Urging cancer-fighting diets -- on the frontlines


January 24, 2002|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AFTER YEARS OF dismal cancer statistics, county health officials are moving the fight against the disease into an unlikely place - the supermarket.

About seven years ago, Maryland was among the three worst in the nation for cancer mortality, and the statistics for Anne Arundel County weren't much different from the state's, says Ruth Kershner, a program manager for the county Health Department.

Those horrendous statistics are changing for the better - numbers from a few years ago show the state is ranked ninth nationally - as the county stresses prevention through diet with its Learn to Live program.

This "point of purchase nutrition education" was on display Sunday at the Metro Food Market in Millersville.

The Learn to Live program, which also works to discourage smoking, encourages people to make healthy decisions when buying food.

In the store, customers were greeted by a registered dietitian. In addition to advice about food choices that reduce the risk of cancer, the dietitians provided free guides to good eating, healthy menus and tasty recipes.

The county Health Department works with dietitians from Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis. Kay Patterson, a registered dietitian who coordinates the Wellness Department at AAMC, says that when they're not handing out Healthy Eating kits, the dietitians install "Shelf Talkers" in the store. These small, printed signs with colorful logos of low-fat foods, fruits and vegetables identify foods recommended by Learn to Live. The dieticians recommend broccoli and blueberries for their cancer-fighting qualities.

Recipe pads hooked to the store shelves offer an assortment of free, healthful recipes, often with an appetizing twist.

Kershner creates the recipes and menus distributed through the Learn to Live program. She said her years as a stay-at-home mom enabled her to experiment in the kitchen. When her children were younger, she authored seven cookbooks featuring foods from countries such as Ireland, Hungary and Italy.

With no food allowance from the publisher, Kershner incorporated the test recipes into family meals.

"My kids ate some really exotic things, and didn't mind at all," she said. "As they got older, they became wiser, and would warn one another that `Mom is testing - watch out!'"

One Learn to Live recipe for cucumber and carrot salad illustrates Kershner's gourmet attitude. Sliced green onions, rice vinegar and a dash of cayenne pepper are added to the primary veggies.

A Learn to Live low-fat, high-fiber menu suggestion is buffalo chicken sandwiches, roasted vegetables and baked pears. When the Health Department dietitians are in a store, these dishes can be found on the printed cards displayed on grocery shelves.

The Health Department works with local grocery stores such as Giant, Graul's, Safeway and Metro Food Market. The program continues until mid-May.

Dietitians will be at the Metro Food Market in Millersville from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Feb. 1, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 10, and from 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 16.

Learn To Live offers other free material - quit-smoking kits, women's health kits, safe-in-the-sun kits, Lifescreen colorectal cancer kits and Fifty-plus Health kits. Any of these can be requested and mailed to residents.

Information, 410-222-7979 or www.aahealth.org.

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