Happy National Public Health Week!

4-H clover emblemWhat Does Public Health Mean to You?

by Aubry Fowler, 4-H Educator, Fairfield County

For me, health is one of the most important ‘H’s we have in the 4-H Pledge. It is about pledging our health to better living so that we can make the best better. I actually studied public health in college, so it is truly one of my favorite topics to share with 4-H members and families, and I enjoy creating events to promote its purpose.

I imagine for many people public health was just a phrase they may have heard in passing. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic changed that for many people, and public health became a buzz-worthy phrase. Outside of the pandemic, what does it mean in our daily lives? Public health affects everyone in a variety of ways from where we live (environmental health), to how we engage with friends online (social health), to what we eat (nutrition), and everything in between. When you take a step back and realize how broad public health can be, you realize how important it truly is for all of us.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) has worked to devote a time to raise awareness about public health and its impact on our lives, which is why this organization promotes National Public Health Week. This year, it is celebrated from April 5-11, 2021, with many events conducted online. To quote APHA, “We may be physically distant from each other, but now it’s more important than ever to come together. That is why our 2021 theme is ‘Building Bridges to Better Health.’ Making communities safe and healthy is public health’s top priority.”  I would encourage you to check out their website: http://www.nphw.org/ to learn about events, resources and find ways to get involved this year.

Another great way to learn more about public health may be as simple as subscribing to the Ohio 4-H Healthy Living Journal so that you can receive updates about blog posts, get ideas for future meetings or events, or learn something new. While researching the National Public Health Week activities, I was excited to learn about their Daily Themes and Fact Sheets. There is a page devoted to specific public health topics that you can ‘grab and go’ to learn more about or share with others. Some of the topics this year include advancing racial equity, strengthening community, taking care of our mental health and wellness, and building COVID-19 resilience.

I know many of us are in the full swing of our 4-H year from selecting projects, working with livestock, or finalizing enrollments, but I hope you take some time to do something to connect, create, and take action to improve our public health. Find some time to share a new health tip you learned with a friend, invite your family to take a walk outside, or practice mindfulness for a minute. The Ohio 4-H Healthy Living team is working intensely to provide research-based information that is easy to share with our 4-H community. If you haven’t have not taken a minute to look at the Grab & Go Resource page – I invite you to do that now and select a lesson you could share with your club at a meeting or event.

What Does Your Zip Code Have to Do with Your Health?

map with push pinLast week when I wrote about social health, I did so from the perspective of the individual, that is, what can someone do to cultivate social connections. This week I’d like to expand the concept of social health to include a much larger perspective. But what does your zip code have to do with your health?

What influences your health? The obvious answer is things like the food you eat, how much you exercise, and your family history. But people living just a few blocks apart may have very different opportunities to live a long life, in part just because of the neighborhood where they live.

As an example, let’s look at a map prepared by the Center for Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. This map shows several zip codes in Cleveland, Ohio, with up to a 12-year difference in life expectancy between them.

Map of Cleveland, Ohio, illustrating life expectancy by zip code (Center for Society and Health, Virginia Commonwealth University)

Were you surprised to learn that life expectancy can vary so much in nearby locations? In some parts of the country, the gaps are even larger. And life expectancy is just one of the measures with these sorts of differences. Access to care, access to health information, and quality of life are all affected by where one lives. The first question that should come to mind is, “Why?” Why is there such a difference? Why is a person’s zip code a stronger predictor of their overall health than other factors, including race and genetics? There is no simple answer. Gaps in health status across neighborhoods are complex and stem from multiple factors.

It’s important to understand that it’s not the zip code itself, but the conditions that exist in the area the zip code represents. In that sense, the zip code is the proxy for the social and neighborhood conditions. A proxy means that zip code stands in for something else.

The answer to why is too big for just one post. It starts with understanding social determinants of health. So let’s start there.

