growing up emptyI recently watched a great documentary film, Living on One Dollar, which featured four university students who decided to spend a summer in rural Guatemala, and attempt to survive on $1 a day. The young men planned to stay a total of 56 days, so each brought $56 US dollars for a grand total of $224 US Dollars. In order to simulate the inconsistent and unpredictable income of the local day laborers, the students broke down their sum total into increments of $0-$9, and would randomly draw a piece of paper each morning with their “income” for that particular day. There were days that the “family of four” would receive anywhere from $0 to a whopping $9. The young men learned a lot from their new neighbors regarding how to plant and maintain a plot of land, as well as how to seek out and obtain a loan to cover necessary expenses.

Prior to embarking on this excursion, the students did their research, especially the two who were the brains behind the project (international development majors’, Chris and Zach). The men set out in the summer of 2010, and gained invaluable knowledge about the struggle and hardships of the individuals and families living in the rural Guatemalan village that they would temporarily call home. During the course of their stay, they encountered struggles of their own, not only in their attempt to secure proper nutrition each day, but also in their attempt to overcome unforeseen financial expenses. The domino effect experienced by so many living in rural villages like the one the men visited looks something very similar to this: limited opportunities leads to limited education leads to limited income leads to limited resources, which leads to limited/insufficient food options, which then leads to poor health/energy. Without a stable income, individuals and their families are unable to purchase food or maintain the gardens that will provide them with their daily recommended caloric intake values. Lack of a proper caloric diet, replete of all necessary vitamins and minerals, results in increased susceptibility to illness, diminished weight, diminished height, and diminished energy levels. Each of the young men experienced significant weight loss, as well as diminished energy levels during their stay. They also witnessed first-hand how the link between limited income and poor nutrition affects the individuals of the village, especially the children.

a place at the tableThe importance of good nutrition and adequate caloric intake is particularly important for growing children, but essentially, it’s of great importance to people of all ages. In order for the body and mind to function at an optimal level, one must consume a nutritious diet that provides adequate calories. In addition to low energy levels and an inhibited immune system, persistent lack of necessary vitamins and minerals may result in various nutrient and vitamin deficiencies, which may put one at risk of developing more serious health problems. In the United States, good health and nutrition are pillars of education taught with much emphasis from an early age. However, we can’t ignore the fact that health and nutrition are strongly influenced by income and economic status.

Just as the poor rural families in Guatemala are limited to a few staple sources of nutrition, so are the poorest families in the United States, and the rest of the world. Food assistance programs available here in the US, include Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Americans who are struggling simply to put food on the table, may benefit from such programs to enhance the quality of their diets. In Guatemala, a country with the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean-international organizations, rely on programs such as UNICEF and USAID.

I recommend that you check out the documentary, Living on One Dollar. It’s a great film!

When Jinelee De Souza isn’t channeling her inner super-heroine at Howard County Library System as an Instructor & Research Specialist, she’s doing so at the gym, during impromptu photoshoots with her bff, and everywhere in between.

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HCGH cardiac (heart health) team

Dr. Alexander Chudnovsky, director of Cardiac Rehabilitation Services at Howard County General Hospital, with (from left): Prasobha George, RN; and exercise physiologists Suzanne Jeffreys and Brett Goldberger. Dr. Chudnovsky is a cardiologist with Cardiovascular Specialists of Central Maryland in Columbia.

February is American Heart Month: Exercise to Tone Your Heart!

American Heart Month is a good time to remember how important exercise is for heart health. No matter what age you are or stage of life you are in, some form of exercise is beneficial for most people.

Alexander Chudnovsky, M.D., a cardiologist on staff at Howard County General Hospital (HCGH) and medical director of the hospital’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, wants you to know that exercise is for everyone, regardless of age or cardiac health status. The heart is meant to be used!

