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Will County Health: Family Health and Fitness can begin in the home

9/26/2017, 9:51 a.m.
With Family Health and Fitness Day set for Wednesday, September 27th; a good goal for families would certainly be not ...
James Zelko, the former executive director of the Will County Health Department, has been elected president of the county’s health board.

With Family Health and Fitness Day set for Wednesday, September 27th; a good goal for families would certainly be not to change their routine for a day, but to change it for the future. And even though the word “fitness” is in this special day, Will County Community Health Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Byrd says the best place to start improving a family’s health is with their eating and meal routines.

“It’s all about ‘the family that eats together,’ as well as ‘prepares their meals thoughtfully together,’” Dr. Byrd explained. “If you make the family meal a central part of the evening, prepare it with your family’s health in mind and have the children help by setting the table, it can be all about setting a model for your kids and their futures.”

Will County Health Department Executive Director Sue Olenek says that while it’s great for a family to have busy and physically active kids, doing it at the expense of what you eat can defeat the purpose. “Sure, parents want kids to be healthy and active,” Olenek pointed out, “but if you’re going from soccer to softball to swimming and you’re always stopping for fast food on the way home, you end up counter-acting the exercise benefit. It’s not good if you’re never home to prepare a healthy meal.”

Dr. Byrd added that with all the talk about kids who are much less active in the “digital age,” what happens when they get to the table can be just as damaging to their health. “The beverages, for example, should be water or milk,” Dr. Byrd stated. “Pop is not good, juice is not good, diet pop with artificial sweeteners is not good. In fact, studies have shown that if you cut all pop out of your diet, you can lose 10 percent of your body fat within a year.”

Olenek pointed out that the human body needs fluids, but one in particular remains of utmost importance over anything else. “When we say ‘keep your body hydrated, we mean water,” Olenek stated. “Now sure, water the same way over an over can get boring.” And the solution there, Olenek said, is to get creative.

“Fruit or vegetable infused water is a very good substitute for plain water. You can have a pitcher of water that also has cut up strawberries, oranges, cucumbers, or so many other possibilities. Your body gets the hydration it needs, but there’s some extra flavoring and nutrition as well.”

Sometimes, Dr. Byrd pointed out, parents think their kids are on the right track beverage wise when they actually are not. “I’ll have a parent tell me, ‘My kids only drink milk and juice.’ The simple fact is that most juice is not fruit, and even if it is 100 percent real fruit juice, you still need to build up a child’s taste for water. Otherwise, they’ll keep leaning towards something sugary.”

In fact, Doctor Byrd explained further that ‘building a taste for something’ is basically changing how one’s brain works. “The human brain is never going to deny itself pleasure. So when it comes to food and beverages, you have to have substitutes.”