 Social Determinants of Health

To understand what’s going on, we’ll consider a concept called the social determinants of health. Social determinants of health refer to non-medical factors that influence health, such as employment, income, housing, transportation, child care, education, discrimination, and the quality of the places where people live. They have a big impact on people’s health, well-being, and quality of life. However, surveys show that most Americans are unaware of the how these factors affect health.

Think about it: People who don’t have access to grocery stores with healthy foods are less likely to have good nutrition. That raises their risk of health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity — and even lowers life expectancy relative to people who do have access to healthy foods.

Examples of social determinants of health include:

  • Safe housing, transportation, and neighborhoods – for example: Some neighborhoods are unsafe for children to play outside. Lack of transportation may limit people’s ability to get work and health care.
  • Education, job opportunities, and income – for example: Communities with weak tax bases cannot support high-quality schools and jobs are often scarce in neighborhoods with struggling economies. High school graduation is a leading indicator of healthy adult behaviors and health status.
  • Access to nutritious foods and physical activity opportunities – for example: Opportunities for residents to exercise, walk, or ride a bicycle may be limited. Stores and restaurants selling unhealthy food may outnumber stores with fresh produce or restaurants with nutritious food.
  • Racism, discrimination, and violence – for example: Segregation can negatively affect health by creating communities of concentrated poverty.
  • Polluted air and water – for example: Closeness to highways, factories, or other sources of toxic materials may expose people to pollutants.

People’s awareness of social determinants of health has come to the forefront during the coronavirus pandemic. For example, access to testing, the likelihood of having pre-existing conditions, and the types of jobs people have that may increase their exposure affect some groups more than others (e.g., homeless people, racial and ethnic minority individuals).

Just promoting healthy choices won’t eliminate health disparities, because they are embedded in so many aspects of society. It’s a job too big for any one person. The first step is to become aware a situation exists. Then find out what might be happening in your community to address health issues.

Today’s Take-Away: A place to start is with your zip code. You can download this activity sheet to examine Health-by-the-Numbers.

You can find more resources on Ohio 4-H’s Mental Health Month page. Come back for more ideas and information about health.

Yours in Health,


Theresa Ferrari, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development

Adapted from:

Center for Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Healthy People 2030. https://health.gov/healthypeople/objectives-and-data/social-determinants-health

Eye Mites & My Mental Health

By Justin Bower, Logan County 4-H Educator

When my wife and I moved to Logan County we planned on settling into this community and one of the things an adult is supposed to do when they move is to establish relationships with local providers and physicians. So my wife and I started looking for a Primary Care Physician, optometrist, dentist, and audiologist. This past week I finally was able to have my first visit with our eye doctor and I was surprised to be diagnosed with a Demodex infestation in my eyelashes.

Demodex is a mite that lives in the eyelash follicles and sebaceous glands in the eyes. They live in the follicle during the day and then come out at night and crawl around the face and leave a build-up of cylindrical dandruff in the eyelashes. This can cause red, puffy, irritated eyelids, and dry eyes.

Demodex is a type of mite that lives in or near hair follicles. Photo from BMC Genomics

As I was trying not to freak out about the little bugs that live in my eyelashes my doctor calmed me down and assured me that Demodex is quite common and very treatable. It’s more common with adults who are over 45 (some research suggests 75% of adults over 45 have had Demodex mites) so it was a little odd that I had quite the build-up of junk in my eyes for my age but my doctor had a plan. He gave me a certain wash for Demodex that I rub on my eyes every morning and evening. He also emphasizes the importance of washing my eyes regularly with warm water and a cloth. I’ll keep using the wash and in two months I go back to my optometrist to make sure they are gone.

For more information about Demodex Mites check out this YouTube video.

