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Did you eat your vegetables today?

Often, when I meet with people in the community, I ask this question: Have you eaten your vegetables today? Why? Because it’s one of the things we all can do to promote health and protect against chronic disease and other conditions.

When I became administrator of the Health Department in January of 2018, we embarked on a journey of introspection and fine-tuning that resulted in more direct statements of our mission and vision. These newly-minted mission and vision statements guide decisions related to programming, and I encourage staff to weave the mantra into how they describe their role within McLean County government.

Our mission — Protect and Promote Health. Our vision — Healthy People, Healthy Places. It's simple, to the point, it's what we do.

You also play a critical role in helping make McLean County a place brimming with healthy people and healthy places so, let’s talk. How can you partner with us? What actions can you take to improve health? How can you create healthy places and spaces in our community?

One way a community can protect and promote health and create healthy people and healthy places is by supporting a public transit system. Users of public transit can experience positive public health benefits, says a recent study by the University of Illinois-Champaign.

The study compared two years of data and found that a single percentage point increase in mass transit ridership is associated with a 0.473 percentage-point lower obesity rate in counties participating in the study (University of Illinois-Champaign, 2018).

People who use public transit options such as the bus have more opportunities to walk; and, increased opportunities to walk equals benefits to our health. Rather than leaving your house to sit in a car and drive to work or school, riding the bus provides opportunities to walk from home and then to the bus stop.

I’ve been an on-and-off bus rider most of my life; I rode public transportation to middle and high school; and, when I lived in a larger city (Madison, Wis.), I chose to ride the bus to work to avoid the traffic and high cost of parking in the downtown area. In choosing to ride the bus, I experienced health benefits, including greater access to fresh air and walks; a chance to read or listen to music; and contributed to a reduction in emissions.

Recently, I called Isaac Thorne, executive director of Connect Transit. Isaac and I collaborate to share space and resources during extreme weather events. I called Isaac not to ask about cooling or warming buses; but rather, to let him know I took the bus to work several days last week and how much I enjoyed the experience. I was able to log some extra steps in getting to my bus stop, and I was able to relax on the ride to and from work.

What else can we do to improve our health and create healthy places? We can drink water instead of soda and we can choose a side salad instead of fried foods. We can socialize with our neighbors or volunteer in the community. When spring arrives, we can plant flowers or gardens and share the flowers and produce with friends, neighbors and the community.

The next time I see you in the community, I just might ask you if you’ve eaten your vegetables. Hopefully, you’ll hold me accountable, too, and ask me the same question! Let’s work together to create healthy people and healthy places.

Camille Rodriguez is administrator of the McLean County Health Department.  

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