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The link between public health and nutrition

Whether you knew it or not, we have been in the midst of Public Health Week this week. Maybe, like Public Health Week, the services provided by your county public health workers also are not on your radar. If this describes you, no worries!

Many are surprised by the small ways Public Health affect their lives. Some examples include: school lunch changes to provide healthier food choices to children, policies designating smoking areas to protect individuals from secondhand smoke, and community events promoting physical activity with safe walking and biking paths around town.

A part of health that often slides under the radar on a daily basis is nutrition. Every bite that goes into our bodies can impact our physical and mental health in a positive or negative way, but we may not visually see or physically feel that impact until months or even years down the road. In America we can see the direct link between poor nutrition and chronic illnesses. Childhood obesity rates are around 17 percent and adult obesity rates are around 38 percent. Overweight and obese status can lead to chronic illnesses and conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression and more. All of these illnesses are quite prominent in our society.

Most Americans receive some sort of education about healthy eating multiple times in their life and can find reliable nutrition education sources online like Eating healthy can truly be as simple as eating fruits and vegetables at every meal, choosing lean meats, consuming and cooking with healthy fats and limiting foods with added sugar. So what's stopping us? Many things: money and transportation to buy food, not enough time to prepare or sit down to eat, and the influence of family and friends.

But a big part of eating healthy is about preference. If you didn't eat, or even see, different fruits and vegetables as a child, of course they're not going to be your first choice. If you drink pop or other sugary drinks all day long, of course it's going to be hard to switch to water. Humans like routine and familiarity, especially with food, and a change to unfamiliar foods with regards to taste and preparation can be a real challenge! Therefore I recommend, as many public health policies do, to get kids started early with making healthy choices. Some examples of public health policies that positively influence the healthy foods available to children include school lunch, where kids are given multiple choices of fruits and vegetables and whole grains daily. Through the WIC program, each child is given an $8 voucher monthly to buy fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables with no added sugars, fats or sodium, in addition to whole grains. The Let's Move initiative promotes getting healthier foods in schools as well as banning junk food and soda drinks. Even if children choose not to eat many fruits and vegetables at school or at home, they are exposed to them and might even witness their peers or parents eating them, which can be a very powerful influence.

In honor of Public Health Week, let's support these community wide initiatives and more. Let's also bring it into our lives on a personal level. Let's be witnesses to others of what healthy eating looks like. Let's teach our children and grandchildren where fruits and vegetables come from and start a garden with them. Let's not let healthy eating or unhealthy eating slip by unnoticed but call attention to what we are putting in our mouths. Let's celebrate how good we feel as individuals, as families, and as a community when we are feeding our bodies with the good stuff!


In America we can see the direct link between poor nutrition and chronic illnesses.