So what does any of this have to do with Mental Health? Well since my eyes also got dilated that day, I came home and wasn’t able to see details clearly since my pupils were so large from dilation. I was home alone, couldn’t do any work on a screen, couldn’t watch TV, couldn’t check my phone, so I just sat. As I was sitting I felt myself getting angry. Now I could have been angry about a lot of things (the frustrating state of our country, the exhaustion of dealing with COVID, the overwhelming amount of work I’ve had recently, the frustration of working from home, etc.). Yet, my anger came out saying “Great! Mites! Because why not one more thing!?!? It’s not enough to deal with everything else but now I have to fight microscopic bugs in my eyes!” As I sat and stewed for a bit I tried to challenge my anger and change my thinking.

You see, health is complex. This month Ohio 4-H is promoting mental health BUT the important thing to recognize is that physical health is linked with mental health. It is harder for people who struggle with physical health to be mentally healthy and the opposite can be true too. For example, if someone doesn’t have a healthy immune system it is possible for that person to establish chronic depression through a poor immune system.

“You can, and perhaps should start having conversations about your mental health with your Primary Care Physician.”


Also, as my wife and I have been having to fill out all the forms for our first-time doctor visits there is always a section about mental health. It’s pretty routine for your primary care physician to ask about your mental health and how you are doing. It’s so important that we are regularly going to our doctors. Our doctors are there as a team to understand the complex tapestry of your health. They work together to show you where you are doing well, where you can do better, and where there might be a concern. A common myth is that you have to wait till you get a psychiatrist or therapist to start talking about your mental health BUT you can, and perhaps should start having conversations about your mental health with your Primary Care Physician. They might be able to give you some insight, recommend someone, or clarify some questions you might have.

As much as I’m frustrated with having eye mites I know that taking care of my body and my health is key to keep fighting the mental battle and exhaustion I am feeling about this pandemic, my work, and my country. So if getting diagnosed with Demodex mites forced me into a time of reflection to better my own mental health, then I’ll keep moving forward, eye mites, mental health, and all!

Here’s my challenge for you:
Make sure you are checking in with your doctors regularly.

  • If you do not know how often you should be seeing each doctor, give them a call and they should have a recommendation.
  • If you need to establish a relationship with a doctor, ask your friends and family in the area who they use and see if they are taking new patients.

Justins Sig
Justin Bower

Actions You Can Take: 4-H’ers in Times of National Crisis

All the recent events and how people have responded have me thinking about a lot of things. I wondered what 4-H’ers had done during other times of national crisis, and how what happened in the past might help us learn how young people can take control in our present time of pandemic. First let’s take a look at what 4-H’ers did during World War II.

A Look at the Past

The 4-H History Preservation webpage documents how 4-H’ers supported the war effort during World War II.

Girl with corn plant

4-H member with corn plant in her Victory Garden

They sold war bonds and grew victory gardens. To raise money to buy war equipment, planes, ships, and ambulances, they collected and sold scrap metal, rubber, and phonograph records. They even collected milkweed pods, collecting enough to stuff 1 million life jackets – no small effort!

There’s even a reference to efforts of Ohio 4-H members on the 4-H history page:

“Winding up 1943 outstanding war services, Ohio 4-H members and leaders purchased $510,041 in War Bonds for which a four-motored flying fortress heavy bomber aircraft was purchased and christened “Buckeye 4-H” at Lockbourne Air Base [now Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base near Columbus] in a special ceremony at which Ohio Director of Extension H. C. Ramsower presided. Junior Stuckey, Circleville, and Betty Brandt, Rushville, spoke for 4-H members. Lt. Dick Brandt, brother of Betty and a former 4-H’er, also participated. He was on furlough after having completed 50 bombing missions over Africa, Sicily, and the Continent.”

From these examples, we see that 4-H’ers were asked to do things, things that involved something outside themselves. They felt like they we doing their part to contribute to the war effort. They could see the tangible results of their efforts. These efforts could be measured – in pounds of scrap metal collected, number of planes sponsored, or amount of vegetables grown. I am sure that if asked, today’s 4-H’ers would do the same.

