Friday, December 28, 2018

Make a healthier you a New Year's priority

With the birth of a new year comes a myriad of opportunities to improve yourself on the inside and the outside. Here are some ways to take control of your health in 2019.

See your doctor or primary care provider for a check-up, vaccination or screening. Regular care can help detect potential health problems before they start or can find problems early, giving you improved chances for treatment and cure. Make an annual wellness check-up a priority.

Remember to wash your hands. Germs spread easily from dirty hands, even when hands aren’t visibly dirty. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, or if soap and warm water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.

Give up tobacco and vaping. Science has thoroughly proven the dangers of using tobacco products and continues to find dangers in vaping. Kick the habit and save yourself the money, health problems and unappealing smell, as well as minding the health of those around you who may be exposed to secondhand smoke. Louisiana residents can find help quitting tobacco by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visiting or

Choose a healthier diet. Instead of focusing on losing weight, a more realistic goal is to put more of a priority on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, eggs, nuts, poultry, fish and lean meats. Opt for foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars. Consider preparing meals in advance on Sundays so that you’re less likely to pick up a burger and fries from the nearest drive-thru on your way home. You may just find that adopting healthier eating habits will move you toward a more healthy weight. Find out more at

Get moving. The federal government recently updated its recommendations for physical activity and came up with a clear conclusion: Americans are not getting enough. The new guidelines recommend a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity for adults, 60 minutes or more for children ages 6 to 17, and physical activity throughout the day for children ages 3 to 5, noting that activity throughout the day enhances young children’s growth and development. Walking, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, whatever it is, just move. Everything helps.

Aim for a good night’s sleep. Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression are among the conditions tied to insufficient sleep, not to mention the number of accidents on the road that occur because drivers are too tired to be behind the wheel. Visit the National Sleep Foundation for guidelines on sleep duration for all ages.

Wear your sunscreen when you’re spending time outdoors. Yes, that includes wintertime. Exposure to the sun provides a much-needed boost to vitamin D in the winter, but you still want to protect yourself from skin cancer, the most common type of cancer. Don’t forget to protect your eyes as well: wear quality sunglasses even if it’s cloudy.

Drink enough water. You don’t necessarily have to aim for eight cups a day, but lots of water is essential for good health. The National Institute of Medicine recommends 91 ounces a day for women and 125 ounces for men. That includes water that comes from all beverages and foods.

Monitor your mental health. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, hormonal fluctuations, stress or anything else, take your mental health seriously. Don’t be afraid to seek help. If you’re struggling, make it a priority to get help. Don’t suffer in silence. Find what works for you, be it counseling, yoga, medication or something else.

Have a happy and healthy 2019!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Help prevent the spread of hepatitis A in Louisiana

The Louisiana Department of Health’s Office of Public Health is investigating an outbreak of hepatitis A virus (HAV), mirroring similar outbreaks in other states. Most of the cases have been reported in Morehouse Parish.

Dr. Frank Welch, immunization director for the Department of Health, said the Office of Public Health has received one-time funding to purchase hepatitis A vaccine. The Office is working with partner organizations to provide the vaccine to people experiencing homelessness or drug use, two of the most at-risk groups for hepatitis A.

With the uptick in hepatitis A cases, it’s important to keep the public informed about the illness.

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a serious inflammation of the liver, which processes nutrients, filters the blood and fights infections. When left untreated, hepatitis A can lead to liver failure and occasionally death. The highly contagious infection ranges from a mild illness of a few weeks to a severe illness of several months or more.

How is it spread?

Hepatitis A is spread most commonly through contact with objects, food or drinks contaminated with feces or stool from an infected person. Transmission is possible by not washing hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers, having sex with infected partners, eating or drinking foods contaminated by hepatitis A, illegal drug use and close contact with someone infected with hepatitis A.

What are the symptoms?

Not all people with hepatitis A display symptoms, which can develop two to six weeks after infection and include:
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Grey-colored stools
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice

Adults are more likely to display symptoms than children. Symptoms generally last less than two months, though some people may be ill for as long as six months.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

Diagnosis is determined by taking a blood sample. Treatment usually includes rest, adequate nutrition, fluids and medical monitoring. Depending upon severity, some people will need hospitalization. It may take several months for a person to feel better.

