Vernon Hills dietitian is a Hall of Famer
Toby Smithson, left, goes over a presentation with Roxana Marincas of Skokie, who is a senior intern getting her bachelor of science in human nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago, that they are working on. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
To read more of the Q&A with Toby Smithson, log on Monday to vernonhills.suntimes.com.
Updated: January 14, 2013 6:10AM
Toby Smithson, the Lake County Health Department’s community dietitian, recently received Hall of Fame recognition by the University of Illinois Extension Lake County Unit for fostering community partnership in food and nutrition education over the past two decades. In addition to daily outreach activities, she’s currently collaborating with eight elementary schools in Waukegan under a physical education program grant that has the potential to improve the health of over 4,000 students and their families. “It takes a village to make changes,” Smithson said. “Partnership is really important to extend the message (of nutrition) to more people.”
In addition to daily outreach activities, she’s currently collaborating with eight elementary schools in Waukegan under a physical education program grant that has the potential to improve the health of over 4,000 students and their families.
“It takes a village to make changes,” Smithson said. “Partnership is really important to extend the message (of nutrition) to more people.”
Q: How long have you lived in Vernon Hills?
A: 20 years.
Q: What is your favorite community event?
A: The one I promote a lot is the diabetes walk in Buffalo Grove. I am always a participant of that.
Q: If you were mayor for the day, what would you do?
A: I would love for taxes to be lowered for the day.
Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in nutrition?
A: I decided in eighth grade. I was in the hospital because of a really bad stomach virus, and I met an intern dietitian with diabetes. I have had diabetes since I was 8 years old. She inspired me. It was one of the rare times I was in the hospital but a very important moment in my life. You never know how things are going to happen. From that point on, every summer job I worked was related to dietetics.
Q: What impact do our eating habits and food choices have on our lives?
A: In my presentations, I begin by asking people to raise their hands if they eat food. The fact is we all have to eat. That’s why it’s so crucial to make healthy choices for a longer and healthier life. Good eating habits are based on quantity, quality and timing. A big recommendation that I need to keep saying over and over because I’m finding consumers are missing the point is to eat three meals a day. So many people skip one meal, usually breakfast. We need three balanced meals with a variety of foods in moderation. That’s one of the things I have to drive home.
Q: Soaring rates of diabetes and obesity, particularly among children, have affected the lives of millions of Americans over the past three decades. What can we do as individuals and as a community to help reverse these trends?
A: My over-arching idea is to making a healthy lifestyle a priority. That’s the No. 1 starting point for me. It needs to be a priority on both levels but definitely on the individual level. If the community environment isn’t helping you, you need to take the initiative. There have been lots of changes with technology that make it easy to not eat healthy or exercise. It takes a little bit of an extra step now so that you must plan ahead and make health a priority. You need to take care of yourself because where else but your body will you live?
Q: How do you inspire others to make good choices about their health?
A: I use positive messaging and empowerment. The focus is placed on health. Whether it’s with children or adults, that’s the bottom line. We want you to be in the best health and feel the best you can. I reach out in different ways. There are presentations that I do for larger community groups, and there’s also one-on-one counseling. I write a monthly food column and do videos for cable TV and the Lake County website. Occasionally there are health fairs. Usually people don’t learn the first time around so that’s why I try different avenues.
Q: What are the top health issues of today?
A: Obesity and the chronic diseases that come along with it — heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancer. The numbers continue to rise. To me those are the major public health issues at hand right now.
Q: What a does a healthy day look like?
A: A good guideline is to follow the MyPlate recommendation (established by U.S. Department of Agriculture): half a plate full of fruits and veggies, a quarter of whole grains, and the other quarter a lean protein choice low in fat. That gives you a visual of the quantity. For adults, the recommended amount of exercise is 30 minutes for most days of the week, typically five days. Kids need to be active 60 minutes a day.
Q: What are your greatest achievements?
A: One of my proudest achievements is being a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. We have 73,000 members and only 30 are chosen to be volunteer spokespeople. I also won the 2009 Outstanding Dietitian of the Year Award for Illinois.
Q: What are your future goals?
A: I’m in graduate school in a master of science in nutrition and wellness program at Benedictine University. My short-term goal is to complete my courses and graduate. It was something that I always wanted to do. I’m very accomplished by the work that I’ve done and the leadership that I’ve taken on, and I’m very active and involved in a lot of things, yet I still felt something was missing. So I decided to go for it. I absolutely love being a student again. It’s been really helpful for the position that I’m in.
Q: What does the recent honor by the University of Illinois Extension mean to you?
A: I don’t play baseball but I won the Hall of Fame award — that’s what I put on Facebook! It’s great because what it acknowledges is partnership and positive health messaging about nutrition. And that’s what I think my role is here at the Health Department. It was nice to be recognized.