Monday, August 29, 2016

Safe and Healthy Travel for Back-to-School Time

It’s time to prepare for the new school year, making sure young students in our community are ready to learn. Kids’ success in school depends on getting there on-time and in good shape, and their readiness to learn starts before they even get to school. How they get there matters – if they are walking or bicycling to school, the travel to school gives them valuable physical activity. This contributes towards the recommended “at least 60 minutes per day” of exercise for their long-term health. These forms of travel also emit no air pollution, so going to school this way helps keep the environment around the school more healthful. Taking active transportation to school like this can also be a valuable family time or social experience for you and the youngsters.

My child’s school is two miles away from our house. We aren’t able to walk that distance each day, but on many days we walk to the bus stop (about ½ mile) and often we bicycle together to and from school. I think these times are helpful to my son feeling more connected to me and our neighborhood.

While getting this activity on the way to school, I try to help prevent injury to my child through attention to safety. School buses are known to be a very safe way to get to school. If you are walking or bicycling with your child, take these steps:
  • Be visible (wear bright colored clothing or walk in groups.)
  • Help kids learn traffic safety by modeling safe behaviors such as looking back and forth at intersections, and making eye contact with drivers. 
  • Use well-marked crossings and well-lit routes with sidewalks, whenever possible. 
  • Kids' backpacks shouldn't be too loaded with heavy books or school work. Help their "back helath" by keeping their loads manageable or getting rolling backpacks for them to use. 
Events to encourage safe walking and bicycling coming up during this new school year include Walk to School Day (Oct. 5, 2016) and the Bicycle Commuter Challenge (May 2017).

Also contributing to kids’ safety are changes to the built environment, the places where we live in cities and towns such as parks, sidewalks, and streets. You can check with the school district for your neighborhood’s schools to find out what the recommended safe walking routes to school are and try them out. You may notice things that you think should be addressed – is the walking area (pathway, sidewalk, or side of street) clear of obstructions?  Does the route have lighting for those shorter winter days? Are the recommended walking routes fully connected to the school or are there gaps? Are there well-marked, well-lit street crossings? Are people driving attentively and not speeding in the vicinity?

You can also contact the local government for your area (usually the Public Works department) to find out more about what’s being done to improve the traffic safety and walkability of your neighborhood. Thurston County PublicHealth and Public Works departments, along with partners in ThurstonThrives such as Intercity Transit (and its Walk ‘n’ Roll program), Safe Kids Thurston County, Thurston Regional Planning Council and city governments, work together to support Safe Routes to School here in our community.

Try a walk in your neighborhood – you can not only learn more about your local area, you can help young people get healthy activity and be more ready to learn themselves.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Safe Fish Consumption - Caution: Mercury

As the summer fishing season continues, it is important to consider the recommended servings of fish you eat in order to reduce your possible exposure to contaminants found in fish. Fish is very nutritious and an excellent addition to a healthy diet. Keep reading to learn about smart choices to enjoy fish and limit exposure to mercury.

While mercury occurs naturally in the environment, excess mercury enters our environment from pollution. Bacteria in water naturally converts mercury to the methylmercury, which fish end up eating. So when we eat fish, we also often eat methylmercury. Methylmercury can accumulate in the bloodstream and is harmful to consume in large quantities, especially for pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, children, and the elderly or those with other underlying health conditions.

Health risks for high levels of mercury include loss of peripheral vision, muscle weakness, lack of coordination of movements, and impairment of speech, hearing, and walking. Unborn infants and young children are at risk for neurological development difficulties related to cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills.

Fish offers a wide variety of health benefits when eaten as recommended. It is high in protein yet low in fat, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins D and B12, calcium, phosphorus, and important minerals such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium. Mercury is stored in the muscle of fish so it is impossible to avoid completely, however the Washington State Department of Health has recommendations for safe fish consumption including to eat smaller, younger fish, and to avoid eating the skin and fat.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends eating 8-12 ounces (about 2-3 servings) per week of fish and offers three main safety tips for safe fish consumption:

1. Do not eat: Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel and Tilefish. These fish contain very high levels of mercury. 

  • Mercury builds up in the food chain from small fish to large, older fish as they consume the smaller fish. For this reason, fish such as Albacore tuna, halibut, pike, and those mentioned above should be eaten less frequently because they usually contain higher levels of mercury due to their "small fish diet". Bottom dwelling fish should also be consumed with caution as most chemicals in the water settle to the floor of water bodies where these fish primarily feed.
2. Eat up to 12 ounces (less for children) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock, and catfish. Note: Albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. 

3. Check WA Fish Consumption Advisories to make the safest choices for eating fish by family and friends in our local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. 

Living in the Pacific Northwest fortunately comes with a wide availability of tasty seafood. Being mindful of safe consumption practices can limit our exposure to mercury and other chemicals, while still receiving health benefits and tasty cuisine. You can help reduce mercury pollution by properly disposing of products containing mercury, minimizing household waste, and reducing burning of coal and fossil fuels. 

For more information regarding mercury, safe fish consumption, and statewide fish advisories visit: