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County continues health push

The Baltimore Sun

Howard County residents are being urged to drink plenty of water, exercise and wear sunscreen this year.

The suggestions are part of the latest phase of the county's Healthy Howard Initiative, which was launched in April.

"We're another voice to get people out and active," said Howard County Health Officer Peter L. Beilenson, who unveiled healthy tips yesterday.

Beilenson suggested that workplaces encourage walking clubs during lunchtime.

Walking clubs are also being encouraged by Gary Arthur, director of the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks.

The clubs allow participants to exercise in a safe setting, Arthur said. The walking clubs promoted by Recreation and Parks use an incentive system that rewards frequent walkers with access to activities.

Beilenson also said residents should engage in physical activity safely by doing things such as wearing helmets while biking and observing pool rules while swimming.

According to 2005 Howard County health statistics, 39 percent of Howard County residents were overweight compared with the state average of 37 percent. The survey also said 67 percent of county residents failed to meet guidelines for moderate physical activity, 2 percentage points higher than the state average.

"That surprised me," Beilenson said.

In April, Beilenson announced the healthy restaurants program, which encourages restaurants to curb trans fat, publicize the nutritional and caloric information of food offerings, offer healthy alternatives and pass two food and hygiene health inspections. Participants in the program must also be in compliance with the county restaurant and bar smoking ban that takes effect today.

The restaurant plan - which is less stringent than rules in areas such as New York City, where the Board of Health voted to ban the use of trans fats by summer 2008 - will use a voluntary approach, Beilenson said.

"A lot of people in the county are two-career couples," Beilenson said. "They drive to work, they eat out at restaurants. A good amount are in good health. A sizable amount are not."

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