By Giovanna Reyes-Alexander MPH
Public Health Command Region-Europe
That time of year is here again in beautiful Germany. Stuttgart festivals are a time of celebration, great food, entertainment and off course beer. The ‘Stuttgarter Volksfest’ which originated in 1818, marked a thanksgiving for the harvest that was reaped after a famine year. Additionally at this same time of year is ‘Munich Oktoberfest’ which, many of us here in the Stuttgart military community also participate in. While these events are exciting and fun-filled, it’s important that we be cognizant of our actions around these times. Part of achieving personal readiness entails that we practice moderation and be vigilant of potential situations that can be harmful to us and our families.
Festivals such as these are filled with so many delicious food choices, many of which are unhealthy in excess. Brats, fries, candies and other German treats can be enjoyed when over-indulgences are avoided and practices are implemented.
When planning to participate in the festivities:
- Have one or two healthy meals at home that day before heading to the festival.
- Eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains before or after the festival so that your body will have some fiber since many festival foods contain refined sugars and little nutrients.
- Have grilled options where possible, instead of fried foods.
- Limit condiments high in fat such as mayonnaise.
- Portion control is highly encouraged. When having foods that are higher in salt, fat and sugar, try to eat less so that you can enjoy the flavor of different things without having as many of the extra calories.
Beer and alcohol are also synonymous with fest time. The legal drinking age for Service Members in Germany is 18 years old. It is 16 years old for civilian family members if you are off post, which is lower than in the U.S. Parents of young adults should have conversations about expectations where alcohol is concerned. According to the Centers for Disease control and prevention, “Excessive drinking” includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any drinking by pregnant women or people younger than age 21.” It is also necessary to talk about the risks and how they can be mitigated with your children if they participate in drinking at the fests. Even as adults, there should be proper planning when you are attending a festival if you plan to drink.
In Germany there are strict laws about driving while under the influence. The German police are able to test your blood alcohol content with or without your consent. We are here in Germany under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization status of forces agreement so it is essential that we abide by the rules laid out to maintain good relations with our host nation.
Alcohol also has some serious negative effects and the consequences that can be both short term and long term. Alcohol is often referred to as liquid fat as it contains about seven calories per gram. Drinking in excess over long periods is therefore a contributor to becoming overweight. Alcohol also impairs one’s judgement and may cause a person to engage in risky behaviors, such as unsafe sexual practices. When under the influence of alcohol, it can be difficult to think rationally and persons end up making poor decisions, such as driving drunk and causing accidents which may result in injury and arrests. Alcohol is also often used to combat sadness and loneliness. Though counter intuitive, it may actually cause or exacerbate depression and anxiety.
If you choose to consume alcohol, have a plan, and ensure that you are using it appropriately and in moderation.
Designate a driver who is committed and trustworthy to be sober, or take public transportation. Make plans to go with a group of trusted friends or family members who will look out for your best interests, but know your own personal limits. It is not worth it to drink to such an excess that you are ill the next day, or end up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning. Alcohol should not be used to the extent where one becomes a nuisance to those around, and causes poor decisions that could negatively affect the rest of your life. If possible, one can abstain from alcohol and still enjoy all the fun activities, carnivals and entertainment that festivals in Germany have to offer.