Eating Healthy, Living Healthy
By Joe Westbury, Managing Editor
Published September 24, 2009
[This article was from the front page of last week's Christian Index.]
Ruth Smith has rarely met a fruit or vegetable she didn’t like. That’s good, because studies show that people who eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily seem to have half the cancer risk of people who eat only two servings.
Smith, a registered nurse with extensive experience in ministering to oncology patients, believes a healthy life is tied to healthy eating. You can’t call her a veggievangelist because of her soft-spoken approach. But she is seeking converts to a healthier lifestyle through patience and education.
Smith and her husband Kevin, who oversees Employee Services, came to the Georgia Baptist Convention in 2006. She currently serves as administrative secretary in the Church-Ministers Relations Department but her real love is her role as wellness coordinator.
It’s in that capacity that she serves as sort of a health chaplain to staff, teaching them correct eating habits, leading workshops, and offering advice on how to deal with various illnesses. She doesn’t practice her nursing skills as far as administering medication, but works largely to prevent staff from allowing their health to deteriorate to the point where they need medical assistance.
“That’s been the biggest shift in my job from the world of oncology to my role of wellness coordinator,” she says.
“I had an incredibly rewarding career working with cancer patients, treating diseases that had already manifested themselves. Now I work on the front-end to educate staff how to eat better and take care of themselves to prevent those diseases from occurring.
“I always felt oncology is where God called me but this is so rewarding in its own way.”
Smith believes education is the primary force to lead people to develop a healthy lifestyle. Good health is not about adopting a monotonous diet, she stresses, but enjoying all the healthy foods that God has naturally placed in the world. And that doesn’t include highly processed, packaged foods that have become the norm in most family diets.
“Prevention is the long-term answer to good health and you don’t get that overnight. But that is the only real way to lower the nation’s healthcare costs and eliminate so many chronic diseases that are lifestyle based,” she explains.
You’re not getting thinner; clothes are getting bigger.
Banana Republic and J.Crew have become popular with consumers because the number on the size label always seems to be smaller than it is elsewhere.
Not a surprise, says Barry Popkin, director of the University of North Carolina’s Inter-Disciplinary Obesity Center. Manufacturers discovered that fact by making what used to be a size 8 a 6 instead, something he believes has helped create complacency about what a normal body weight or size is.
He says close to half of people who are obese do not think it’s a problem.
The floating sizing chart came into vogue back in 1983 when the fashion industry abandoned a national size standard, freeing up designers to manipulate the sizes. The long-term result is especially intriguing: a woman’s size 14 dress in the 1940s is now a size 10.
Here are some other subtle changes American society has recently experienced:
• Boston’s baseball stadium features seats four inches wider than those in the old Fenway Park, which had become too narrow for today’s fans.
• In 2003 the FAA required airlines to add 10 pounds to the average passenger weight calculations to assure that airplanes were not overloaded.
Source: US News and World Report, January 09, 2009, The Wall Street Journal, CBS MarketWatch.
A good preventative measure is to eat the right food – which means plenty of fresh food and as little processed food as possible. Her nutritious view of salads is eye-opening to many who think of salads as bowls of iceberg lettuce and a token tomato that doesn’t fill or satisfy.
“Many of the most common salads you see at fast food restaurants are not the most healthy choices, being primarily iceberg lettuce with a vegetable or two of the lowest possible nutritional value,” she adds.
“If you are going to have a salad, try one with romaine and spinach, dark leafy greens, and build it with brightly colored vegetables which have the best nutrients – especially broccoli which is so good for you. For a protein go with garbanzo or a similar bean, add some avocado which is a good fat, and finish it off with a low fat dressing or even salsa.”
Once individuals start adding ingredients such as meat and cheese with all of the fat and calories, virtually all of the health benefits have been negated, she warns.
A well-balanced salad will be very filling and go far toward meeting an individual’s daily requirements of fiber and other basic nutrients. And when an individual eats fresh foods they don’t need to pay a premium for highly processed foods as a source of those nutrients.
Personally, she and her husband have greatly decreased the amount of meat in their diet and rely more on fruits and vegetable as a source of their nutrients.
Smith checks off the various health initiatives that, in her role as wellness coordinator, she has helped the state convention to implement in the past two years
• An annual blood draw that gives each staff person a snapshot of their health in critical areas such as blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, as well as blood pressure and kidney performance.
• An annual mammogram provided through an arrangement with the Northside Hospital mobile mammography unit.
• A monthly newsletter written by Smith.
• Nutrition and wellness classes that use “The Solution to the Diet Revolution” as the textbook. The book was written by Georgia Kostas, former director of nutrition at the Dallas, Texas-based Cooper Clinic.
• Encourage employees to use the fitness center to build exercise into their lifestyle.
As a result of the blood draw, several cases of diabetes, prostate cancer, and thyroid disease have been detected and helped individuals to receive immediate treatment from their personal physicians.
“Early detection is key in lowering insurance rates, whether you are an individual, a church, or an agency like the Georgia Baptist Convention,” she says.
“It’s especially true for individuals who procrastinate about getting their annual exams. Once a medical concern is identified, early treatment can lower long-term expenses.”
Mike Williams, assistant executive director and vice president for operations for the state convention, is especially pleased to see Cooperative Program dollars that have been saved through staff learning better eating habits, increasing their exercise, and taking better care of their health.
As a result, total health care claims – claims for prescription drugs, office visits to physicians, and hospital claims – dropped $306,790 between 2008 and 2009, or 5.82 percent.
One of the more tangible results is the state convention was named the 7th healthiest company in the nation among those served by Interactive Health Systems. The company provides the annual blood draw and provides test results for employees to monitor their vital statistics.
“Simply stated, when employees choose to improve their health, the number of health claims serviced by our health care providers lowers significantly,” he explained.
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