Friday, December 27, 2019

Start your new year with sweet, savory and healthy flavors

There are few better ways to ring in a new year than a decadent brunch with loved ones. These recipes are low in calories, fat and carbohydrates — AND packed full of flavor.

Here’s to a happy, healthy 2020!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Pilot project puts heroic stamp on student immunization numbers

By STACY HALL | LDH Immunization Program Director

Jefferson Parish students had the opportunity to see real heroes in action over four days in December.
Through the combined efforts of the Louisiana Department of Health, Health Heroes with the guidance from the Louisiana Academy of Pediatrics, Jefferson Parish School Board and — most importantly — school nurses and staff, more than 2,500 flu vaccines were administered to students at 79 schools December 9-12. Students received their vaccines in their schools, missing less than 5 minutes of class time.
This pilot program was voluntary, allowing parents and guardians the choice to have their child vaccinated against the flu. Since the vaccines were given at school, parents and guardians didn’t miss any time from work. Also, they didn’t have to worry about any co-pays, meaning no out-of-pocket expenses.
Students were given Flucelvax®, a flu vaccine for anyone ages 4 and older. It is made from inactivated (dead) flu viruses, protects against four strains of influenza and is free of antibiotics, latex, preservatives and eggs.
Thanks to the success of this pilot program in Jefferson Parish, it will be expanded to six more school districts beginning in January 2020.
The vaccination clinics were made possible through a public/private partnership between the Department of Health and Health Heroes, which brings flu immunization clinics to schools. These clinics provide flu vaccines to all consented school children regardless of their health insurance coverage and with no out-of-pocket expense.
Now, more children will be protected against the flu as they prepare to travel or gather with family and friends for the holidays. If your child wasn’t included in this effort to prevent flu, or if you haven’t received your flu shot, now is the time to get vaccinated. It’s your first and best way to reduce your chances of getting the flu and spreading it to others.
Flu shots are available at any parish health unit throughout flu season at no cost to the patient. Local pharmacies, clinics, doctors’ offices and federally qualified (community) health centers also will offer flu shots throughout the season. Check for a flu shot provider near you.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Smart eating is a gift at Christmas and all year round

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” crooner Andy Williams famously sang of Christmas. As he further sang, “There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting …”

Was he ever right or what? The holiday season is overflowing with merry gatherings, usually full of delicious things to eat and drink. From cups of cocoa topped with marshmallows, to your mom’s famous pecan pie, to full-scale feasts, there’s something to make everyone’s belly happy.

But – is a happy belly a healthy belly? Shown below are the calories in an average portion of some classic dishes, drinks and desserts. However, instead of all the sweets and high-calorie foods, there are smarter choices you may want to consider at the next gathering you attend. These choices will let you enjoy your meal AND be better for your health!

Here are some tips to treat your taste buds and maintain your weight.
  • Don’t skip meals or sleep before a feast, or you’ll be more likely to overeat.
  • 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.
  • Choose fewer carbohydrates, like potatoes and bread.
  • Fill one small plate, then leave the buffet table.
  • Eat slowly, taking the time to savor your food. Your brain needs at least 20 minutes to realize your stomach is full.
  • If you’re thinking about going back for a second plate, drink some water and wait 10 minutes. Then see if you’re still hungry before going back for more.
  • Choose one dessert you really love and then savor a small serving.
  • Have your alcoholic drink with food.
  • Make time for physical activity such as a game of backyard football, a walk with family or a bicycle ride.

A little preparation and motivation will go a long way toward keeping you healthy and happy during “the most wonderful time of the year.” Happy holidays!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Lady Luck doesn't belong under the Christmas tree

When children rush to the tree or their stockings on Christmas morning, what shouldn't they find among the candies and toys? Lady Luck — in the form of a lottery ticket, scratch-off or other gambling game.

These games of chance are often seen as inexpensive, harmless gifts that give children a fleeting thrill. Most win nothing at all, a few win a little something and even fewer win big. No matter what, the odds of a win are very small potatoes when stacked against the odds of developing a gambling addiction.

“The Impact of Gambling in Louisiana: 2016 Study of Problem Gambling,” released by the LDH Office of Behavioral Health, details the most recent gambling statistics among students in grades 6, 8 10 and 12. In the study, students in 2014 reported playing bingo for money and betting on sports, cards, dice and games of skill.

Among the highest gambling incidences were 20.2% of sixth-graders playing bingo for money, 19.7% of eighth-graders betting on sports and 19.4% of eighth-graders playing bingo for money — or roughly 1 in 5 students participating in some form of 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.”

“This holiday, if you are considering giving a lottery ticket or scratch-off to a child as a gift, be a Scrooge and DON'T give lottery tickets as a gift,” said Kenneth Saucier, program manager with the Office of Behavioral Health. “Scratch-off cards might seem like a cheap, fun and harmless gift, but that's not the case. Any games of chance can increase risk factors for an addiction problem further down the road.”

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 13, 2019

Holiday stress, depression and blues

By DR. JAMES E. HUSSEY | Medical Director, LDH Office of Behavioral Health

Holidays are often seen as a time of celebration, family gatherings, gift-giving, joy and other happy moments. But, for some, it is a time of additional stress, anxiety, blues or depression. In one survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 38% responded that their stress levels increased during holidays (including lack of time, money, commercialism, gift pressures) and 56% responded that they experience most stress at work (only 29% at home).

