"An apple a day keeps the doctor away." Some Oklahomans are taking this piece of advice seriously.

Last year Oklahomans participating in the Healthy Living A-Z program increased their consumption of fruits from 1.2 servings per day to 2.1 servings per day. They increased the number of vegetables they ate from 1.7 servings per day to 2.6 servings per day.

"This increase will relate to a decreased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke or cancer," said Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist.

Healthy Living A-Z, a program offered by OSU Cooperative Extension, teaches youth and adults about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, using healthy cooking methods and practicing safe food handling habits.

Participants must complete at least three of the lessons in the series. Safe food handling is taught throughout the program. Last year participants reported washing their hands 16 percent more often. They washed their fruits and vegetables 9% more often and used a separate cutting board for fruits and vegetables than meat 15 percent more often. Using a separate cutting board and knife decreases the risk of harmful micro-organisms being transferred from one food to the other.

"People who participate in the series have a lower risk of food borne illness because they learn safe food handling practices," said Barbara Brown, OSU Cooperative Extension food specialist.

Young people also benefit from this program. There was a 38% increase in the number of youth participants who consumed the recommended two servings of fruit per day. There was a 26% increase in the number who consumed the recommended three vegetable servings per day.

"School age children really enjoy the 5 A Day lessons," said Christy Pitts, Wagner County Extension educator, family and consumer sciences. " These computerized lessons allow us to provide a quality enrichment program to local schools."

The Healthy Living lessons also help youth establish healthy eating habits early in life, which will decrease their risk of heart disease, said Pitts.

For more information about the Healthy Living A-Z program call (405) 744-6824. More information also is available at http://fcs.okstate.edu/food/pubs.htm.

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