In hopes of preventing type 2 diabetes (a disease where the body is unable to produce enough insulin), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health care company UnitedHealth Group have teamed up with The YMCA of Greater New York to expand the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program, or YDPP, throughout the YMCA’s 20 branches in New York City. Each class in the program consists of eight to 15 participants.

According to the CDC, nearly 35% of adults in the United States have pre-diabetes, and 23% of adult New Yorkers have pre-diabetes. The CDC defines pre-diabetes as a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.

Diabetes can lead to very serious complications, including heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, neuropathy, blindness and leg and foot amputations. According to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, it is also the fourth leading cause of death in New York City.

With over 1 million pre-diabetic adults in New York City, the YDPP is a response to the epidemic based on the National Diabetes Prevention Program, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the CDC. The YDPP offers 16 weekly one-hour sessions with a lifestyle coach that works closely with eight to 15 participants who have or are at high-risk of having pre-diabetes. During each session, the coach and participants discuss health topics, including counting calories, reading nutrition labels, weight management, stress and dining out.

The YDPP had launched pilot programs at the Vanderbilt and Bedford-Stuyvesant branches last August. On March 22nd, the YMCA of Greater New York announced their plans of expanding the program throughout the branches in all five boroughs.

“When it first was introduced to the Y, I loved it right from the first time I heard about it,” YDPP coach Janet LoCurto said. “I just thought this was right up my alley.”

LoCurto is the YDPP coach and membership director at the Vanderbilt branch located on 224 E. 47th St. in Manhattan. Having an interest in health and a family history of type 2 diabetes helped LoCurto realize that the role of a lifestyle coach was a perfect fit. It also encouraged her to make a significant change.

“I stopped smoking in order to do this program so that I could actually sit and speak with my participants with validity that ‘You know what? I did make a big lifestyle change,’ and now I’ll tackle whatever else I have to tackle,” LoCurto said.

LoCurto, who’s currently teaching the second session of the YDPP, said that there were positive changes for the participants in the pilot session and that their numbers- including blood pressure, A1C levels and weight- dropped.

“We had 16 weeks of wonderful coaching and personal leadership and guidance from someone who was there to help us investigate our own problems, identify solutions, and help us plan a road map for success,” former participant Kerry Watterson said. “Well all came each week ready to share and excited to talk about tracking the food that we had eaten that week and what exercise we did or didn’t do.”

Watterson first learned about the YDPP when he received an email from New York State Assemblyman Jonathan Bing, whose wife, Meredith Ballew, works at the Vanderbilt YMCA. Watterson also has a family history of diabetes. His mother was diagnosed over 20 years ago with type 2 diabetes, and his mother’s aunt had both legs amputated due to the disease.

But the wake-up call for Watterson was his older brother’s 100 pound weight-loss.

“He was always the biggest of us and no longer was and now I was. We’re competitive and that just couldn’t be,” Watterson said.

“So I had to find a way to work on my physical size but also to address the inevitable issue of ‘Will I be diagnosed diabetic since its part of our family?’ I don’t want to end up like my mom in that wheelchair and I want to change my future and change my life,” Watterson said.

The expansion of the program comes at a time where the country is seeing more cases of diabetes. According to the CDC, 1.9 million adults were diagnosed with diabetes in 2010.

“With 2 million people added to that number last year and its growing,” Gina Murdoch said. “And that’s a big jump in one year, so our educational efforts about pre-diabetes are critically important.”

Murdoch is the executive director of the American Diabetes Association for the Greater New York City area. Murdoch said that the YDPP is a great program and that its motive runs in sync with the ADA’s mission.

“There are people that don’t even realize that they are at a pre-diabetes stage and don’t even know until they develop the complications that they have diabetes,” Murdoch said.

The YDPP cost for eligible participants is $40 for YMCA members and $80 for nonmembers. The fee includes 16 weekly one-hour sessions with a lifestyle coach and access to the YMCA gymnasium and workout facilities. Pre-diabetics insured by UnitedHealth Group may not have to pay, as the company may cover full cost. For those who are unable to pay the fee, LoCurto said eligible participants are not turned away and the YMCA has a scholarship program to fund costs. Because diabetes is not reversible, the program is only for pre-diabetics.

“It is a scary thought when you know the numbers but 1.4 million adult New Yorkers are pre-diabetic. So it is a community problem spread throughout New York City,” LoCurto said.