The Present Pandemic

Enter the coronavirus pandemic. What’s the difference compared with other times of national crisis? It seems like we’re being asked to stop doing things – stay home; no group activities like club meetings, graduations, or birthday parties; stop seeing friends. If we’re going to help, we think we should be doing something more active. We are being asked to do things, but they are more self-focused, at least on the surface. But if you look deeper, we’re being asked to do these things to protect not just ourselves, but to protect others. It’s harder to measure these things. But it’s part of our collective responsibility to our community, country, and world.

What can YOU do?

At times like this, it’s easy to feel out of control. But you have control over your behavior. Here are actions you can take:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds. (See Callia’s hand washing video here.)
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Cover sneezes and coughs.
  • Wear a mask or face covering over your nose, mouth, and chin when out in public. (Go to the Ohio Department of Health for a mask checklist.)
  • Keep a physical distance of 6 feet from others when out in public, even if you’re wearing a face covering.
  • Stay at home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands or after touching surfaces.
  • Keep high-touch surfaces clean (e.g., doorknobs, light switches).
  • Stay connected to others virtually.
  • Spend time in outdoor recreation.
  • Keep a positive attitude and practice self-care (see our recent post on this topic).

There are other things 4-H’ers can do. In one of our previous posts, we featured 4-H’ers using their sewing skills to make masks to donate. Others are making signs or videos to thank essential workers in their community or writing cards to residents living in senior centers. Camp counselors are working on ways to do virtual camps this summer. These things are important too.

many children holding letters to spell thank you

4-H’er’s from Morgan County did a photo collage to thank essential workers

Handmade cards

Cards made by 4-H’ers from Columbiana County

4-H'ers with signs to thank essential workers

Brown County 4-H’ers displaying their signs thanking essential workers

3 4-H'ers with beef cattle and signs thanking essential workers

4-H’ers and friends from Wood County thank essential workers

Some day in the future the coronavirus pandemic will be behind us, part of history, a story to tell your grandchildren. As with other times of national crisis, what will be the story others will read about what 4-H’ers did during this time of pandemic? YOU can be part of writing that story. You can commit to using your head, heart, hands, and health to keep yourself and others safe.

Today’s 4-H Journal page helps you think about actions you are already doing and action you can take.

Yours in health,



Actions I Can Take Activity Page Social Media post

Daily Dose- Superheroes – Ordinary and Extraordinary

teenagers in a line wearing capes

Camp counselors wearing capes at a superhero-themed camp

Although they have their beginnings in mythology, many trace the rise of superheroes in the U.S. to the late 1930s. This was a time when the U.S. was suffering from the fall-out of the Great Depression and before entering World War II.

What makes a superhero? Superheroes have some kind of extraordinary power. They fight crime or use their talents to do some good. They try to make the world a better place. They are clever in how they use tools and technology (think Superman’s cape, Spiderman’s webs, and the Batmobile). Another part of the appeal of superheroes is that they give us someone to look up to. And they wear costumes! Now every year at Halloween there are bound to be children (and adults) dressed up as the classic Superman and Batman, as well as the popular superhero of the day.

In the book titled Superhero Ethics: 10 Comic Book Heroes, 10 Ways to Save the World, Which One Do We Need Most Now?, author Travis Smith floats the idea that it is not their superpowers that make them so super. Instead, it is their character and qualities, which guide what they do with their power. He said that superheroes represent “the qualities that human beings must cultivate in order to confront the quandaries of ordinary life.” In other words, they point out the qualities that will help us to be better people.

As super as they are, superheroes aren’t perfect. After all, Superman has his kryptonite. Through these characters we can learn to turn our weaknesses into advantages. In that way, they are a symbol of hope, that you can overcome challenges and make yourself into a better person.

3 girls wearing Superman costumes

Camp counselors are superheroes!

