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January 2004 Issue
Kidsafe: Parents make healthy children; healthy children become healthy adults.
by Michael Fick
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Parents should be immersed in their children’s health care, for two reasons: they committed to it at conception, and its complexity is exploding along with medical science, medical hype, and internet access to both. Newsweek Magazine, Sept 22, 2003 helped by discussing their list of children’s most prevalent health concerns: allergies, asthma, immunizations, obesity, sports safety, antibiotic misuse, mental illnesses, and sleep. Here is a brief [annotated] summary of their article to help parents prioritize and focus their efforts. You may find the Newsweek article in your pediatrician’s waiting room by the time your baby enters college … which is good timing for her last immunization, as you shall see.

Allergies, from major nuisances like hay fever to life threatening peanut specks, have absolutely boomed in frequency and severity in just the past few years. 90% of them involve peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, milk, eggs, soy, and wheat, in that general order. Symptoms range from rashes to often-fatal revolts of all the body organs. Exposure to allergens during infancy is a major controllable factor; kids should consume only breast milk until six months old, mothers should avoid peanuts during pregnancy and the nursing period, and kids shouldn’t get near peanut butter until they’re three years old (moo juice is OK at one). Diesel exhaust, second-hand smoke, and air pollution in general correlate strongly with allergy development. Parents with allergies should exceed these guidelines, as tendencies towards allergies are often inherited.

Allergies trigger many asthma attacks, including the hundreds of thousands of ER trips and many thousands of asthma deaths among children each year. Childhood asthma has doubled in just the last generation; fully one third of the kids in one inner city school have it. Asthma attacks can simulate someone holding a plastic bag over one’s head, yet far too many kids suffer far too often and far too severely because their parents incorrectly think it’s not treatable, not serious, or a phase they’ll outgrow.

In the broader picture, the most proven and safe prevention against most diseases is early, broad immunization. Kids should receive 20 immunizations against l1 diseases by the age of two, and teenagers should get meningococcal vaccine before living in a dorm. Despite rumors, combination shots are safe and vaccinations do not cause mercury poisoning. All these vaccines pose far less risk than the diseases they prevent.

Far more life-threatening than many of these preventable diseases is another preventable problem -- childhood obesity -- and the diseases it often leads to. Obese kids face at least three major threats:

  • discrimination and bullying,
  • very slim odds of avoiding adults obesity, and
  • several life-threatening diseases.
The best way to combat lifelong obesity is better parenting; three-year-olds have a heck of a time driving through the fast food window. Parental laxity has contributed to a 300% increase in overweight kids in just the last three decades, and school boards compound the problem by sacrificing gym classes to budget crunches and catering to spoiled kids’ demands for junk food. The school I grew up in shoved gym classes, the whole food pyramid, and nothing but the food pyramid down our throats for 12 years, and our mothers personally cooked virtually every meal we ate outside school; we’re far better off for it.
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