“There are certain things we can’t control; there are certain things we can and I think this program is important to New York City because of the number of people [who are pre-diabetic],” Watterson said. “Being on the other side now, I am so grateful for the opportunity, I am so grateful to the YMCA and the Center for Disease Control for creating this program and for bringing it to New York City and for allowing us take part of it.”


Known for his health conscious and environmentally friendly policies such as the smoking ban and MillionTreesNYC, Mayor Bloomberg has taken one of his earthly plans a step further into bloom.

On March 28, Bloomberg, Senator Kristen Gillibrand and Congressman Jerrold Nadler proposed the Green Taxis Act of 2011, which would allow local governments to regulate fuel economy and emission standards for taxis.

There are currently 13,237 taxis in New York City, but only 4,500 of those are green.

“The goal is to correct an error that prevents clean air statutes from actually cleaning air,” according to Allan Fromberg, Deputy Commissioner for Public Affairs at the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. “What it would mean to drivers is lower operating expenses, but what it would mean to the city and the world is less dependence on foreign oil, and a more breathable city for us and our children.”

“This [bill] is good for improving the air quality at the street level, reducing our dependence on oil and for addressing the biggest problem our planet is facing, which is climate change,” said Mark Izeman, Natural Resources Defense Council member , who was in attendance when the bill was announced. Izeman stated that hybrids can reduce conventional pollutants by as much as 90% over a regular car.

“Hybrids also have less pollutants coming out of the tailpipe, which means that if you’re walking down the street, or you live near roads, you’re going to be breathing less pollution coming out of cars,” Izeman said.

Air pollution can cause serious harm to the lungs. According to the American Lung Association, air pollution can directly harm lung tissue and weaken the body’s defenses. Coughing, wheezing, increased asthma attacks and premature death are some of the effects pollutants can have on those exposed.

“Of course we are interested in the driver. The drivers should be the ones that benefit from driving these hybrid cabs,” said Bill Lindauer, Campaigns Coordinator at the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.

Bill Lindauer was a taxi driver for more than 30 years and works at the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, an organization that is the equivalent of a union group. Lindauer said because taxi drivers are considered independent contractors and not employees of the City of New York, the NYTWA is equal to a union group.

Even though Lindauer doesn’t deny the health benefits of green taxis, the reality of a dramatic transition isn’t easy. The majority of taxis cannot become green overnight as they must complete their life expectancy; recharging cars is virtually nonexistent (the first-and currently only- solar –powered electric vehicle charging station in the city). Lindauer also said since hybrid taxis have only been around for about five years, their reliability has not been proven.

“Hybrids cost more, initially. Sometimes there are tax incentives to purchase them, but they can vary,” Lindauer said.

Elizabeth Wood, of Vernon, NJ, drives a hybrid and believes that the vehicles reduce the amount of air pollution.

“Besides the fact that I get 35 to 42 miles per gallon, it stops running totally when I stop at stop lights or if I’m in line with something,” Wood said, “because there are a lot of idle emissions that happen in the air when you’re stopping your car- even if you’re not going. So I love it. I’m a hybrid pusher.”

Izeman said that this bill is significant to New York City and the world, as the yellow taxi is “an icon in movies and easily recognizable.”

“Reducing the amount of greenhouse gases coming out of 13,000 taxis won’t solve all the problems in the world,” Izeman said. “But it will send a signal to other cities and even internationally that we need to take action at the local level to address climate change.”

Smoking Ban from Viviana Gonzalez on Vimeo.

As the Smoking Ban has been signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and will go into effect on May 23rd, smokers must scatter and find new places to calm their nerves. With smoking banned in parks, marinas and beaches, cessation programs organized by the New York City Department of Health and the American Lung Association are aimed to help people cope with the side effects and consequences of withdrawal.

But for some people who work at these soon-to-be restricted areas, bad habits aren’t bound to be broken. Troy Pauley, of Brooklyn, is a smoker and works outdoors at the Wellman Grill at Central Park. “I work in the park for 10 hours a day. So where am I supposed to smoke?” Pauley said. “I’m going to smoke. If I have to hide and stoop down and smoke, I’m going to smoke.”

According to the American Lung Association, cigarette smoke has about 70 chemicals that are linked to cancer and secondhand smoke can cause asthma, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and increased instances of colds and ear infections.

Councilwoman Gale Brewer, the prime sponsor of the smoking ban bill, said that the purpose was to improve the public health of New Yorkers by eliminating secondhand smoke in recreational areas. “The whole notion of asthma in children is something that drove us, I think, and drove a lot of my colleagues more importantly, to support this bill.”

Those caught smoking in prohibited areas are subject to a fine of $50 per violation.

Smokers looking to kick their habit can call 311 or 1-866-NY-QUITS and the NYDOH and the ALA offer smokers quitting tips online, access to nicotine gum and patches, medication and cessation programs.

A trip to the dentist may not be exciting to a child, but dental disease is no laughing matter.

On Sunday afternoon, members of the New York State Dental Association and the Second District Dental Society hosted “Dental Health Day” at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library branch to inform parents and children about the importance of dental hygiene.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay, also known as dental carries, affects children in the United States more than any other chronic infectious disease and can cause serious infections.

Dr. Angela DeBartolo, dentist in Bay Ridge and professor at NYU’s College of Dentistry, has been participating in Dental Health Day for 20 years. Dr. DeBartolo knows the consequences of poor dental care during childhood can be detrimental.

“The fallacy is that primary teeth or baby teeth don’t need to be restored and what happens lots of times is if a baby tooth is carious, it can cause an infection that will affect the permanent tooth,” Dr. DeBartolo said. “Infection and abscesses in the mouth can cause fevers and infections systemically throughout the body. So yeah, there’s definitely an importance of oral health as a child. I think a lot of people are not aware of that.”

Karen Berckmann of Park Slope just happened to have taken her son Kai, 15 months, to the library to play. After listening to Dr. Reyes’ lecture, Berckmann considered trying dental wipes, as she previously brushed Kai’s teeth with no toothpaste.

“I didn’t actually know this [event] was going on but we are working on his teeth brushing,” Berckmann said. “So it was good timing.”

The event was held in the Youth Wing for children between one and twelve years old, who received free toothbrushes, toothpaste, and coloring books. Dental care pamphlets, presentations and an educational video were provided to parents and children.

Dr. James Sconzo, director of New York Methodist Hospital and SDDS member, participated in the activities, including being the puppet version of Dr. Rabbit. Dr. Sconzo believes the event is fun and educational for both children and parents.

“As you sit there and screen these kids you’ll see a lot of kids- more kids than you’d like to- with a lot of areas of decay and some of these teeth are blown out,” Dr. Sconzo said. “So it’s good that we can see it so we can see what’s going on in the community, but the parents are also there so we can bring it to the attention of a parent.”

Selma Cohen Saban of Ocean Parkway went to the library with her children. While her daughter Sarah, 7, was participating in the lecture given by Dr. Reyes, Cohen Saban was able to learn also.

“We’re going to start flossing,” Cohen Saban said. “We really just brush right now.”

The event has been organized at the Central Library branch by Dr. Reneida E. Reyes, Chair of the Oral Health Committee for SDDS and pediatric dentist, for 28 years.

“If you tell the average parent how to maintain the child’s well being, I guarantee you they’re committed to it,” Dr. Reyes said. “No parent would deliberately and willingly put their child at risk for dental disease. And I have an expression: ‘Happiness is a healthy mouth.’ And all you have to do is look at a child who’s in pain because of dental disease. That’s not a happy child.”

Colgate’s “Bright Smiles, Bright Future” program provided free dental screenings to children in a van outside of the library. Dentists and hygienists providing the screenings were able to inform the parents if their child had cavities, good cleaning habits, or if braces are needed.

Dr. Steve Scotto, general dentist in Long Island and teacher at New York Methodist Hospital, was volunteering in the Colgate van. Dr. Scotto believes its best to intervene while children are still young.

“We’re all creatures of habits, so the sooner you can start building good oral hygiene habits the better it will be the rest of their lives,” Dr. Scotto said. “It’s like the old saying: ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ ”

Kodi (German shepherd), Jacob (Labrador retriever), Rex (Golden retriever), Tabitha (Beagle), and Baby Gaga (Yorkshire terrier) pose for a picture as the AKC announced them the five most popular breeds in the U.S during a press conference at the AKC Headquarters on 260 Madison Ave. in New York. The most popular breeds are the Labrador retriever, German shepherd, Yorkshire terrier, Beagle and Golden retriever, respectively (NYU/Viviana Gonzalez).

Every dog has had his day, but the Labrador retriever has had his year, again.

The American Kennel Club announced on Wednesday that the Lab is the nation’s top dog for the 20th consecutive year, according to the AKC’s 2010 rankings.

Rankings for top breeds are determined by annual AKC registration statistics, where the number of dogs registered in each breed determines the most popular breeds in the country.

The German shepherd placed in the runner-up spot, while the Yorkshire terrier, Beagle, and the Golden retriever rounded up the top five spots, respectively. Five puppies represented each breed at the press conference at AKC’s headquarters in New York City.

Yorkshire terrier Baby Gaga, 9 months, and owner Donna Lauricella, of Bohemia, Long Island, attend the American Kennel Club Headquarters on 260 Madison Ave. in New York. The Yorkie is the most popular breed of New York City in the 2010 AKC rankings (NYU/Viviana Gonzalez).

Although the Lab is also ranked first in Long Island, Newark and Northern New Jersey, it placed second in New York City to the Yorkshire terrier. The pint-sized “Yorkie” had also claimed the NYC honor in 2009.

Breeder and owner Donna Lauricella, of Bohemia, Long Island, brought her Yorkshire terrier and future dog show competitor, Baby Gaga, for the AKC announcement. Lauricella believes that Yorkshire terriers are popular with New Yorkers because of their size and low-maintenance.

“[Yorkshire terriers] don’t need a tremendous amount of exercise,” Lauricella said.

“They just need a very small area, and that makes it very, very nice for them to be in an apartment and for people not to have to worry so much about getting back from their job.”

Lauricella also believes the Yorkshire terrier has captured the hearts of New Yorkers through their bold personality, a trait she has noticed in 9-month-old Baby Gaga.

“Baby Gaga has an attitude, hence the name,” Lauricella said. “She thinks that she is something special. She does act out; she is typical of a terrier, I think. But having her at home, she goes off on her own, she doesn’t care about any big dog. She makes her own good time.”

In addition to the rankings, AKC also announced that as of January 1, three new breeds had been registered into the club: Entlebucher Mountain Dog, Norwegian Lundehund, and Xoloitzcuintli, pronounced show-low-etz-queent-lee.

AKC’s Assistant Vice President and Spokesperson, Gina DiNardo, said that the organization only introduces about two or three registered breeds annually.

In order for a breed to be registered in the AKC, there must be at least 300 dogs registered in the United States, a national parent club and accurate breeding program records through the Foundation Stock Service.

“It’s a long process and it requires approval of our board of directors,” DiNardo said. 

Gustav, a 5-year-old “Entle”, Eowlyn, a 7-year-old “Lundehund”, and Namina, a 2-year-old “Xolo” were in attendance representing their breeds.

The Entlebucher Mountain Dog was bred to herd cattle in the Swiss Alps and is a very active breed.

Gustav’s owner, Amy Starost, of Bergen County, New Jersey, described Entlebucher Mountain Dogs as energetic, devoted and loyal.

“They’re not for someone who’s just going to sit home and wants a couch potato or a dog that’s not going to be active,” Starost said.

The Norwegian Lundehund- whose name means “Puffin dog”- was bred to hunt Puffin birds on rocky cliffs. It is able to reach its head backward until it touches its backbone and also has a notable feature on each paw- six toes, and sometimes even seven toes.

“It was bred that way specifically so that when it was climbing the rock walls, or if it was starting to slip, it could grab on to the walls and it could hold itself up,” DiNardo said.

The Xoloitzcuintli is a rare breed and comes in three sizes (toy, miniature and standard); they are also hairless or coated. It was believed that Xoloitzcuintlis were used to safe-guard homes from evil spirits in Mexico and Central America.

Joe Patalano, of St. James, Long Island, likes the personality and easy-care of his Xoloitzcuintli, Namina.

“I like the attachment that she has towards her owner, and also obviously the care is quite simple,” Patalano said. “It just involves skin care and not any brushing or grooming.”

In honor of my social media assignment for my writing/reporting course- and for social media- I am going to post about Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO.

Zuckerberg has properly been named TIME’s Person of the Year- and even more properly posted the news on his Facebook profile.

You can read TIME’s article here:,28804,2036683_2037183_2037185,00.html

Kudos to Mark!

TIME's Person of the Year

Picture taken by Martin Schoeller for TIME

This is my very first video project as a Grad student at NYU:

Central Park: Fun in the City from Pavement Pieces on Vimeo.