free consultations on "Take a Loved One to the Doctor Day," and Rice will lead a two-hour workout at the harbor.

"You don't have to be an NFL athlete to take care of your health," said Rice, adding that he takes his mother to work out with him.

Officials hope to inspire residents to swap foods high in sugar and fat for healthy choices and to incorporate more exercise into their day.

"We want to encourage people to think about incorporating physical activity into a daily routine a little bit at a time so that it becomes a matter of habit for families," said Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the city's health commissioner.

The series of events is funded by a $75,000 donation for CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield, officials said.

In 2008, 13.6 percent of city residents surveyed said they had been diagnosed with diabetes, 33.8 percent were obese and 36.4 percent had high blood pressure, according to the city health department's 2010 Health Disparities Report Card.

The same report said the mortality rate for heart disease was 235.3 deaths per 100,000 Baltimore residents, compared to 189.8 for the rest of Maryland. For prostate cancer, the rate was 40.1 per 100,000 Baltimore residents, and 23.5 for the rest of the state. HIV/AIDS mortality rates were also much higher in Baltimore, at 37.7 per 100,000 for city residents and 3.6 elsewhere in Maryland.

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