No Cardiac History?
Exercising doesn’t just tone the muscles in your arms, legs and core, it strengthens the heart muscle. According to the American Heart Association, physical activity helps prevent the nation’s number one and number four killers: heart disease and stroke. “When you exercise regularly, the heart becomes conditioned and uses oxygen and energy more efficiently,” says Dr. Chudnovsky. “To condition the heart, you should exercise at least four times a week and raise your heart to your target heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes during exercise.”

What is your target heart rate?
220 – your chronological age x 0.8 = your target heart rate.

The Cardiac Patient
In general, most cardiac patients benefit from exercise. Those with coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure can benefit significantly from cardiac rehabilitation offered in a clinical, monitored setting. You should discuss a cardiac program with your physician. HCGH offers many cardiac rehabilitation options to help those who have recently experienced a heart attack, angioplasty, stable angina, coronary bypass surgery, irregular heart rhythms, heart failure or transplant or valve surgery. Call 443-718-3000 for more information.

“Exercise can induce the heart to grow new blood vessels to supply areas of the heart that may have been affected by prior cardiac events,” notes Dr. Chudnovsky. “In addition, regular exercise can help reduce blood pressure, increase good cholesterol (HDL) and reduce bad cholesterol (LDL), improve glucose metabolism for those with diabetes and support weight loss.”


Before You Start: According to Dr. Chudnovsky, if you are planning to start exercising and you are not conditioned and have cardiac risk factors that include diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and/or a family history of cardiac events, you should see your cardiologist or primary care doctor before you put your heart under the stress of physical activity.

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love yourselfCongratulations! We survived the first full month of winter. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the cold, but I still wouldn’t mind one big snowfall this year! Luckily, February is the shortest month and spring is coming soon. In February, we celebrate our presidents and the people we love. This February let’s also celebrate loving ourselves.

Why is it so difficult for us to love and accept ourselves? I wish I had the answer, but we can start by being grateful for the things we do have. I have a colleague who writes down something or someone she is grateful for each day. A gratitude list might be something that we can all start doing. Even if we don’t write it down, starting each day by reminding ourselves of something we are grateful for may go a long way to helping us get through the day.

We can do ourselves a favor and turn technology off at some point during the day. According to the Kleiner Perkins Caufied & Byers annual internet trends report, 84% of mobile owners use devices while watching television. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, stated last year that American Facebook users spend an average of 40 minutes per day on his site. Now, it doesn’t sound too hard to cut back, does it? A simple change may be all that is needed. Review your emails only at certain times during the day or set a time limit when you are using social media.

What can you do with the extra time you have saved in your day? Do something for yourself. Get in touch with an old friend. Find an exercise or a healthy food that you actually like. Check out the resources and classes and events at Howard County General Hospital. Explore opportunities to continue learning. The library has a collection of The Great Courses on a variety of topics and there are no prerequisites, homework, or exams! You can also learn a language using the library’s online language learning system Mango Languages. (The hardest part will be choosing a language.) Make plans to travel somewhere you’ve never been! If you can’t travel, borrow one of the many travel DVDs available at the library.

The opportunities for you to do something for yourself are limitless. Focus on what’s important to you and don’t forget to have fun!

Nancy Targett is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She lives in Columbia and is the proud mom of three boys and a girl and a Siamese cat.

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Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 18/19, 6-9 p.m. or Friday, Feb. 20 and Tuesday, Feb. 24, 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Living with Diabetes If you’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes—or even if you have been living with diabetes for some time and want to improve your health—this course will teach you how to change your habits and gives practical, attainable solutions for staying healthy. This interactive, group course is taught by an endocrinologist, diabetes nurse educator, dietitian, psychologist, podiatrist and exercise specialist. Held in The Bolduc Family Outpatient Center at Howard County General Hospital. Choose either the day program or condensed evening program. Most insurance plans cover all or part. For more information or to register, please call 443-718-3000.

Monday, Feb. 16, Howard County Library System is closed in observance of Presidents’ Day.

Saturday, Feb. 21, 3:00 p.m. Hands Only CPR & AED at Miller Branch. You could save a life! Learn about cardiac arrest, how to recognize it’s happening, and the three simple steps of hands-only CPR for victims over 8 years old. Receive a basic overview of an automated external defibrillator (AED). Ages 9-18; 60 min. Registration is required. Register online or by calling 410.313.1950.


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5149339976_9109e8fd23_bHerd immunity. In the abundant coverage of the measles outbreak, we read about herd immunity. What is it and why is it critical to understanding the public health requirements for vaccinations? When considering immunization recommendations of professional organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), and the American College of Physicians (ACP), there are many factors taken into account. In deciding which immunizations are needed for ourselves and our family members, we weigh expert advice, personal health history, family medical history, regional infectious disease risk factors, age, immune status, and public health considerations.

Herd immunity, or community immunity, refers to outbreak containment despite lack of 100% immunization rates. Herd immunity exists when a sufficient percentage of the population is immune to an infectious disease to prevent spread of the illness. Why wouldn’t everyone be immunized if all the professional medical organizations recommend otherwise? How can the vaccinated person essentially protect the unvaccinated person?

Infants have passive immunity from antibodies in their system passed along from their mothers. For this reason, infants start their immunizations at the age of 2 months. Because all immunizations cannot be given at once, infants are not fully protected from dangerous infections such as mumps, measles, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, chicken pox, and hepatitis. Infants rely on herd immunity to reduce their risk of contracting or dying from illnesses that can be prevented by modern vaccinations.

Immunocompromised patients rely on herd immunity as well. Vaccines prevent disease by activating the formation of antibodies in the vaccinated person’s body. If that individual comes into contact with the particular bacteria, the antibodies generated in the body by exposure to the vaccine fight off the infection. Immunocompromised patients cannot generate these antibodies and may become ill from certain vaccines. Patients with HIV and congenital immunodeficiencies, those who have received organ transplants, and patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment are often not medical candidates for vaccines. If the population as a whole has been immunized, then the infections are not active in the community and even those people who have not been vaccinated are protected.

The number of people who cannot be vaccinated due to age, health status, and medical condition is relatively small compared to the population at large. When otherwise healthy people with no contraindication to vaccination do not get the recommended vaccines, however, contagious diseases can spread, uncontrolled, causing illness and death that would have otherwise been prevented.

Additional reliable medical information about vaccines can be found on websites such as and Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Cherise Tasker is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Central Branch and has a background in health information. Most evenings, Cherise can be found reading a book, attending a book club meeting, or coordinating a book group.

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© Martinmark |

Meditation . . . mind, body and soul

In today’s busy world, there is often too little time to step back and reflect—on our lives or on the moment in which we’re living. Devices that were designed to help us manage our lives too often end up controlling them, and busy schedules eat up time we should take for relaxation and quiet contemplation. All of this is taking its toll, as more and more people suffer today from stress- and anxiety-related disorders. Meditation is one way we can take back some quiet time, to center our lives and enhance our sense of well-being.

Meditation and Religion
Meditation has been practiced throughout the world for thousands of years, most often as a component of religious beliefs and traditions, and usually involves an effort to regulate the mind in some way.

In the Bahá’í faith, meditation is a tool for spiritual development and a way to reflect upon the words of God. For Buddhists, meditation is part of the path toward enlightenment and nirvana. Christian meditation is used to reflect upon God. Hindus have practiced mediation for tens of thousands of years and the Buddha is believed to have been a Hindu prince who attained wisdom through meditation. In Islamic mysticism, or Sufism, remembrance of God is interpreted through various meditative techniques.

Meditation and Health
More recently, the Western world has adopted many meditative practices, including New Age meditation, which has its roots in the social revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, when many young people rebelled against societal rules and traditional systems of belief. During this era, several secular meditation practices emerged, bringing the realization that meditation can improve health. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a U.S. government entity that is part of the National Institute of Health, notes, “Meditation may be practiced for many reasons, such as to increase calmness and physical relaxation, to improve psychological balance, to cope with illness, or to enhance overall health and well-being.”