Can hepatitis A be prevented?

Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after using the bathroom or changing diapers is one of the easiest ways to prevent the transmission of hepatitis A.

However, the best prevention is vaccination. It’s recommended for all children, as well as for people with certain risk factors and medical conditions. People who are traveling to international countries with high incidences of HAV also are recommended to receive the vaccine.

Safe and effective, the hepatitis A vaccine consists of either two or three shots given one and six months apart. Contact your primary care provider or parish health unit. To find a parish health unit in your area, click here.

Who should get the hepatitis A vaccine?
  • All children at 1 year of age
  • Travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common
  • Family and caregivers of adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common
  • Men who have sex with other men
  • Users of illegal drugs
  • People with chronic or long-term liver disease, including hepatitis B or hepatitis C
  • People with clotting-factor disorders
  • People who have experienced homelessness or in transient living during the past year
  • People recently in jail or prison

Who should not get the HAV vaccine?
  • Anyone who has had a life-threatening allergic reaction after a dose of hepatitis A vaccine or an allergic reaction to any of the components found in the vaccine
  • Anyone who is moderately or severely ill

Where can I learn more?

Friday, December 14, 2018

Sensible eating tips for holiday feasts

The holiday season is full of family, friends and food. Whether it’s at work, a party or gathering with your loved ones, temptations grow exponentially this time of year. It may be easy to get off track and indulge, but with a little planning and encouragement, you can maintain your weight during the joyful season.

Plan ahead

You can anticipate a slew of tasty foods on holiday menus, so prepare in advance for good eating. You’ve got this!

Don’t skip meals before a holiday feast. Skipping meals may cause an increase in hunger, which may lead to overeating when mealtime does arrive. Also, skipping meals makes it harder for those who with diabetes to control their blood sugar. To prevent this, eat close to your usual times and have a small snack if the big meal is served later than you’re used to eating. The best snacks are high-fiber foods, lean protein and healthy fats – try apple slices with peanut butter or a slice of turkey with cheese on a whole-wheat pita.

An easy way to play by the rules is to bring a healthy dish along to a party. There’s bound to be lots of sweets and high-calorie dishes on the menu, so try serving vegetables, or opt for recipes that are light on butter, cream, lard, vegetable shortening and other ingredients full of saturated fats and cholesterol.

Remember the importance of sleep. A lack of good sleep makes it harder to control blood sugar, and sleep deprivation often leads to us craving foods high in fat and sugar. So get those Zzz’s.

Make smart choices

Thinking of all the delicious foods on a holiday table is enough to make your mouth water, but you know the old saying – your eyes are bigger than your stomach.
  • Choose a small plate of your favorite foods, including a healthy selection of fiber-rich foods like fruits, veggies and whole grains that will help you stay full longer.
  • Consider putting fewer carbohydrates, such as potatoes and bread, on your plate and plan for a single dessert at the end of the meal.
  • Fill a small plate, then walk away from the buffet table. Put some distance between yourself and additional temptation.
  • Finally, it’s time to eat! It takes at least 20 minutes for your brain to realize your stomach is full, so take your time and savor your food.
  • If you feel like going back for seconds, try drinking some water and waiting 10 minutes first to see if you really are still hungry.
  • Don’t put any foods on the naughty list – instead, try to choose ones you really love and aren’t able to get any old day, such as your aunt’s famous pumpkin pie. Have a small serving and enjoy it.
  • If you’re having an alcoholic drink, have it with food. People with diabetes should keep in mind that alcohol can lower blood sugar and interact with their diabetes medications. Remember to check your blood sugar more often during the holidays.

Move it

What’s a holiday meal without a nice nap after? Instead of an afternoon siesta, make some memories with your loved ones by incorporating some physical activity. Play a game of football in the backyard, go for a walk with family or take a bicycle ride around the neighborhood. Find more ways to get active at Well-Ahead Louisiana.

Physical activity doesn’t have to be saved for after meals, though. The holiday season is busier than usual for most people, so physical activity often gets shunted to the side. Make it easier by breaking your physical activity up into smaller chunks and fitting it into your schedule when possible, like a short walk several times a day.

For more healthy lifestyle advice, visit Well-Ahead Louisiana.

