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Holiday Cheer!!

UE News, December 1993

THIS IS NOT THE COLUMN I planned to write a few weeks ago. Originally I figured on writing about chemicals which irritate the skin. But when I looked up at the calendar, and realized that this column was going into the holiday issue of UE NEWS, I changed my mind.

I decided instead to write about something more positive. The subject is health promotion, what we can and need to do as people, as families to maintain and improve our health — so that we can celebrate many happy holiday seasons, I hope, in the future.

Some regular readers of the column may well ask, if promoting good personal health habits is so important, why don’t you write about them more often? Part of the answer is that you regularly see, hear and read about these good health habits on TV, on radio and in newspapers (but not in the ads, which tell us to do just the opposite: pig out on junk food, etc.)

But there’s another reason, I believe, why the media focus on our health habits: since they are by and large controlled by major corporations, they also want to turn our attention away from the toxic pollution which their owners’ factories and products are producing — and which threatens our lives.

Our union and this newspaper have no intention of letting these big corporations off the hook. We don’t intend to let industrial toxins poison us at work or at home in our communities. So usually in this column we try to focus on the stories the commercial media avoid — the preventable industrial hazards, and toxic air and water pollution in our communities.

But... we also recognize that there are things we can and should do as people to maintain and improve our health. Let’s talk a bit about them:


Despite the fact that our supermarkets sell so many different kinds of foods, Americans as a nation eat very poorly. We eat lots of junk foods, promoted aggressively (of course) by the large corporations which manufacture them. We eat too many fatty foods, like hamburgers, french fries and pizza, which we wash down with fatty milk shakes or high-calorie soft drinks. No wonder our life expectancy still hovers down near that of many Third World countries. So next year, let’s resolve to:

Eat less fats. Less beef and pork, more chicken and fish, less butter and oils. When we cook, let’s broil our chicken and fish, not fry them.

Eat more fresh vegetables and fruits. This will provide important vitamins and minerals, and help reduce the risk of colon cancer. But let’s steam, bake or boil the vegetables. Don’t fry them in butter or oil, or cover them with buttery sauces — otherwise you lose the benefits they should have brought.

Eat plenty of healthy carbohydrates, like potatoes and pastas. But bake or boil the potatoes — and don’t cover them with sour cream or butter. Pastas with tomato sauces are healthy foods, with cream sauces they’re slow killers.

Avoid foods with lots of chemical additives. Chemicals are mostly used to extend the shelf-life of packaged foods, to color the foods and otherwise improve their appearance. But really no one, including the food companies which use them, knows the long- term effects of these chemicals on our health. If you eat lots of chemical-laced foods, you’re the guinea pig who’s testing the chemicals. Who needs it?!


Scientists have now found that strenuous exercise is not necessary to improve your health. Most of the health benefits of exercise come just from moderate exercise, such as 30 minutes of walking a day — even a few ten or fifteen minute walks. Sure, more strenuous exercise like jogging, biking or running is better, but the death rates from all causes, including heart disease and cancer, are cut in half by such moderate exercise, scientists find.

Also, by the way, if you need to lose weight — like many of us do — exercise can help you lose it. More important, studies show exercise is vital in maintaining your weight after you’ve lowered it by dieting.

Stop or cut down on smoking. Cigarette smoking takes almost half a million lives annually in the U.S., through heart disease, cancer and stroke. Of course, it’s difficult to stop smoking cold turkey — otherwise you would have done it years ago. But try, try again. Join a smokenders group, or just get together every week with some friends who are trying to break the habit.

And, look, if you can’t stop smoking completely, just cut down on how much you smoke. For example, suppose you’re a two-pack-a-day smoker now. If you cut down to one pack a day, you’ve cut your chances of developing lung cancer in half. If you can make it down to half a pack a day, you’ve cut your chances down by a factor of four. These aren’t bad odds — the hard part, of course, is keeping down the smoking to this level, and not creeping back up to two packs a day.

Have a happy holiday. Give everyone in your family a warm hug from me and all the folks at the UE NEWS. Cheers!

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