Thursday, December 27, 2012

Myth: It’s hard to know what health problems run in my family.

Answer: TRUE, but...

Families are increasingly mobile and diverse. This can make it hard to track the health problems that run in your family. If family members have certain conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, this may mean you have a higher chance of developing them. The earlier in life you can make changes in your habits like diet and physical activity, the better off you are. And your healthcare provider will want to know about the health problems in your immediate family members.

My Family Health Portrait at is a free, web-based tool from the federal government that helps you capture this information. After you enter the information about family members’ health conditions, the tool organizes it for you so that you can share the printed information at your next doctor’s visit. The government doesn’t keep a record of the information you add to the website — it is for your personal use only. You can save the information to your personal computer or thumb drive. You can also update the information at any time. It is available in Spanish, English and other selected languages.

Adult woman with parents
Discuss family health history with your parents
So, the next time you get together with family members, consider gathering information from them to help you identify the health problems that run in your family. Getting this information from family members is a very valuable gift.

Visit for more information about diabetes, high blood pressure and diabetes, and how you can delay or possibly prevent the onset of such conditions.

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Myth: We have more food available than ever in the U.S.

Answer: TRUE, but...

We DO have more food available than ever before in the U.S., but is it the kind of food that promotes good health? A 2010 multi-city study found that snack foods are sold in 96% of pharmacies, 94% of gas stations, 22% of furniture stores and 16% of apparel stores. Furniture stores?! I recall walking into a chain shoe store a few years ago. As I walked from aisle-to-aisle, I ran right into a vending machine selling mostly soda. The vending machine wasn’t in the employee section of the store, but in the retail space.

Studies have shown that those living in low-income areas have 25% fewer chain supermarkets compared with middle-income areas. Areas with a predominantly black population have about half the number of these chains compared to areas that are predominantly white. Areas with mostly Latino residents have a third of that number. The type of store available may influence our health. Those that live within a mile of a supermarket may have a healthier diet than those who don’t. Twenty percent of rural counties are considered rural food deserts — meaning all people live more than 10 miles from a supermarket or supercenter.

Most recent data show that there was a 9.6% increase in farmers markets in the U.S. A total of 7,864 current farmers markets now exist, based on a self-reported directory available at Studies find that those who live near supermarkets or in areas where fresh produce is sold (supermarkets, grocery stores, farmers markets, etc.) and have more of these stores as compared to stores that don’t sell such healthy foods (such as corner stores) have lower rates of diet-related diseases than those living in neighborhoods with less access to food.

More information about where to buy and how to select seasonal fruits and vegetables is available in the University of Missouri Extension publication Seasonal and simple. For more information about how to access this publication, including how to download the Seasonal and simple app, go to

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Myth: If I buy a supplement with herbs or botanicals, they are safe for me or my family.

Answer: BUSTED!

Are you taking a dietary supplement? You’re not alone. Most adults in the U.S. take one or more dietary supplements either every day or once in awhile.

Many people believe that products labeled "natural" are safe and good for them. This is not necessarily true because the safety of a supplement depends on many things — how it works in the body, how it’s prepared and how much is taken.

Supplements in powder (in beverage) & pill forms
Supplements in powder (beverage) & pill forms
Dietary supplements can come in many forms — as a food such as energy bars, drinks or powders, or over-the-counter as pills.

Unlike drugs, there is no law that requires the Food and Drug Administration to "approve" dietary supplements for safety or effectiveness before they are sold. Dietary supplements are not required to be standardized in the U.S.

Be sure to tell your doctor what supplements you are taking so you can be alerted to any reasons you shouldn’t be taking a supplement. This would include a health condition you have, any upcoming surgery you are scheduled for or interactions with regular medicines. For example, St. John's wort may reduce the effectiveness of drugs for heart disease, depression or certain cancers. You can use these fact sheets at to find a specific dietary supplement and see if there are any concerns about use.

The information above is adapted from information at

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Myth: It’s hard to keep track of all fast food options to make healthier choices when I eat out.

Answer: BUSTED...Well, sort of!

fast food dining area
A recent Temple University study looked at fast food options from 1997 to 2010 at eight major U.S. fast food restaurants. Calories didn’t change much, but the total number of menu options increased from 679 to 1036 items. Where was the fastest growth? Main meal salads, which increased from 11 to 51, and sweet teas, which went from none to 35.

Researchers found that in 2009 and 2010, lunch and dinner entrees had an average of 453 calories per item while side items had 263 calories on average. Soon, calories for all food items will be posted at restaurants with more than 20 locations, as required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. McDonald's recently began posting calories on its menus.

Until calories are posted on menus at restaurants, you can search the web to find online nutrition information for each fast food restaurant, get nutrition information brochures when you are at a restaurant or find free mobile apps such as Lunch Facts that gather this information for you.

For more tips on eating out healthfully at fast food restaurants go to

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933