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Health Department wants healthy menu items

Healthy food choices may not be what people think about when they dine out.

The Lawrence County Health Department wants to change that. Health officials are hoping to institute a Gold Plate Club and enlist the help of food service workers in promoting healthier items on their menus.

"Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the country, and Ohio ranks among the highest states in heart-disease related death," Health Department Dietitian Dietitian Tammy Donnelly said. "One of our goals is to reduce premature heart disease and stroke.

The Health Department is mailing out questionnaires to local restaurants, asking them to list items on their menu that qualify as "heart healthy". The items would be lower in fat and cholesterol than standard restaurant fare. The questionnaire will also ask about other things, such as whether the eatery is smoke free, and whether any food items are prepared without salt.

The answers will be assessed and those restaurants that qualify will be awarded a plague and will be publicly recognized as a Gold Plate restaurant.

"We want restaurants and patrons to be aware that there are heart healthy choices," Donnelly said.

"Eventually we would like to work with waiters and waitresses so they can help people make good choices," public health aide Debbie Redman said.

Wait staff in Gold Plate restaurants would be required to take a training course and then may wear buttons that advertise their new knowledge.

The Gold Plate Club is one of several projects funded through an Ohio Department of Health cardiovascular health grant. The county health department, in conjunction with the Portsmouth City Health Department in Scioto County, has gotten a $26,000 grant each year for the past two years, and will apply for another grant for 2003.

Donnelly said the grant money has been used to promote heart healthy activities in two target areas, the Riverhills housing community and Burlington.

Health officials have organized walking events to promote walking as an exercise activity among Burlington residents.The department was one of the sponsors of the recent walk a thon that also raised money for the historic jail project. Approximately 30 people took part.

Those who took part got tee shirts, shoe lace charms and water bottles. They also got a booklet with heart healthy recipes.

Grant monies were used to pay for marking the Burlington Commons walking track.

The money was also used to form a county-wide heart healthy coalition. Donnelly said new members are always welcome and people who would like to join the coalition may call her at 532-3962.

Donnelly said she hopes to continue getting the state cardiovascular grants so the entire county can be served.

In the future, Donnelly would like to start a walking program, similar to what Cincinnati and other areas have.

Cincinnati's Easy Steps program promotes the concept of walking 10,000 steps each day. Those who sign up pay a small fee and get a pedometer so they can measure how many steps they take a day.

Donnelly said she would like to compile a list of walking tracks, so those who want to walk as a form of exercise would have a list of area tracks.

Health officials also want to continue to promote good health among young people through such programs as Buckeye Best, a state program that recognizes schools that show success in their health programs.

Adolescents are particularly prone to a sedentary lifestyle, since so many of their leisure pursuits revolve around computer screens and television.

Redman said it's important to reach young people at an early age with the message of making good habits they can keep for the rest of their life.

"We want them to learn early to eat right and exercise," Redman said. "It has to start when they're young."