April 4, 2018

National Public Health Week, which runs from now until April 8, is a great time to remind Cook County residents that good public health practice starts at home.

Maintaining a healthy diet can help you avoid or treat many chronic diseases and conditions that are common and costly, said Dr. Terry Mason, Chief Operating Officer of Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH).

“Cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and obesity are all related, in that they can all be prevented or managed by eating right and getting enough physical activity,” Dr. Mason said.

For instance, he noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study in people with prediabetes—those who are at risk of getting diabetes because of their high blood sugar, but haven’t—to determine what was more effective in preventing them from developing diabetes: medication or diet and exercise.  In that study, diet and exercise were found to be superior to taking a medication called metformin in preventing diabetes. Specifically, 58 percent of prediabetes people avoided getting diabetes by modifying their diet and exercise versus 31 percent of those who took metformin.

“Even small changes in your diet or how much you exercise can have big impacts on your health,” Dr. Mason said.

To eat healthy, Dr. Mason recommended getting plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.  Beans, eggs and nuts are recommended for a healthy diet, as well.  If you eat meatthe World Health Organization (WHO) advises against consuming processed meats, like hot dogs or bacon, as processed foods has been linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.  

“At the same time, you should limit foods that are high in sodium, have added sugar, or have refined grains in them such as cookies, white bread and some snack foods,” he said.  “One of the leading causes for heart disease and strokes is high blood pressure, which is directly linked to too much sodium in a person’s diet.  Eating too much added sugar like soft drinks and candy is also strongly linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes.”   

This is why reading and understanding food labels is so important, Dr. Mason said.  

For help getting access to healthy food, visit http://www.cookcountyhhs.org/healthy-living/.  You can also search for a food pantry, soup kitchen or mobile food distribution in your area by visiting Greater Chicago Food Depository’s website.

CCDPH also encourages more walking as a way to stay healthy and get more physical activity.  It’s recommended that adults do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.

“Walking is an excellent way to start getting more exercise,” Dr. Mason said.  “You can do it at work, where you live, in the mall and plenty other places.”

Between April 4 and September 30, CCDPH and the Forest Preserves of Cook County are sponsoring “Go the Distance,” which encourages Cook County residents to increase the minutes they walk every day and also gives them suggestions for how they can get started. Check out www.gothedistancecc.com to learn more.

National Public Health Week celebrates the work that public health departments, like Cook County Department of Public Health, do to promote health and avoid illness or injury in the communities they serve. If you’ve ever eaten at a restaurant, used a public swimming pool or received a flu shot, you’ve received public health services. CCDPH, which is responsible for 2.5 million residents in 125 municipalities in Cook County, is in charge of preventing the spread of 70 reportable communicable diseases and enforcing Cook County and Illinois public health laws, rules and regulations. To learn more about CCDPH, visit http://www.cookcountypublichealth.org.