Florida Secretary of Health says health is good for business

DEBORAH WHEELER 654-8443 | @WaltonSunDeb dwheeler@waltonsun.com

Florida's Surgeon General and Secretary of Health, Dr. John Armstrong is on tour to promote healthy lifestyles, and healthy environments.

Armstrong spoke to county health officials, county commissioners, fire and rescue personnel, students, and others Tuesday afternoon at Grayton Beach State Park about his quest for health for all Floridians as part of his Health in All Places tour.

Spotlighted during the event was water quality at our beaches, as well as healthy beach activities in Walton County.

A Princeton grad, Armstrong advocates for healthy choices as he works with 15,000 health professionals to improve health in the state's 67 county health offices.

On Tuesday, he said one area of health not appreciated is paying attention to Gulf waters.

"Visitors expect a great experience at the beach where they don't get sick," he said.

The Department of Health tests the waters at 250 beaches in 31 Florida counties every two weeks, and works with the office of environmental protection. Walton tests weekly, however. Ninety-eight percent of the beaches have pure clean safe water, he said.

"When we find something wrong, we work to fix it to have the most comprehensive testing and safe beaches, and we feel we are doing a good job. In testing scores, we beat California," he said.

Armstrong feels we need to take advantage of all opportunities we have here to stay healthy, not only through water-quality testing.

He spoke of educating about the risk of drowning in Gulf waters and the need to be watchful of changing conditions.

"Drowning is swift and silent," he said. "Watch for surf warnings and riptides. Don't be in the water with strong currents and if caught in a riptide, know what to do."

Another risk is sunshine, he said.

"Protect with sunscreen and reapply. People die of melanoma. Be aware of circumstances such as lightning. We are the lightning capitol of the world. Stay hydrated. And, finally, walk more, sit less, eat fruits and veggies. You will feel better, and live longer. Health is good for business," he said.

South Walton Fire District Beach Safety Director David Vaughan attended the talk and agreed that we should be concerned about all these aspects as they are intertwined as the draw for our area.

"They are the foundation for our vibrant community," he said. "From our perspective at Beach Safety, because if people are secure in the quality of our natural resources, they are then receptive to the safety education we provide to make enjoying those resources a completely wonderful experience."

Crystal Steele, environmental manager for the Florida Department of Health in Walton County, showed how the weekly water samples are collected in 3-feet of water out in the Gulf by scooping into the current then pouring it into a roll bag which is sent to Niceville for testing, then documented. These samples are taken at South Walton's seven beaches from Miramar to Inlet, and if necessary, advisories are issued.

Currently in South Walton, all are testing at good levels but one that is at the medium level of 44.

Steele encouraged the students in attendance to check into pursuing a career in environmental health.

"Environmental health is a good field to go into," she said. "Not many go into it. Get a BS degree in science. The opportunities include food inspection, testing septic systems, wells, commercial swimming pools, rabies testing, mosquito control, and it's always interesting. We help the entire community to live fuller lives."