Biofeedback is one form of meditation that involves becoming more aware of physiological functions such as brainwaves, muscle tone, skin conductance, heart rate and pain perception. Using instruments that provide feedback, the goal is for the individual to eventually be able to manipulate their bodily functions at will to improve their health and conditions such as high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, headaches and migraines.

“…in our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants.”
Madhav Goyal, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Meditation Benefits
There are many types of meditation, but most have four elements in common:

  • A quiet location with minimal distractions
  • A specific, comfortable posture (sitting, lying or walking)
  • A focus of attention that sometimes includes a specially chosen word or set of words (a mantra), an object, or a focus on breathing
  • An open attitude that allows distractions to come and go without judgment.

Meditation and the Brain
Today, we can look into the brain with instruments such as MRI and EEG to see how an individual’s body and brain change after meditating regularly, and research suggests that meditation may physically change the brain and body to improve certain health problems. A 2012 study indicated that people who practiced meditation for many years have more folds in the outer layer of the brain, a process that may increase the brain’s ability to process information. Clinical studies have also suggested that meditation may slow, stall or even reverse changes that take place in the brain due to normal aging. Results from a 2012 NCCAM-funded study suggest that meditation can affect activity in the part of the brain that processes emotions, and that different types of meditation can have different effects. While studies about the ability of meditation to reduce pain have had mixed results, some have shown that meditation can activate certain areas of the brain in response to pain.

Madhav Goyal, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, led a study that was published in the JAMA Internal Medicine online magazine. He noted, “A lot of people use meditation, but it’s not a practice considered part of mainstream medical therapy for anything. But in our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants.” Goyal stated that further studies are needed to clarify which results are the most influenced by meditation.

While meditation has been practiced throughout history for many purposes, studies seem to indicate that it holds considerable promise for the field of medicine.

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salt sugar fatMichael Moss’ book Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (2013) provides an inside look at something most people prefer to ignore: what’s in the convenient processed foods that make our lives easier. It’s easy to agree that we should eat less sugar, salt, or fat, but when it comes to actually doing it, few things are more difficult. I still cook in oil or butter, purchase full-fat food products, and I certainly give in to my enormous sweet tooth. But the big culprit isn’t baking cookies with too much butter or sprinkling salt on vegetables – it’s processed convenience foods that literally addict the people who eat them to copious amounts of salt, sugar, or fat.

I did an experiment earlier this year where I actually paid attention to food labels when I purchased food from the grocery store. (I live in blissful ignorance, guys!) I was shocked by the level of sugar in foods where I would never have expected to find it – fruit products for instance. I also found that nearly everything labeled “low-fat” was much higher in carbohydrates and sugar than their full-fat counterparts.

Just in the introduction to his book, Moss explains how it isn’t just consumers who have become addicted to these three ingredients, it’s the corporations, too, through their desire to achieve the best taste possible at the lowest price. He explains, “Sugar not only sweetens, it replaces more costly ingredients — like tomatoes in ketchup — to add bulk and texture. For little added expense, a variety of fats can be slipped into food formulas to stimulate overeating and improve mouthfeel. And salt, barely more expensive than water, has miraculous powers to boost the appeal of processed food.” (xxix) With that kind of lead, Moss ensures there’s only one conclusion for readers to reach: food corporations have used chemistry and biology to teach us to eat this way in pursuit of profit, and they must be held accountable for that.

One of the most telling observations Moss makes is that many executives from the corporations he investigated for the book “go out of their way to avoid their own products.” (p. 341) Despite attempts at government regulation and reductions in salt, sugar, or fat load in foods, the best option for everyday people is still boring old personal responsibility. “Only we can save us,” as Moss puts it, “we decide what to buy… [and] we decide what to eat.” (pp. 343-347)

Jessica Seipel is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She has worked for the Howard County Library System, in various positions, for a decade.

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