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Wellness blog serves as voice of hospital, library wellness partnership

FamilyLibrariesConservationLiteratureHoward County General Hospital

Jean Pfefferkorn, a Howard County Public Library staff member, posted an online item about a week ago on seasonal affective disorder, which carries symptoms ranging from increased appetite to suicidal thoughts.

Dr. George Groman, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine's Howard County General Hospital, explained in another post that there's good and bad cholesterol — and the ideal number for the two combined is below 200 milligrams per deciliter.

Dr. David Monroe, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins, posted an item last spring on the way synthetic marijuana, known by such names as Spice and Black Mamba, is sending teen users to the emergency room.

All three posts — and all three contributors — are part of a blog, Well & Wise, that was created in 2011 through a health-education partnership between Howard County General Hospital and the Howard County library.

Library and hospital officials say such partnerships are rare nationally, but the blog — hocowellandwise.org — is seen as a sensible collaboration considering that both institutions offer resources designed to serve the public's well-being.

"A lot of our health and education missions are aligned, and we thought it would make sense to try to work together and create some sort of vehicle to make it a consistent approach for the community," said Mary Catherine Cochran, the hospital's senior communications manager.

The partnership aims to combine resources to promote healthy lifestyles and wellness education.

"We thought that would be a good model for this county, because it is health- and wellness-conscious," Cochran said.

Lately, the county's collective focus on wellness has been on campaigns to reduce childhood obesity by choosing beverages with low sugar content. This month, Burleigh Manor Middle School hosted the launch of Howard County Unsweetened, a campaign orchestrated by the Columbia-based Horizon Foundation that seeks to curb obesity by helping youth and parents choose beverages with lower sugar content.

Students at Burleigh Manor celebrated the dumping of more than nine tons of white sand in the school's parking lot to represent the amount of sugar the school's students would consume if each drank a 12-ounce soda every day for a year.

Also in conjunction with the Horizon Foundation's efforts, County Executive Ken Ulman recently signed an order eliminating sugary drinks from being sold or dispensed or offered by county departments, or during county-sponsored events or meetings.

That topic is well known to those who post on the Well & Wise blog — many posts discuss childhood obesity and often note that soft drinks pose a health risk.

In June, Cochran submitted a post citing American Medical Association findings that sugar-sweetened beverages compose nearly half of Americans' sugar intake. The post also discussed potential links between high-calorie drinks and Type 2 diabetes.

"Making an impact on the health of our community is part of our vision," said a library spokeswoman, Christie Lassen. "Childhood obesity is a big focus for the community right now. This is a fairly active community right now, so we're continuing in that trend."

The partnership also includes classes, health screenings and lectures on health-related topics that vary from health concepts inspired by children's literature to discussions on preventing gingivitis in teens.

But the blog is the most visible component. Since its launch, it has averaged about 2,000 hits per month — highlighted by a spike of 4,200 hits in August when a post about drowning drew more than 2,000 alone.

Lassen said that while the partnership strives to be a model for other initiatives in the county, it does not promote any particular cause.

"It is not an advocacy [blog] or platform," said Lassen. "It's designed to educate people about the importance of good health and how they can go about achieving it."

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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