Don't lose your brother: Put prevention first

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Elizabeth C. Shaw
  • 49th Medical Operations Squadron
Happy Halloween! Today is the day when our Holloman team members are dressing up, attending parties and our children are having fun trick or treating. This is also a day when many parents become extra anxious about the health and safety of their children.

Trick or treating has changed a lot since I was a kid. Most of us had home-made costumes which challenged parents and our creativity. Usually it was the older siblings taking the younger ones out with a warning by the parents..."Make sure you are home by 9pm and don't lose your brother!"

Off we went, strategizing what route to take so we could get to the most houses in the shortest amount of time and deciding which neighborhoods we thought had the best candy. We'd scope out which streets had the most houses with porch lights on as we wanted to ensure we got the biggest bang for our buck on that street, and oh yeah...where were we on the route about halfway through trick or treat so we could quickly run home and drop off our loot so our bags wouldn't be too heavy.

Toward the end of the night if some houses had a lot of candy left and wanted to get rid of it, we'd get handfuls...score!! So naturally we needed the extra room in our bags. Most of us hated it when our moms made us cutely decorated shopping bags or bought us the plastic pumpkin baskets...the handles always broke under the weight of the candy and we couldn't carry as much.

The professional Trick or Treaters carried pillow cases! The four rules we all had to abide by were: (1) Don't eat any candy until mom or dad could check it at the end of the night; (2) Look both ways before crossing the street; (3) Only go to houses with the porch light on; and (4) Be home on time (which meant you better not have lost your brother or sister along the way!). That was a different time and place. I've watched the evolution of Halloween over the years. Parents began taking children trick or treating by car, children only attended Trick or Treat parties and were not allowed to go door to door, parents threw away candy and replaced the treats with healthy snacks, and candy was x-rayed at the local hospital or clinic.

More and more parents started walking with their kids on Halloween. I often wonder why don't people take the same time and effort all year round to be as cautious and practice prevention measures as they do on Halloween?

Prevention is by far the best medicine. There are so many ways we can utilize prevention measures on a daily basis. Just like we practice ORM or Risk Management principles, health prevention and safety should become routine. Why? I'm sure you have all heard the old adage, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." So true. I've seen it first hand as a parent, but even more so as a healthcare professional. Preventing and treating a disease in the early stages can be, in most cases, relatively easy and lower the cost of healthcare. Early diagnosis and treatment is key for the chance of a full recovery and improved quality of life.

Here are a few examples of prevention focused areas taken from the Surgeon General's National Prevention Strategy: On average, 42,000 deaths per year are prevented among children who receive recommended childhood vaccines; colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States; some estimates suggest that more than 18,000 lives could be saved each year if provided proper screenings. Diabetes is the leading cause of heart disease and stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-extremity amputation. Blood pressure control reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) among people with diabetes by 33 to 50%; interventions to prevent cardiovascular disease coupled with lifestyle modifications to reduce the risks of obesity could save tens of thousands of lives each year. Cigarette smoking causes approximately 443,000 deaths and costs about $96 billion in medical expenditures and $97 billion in productivity losses in the U.S. each year. Over two-thirds of the adult population is overweight or obese. Approximately, one in five children are overweight or obese by the time they reach their sixth birthday and over half of obese children become overweight at or before age two. Each year, more than 29 million people suffer an injury severe enough to warrant medical attention, and 180,000 people die from their injuries.

What can individuals and families do?

Contact and visit your healthcare team to receive clinical preventive services. Use the various tools available to learn about and manage your own health such as TRICARE On-Line and MICARE--if you have not signed up for MICARE yet, please do so now! Provide clinicians with relevant information (e.g., health history, symptoms, medications, allergies) ask questions and take notes during appointments, learn more about your diagnosis or condition, and follow up with recommended appointments. Participate in personal and community prevention efforts. Stop smoking. Reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. Increase fruit and vegetable servings each day. Decrease sodium intake, especially from processed foods. Increase physical activity to 2.5 hours a week for adults and one hour per day for children. Engage in activities which not only increase strength and endurance, but balance as well. Don't drink and drive, and drink in moderation. Use protective gear and wear your seatbelt.

Although, as military beneficiaries, we receive excellent health benefits, we still have the responsibility for being good stewards of our tax dollars. Military healthcare costs have skyrocketed and our treatment facilities have been hit severely by defense budget cuts. So, let's all do our part, and put prevention first. Enjoy Halloween and have a fun, yet safe time trick or treating. Encourage exercise as a family routine. Walk your child around the neighborhood to Trick or Treat this year instead of driving. Remember...look both ways before crossing the street, be home on time, and for goodness sake...don't loose your brother or sister!

For additional Halloween health and safety tips, go to: