|There's an old saying that you are what you eat, and while that might not be literally true, what we eat is one of the most important ways we stay healthy.
That is why I am pleased that this week the Oregon Legislature passed a bill to help people be more aware of the choices they are making when ordering food. And I also want to share with you some great stories of how DHS employees around the state are embracing change and becoming part of a movement to eat better and exercise more to stay healthy.
Albany DHS employees taking part in Weight Watchers this year include (l-r): back, Mike Pacheco, Jordice Martin, Mandee Buen, Sylvia Hernandez, Kaye Hostetler, Penny Johnston, Miranda Hammond, Mary Alice Barron, Rishain Johns; middle, Kathy Taylor, Tonya Tomason, Elaine Johnson, Linda Douglas, Bertha Ibarra, Susana Alvarez, Kimmie Whaley, Angelica Verde; front, Joanna Stockslager of Weight Watchers, and Marie Vaughn.
It is critical that both as a state and individually we address the health issues that come with obesity. The facts are sobering. Most Oregonians are now overweight or obese - six out of 10.
And the problem is increasing, and becoming increasingly costly. The proportion of obese adults has more than doubled in the past 18 years and treating diseases related to obesity costs Oregon $781 million per year.
One of the biggest causes of unhealthy eating is the hidden calories consumed when stopping by our favorite restaurant or coffee shop. Surprisingly, for example, a Starbucks Frappuccino can be as high as 470 calories, which is more than 25 percent of a healthy daily calorie count for most people.
The landmark bill passed by the Legislature this week will when fully implemented help make healthy choices the easy choices. And it's very simple. The bill will require that chain restaurants operating in Oregon post calorie and nutrition information about the items on their menu.
In states that have passed similar legislation, research shows that when people have information, they use it and consume, on average, 100 fewer calories when ordering off a menu than people who are left in the dark about calorie counts. Given that Americans eat out four to five times a week (according to the National Restaurant Association), those calories quickly add up.
Another example of how information helps people make smart choices is a story I learned about recently from the Albany Branch office. There, using Weight Watchers, which requires people to carefully track the food they eat and the exercise they do, employees have lost 650 lbs. since the first of the year.
In the Albany office, 41 people joined a group that kicked off the effort with New Years Resolutions in January. Within the first 13 weeks, 17 people had lost between 5 and 10 percent of their body weight.
At that level of weight loss, people really start seeing positive changes in their health: lower total cholesterol, lower blood pressure, reduced risk for heart disease and heart attack, and reduced pain and inflammation, in addition to feeling more energetic.
"It truly is a life-changing program for many of us," said Susana Alvarez, a child welfare worker in Albany.
Inspired by the results of their co-workers, more than 30 Albany staffers signed up for the second series of weight loss meetings this spring, including several who didn't take part in the first series. That's fantastic!
And in the Hermiston Branch, DHS employees are stepping up - literally - to improve their health through exercising. In May, the combined child welfare/self sufficiency team completed 735 miles in daily walks in the area around their office before work, on breaks and after-hours. They created tracking charts for their personal goals and bulletin board displays with pictures and words of encouragement to keep everyone moving. In addition, to the health and stress-reduction benefits, staff members found that walking gave them time to talk to each other about topics other than just work. What a great team-building opportunity and an example for all of us!
These are amazing accomplishments towards better health by the Oregon Legislature and our own employees. If you know of other similar stories within DHS, please send them my way and I'll continue to share them agency-wide.