Take care of yourself

Improve health with diet and smarter choices

Improve health with diet and smarter choices

June 09, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

America has incredible diagnostic tools, incredible medicines and incredible treatments, says Dr. Matthew Hahn, a family practitioner at Tri-State Community Health Center in Hancock.

But Hahn is frustrated.

"The majority of medical problems people suffer and die from are preventable," he says.

Hahn sees a lot of patients with heart disease, diabetes, emphysema and cancer. There's more and more good data that not eating well, not exercising and smoking are related to these health problems, he says.

On Saturday, June 14, Hahn and his health center will kick off a wellness challenge. Early risers can walk with Hahn and others at 7 a.m. on the Western Maryland Rail Trail.


From afternoon to evening, there will be entertainment, a dunk tank, face painting and a moon bounce. There will be lectures about better diets for children, the truth behind sugar- and fat-free food, lectures about exercise. Some blood pressure, weight, pulse and cholesterol screenings will be held.

The day is designed to raise awareness about the importance of taking charge of your own health.

"I'm doing it because I think we need to fill some gaps in our approach to medicine," Hahn says.

Hahn doesn't like the notion that people get sick, go to the doctor and get a pill when much of the illness they're dealing with could have been prevented or diminished by eating well and exercising.

National Institutes of Health estimates that annual costs connected with obesity-related disease approach $100 billion in the United States.

"We can't afford this level of health care," Hahn says.

People need to take care of themselves.

Obesity is one of Washington County's top health problems, says Washington County Health Officer Bill Christoffel, and obesity contributes to health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

We are not alone.

National Institutes of Health estimate that 97 million Americans are overweight or obese.

National Institutes of Health say a reliable measure of weight is the Body Mass Index (BMI), a number that shows body weight adjusted for height. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 identifies a person as overweight; 30 and above is considered obese.

Between 1980 and 1999, obesity among U.S. adults ages 20 to 74 nearly doubled from 15 percent to an estimated 27 percent, according to the Centers for Disease control Web site at

Is it hopeless? Are Americans doomed to get heavier and heavier and increase their risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancers?

The answer is no. A healthier lifestyle can help.

"It doesn't have to be anything terribly challenging," Hahn says. As little as 30 minutes of exercise a day will provide payoffs, he says.

Christoffel, who practices what he preaches, says he walks a lot. Washington County Health Department employees who take 15 minutes of their lunch hours to walk get 15 minutes added to their lunch hours by their employer.

"When you just start the process, you'll feel benefits," Christoffel says.

A Hancock Health Day poster is hanging in the Tri-State Community Health Center waiting room. About 130 people have signed up for the wellness challenge. Hahn is hoping that people will team up, offer a little community peer pressure and support.

"This is a lifelong challenge," Hahn says.

Christoffel would agree.

"Our long-term benefits are in working with children," he says.

Washington County Health Department's Healthy Lifestyles Committee - which includes representation from its Nutrition and Wellness Services, Nursing department and the Board of Education - is working with schools to look at nutrition and physical and health education, says Angela Kershner, exercise specialist at Washington County Health Department. She will talk about exercising for life at the Hancock event Saturday.

"If we're going to make a change in this county, we have to start with the kids."

Parents need to get involved - not just drop their kids off at games and activities, she says.

Kershner also puts her preaching into practice. Her 2 1/2-year-old daughter sees her work out and imitates her.

"She's into it," Kershner says.

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