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Food Dye Debate

Another topic I have seen a lot of press about recently, is the use of food dyes and their link with hyperactivity.  Are they harmful or not?  If so, what do they cause?  I guess this has been a controversy for many years now, even going back to the 1970’s.  The FDA just recently decided to formally weigh all the evidence, also raising the possibility that they may eventually make the regulations on food dyes more strict.

As of now, it currently stands that food dyes do not cause ADHD or hyperactivity.  The FDA has stated that the evidence “doesn’t appear to be conclusive evidence that food additives actually cause ADHD.  But some research suggests that they may be linked to exacerbated symptoms in people who already have ADHD.”

The food industry continues to defend the use of food dyes, stating that there is no evidence, and there will be no evidence linking its consumption with hyperactivity.  They do not plan on stopping their use any time soon.  Hopefully they are able to either find a clear causal or non-causal relationship.  And if they do find a link, I hope the FDA is able to restrict their use, and the food companies will start to regulate and restrict their use as well.

Secondhand Smoke

I have seen a lot of recent news articles about secondhand smoke and the effects it has on children’s health. We all know that secondhand smoke had bad health effects on people, but it should be no surprise that the effects are more serious on children than on adults.  There have been plenty of studies that links secondhand smoke with respiratory problems, SIDS, asthma, middle ear infections, and other physical problems.  But the link between secondhand smoke and mental problems have never been closely examined. .. until recently.

The study found that the kids that were exposed to secondhand smoke had  high levels of cotinine in their blood. On average they found that:

  • the kids had almost five symptoms of major depressive disorder
  • almost four symptoms of ADHD
  • almost three symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder
  • more than one symptom of conduct disorder

It was determined that the higher levels of cotinine in the blood were strongly linked with ADHD symptoms, but weakly linked with the symptoms of major depressive disorder, conduct disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.  Overall, the positive links between cotinine and mental problems were greater for boys than girls.

Secondhand smoke exposure to children is a major public health problem.  As a public health major, this is something that bothers me, because it can be prevented, it doesn’t need to happen.  I think that there should be limitations as to where people can smoke (I know that there are many laws already restricting smoking in many public areas, but I think they should be more strict and make it so that they cannot smoke around children, especially parents).  I do not know how they would regulate this, but it would help end this problem.

I have seen a few cook books (for example The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious), that gives parents secret ways to incorporate healthy foods into normal foods for kids to eat.  It usually consists of using pureed vegetables and fruits, giving more nutrition and vitamins to the meal, but not majorly altering the overall taste of the meal.  This is a great method of getting those picky eaters to eat healthy.

I remember my mom doing this when I still lived at home.  She would add things like carrots, spinach, and squash into meals and we would eat them not even knowing, and loving it. When she would tell us what extra she added into it, it wasn’t unusual for us kids to be grossed out and then say we really hated it, even though just minutes earlier we were raving about how good it was.

I see this as an excellent way in getting children to eat healthy, nutritious foods, but I have also heard some bad press about this “secret” method.  Bonnie Taub-Dix, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says, “Any recipe book that involves enhancing a child’s diet, especially through the use of more fruits and vegetables, is positive.  But, it’s important for kids to know what’s going into their food because that’s how they learn and make their own choices. Tricks like grinding up carrots in tomato sauce don’t need to be top-secret.”  I would agree with this statement.  It is a great for improving the children’s diets, but it does not necessarily need to be kept a secret.

I personally have only had about half of an energy drink, ever, and that was enough to make me feel crazy. I do not know how people can consume multiple drinks a day, or how children can consume even just one, and not have any adverse effects from it.

A new study looked at the health effects of energy drinks on children and adolescents, and found that they are consumed by 30-50% of this age group. High amounts of caffeine have been linked with serious adverse effects especially in children and adolescents, including seizures, diabetes, liver and kidney damage, high blood pressure, heart problems, and behavioral disorders.

The study found that of the 5,448 caffeine overdoses in the US in 2007, almost half (46%) occurred in those younger than 19 years.  About 1,200 of these cases were in children under the age of 6. Another article discussing this study suggested that these energy drinks might not only be harmful because of what they contain, but also what they are replacing (drinks like water and milk that provide essential minerals and protein for growing bodies), as well as contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic.

Does anyone else see this as a big problem as well? And what are ways that this problem can be solved?

Exergames

A new study has come out that looks at how active video games, “Exergames” help kids burn more calories.  Many children spend hours in front of the TV or computer, and spend less time outdoors, playing and being active.  With these exergames, it seems like both can be done at once, making it seem more enjoyable to the children. With childhood obesity rates continuing to rise, this, although not a solution, is a good start.

