Mert Dilek

A new Elm City nonprofit is approaching the systemic problem of obesity from a distinct angle.

Health in Your Hands, a local nonprofit born out of a $120,000 prize grant from the American Beverage Association and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, aims to help families fight obesity by making healthier choices. The project, which began in July and will continue for one year, partners with local farms, exercise groups and cooking educators to promote exercise and healthy eating.

“The uniqueness of this program was that even though it is a one-year program, we planned it so that once it’s over, we will leave the community more empowered and enriched as to carry on the program by themselves,” said Bidisha Nath, project manager for Health in Your Hands.

Data released by the city of New Haven in 2010 showed that 22 percent of graduating high schoolers were obese, with higher obesity rates for black and Hispanic minorities. Nath added that obesity numbers in America are highest for people beneath the poverty line.

To combat this problem, Health in Your Hands works with partner organizations that promote healthy eating such as New Haven Farms and CitySeed.

Organizations like Alisa’s House of Salsa are focused on persuading families to not just exercise, but to enjoy doing so, Alisa Bowens — who runs the dance company — said. She added that this programming has been a welcome addition to the community.

“You can have fun dancing, but also there’s a piece that you can lose weight and stay active,” Bowens said. “It’s emotionally and physically beneficial for everyone’s health.”

The House of Salsa is not alone in its efforts: Much of Health in Your Hands’ approach focuses on making healthy habits seem fun, community-based and in tune with the diverse cultures represented in New Haven, Nath said.

Health in Your Hands leaders use input from locals to choose partnerships with organizations that offer popular activities. Activities and workshops include salsa classes, healthy shopping tours and ethnic cooking classes. Nath said these partner programs will remain visible fixtures in New Haven communities long after the one-year program ends.

Nath said she hopes the program will reduce these rates, but added that there is not yet an adequate method of measuring the program’s impact. The organization is working with the Yale School of Public Health and the Yale Community Alliance for Research and Engagement to create such a metric, she added.

Nearly 17 percent of American children are obese.