By David C. Hess, M.D.
When our family eats together, it’s usually great fun and it’s usually Mediterranean fare, partly because of genetics – my wife, Diane, is part Italian – but also because of choice.
The food just tastes great – my personal favorite is spaghetti with red sauce – and it keeps us satisfied, both in terms of filling our stomachs and offering a lot of great choices.
As you likely know, this diet also gets largely rave reviews from a health perspective. It’s got a solid foundation in fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts – which I also love – along with eating more fish, seafood, chicken, and cheese and less red meats and sweets, although I must confess I love cannoli.
In fact, this great fare has been shown to improve our cardiovascular health and help us live longer.
As the still-new dean of Georgia’s public medical school, the Medical College of Georgia, based right here in Augusta, I share my eating habits with you only because it is my privilege to talk with you for a moment about yours.
Augusta and MCG both have a long and proud tradition of educating physicians and providing excellent medical care and super science. But we also always want to do more to help prevent disease so you and your family live long and live well.
Today we join the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association in asking that you and your family join us at the table of healthy eating.
Lots of fruits and vegetables, for example, are high in the things our body needs like fiber and vitamins, and most typically low in the things it doesn’t, like saturated fats. These great-tasting items can help us lose weight and control our blood pressure in the short term, and avoid problems like heart attack and stroke longer term.
If an apple (or two) a day is not for you, there are other tips you can follow like putting grilled vegetables on a sandwich and less, particularly processed, meat. Taking a few carrot sticks or a banana to work or school with you can also help you avoid the snack machine when that midday hunger pang strikes.
A study published earlier this year in the medical journal PLOS Medicine showed that hundreds of thousands of deaths from cardiovascular disease – problems like heart attack and stroke – could be prevented each year by food policies and mass media campaigns geared at changing dietary habits.
I wanted to start right here in our great Augusta Chronicle, and with you.
As dean, I can’t help but share just one more thing. Our medical students long ago took up the cause of healthy eating as a road to a heathier life.
As an example, nearly seven years ago a group of MCG students living and volunteering in Harrisburg noted a serious lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables by the folks living there. Without adequate transportation and grocery stores in close proximity, it was easier for people to get to a fast food restaurant than to find fresh produce.
Seeing a clear need, they began a program called the Veggie Truck. Early on, and true to its name, students first sold affordable and locally grown produce to residents out of a borrowed truck. The program established a permanent weekly presence at St. Luke United Methodist Church, run by students, faculty and, soon after, staff.
In need of more space, the market moved to the field near the Ezekiel Harris House and, more recently, next door to the Kroc Center where it has continued to grow and become a deep-rooted and impactful part of the Harrisburg community.
The effort has helped spawn other partnership programs like one that doubles the EBT benefits on purchases from the market as well as Fruit and Veggie Rx, or FVRx, which gives patients at Harrisburg Family Health Care a “prescription” for fresh fruits and vegetables redeemable at the market.
As an educator, I learned long ago that so much can be learned from your students. It is my great hope now that you will join our students, MCG and the American Heart Association in taking a hard look at what you and your family eat and make a great choice to eat healthy (including an occasional cannoli — as long as you take a long walk afterward!).
We thank you, Augusta, for your support of the Medical College of Georgia and Augusta University. It is our distinct pleasure to be here.
The writer is dean of the Medical College of Georgia and Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and Integration at Augusta University.