All about health -- your health

June 04, 2008|By Shayna Meliker | Shayna Meliker,Sun reporter

Brian Jolles knows that a healthier lifestyle would have saved his father's life.

"My father died at 62. He had cholesterol off the charts, probably had a bunch of strokes and heart attacks we didn't know about," he said. "We knew he wouldn't be around long. If he lost weight, if he ate healthy, if he did more physical activity, my dad would still be here."

Jolles was the driving force behind Sunday's Healthy Howard Day, an event that aimed to get Howard County residents thinking about their health. The 48-year-old from Ellicott City suffered his own health problems, including high cholesterol before his 45th birthday, and then decided to take charge of his health by adopting a more active lifestyle. He initiated the idea for Healthy Howard Day and approached community organizations and businesses to help with the event.

The health screenings, healthy food samples, educational information and activities attracted more than 3,000 people to the six-hour event, Jolles estimated. Children were eager to participate, traveling between the green and white tents set up at Centennial Park for games, prizes and a 60-foot-tall blow-up obstacle course.

Activities included a Latin dance cardio workout called Zumba, a Pilates session, a junior boot camp for children and a performance by the Kangaroo Kids, a jump-rope organization for kids that has been in Howard County for 30 years.

Emily Boyle, a sixth-grader at St. Louis School in Clarksville, has been a Kangaroo Kid for seven years.

"It's a fun way for kids to exercise," she said of participating in the Kangaroo Kids. "The day is about being healthy, and this is great and will keep you healthy."

Jessica Jones of Columbia brought her two sons, Malcolm, 5, and Carter, 4, because she knew there would be activities for kids. She said the event was educational.

"I learned that 12 million children are allergic to nuts," she said. "We looked into a soccer program, and we also learned about acupuncture. So we're interested in that, too."

Children younger than Malcolm and Carter Jones could participate in the event. Lee Green of Ellicott City brought his 2-year-old daughter, Sinclaire.

"She really liked the slide and the trampoline," he said. "And just walking between the booths."

Jordan Raines, a seventh-grader at Patapsco Middle School, kicked off Healthy Howard Day by performing an electric guitar version of the national anthem on his Fender Stratocaster. He said he was a bit nervous playing in front of the crowd, but he has performed at two Bowie Baysox games, so the experience was not new for him.

"That was the single coolest national anthem I've ever heard," said County Executive Ken Ulman.

Ulman said the day gave people looking to spend time with their families something to do, and it allowed county residents to get to know health care providers in the community. Howard County is one of two jurisdictions in the country working toward universal health care, the other being San Francisco, Ulman said.

"I'm pleased to see all of these different types of organizations coming together, creating a big umbrella that captures all elements of a healthy Howard," he said.

We Promote Health, a nonprofit organization started by Jolles and employees of his insurance company, sponsored the event. Partners included the Howard County school system, county Health Department, Howard County General Hospital, Horizon Foundation and other community businesses and organizations.

Healthy Howard Day gave the community an opportunity to come together to make a commitment to healthy living, Jolles said.

But that commitment did not end at the event's 4 p.m. closing time. Bringing Howard County residents to healthier lifestyles cannot be done in one day, Jolles said. He said the interest in the event is evidence that many Howard County residents are open to learning how to improve their health by changing the choices they make every day. He has started planning for next year's program.

Teaching people to take care of themselves is part of Howard County General Hospital's mission, said Victor A. Broccolino, president and chief executive officer of the hospital. He said that among hospitals in Maryland, Howard County General has the largest percentage of its budget dedicated to community outreach and wellness, totaling more than $1 million each year.

"We want people to be in better condition so we can keep them out of the hospital," he said. "The hospital is here to improve the health of the community in two ways - in a reactive way, but more importantly, in a proactive way."

When Jolles approached the hospital to become a sponsor of the event, Broccolino said, he did not realize how significant Healthy Howard Day would be. But after Broccolino saw how enthusiastic Jolles was about the initiative, he could not say no to him.

"He has nothing to gain personally from starting a program like this," Broccolino said. "I've been in health care for 42 years, and there are very few people I've come across, who haven't been providers, who would take on something like this."

Another person impressed by Jolles' initiative is Sam O'Neil, the Healthy Howard coordinator at the county Health Department. The Healthy Howard concept involves more than encouraging residents to go to the gym, she said. It is about creating healthy schools, businesses, homes, recreational facilities and restaurants - making Howard County institutions healthier places to be.

"The event is a great way to introduce people to the bigger picture of making a healthy community," O'Neil said. "It isn't just a feel-good type of health carnival - it's a strong message we're trying to get across."

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