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Gimme Five: Ryan Natividad



Name: Ryan Natividad 
Title: Health Policy Coordinator 
Organization: Coalition for Asian American Children and Families 

Ryan Natividad became involved in public health work through an organization that served the Asian American community, and started doing research doing research work for NYU Medical Center at NYU Nursing School. Ryan’s research examined the community, registered nurses, and cultural factors. Eventually, he became interested in tough policy work, and contacted his supervisor to say that he wanted to do policy advocacy work. Today, Ryan is the Health Policy Coordinator for the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF). 

What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity? 

I actually fell into public health work through HIV/AIDS peer education in my early college days. Eventually, I did some research work that looked at health concerns in the Filipino American community. Now, I do health policy and advocacy work at CACF focusing on healthy eating and active living (HEAL) among Asian American children and families. 

How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity? 

I am helping create awareness and education about health disparities in the Asian American community. While the community may not show outward signs of obesity, Asian Americans are susceptible to obesity-related diseases and health complications at lower BMIs. The World Health Organization itself recommends a different BMI measurement for Asians. No community is exempt from chronic and cardiovascular diseases when exposed to unhealthy environments and unhealthy eating patterns. 

I advocate for policy change to promote data disaggregation. Often times the Asian American community is aggregated as a whole, which hides the health disparities specific to different ethnic communities. Add to that the stereotype of the model minority, and it is difficult to change the perception that Asian Americans can be afflicted with “diseases of civilization” like anyone else. At the New York City Council, we are advocating for a bill called Intro 251, which would require the collection of demographic information for at least 22 Asian Pacific American groups in New York City. The bill would collect information regarding an individual’s country of origin; the number of years the respondent has lived in the United State; and the primary language of the individual. Intro 251 would ensure that we are able to provide culturally competent and language accessible health and medical services to those who need them. 

I think in general, there has been a lot of information or misinformation about what is going on in this community. It is true on a physical term and a lot of times within the communities, BMI  is not correlated within the community.. Asian Americans tend to have lower BMI rates but are still affected by coronary diseases. Through public health policy and advocacy, I want to assist the community and provide the members with culturally relevant information. We want to address certain health disparities that are prevalent within the Asian Pacific Communities. One of the goals right now is legislation to collect data among Asian Pacific American  groups and country of origin, language and how long they have been in US, hoping these data will be helpful and help reverse childhood obesity trends. 

What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity? 

Through a CDC grant and in partnership with Asian Pacific Partners for Empowerment, Advocacy, and Leadership (APPEAL), we were able to form Asian Pacific Americans Healthy Eating and Active Living In our Neighborhoods (APA HEALIN’), a collaborative with the goal of addressing food systems, healthy eating, active living, and built environment disparities and inequities in the APA communities of New York City. We created greater recognition and awareness of HEAL disparities in the Asian American community. We also provided education and services that are culturally competent and language accessible. 

Our biggest accomplishment that we have had was providing help that was culturally relevant and competent to Asian Pacific Americans. We were able to form APA HEALIN’, a coalition made up of six organizations, to examine the healthy eating and active living situations, and see how can we empower the community to address them. Earlier this summer, we had Mark Fenton come to New York City and do a walk audit in Jackson Heights. He did an assessment of the community and how the community can improve the space for biking and walking, and what the next steps would be for moving forward in creating legislation and giving them the tools to do advocacy work to accomplish this. 

What do you look forward to most about your job?  

I see health policy as a way to bridge on-the-ground community work, academic research, and the involvement of elected officials. This multi-pronged approach is one way to create an impact in addressing health disparities and in helping children grow up at a healthy weight. Also, one of the perks of my job is the traveling and being able to meet with stakeholders who are in the same boat of community health improvement. 

I think that policy can really bridge community involvement work. This is very effective because you can bring a lot of stakeholders together to work on stuff. Policy change goes beyond what can be done at the programmatic levels. I like to work with the different stakeholders and collaborating with them on how we can move forward on addressing obesity. I love to be able to travel through my job and visit new places for my work. 

What game or sport did you play growing up? 

I grew up in the Philippines, so I was what Mark Fenton calls a “free-range kid” since   I played on the streets with neighborhood kids, playing games with whatever items we had on hand. It definitely tested our creativity and ingenuity to keep ourselves active and amused. There were definitely some traditional Filipino games I played, though I cannot remember exactly what they were called. We would all just gather together and play in the middle of the neighborhood and play with whatever we could find. It was very memorable to have that kind of experience. We used a lot of the environment; we would hide and amuse ourselves however we could. 

Each week, our own Amy Stone speaks with a Leader to get a quick look at why he or she loves working to create healthy environments for kids. Want to take part? Visit Amy’s profile and contact her.