Health department kicks off ‘Healthier You’ Month, by George Sedlacek

Local health officials are encouraging Marquette County residents to take care of their health this busy holiday season. The Marquette County Health Department (MCHD) launched an awareness campaign that will highlight several core health issues of particular concern during the holidays and winter months, including physical inactivity and unhealthy eating, the spread of germs, substance abuse and coping with stress and depression.
“At this time of year, sickness and disease are the last things anyone should have to worry about, which is precisely why we should not let preventable health conditions get in the way,” said Randall Johnson, M.D., health department director.
Holidays can lead to stress, fatigue, financial constraints, consumption of foods not normally eaten, substance abuse and other physical and mental health problems. According to the 2003 Michigan Behavioral Risk Factor Survey, only three percent of adults in Michigan engage in the four essential healthy lifestyles that can reduce risk for chronic disease: healthy weight, adequate fruit and vegetable intake, adequate physical activity and no smoking. Here in Marquette County, it is estimated that only about one third of us are active enough to prevent chronic disease such as diabetes or heart disease. Worse yet, only about a quarter of us eat at least five fruits or vegetables a day.
Fred Benzie, MCHD director of environmental health, reminds people of all ages to protect themselves from germs—such as influenza and foodborne germs—this winter season. About ten to twenty percent of Americans get influenza each year, about 36,000 Americans die from it each year, and many more are hospitalized.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate each year in the United States, 76 million cases of illness, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths are caused by foodborne germs. A lot of people and schools have become concerned with the most recent “bug of the month,” the MRSA Skin Infection. People need to realize the best method to avoid this infection is to wash your hands and not share personal items like razors and towels.
Johnson offers these tips for stepping up to better health this holiday season:
• Although they may be comforting, limit intake of higher-fat holiday favorites like eggnog and candied sweet potatoes. Choose smaller portions at potlucks and choose lower-fat foods, such as apples, cranberry dishes and baked squash.
• Be physically active every day; build a snowman, go sledding or cross-country skiing at a local park, or go for a walk with family and friends after eating large holiday meals.
• Get vaccinated each year. Talk to your health care provider about other immunizations you may need.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick and keep your distance from others when you are sick.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and then put your used tissue in a wastebasket.
• Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for twenty seconds or clean with alcohol-based hand cleaner. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
• Stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick.
• When buying food, do not allow foods to thaw, buy what you can use by the use-by date, and do not buy food in poor condition (such as freezer burn, leakage, dented cans, bulging lids).
• Keep your refrigerator at forty degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer at zero degrees Fahrenheit.
• Store nonperishables in dry, high places away from pests and dampness.
• Cook foods—especially meat—thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria.
• Keep expectations manageable.
• Be aware that excessive drinking will increase your feelings of depression.
• Spend time with supportive and caring people.
• Keep alcohol use to a minimum. Binge drinking often not only leads to a hangover the next day, but may cause behaviors that can ruin the holiday season.
Enjoy the holiday season. It’s a season of high energy demands. By following these tips, it doesn’t have to be energy draining. If you don’t do so well, don’t sweat it. Beginning in January, the health department and other health organizations will sponsor the FitUP project; go to www.FitUP.org for details on that campaign. It’ll begin at that perfect time to compensate—New Year’s resolution time.
—George Sedlacek

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