Steps to a healthier SE Alaska

Posted: Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Senior News By Marianne Mills

When I was a kid, I used to walk three miles in the snow to get to school." Sound familiar? Whether one is now 80, 60 or 40 years old, it is true that in the "good old days" children used to walk to school if it was within a mile away. Today, kids generally take the bus or go by car. And remember when kids used to go outside and play after school? Today, kids have numerous scheduled activities, even play "dates," while others sit at home playing on the computer or watching TV.

Times have definitely changed. During lunchtime, kids would compare what their moms packed in their lunches and even trade specific food items. Many kids these days don't go to school with a lunch packed by mom, but instead eat questionably nutritious food. Fast food, processed, high in fat, salt and sugar content, is very popular. Restaurants compete through unusually large portions and "super sizing."

Many good things have developed over the years through science and technology. For example, scientific advances have fortunately put a halt to those diseases which used to kill us: Polio, tuberculosis, diphtheria, smallpox are now preventable with vaccination. But, ironically, these days we are dying of diseases caused by our own lifestyle choices. Our modern lifestyle of inactivity, poor eating habits and tobacco misuse are creating a new kind of epidemic. Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and cancer may be preventable by making small adjustments in our daily routines.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services has responded to this epidemic through a new program called "Steps to a Healthier U.S." Forty sites are being targeted throughout the United States, including Southeast Alaska. SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) was selected to head up the campaign for our region. Krisanne Rice, the Steps grant manager for SEARHC, is eager to implement the program locally. The program targets three conditions - diabetes, obesity and asthma - and focuses on physical activity, nutrition and tobacco use.

What is unique about the Steps program is what Krisanne calls an "integrated approach." In each community, the various parts of one's life will be examined, including work sites, schools, businesses, churches, grocery stores, health care providers and community and senior centers. People in each of these settings will be invited to join as partners in addressing this growing epidemic. "We want to bring health care out of the clinics and into the streets," explains Krisanne, who lives in the community of Sitka.

Evelyn Williams, SEARHC's Community Wellness Advocate for the Steps program in Juneau, is looking for individuals and organizations to serve as partners in asking the question, "What things in our community are contributing to the increase in obesity, diabetes and asthma?" Raising people's awareness about how food is prepared, what we eat and how much we eat is critical. Is the old expression "the longer it takes to prepare it, the better it is for you" really true? Evelyn truly believes, "we've sacrificed health for speed."

Elders are invited to recall how life used to be and to share their thoughts with Evelyn. What are some changes we can make - small steps forward - to be more physically active, eat a nutritious diet and breathe clean air? Evelyn can be reached at or by calling 364-4454. In advance, thank you for your help.

• Marianne Mills is the Program Director for Southeast Senior Services, a program of Catholic Community Service. CCS assists all persons regardless of faith.

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