I found some interesting findings from the study and the article it was found in, including:

  • Researchers compared the energy required to play those games or walk on a treadmill at a speed of 3 miles per hour to energy expended at rest.
  • Researchers found that exergames increased the amount of calories each child burned 400% to 800% over their resting metabolic rate, an amount that was at least as good as treadmill walking.
  • Although all the kids said they had fun, the kids with the highest BMIs were the ones who reported liking exergames the most.
  • Though exergames have the potential to get kids up and moving, they can pose a quandary for parents. These are not a substitute for being outside, riding a bike, being on the soccer field
  • Spending time outdoors is the strongest correlate of physical activity among pre-school aged children.
  • The key is to help parents think of exergames as an alternative that offers variety rather than being a replacement for other forms of physical activity

Although I have never really played very many of these exergames, and don’t exactly love them, I think it is pretty cool that these exergames can have such high positive results (that is, if played correctly and fully).  I would have to agree with what the researchers stated at the end of the article, that this is NOT a replacement for physical activity, especially outdoor physical activity. It can be used effectively to complement daily physical activity, or be used as an alternative, but not every day.

Vaccinations are something a lot of parents worry about.  Their safety, their efficacy, side effects, etc.  Whenever I hear people talking about not vaccinating their children, I just do not understand.  Why wouldn’t you want to protect your children from diseases that cold potentially kill them? Yes, there are POSSIBLE risks associated with some vaccinations, but are those POSSIBLE risks really going to keep you from POSSIBLY saving your children’s lives?

A recent WebMD survey asked parents about vaccinations and found that:

  • The most common vaccines not received are: HPV (6%), Chickenpox (6%), Pneumococcal Disease (4%), Hep A (3%), Meningitis (3%), Rotavirus (3%), MMR (2%), Diptheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (1%), and Polio (1%).
  • Nearly 70% say they’re looking for news about potential vaccine risks, and for news of benefits that might offset those risks.
  • 66% said they had either questioned or refused vaccines
  • 77% intend to vaccinate their children according to the recommended schedule, although some will refuse all vaccines altogether, and many more will follow an “alternate” vaccine schedule.
  • 28% said they still believed the MMR vaccine can cause autism, and 5? said that they now believe there is a link. On the other hand, 13% said the news changed their minds and that they no longer believe in the vaccine-autism link.
  • When asked if they’d heard of the whooping cough (pertussis) outbreak in California. Of the 690 who said they had, 17% said the news made them more likely to vaccinate their children. But 12% said the news made them no more likely to vaccinate their children.
  • When asked about important influences on their choices about childhood vaccination, 88% say their doctor’s advice is somewhat or very important.

I am curious to see other people’s views on the vaccination debate, especially those that are parents.

(The current recommendations for vaccination schedule -for children, adults, and travelers- can be found on the CDC website).

Cancer SUCKS

Cancer had always been one of those words I never really fully understood.  I knew what it was, how it happens, but I never knew how it truly affects thousands of lives.  Just by saying that one word, “cancer,” lives are changed forever.  I had also never really thought of children with cancer.  I had always thought of it as very rare, and did not know how prevalent and devastating it really is.  It just was not something I was not exposed to, and I was not as aware as I should be.  This was all until my beautiful little sister Natalee, at the age of 12 was diagnosed with Renal Cell Carcinoma (kidney cancer).  And it was last summer, at the age of 13, that Natalee passed away.  This whole thing took our family by complete surprise. Why? How? What? SO many questions came into our minds, and still so many unanswered.  How could a young girl get an adult form of cancer that was most common in older obese/overweight men who smoke? She is the complete opposite of all of these things.  Cancer, especially cancer in children, is something I will never understand.  All I can hope for is that more people become aware of childhood cancer, and as cheesy as it may sound, I wish with all my heart that one day they find a cure for all cancers.  Because cancer SUCKS.

On the EPA’s website there is a section about childhood health protection, and specifically about childhood cancer.  Here are some overwhelming facts I found:

* Cancer is the second leading cause of death in children, second only to accidents.

* Cancer kills more children than all other diseases, COMBINED.

*Age-adjusted annual incidence of cancer in children increased from 130 to 150 cases per million children between 1975 and 1995. The incidence appears to have leveled off after 1990. Mortality decreased from 50 to 30 deaths per million children during the same period.

*Rates of cancer incidence vary by age. Rates are highest among infants, decline until age 9, and then rise again with increasing age. Between 1986 and 1995, children under 5 and those aged 15-19 experienced the highest incidence rates of cancer at approximately 200 cases per million. Children aged 5-9 and 10-14 had lower incidence rates at approximately 110 and 120 cases per million respectively.

I found this nice eye-opening video on YouTube that promotes childhood cancer awareness.   September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, but that is too far away for me to wait to do this.  Plus, I think everyday we should promote awareness for something so devastating.