Wednesday, December 1, 2021

National Handwashing Awareness Week

December 5th-11th is National Handwashing Awareness Week and focuses on promoting the importance of proper hand hygiene technique. Handwashing is a fundamental way to prevent getting sick and reduce the spread of germs and viruses, such as respiratory, diarrheal, foodborne and travel related illnesses.

So how does handwashing prevent the spread? Some viruses have a protective fatty coating that surround it, such as Covid-19. By using soap and lathering for 20 seconds, germs and chemicals are physically removed. According to the Centers for Diseases Control, “soap lather forms pockets that trap germs, dirt, and chemicals and removes them” while rinsing. Soap and water offer the best deterrence but when this is not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The most common respiratory infections (flu, colds, pneumonia, bronchiolitis, coronavirus, etc.) are caused by viral pathogens and can be reduced by 16%, when practicing handwashing. Similarly, foodborne illnesses (Salmonella, Listeria, Norovirus, etc.) can be transmitted through handling raw meats, like chicken, and then preparing other foods without having properly washed hands. Other ways germs can spread is by touching your mask; touching contaminated surfaces that are frequented by others such as doorknobs, tables, gas pumps, shopping carts; touching your eyes, mouth, and nose; and coughing, sneezing, and blowing your nose then touching people’s hands and/or objects.

What can we do during Handwashing Awareness Week and after? According to Extension Program Specialist Julie Tijerina, “By remembering key times to handwash, we can reduce getting sick or spreading the germs.”  Some of these key times, according to the CDC, include: 

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before and after eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick with vomiting and diarrhea
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning a person after they have used the bathroom
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching garbage

CDC’s 5-Steps to correct handwashing:

  1. With clean running water, wet hands and apply soap
  2. By rubbing hands together, create a lather focusing under nails and between fingers
  3. Scrub for 20 seconds
  4. Rinse with clean running water
  5. Using a clean towel, dry hands

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension offers programming to fit your community’s needs. For more information, visit your local health department, or ask for more information on Handwashing programming from the Rains County Extension office by emailing or by calling (903) 473-4580. 

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email  To view upcoming events or additional information please visit or follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook.


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

What's with Waist Circumference?

In my last post, I discussed my Body Mass Index (BMI) as the intro to discussing common topics that might come up at doctors’ appointments. In this post, I will discuss waist circumference and why it is important. There are two common and competing ideas on measuring the waist, waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio. Research attempting to settle the debate of the more accurate has not successfully identified one over the other; in other words, as far as predicting health risks is concerned, both are adequate.

Waist circumference is easier to measure than waist-to-hip ratio, giving it an edge in popularity (and it is the one I will use for the remainder of this topic). The American Heart Association defines abdominal obesity as having a waist circumference of 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men.  These numbers are somewhat higher than those recommended by the International Diabetes Federation (31.5 inches for women and 35.5 inches for men). Your doctor can help you determine which recommendation is most suitable for your individual health needs. To measure your waist circumference, women should find the narrowest part of your midsection and men should measure even with your navel. When measuring, make sure the tape measurer is comfortable and not too loose or too snug.

Now that you know the recommendations and how to obtain your measurement, you might be wondering why this information is important. Research has identified a correlation between abdominal obesity (a waist size about the recommendation) and an increased risk of several diseases, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease(1). Therefore, health professionals use your waist circumference to determine your individual risk for developing certain diseases. Abdominal fat surrounds many of your important internal organs; this fat is called visceral fat. Simply put, visceral fat is a gel-like substance that wraps around organs and negatively impacts the way the body functions(2).

Decreasing your waist circumference is a major step towards a healthier lifestyle. In addition to a healthy diet, try increasing your activity level (and heart rate) so you sweat for 30 to 60 minutes each day. Speak with your health care professional before beginning any exercise program or changing your physical activity patterns.

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email To view upcoming events or additional information please visit or follow RainsCounty AgriLife on Facebook.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

What is BMI?

Do you ever leave the doctor’s office with more questions than answers? Or maybe you are familiar with a term or measurement the doctor used but need a refresher on what exactly it means or why it is important. Over my next few articles, I will discuss common assessments and terms that might come up at your next checkup. In addition to the focus of this article, Body Mass Index or BMI, look for articles exploring waist circumference, cholesterol types and levels, and blood sugar. 

Doctors and health care professionals use a variety of tools to make health evaluations; BMI is a common assessment tool you may have heard during your last visit. Developed in the mid-1800s, BMI is a simple way of assessing the general health of a person with an average fitness level. BMI was originally developed to evaluate overall populations, rather than an individual assessment, but due to ease of use, it has become a popular tool for health care providers. 

To calculate your BMI, divide your weight by your height squared, then multiply that result by 703. BMI is helpful to doctors because it categorizes patients into four categories (in the US): Underweight = <18.5, Normal weight = 18.5-24.9, Overweight = 25-29.9, and Obese = >30.  For example, if you weight 160 lbs. and you are 5’5” tall, to calculate your BMI you need to divide 160 (your weight in lbs.) by 4225 (height in inches squared or 65x65) and then multiply that by 703; (160/4225) x 703 = 26.6. Your BMI is 26.6 and this classifies you in the overweight category.

BMI is widely used as an overall measure of general health; however, it may provide a slightly skewed assessment for some. Due to the density of muscle vs. fat, an athlete or someone with a high muscle to fat ratio will have a higher BMI than someone of a similar shape and size with less muscle mass. If your calculation lands you in an undesirable category, you may need to address one or more aspects of your diet and/or activity level. Your healthcare provider will be happy to discuss your BMI and any associated actions needed.