There may be several reasons why people become more anxious, sad or depressed during the holidays:
  • SOCIAL ISOLATION: Those with small social circles or minimal family support due to few or no relatives living close by sometimes begin to feel lonely, unsupported, and left out and isolated. Winter/cold/bad weather also contributes to staying inside.
  • GRIEVING: For those gathering with relatives, they may become more aware of those who are no longer part of the gatherings or celebrations due to severe illness or death during the prior year.
  • INCREASED WORK DEMANDS: With holidays, vacations, end-of-year deadlines, reports, taxes and other demands, there can be real increases in work demands, leading to stress and anxiety.
  • FINANCIAL STRESS: Money issues can become very obvious during holidays. Finding the money to provide gifts for everyone is stressful. Worries about debt or not providing enough for family, kids and others can lead to despair, sadness, depression and anxiety. Maybe as many as 53% of people report this as a source of stress, according to a Principal Financial Group survey.
  • SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER/DEPRESSION (MAJOR DEPRESSION WITH SEASONAL PATTERN): It should be noted that there are depressive episodes that can go beyond the blues, become more sustained, and sometimes occur more frequently during the fall and develop during the winter. Most people stop having these symptoms during the spring and summer, but some may persist. This may have to do with the length of the days being shorter, decreased exposure to light or other factors. For more severe symptoms of depression, treatment should be sought, such as light therapy, talk therapy or medications.
  • HEALTH AND WELLNESS: Overeating, weight gain and bloating can be problematic for some.

Dealing with holiday depression
  • Talk to your doctor if dealing with depression or sadness for long periods of time, or if it begins to affect your functioning, activities of daily living, appetite or sleep, or if suicidal thoughts come into play.
  • There are resource help lines such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255) and the Crisis Text Line ( For emergencies, call 911.
  • Otherwise:
    • Make sure you get enough sleep.
    • Eat healthy.
    • Exercise 30 minutes per day (if tolerated).
    • Continue or begin new holiday traditions like family gatherings, outings or vacations instead of staying home.
    • Be mindful of holiday pressures.
    • Volunteer at soup kitchens, church activities, gift drives, helping elderly neighbors with yard tasks, etc.
    • Get back to nature with walks in the woods, parks along a lakeshore, etc.

Contrary to popular belief, suicides do NOT spike during holidays. November, December and January are actually low months for suicide. Peak months may be more like April through August.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Vaping use among Louisiana students triples since 2015

E-cigarette and vaping devices come in an array of sizes and shapes.

By ANGELA VANVECKHOEVEN | Health Education Manager, Well-Ahead Louisiana

A recently released report compiled by Well-Ahead Louisiana and the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living shows that vaping among the state’s middle and high school students has doubled since 2017 and tripled since 2015. 2019 E-Cigarette Use Among Louisiana Youth reveals that 32% of high school students and 15% of middle school students vape, which follows the national trend of increased vaping among youth and youth adults.

These numbers are especially alarming in light of the current outbreak of lung injury (EVALI) associated with e-cigarette use, also known as vaping. The CDC launched an investigation into the outbreak on Aug. 1, and as of Dec. 4 has confirmed 2,291 cases in 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, with 48 of the patients dying because of the illness. In Louisiana, 32 cases have been confirmed, with two deaths. The median age of victims is 24 nationally and 28 within the state.

As of Nov. 8, the CDC found vitamin E acetate in lung fluid samples from 29 patients from 10 states, the first detection of a potential chemical concern in biologic samples from EVALI patients. Vitamin E acetate usually does not cause harm when ingested as a vitamin supplement or applied to the skin. However, previous research suggests when vitamin E acetate is inhaled, it may interfere with normal lung functioning. Vitamin E acetate is used as an additive in the production of e-cigarettes because it resembles THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) oil, and it’s also used as a thickening ingredient in e-liquids. Click the links to learn more about the national outbreak and the Louisiana cases.

Action steps

Even without the threat of EVALI, vaping can harm a teenager's still-developing brain and negatively affect memory, learning and concentration. To effectively protect young people from all forms of tobacco — including e-cigarettes, cigarettes, cigars, little cigars and hookah — Well-Ahead Louisiana offers the following resources and encourages adults to take action.
  • KNOW WHY TEENS VAPE: According to the new report, 45% of middle school students and nearly 37% of high school students said the reason they vape is because a friend or family member does. More than 14% of middle school students and nearly 21% of high school students like that vape products are available in flavors. Nearly 7% of the middle school students and almost 15% of the high school students believe that vaping is less harmful than other tobacco products.
  • KNOW THE RISKS AND EDUCATE YOUTH: In addition to harming brain development, nicotine exposure in youth can increase the risk for future addiction to other drugs. Well-Ahead has compiled resources to educate parents, teachers, coaches, etc. about the harmful effects of these products, as well as how to talk to teens about vaping.
  • HELP YOUTH QUIT: Youth who vape are four times more likely to go on to smoke cigarettes. Quitting nicotine isn't easy, but it can be done with the right support. Find access to youth cessation resources here.
  • IMPLEMENT EFFECTIVE, 100% TOBACCO-FREE SCHOOL POLICIES: Every Louisiana school district is required to have a written 100% tobacco-free school policy that prohibits the use of any tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, on campus and at school-related events for students, staff and visitors. It is important to educate and promote compliance among school staff to support this policy. Visit to ensure your school’s policy complies with Louisiana law and to find resources for effective implementation.

The bottom line

Because nicotine and other chemicals in e-cigarettes can be damaging to the development of a teen's brain, yet youth do not see vaping as being harmful, it's important for adults to understand the products youth are using and be prepared to talk about their effects. For more information, visit or contact us at