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GAINS NOTED ON MEETING BLACKS' HEALTH NEEDS

A task force formed after a study uncovered troubling health problems among African-Americans on the near East Side reported Wednesday that it is making progress in a communitywide effort to find solutions.

The survey involved 2,032 people in 900 households. Its findings, released in May, prompted creation of a task force, led by the Black Leadership Forum and made up of more than 40 business and community leaders, to identify key areas of need. Next, the group plans to look at how best to address the problems.

"We didn't want a report that sat on a shelf gathering dust," said Frank Mesiah, task force co-chairman and president of the Buffalo branch of the NAACP.

Among the study's findings:

African-Americans live in the oldest and most dilapidated housing in the city, much of it containing lead-based paint. Six percent of near East Side children under 10 are affected by lead poisoning.

Fear of crime is a major underlying cause of residents' inactivity, leading to obesity, and less than 40 percent of people ages 20 to 44 on the East Side exercise regularly.

The African-American community has few stores that sell healthy fresh foods, such as fruits and vegetables, a situation that contributes to nutritional deficiencies.

Forty percent of the respondents listed the emergency room as their primary place for obtaining medical care and advice.

AIDS is a leading killer of African-Americans, yet about three-quarters of those surveyed said they did not consider themselves to be at risk.

James A.W. McLeod, a Buffalo City Court judge and forum representative, said the findings were inseparable from neighborhood revitalization. He pointed to plans by Tops Markets to build a supermarket on Jefferson Avenue after years of complaints from residents about the paucity of fresh produce on the East Side.

"A new supermarket will help improve people's nutrition, and nutrition is connected to how well you control diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. These are the sort of broad connections we're trying to make," he said.

The Black Leadership Forum commissioned the study, which was conducted by the University at Buffalo Center for Urban Studies and funded by Kaleida Health. A similar study by the UB Department of Family Medicine was conducted in 1994 on the city's Lower West Side. It played a part in changes that led Kaleida Health to construct the new Columbus Community Health Center on Niagara Street.

Kaleida's Buffalo General Hospital abuts the East Side and sees many of the residents as patients. As a result, said John Friedlander, the health system's president and chief executive officer, Kaleida has a stake in maintaining high-quality care and keeping the community healthy.

Friedlander said Kaleida offers community health initiatives on the near East Side and, based on the results of the study, is committed to continuing them and adding more. Kaleida later this year plans to apply for federal funds to add minority health programs at the Bennett W. Smith Sr. Family Life Center focused on nutrition, obesity and physical activity.

e-mail: hdavis@buffnews.com

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