In general, BMI is a useful tool. Even if you are not in the normal weight range, you can use the number to compare where you are to where you should be for health purposes. It is always important to remember that people come in all shapes and sizes and one assessment can only give a general idea of health. If you have questions regarding your BMI, talk to your health care provider. Before beginning any exercise, program or changing your physical activity patterns, you should always consult your health care provider. 

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email To view upcoming events or additional information please visit or follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Memorial Day Driving Safety

During the 2019 Memorial Day weekend in Texas, there were a total of 360 DUI-alcohol related traffic crashes, according to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), killing 16 people and seriously injuring another 34. One hundred percent of these accidents were preventable. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is teaming up with TxDOT to spread the message about the dangers of drunk driving. Even one drink can be one too many. 

As you head to the lake, beach, or host a BBQ, you may choose to drink alcohol or use impairing drugs. Texas law enforcement officers will be out in force looking for impaired drivers. For people that choose to drink and drive, their chance for being arrested for a DWI immensely increases. After the past year, we are all looking for a reason to celebrate and enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, but it is also crucial to impress upon everyone the importance of safe driving. If you choose to drink, make the right choice to find a sober driver to get you, and your friends, home safely.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports 10,142 people were killed in drunk-driving crashes in 2019. On average, more than ten thousand people are killed annually, or roughly one person every 52 minutes is killed in a drunk-driving accident. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension partners with NHTSA to remind drivers that drunk driving is not only illegal, but also a matter of life and death. Help AgriLife Extension and NHTSA spread the word this Memorial Day weekend: Buzzed Driving Is Drunk Driving.

Drunk drivers are a continuing problem on our nation’s roads, especially around Memorial Day weekend. People need to know that they can go out for a night of fun and return home safely by ensuring they have a sober driver to take them home. Do not be the reason someone, including yourself, does not make it home. 

If selected as the designated driver, make sure to keep that promise of safety to passengers. It can be a long day and even into the night, but people are counting on the designated driver. Not only does the designated driver help keep you safe, but they also help keep other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians safe too. If you are the designated driver, please take the role seriously, lives depend on it.

Before heading out this Memorial Day weekend, remember to plan ahead. Be honest about the possibility of consuming alcohol and follow these ideas to ensure that all partygoers stay safe. 

  • Remember: It is never OK to drink and drive. Even if only one alcoholic beverage was consumed, have a designated driver or plan to use public transportation or a ride service.
  • Impaired driving IS an emergency. Call 911 to report a suspected impaired driver.
  • If you have a friend who has been drinking and is about to drive, take their keys away and make arrangements to get them home safely or allow for them to stay the night.

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email You to view additional information and upcoming events, please visit or follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Salty Situation

Do you ever wonder if you should work on reducing sodium or salt intake? We hear many different messages about reducing the amount of sodium, salt, and sodium containing ingredients in the foods we eat. Surprisingly, sodium is found more often in processed foods, such as casseroles, pizza, and cold cuts, than what you add from your saltshaker. Understanding how much sodium you need and knowing how to identify foods high in sodium can help you easily make changes in your diet.

Sodium chloride, more commonly known as salt, is roughly 40% sodium and 60% chloride; it is used to flavor food and is also often used as a binder and stabilizer. Salt is also commonly used as a food preservative since bacteria is unable to thrive in high amounts of salt. Sodium is not all bad, the human body requires a small amount of sodium (estimated to be about 500 mg) for vital functions such as conducting nerve impulses, contracting and relaxing muscles, and maintaining the proper balance of water and minerals. However, too much sodium in our diet can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Additionally, too much sodium in our diet may weaken bones by pulling calcium from them, which is something we need to avoid as we age.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams. Eating too much sodium may lead to high blood pressure, which may increase the risk for a heart attack and stroke. Most Americans consume far more sodium per day than we need; the average American is estimated to consume at least 3400 mg of sodium per day. Reducing sodium, which includes salt or other sodium containing ingredients, is beneficial in reducing risks for health-related conditions. 

Reading the nutrition facts label (found on most food containers) will help you identify foods low or high in sodium. The percent daily value (based on a 2000 calorie per day diet) listed on the nutrition facts label can help you quickly determine if a food is low or high in sodium. Pay close attention to the serving size listed on a food label and make sure the amount you eat matches the amount on the label. Information listed on the nutrition facts label is per serving (as described on the label) and most serving sizes are much smaller than what we think. For example, when you eat a bowl of soup, how many saltine crackers do you eat? The serving size for saltine crackers is 5 crackers. Five crackers roughly contain 135 mg or 6% of the recommended daily value. If you eat ten crackers with your soup, you need to double the numbers listed on the label, bringing your sodium intake up to 270 mg or 12% of the recommended daily value… and this is just the crackers, how much sodium is in the soup?

You may be shocked to learn how much sodium is in some of your favorite foods. Major sources of sodium include processed foods like canned products, breads, deli meats, snack foods, and mixed dishes. For healthier options, look for foods labeled as low or reduced sodium. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends adopting the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan to help reduce sodium intake and reduce the risk of high blood-pressure. Please contact the Rains County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension office if you would like more information on the DASH eating plan.

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email To view upcoming events or additional information please visit or follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook.