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Young people deal with health issues

by Jennifer Biller

STAFF WRITER

When 19-year-old Tracy Fries came down with a sore throat in April, she thought it was just the common cold. It turned out it wasn't.

The freshman at Fairmont State College was tired and had little appetite. She was diagnosed with mononucleosis.

Fries is from Martinsburg and was hours from home and her regular family physician.

"I went to the clinic here on my own when I found out I had mono, and I had to fill out insurance forms and hospital information," she said. "It was hard because I'd never done that before, and there was a lot of paperwork."

Health probably isn't the most pressing issue on the minds of young adults. But it shouldn't be an afterthought, medical personnel say.

"The biggest concern I have for those in this age group is they think nothing can go wrong," said Yolanda Kirchartz, student health nurse coordinator at Fairmont State College. "Or when they think something is wrong, they just don't come in for a checkup."

Those moving away from home for the first time may want to compile a family medical history and any insurance information. Those records could be helpful and make the paperwork process easier when the individual needs medical care.

Safe sex

Sexually transmitted diseases are a prevalent health problem for young people, Kirchartz said. Some of those diseases, such as genital warts and AIDS, have no cure, she said.

"We see a bunch of sexually transmitted diseases -- genital warts, chlamydia, genital herpes," Kirchartz said.

"We try to educate students, but generally when we see them it's too late and you just do damage control," she said. "We try to talk to them about the future and the fact they need to be concerned with not spreading the disease to someone else."

Using protection or abstinence are the best ways to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, she said. Most students interviewed for this article said that condoms should automatically be involved with sex.

"You don't want to get an STD or AIDS and screw your life up," said Brian Davis, 18, of Clarksburg. "Abstinence is the safest route, but if you must -- wear a condom."

Nutrition and physical activity

Poor nutrition, lack of exercise and eating disorders are also common in young adults.

When teen-agers leave home for the first time, it is easy to forget about good nutrition and fall into the trap of fast food, said Andrea Cole, outpatient dietitian at United Hospital Center in Clarksburg.

Fast food is attractive because it is quick and easy, Cole said. For those who don't cook, eating out can still be a healthy option if it is done sensibly, she added.

"If you're going to eat fast food, don't always have the whole meal from the fast food place," she said. "Instead of a sandwich and fries, just get a sandwich and have an apple or veggies with it. It's cheaper, too."

Keeping snacks on hand, such as graham crackers or apples, can help curb hunger between meals, Cole said. Also, she advises to watch the intake of soda and alcohol, as both are high in calories and can be addictive.

If cooking and planning meals seems overwhelming, start with something easy like pasta dishes with fresh vegetables, Cole said.

Lifestyle changes

Moving away from home can be traumatic and the change can affect an individual's health, said Dr. Arthur Calhoun of the Doddridge County Medical Center. The move can also result in loneliness and depression, he said.

"When kids leave home they may take up a different kind of lifestyle like smoking, drinking alcohol or becoming sexually active," he said. "Those behaviors can lead to health problems."

Eating a balanced diet, doing regular exercise and getting adequate rest will help in maintaining a healthier life, he said.

"We see a lot of students with eating disorder problems here because they aren't taking care of themselves and overextending or they have self esteem issues," said Michael Belmear, associate vice president for student affairs at Fairmont State College.

Those are just some of the health concerns the college tries to deal with during student orientation, he said.

"We've found it doesn't work to bring in speakers during orientation to talk about eating disorders, because the students who have eating disorders just don't come that day," Belmear said. "Instead, we have students who perform skits about an experience with the disorder and that seems to go over better."

Health can play a major role in an individual's success and quality of life, he said.

"Most people who come to college can make it, but don't for a whole host of other reasons other than intellectual ability," Belmear said. "Self esteem problems and depression occur a lot."

Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1449 or jbiller@exponent-telegram.com.

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