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Helene Pavlov, M.D. Headshot

New Year's Resolution: This New Year Don't Hesitate Making a Healthy Change

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I recently had the privilege of listening to former President Clinton address an assembly of radiologists at the 96th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, in Chicago. He spoke of the many accomplishments during his Presidency, but the one that hit home most for me was his initiation of awareness and institution of changes in the diet of our children. He refocused awareness on being healthier. Clinton was proud of the changes that were occurring within the nation's schools in which sugary drinks, fattening chips and other unhealthy snacks were being replaced with water and fresh fruit.

It is unfortunate that there is resistance to change, even when most people recognize that change is the right thing. Change for the better seems more challenging to institute than change for the worse. It is easy to take up and maintain bad habits like smoking, drinking alcohol, eating fried and fattening food, and overindulging on desserts, etc., but it is hard to take up and stay with good habits. A change in diet means re-calculating expectations. It means learning to enjoy the taste of fruits and vegetables; of establishing a "taste" for foods with less or no salt. It is often an acquired taste exactly as is the taste for the fried and salty foods. What we eat, how much we eat and how often we eat is learned behavior. For adults, this is under our control. For children, their parents and caregivers control these patterns. Children need to learn how, what and when to eat. They must be taught what to like, what "tastes good," how much is appropriate and how often to eat and snack. Children are "adults" in training: They are looking for guidance -- not so much by what you say or tell them to do, but by what you do and how you do it.

Writers, producers and sponsors of TV commercials know how to get to your children. They know what colors, what size print, what jingles, what characters entice. Manufacturers of packaged food products know what ingredients are needed to increase sales. They know how much sugar and salt in the product are needed to sell. As parents and caregivers, we need to teach by example. What children see and have access to at home is much more effective than lecturing. You cannot tell a child not to eat a doughnut while you are dunking one or two in your coffee. Just like in the Rodgers & Hammerstein song from "South Pacific," you are not born prejudiced -- "You have to be carefully taught."

Clinton and others before and after have been effective in increasing a national awareness of the connection between food and health. Clinton successfully instituted change by increasing availability of healthy choices in the schools. A good diet, exercise, fresh air and hard work all help to enable longevity with the reduction in avoidable diseases and sickness, e.g., diabetes, heart disease. A decrease in preventable diseases and a decline in morbidity equates to an increase in productive longevity and a decrease in health care costs.

I wrote a blog a while back about portion control of high fat, high salt snacks e.g., potato chips for our children. This blog resulted in many angry responses citing that the message was prejudiced and biased against the obese. While that was certainly not my intent, the number and degree of passion of the responders indicated that the message struck a chord. That blog and others, such as this one, are focused on the importance of life choices and the direction of the education and lifestyles of our future generations.

Everything starts with an awareness, a desire to change and then requires taking that first step toward a goal. New Year's is a time for resolutions. A common New Year's resolution is, "I am going to loss 10 lbs." However, perhaps, a more enduring resolution would be, "I am going to start eating healthy foods, cut down on salt, eat more fruits and vegetables, read labels and pay more attention to what I put into my body." Perhaps this year instead of the resolution, "I am going to exercise," a resolution that "I will spend 20 minutes walking fast or doing deep knee squats, jogging in place etc., instead of spending 20 minutes waiting in line to purchase a latte," might be a reasonable alternative.

I suggest that you take the first step in changing your habits and plan to eat and live healthy. Do it for several reasons. First, so your children will adopt "habits" that will help them live healthier, longer and with fewer bad habits as adults. Second, do it so that in the years to come you will be healthier and better able to participate in many, many more New Year's celebrations with those you love.

Have a very happy, safe and healthy holiday season and 2011.

HSS

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