Who are our modern-day superheroes? Perhaps today we have a new idea of superhero, a time when ordinary people are doing extraordinary things. They don’t wear capes – they wear scrubs and lab coats and the uniforms of police and firefighters. They work in schools and hospitals and homes. They are “disguised” as the ordinary people who drive trucks with needed supplies, stock shelves in our grocery stores, and drive public transportation. They work long hours to fight an invisible enemy. They are the essential workers of the coronavirus pandemic.

In Spider-Man 2, Aunt May reminds Peter Parker that “there’s a hero in all of us.” Today, my heroes are 4-H teen leaders sewing masks and matching 4-H members as pen pals. It’s families using 3D printers to make personal protective equipment for medical staff. You are a superhero when you stay home, even when it’s hard, and when you wear a mask to keep others safe.

Download Today’s 4-H Journal Here!

Yours in Health,




Daily Dose- Normalize the Mask

COVID-19 has in fact changed out world. As we prepare to be slowly released from our stay-at-home orders we must be vigilant in protecting ourselves and others. Social distancing, proper handwashing, and wearing a facial covering are just three things we can start with.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has posted information regarding facial coverings that you can find by going to the following webpage: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover.html Anyone over the age of 2 should strongly consider wearing a facial covering. But where?

Places suggested include:

  1. Pharmacy
  2. Grocery Store
  3. Public places (walking, hiking, outdoors)

It is important to recognize that this effort is in addition to 6 foot social distancing. They should work together, no as one. It can however be very uncomfortable to adjust to wearing a mask. Here are a couple of suggestions that I have.

  1. Try wearing your mask around the house to ensure it fits. You should be able to move your head without it slipping off your face or having the ear loops slip off.
  2. Do your best to keep your glasses from fogging. This Forbes article suggests that you try rubbing your glasses with a tissue, washing your glasses with soapy water, or ensuring that you find a mask with a better fitting nosepiece to keep the moisture from moving through your mask. Personally, someone has suggested that I wash my glasses with shaving cream, but I don’t have any reliable sources saying that this works (feel free to share if you find one).

I chose this topic because of an experience I had yesterday. I went to a store to get groceries. I was very anxious about wearing my mask in public. I have a beautiful mask from Kam Manufacturing here in Van Wert, Ohio (home of Stephanie Dawn).  I put it on, sat in the car for a few moments, and pep talked myself to go into the store to get my groceries. I noticed about 30% of the people around me were wearing masks. I found myself adjusting quite quickly to wearing the mask, even almost forgetting I was wearing it from time to time.

As I was putting my groceries in my car, a man walked past me (heading into the store), and then past me again (walking back to his car). I shrugged it off thinking maybe he forgot something in his car. He appeared next to me (appropriately distanced) and told me that because he saw me wearing a mask, he felt less self-conscious about going into the store wearing a mask. When I saw him walk away, he was going back to his car for his mask. He was of the age that he should have a mask on….and I was so glad I gave him a little boost to “don our masks” much like we have “donned our capes” for Dr. Amy Acton.

Today’s 4-H journal is artistic! Design your own mask. Be fashionable,  be unique, and make it fun! I would love to see your designs! Click this link for the PDF version of this journal.

Don’t just wear the mask for yourself. Wear it for others. Normalize masks for the time being. After all, #weareinthistogetherOhio


I posted a similar statement on the Dr. Amy Acton Fan Club Facebook page last night. It has received over 6,000 (yes, SIX THOUSAND) likes, almost 300 Shares, and over 600 comments! I suppose it goes to show I’m not the only person who was a little nervous about wearing my mask in public! If helping normalize a mask if my 15 minutes of fame…I’ll accept it with honor.

While I am not a paid advertisement for Stephanie Dawn, I can tell you that you can order a mask at https://www.stephaniedawn.net/personal-face-masks/?fbclid=IwAR3wgOSbsJrv7fG5d-MUgxMeAv3QAzrTvSAhzxYa87mm2xomK39wx7_IiHs 

In Great Love,