Here’s to a healthy and happy holiday season.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

What’s under the Christmas tree? No lottery tickets

Christmas is a time when the eyes of children are fixated firmly on what’s beneath the Christmas tree and in their stockings. While it may be tempting to gift them with something like a lottery ticket, the Louisiana Department of Health’s Office of Behavioral Health recommends against such gifts.

It’s not too unusual for parents and relatives to gift children with lottery tickets, scratch-offs and other gambling games. Such gifts are given with good intentions – they provide a little hope and fun, as well as dreams of winning something amazing. However, the odds of winning are small, especially when compared to the odds of developing a gambling addiction.

The Office of Behavioral Health released a report titled “The Impact of Gambling in Louisiana: 2016 Study of Problem Gambling” that detailed 2014 gambling statistics among students in grades 6, 8 10 and 12. Students reported playing bingo for money and betting on sports, cards, dice and games of skill.

The highest incidences of gambling were 20.2 percent of sixth-graders playing bingo for money, 19.7 percent of eighth-graders betting on sports and 19.4 percent of eighth-graders playing bingo for money – or roughly 1 in 5 students gambling.

Studies of adults with gambling problems have shown that the earlier a person begins gambling, the more likely they are to develop a gambling problem, especially when scoring a big win at a young age. An article by Renee St-Pierre and Jeffrey Derevensky noted “disordered gambling among youths is frequently linked with … greater gambling expenditure, academic difficulties, poor or disrupted family relationships, both concurrent and later alcohol and substance abuse problems.”

“Giving a lottery ticket or scratch-off to a child may seem like a cheap, fun and harmless gift, but such gifts can increase risk factors for an addiction problem further down the road,” said Kenneth Saucier, program manager with the Office of Behavioral Health. “That’s why we discourage the giving of such presents to children.”

Louisiana provides problem gambling resources at no cost to residents. For more information on problem gambling or to set up an appointment to address a problem or concern, call the Louisiana Problem Gamblers Helpline at 1-877-770-STOP (7867). The helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Help is also available at and

Friday, December 7, 2018

Consider safety when Christmas shopping

Christmas is swiftly approaching, which means the window for gift shopping is steadily closing. All the good little girls and boys will be eagerly anticipating what awaits them under the Christmas tree, but have you given any thought to the safety of the toys you’re purchasing?

Think about this: Hospital emergency rooms in the United States treated at least 240,000 toy-related injuries in 2016, the last year statistics from the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission were available.

With that in mind, turn your thoughts toward safety as you go shopping for toys. Consider whether the toy you are buying is appropriate for the age, skills and abilities of the individual child who will receive it, especially for children ages 3 and younger.

Prevent Blindness America offers these guidelines for choosing safe toys for children of all ages.

  • Inspect all toys before purchasing. Avoid those that shoot or include parts that fly off. The toy should have no sharp edges or points and should be sturdy enough to withstand impact without breaking, being crushed or being pulled apart easily.
  • When purchasing toys for children with special needs, try to choose toys that may appeal to different senses such as sound, movement and texture; consider interactive toys to allow the child to play with others; and think about the size of the toy and the position a child would need to be in to play with it.
  • Be diligent about inspecting toys your child has received. Check them for age, skill level and developmental appropriateness before allowing them to be played with.
  • Look for labels that assure you the toys have passed a safety inspection – “ATSM” means the toy has met the American Society for Testing and Materials standards.
  • Gifts of sports equipment should always be accompanied by protective gear (give a helmet with the skateboard).
  • Keep kids safe from lead in toys by educating yourself about lead exposure from toys, symptoms of lead poisoning and what kinds of toys have been recalled; being aware that old toys may be more likely to contain lead in the paint; having your children wash their hands frequently and calling your doctor if you suspect your child has been exposed to lead. Read more about lead poisoning here.
  • Do NOT give toys with small parts (including magnets and “button” batteries which can cause serious injury or death if ingested) to young children as they tend to put things in their mouths, increasing the risk of choking. If the piece can fit inside a toilet paper roll, it is not appropriate for kids under age 3.
  • Do NOT give toys with ropes and cords or heating elements.
  • Do NOT give crayons and markers unless they are labeled nontoxic.

Nobody wants to spend their holiday in an emergency room – stay safe!