Category Archives: Health and Nutrition

Spring, Allergies, and Your Kids

Photo of happy girls with handsome lads in front smiling at camera

I just finished reading an interesting and very relevant article in Parenting magazine about spring, kids and allergies.

It turns out that seasonal allergies, or hay fever, can strike a child for the first time in spring if he’s between two and five. How do you know it’s not another cold he picked up at school?

Princess Ogbogu, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics, specializes in allergy and immunology at the Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus. She says there are seven signs to watch for and if your child has several of these signs, he might need to be seen by an allergist. They are:

1.  If you, your child, or his father has suffered from allergies, asthma, or eczema.

2. Ongoing congestion.  That runny nose that hasn’t cleared up after a week or so.

3.  He has itchy, watery eyes.

4. He’s not running a fever or complaining about his body aching.

5. He might have a rash. It can appear anywhere on his body.

6. Or an ear infection. Allergies can lead to inflammation in the ear.

7. The final sign to watch for…your child gets worse on days when the pollen count is high.

A resource I’ve used is the American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology: Children and Allergies.

Happy Spring! Make sure you have enough tissue handy!



Cold Temps and Flu… Winter is Really Here!

Winter temperatures have arrived all over the U.S. On the East Coast we are now in the teens and below– and the flu “epidemic” is in full swing. Teachers are cautioning students to cough into their sleeves if they don’t have a tissue. Appointments for some primary care providers can only be obtained two weeks out…we ask them to call if there are any cancellations.

Even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) definitely termed the flu an epidemic, health news correspondents continue to debate whether or not the flu has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. this year. Our entire household has had it even though we got our flu shots! Our doc says it would have been worse had we not received the flu shot. We are simply glad our bouts with it have subsided for now, and we hope that if the flu arrives at your household, you are able to manage it without too much distress. Here are a few more flu-wise precautions:

  • When family members do get sick, remaining home from daycare, school, work and crowded gatherings, is key to not spreading the flu.
  • Paying attention to kids’ temps and whether or not their coughs are productive is important. If a child’s fever seems too high or lasts too long, please call your primary care provider or take your child to the local Emergency Room ASAP.
  • Watch and listen to children’s coughs to make sure the bug doesn’t progress to serious bronchitis or pneumonia. If their coughs are productive check the color of the mucus… clear is good… anything with a yellowish or greenish cast should get a physician’s review.
  • If your child is experiencing difficulty breathing or respiratory distress, call 911.
  • Make sure to keep kids warm and hydrated when they are sick at home. If your child is experiencing repeated bouts of diarrhea with no let-up, call your primary care provider or take your child to the local Emergency Room.Children can become dehydrated quickly and that’s dangerous!
  • Keep track of how well children are eating–if they are not hungry, don’t force them to eat. Lighter meals work better with upset tummies…clear broth, toast, gelatin, ginger ale, salted crackers are in order. It’s probably best to refrain from spicy foods.
  • If children are well and can go out to play, cover their heads with hats, facemasks or scarves, hands (with mittens or gloves) and feet (socks, shoes, boots) when they are headed out doors. This is not the time of year for little toes to walk barefooted–even indoors, vinyl, tile and hardwood floors can be cold.
  • Monitor amount of play time kids spend outdoors–it’s easy when they are bundled up and playing, for them to become overheated under bulky winter snow jackets, etc. Check periodically to make sure children’s clothes and feet are dry and that there are no signs of frostbite on exposed skin. Layering their clothing will help keep them warm.
  • Remember to keep emergency numbers by your telephone.

If the flu bug should arrive at your home, we sincerely hope your family’s experience will be a mild one!

Kids and the Flu Epidemic

Today, throughout America, our population is fighting the flu. Area school systems are discussing whether or not to hold classes due to the flu affecting school children. Merriam Webster‘s primary definition of an epidemic is anything [in this case, a disease] that affects a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community or region at the same time. Dr. Tom Farley, New York City’s Health Commissioner, announced on CNN recently that the flu outbreak has reached epidemic proportions in New York City and he’s not certain if it has peaked!

At this time, 47 states in the continental U.S. are experiencing widespread flu activity, according to CNN, and an incredible increase in the number of visits to hospital emergency rooms by people with flu symptoms, according to Dr. Farley. Some hospitals have set up tents outside their emergency rooms to handle the numbers of “incoming”. A sad and startling reality is, according to the CDC since September 30, 2012, there have been 40 pediatric deaths in the United Statesdue to the flu, at least 20 deaths of children under age ten since January 1, 2013.  “Children are at a higher risk for the flu because their immune systems are not fully developed. Children with chronic health conditions are at even higher risk of getting the flu and experiencing complications.”

Parents and caregivers need to take this year’s flu epidemic seriously. There are several types of flu: Influenza A has been typed in 79% of the specimens and seems to be the heavy hitter with two and possibly three different strains. Influenza B accounts for approximately 20% of the flu specimens which have been typed across the country for the first week of January.

If you and your children (older than 6 months old) have not gotten flu shots, there is still flu vaccine available. CDC says the current flu vaccine is at least 60 percent effective against the flu (CDC, January 11, 2013, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report). You can still get the flu even if you get the shot, but, in Dr. Farley’s opinion, you may get a less virulent version. You still may be able to get the flu shot from your primary care physician, but you also may need to make a phone call or two to locate a source of the vaccine in your area if your primary care provider doesn’t have it. It’s still not too late to be vaccinated and to gain some protection against the flu.

With this year’s flu, fever is usually present, chills are possible, along with headache and moderate-to-severe body aches and fatigue. Rapid onset of symptoms is characteristic of this year’s flu with a 3-to-6 hour incubation period. It feels like a cold coming on, only stronger. Coughs are dry and unproductive, and sore throats are less common, according to the Associated Press (“Do You really Have Flu?”, The Daily News Record, January 14, 2013, Associated Press, Harrisonburg, VA).

Children are getting the flu in inordinate proportions, so parents need to watch out for symptoms and keep kids home from school if a fever is present! Sanjay Gupta, MD, (of CNN) recommends that parents also make sure to “Wash, wash, wash hands!”, not just a cursory rinsing of little hands under water but rub them together with real soap, real water–not just hand-sanitizer for a good two minutes. Gupta says he sings the happy birthday song with his children twice while they are washing their hands, and devotes at least two full minutes to hand-washing each time!

This flu is a bad bug, so we hope those who follow take heed and pass on the precautions that could help keep you and your family from getting it.

How to Minimize the Spread of the Common Cold and Flu Virus

If you have small children at home or children in school, cold viruses can be a big bump in your family’s routine. A cold virus can certainly cause discomfort to the child or adult who is sick, and cause missed pre-school, school and activity time for children, as well as missed working hours for parents. Add to that uncomfortable, sleepless nights, worry (for parents and caregivers) and everyone just feeling down-in-the-dumps. Colds are no fun at all.

There are ways, however, to help keep colds from being spread rampantly throughout the family and beyond your home to school and the community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 80 percent of infectious disease viruses are spread by touch. From your child’s hands, to his mouth and eyes… to the hands of others, and so forth.

Here are a few tips to help keep cold viruses to a minimum and to help your family survive the cold and flu season better:

  • Hand-washing. Supervise little ones, making sure they use warm running water and soap. Hand-washing should be done after sneezing, touching or blowing the nose, and going to and the bathroom, and before eating anything! If you don’t have soap at hand, use hand-sanitizer–and then use soap and water when available.
  • Washing and changing bed linens, towels and children’s clothing is important; wash towels and bed linens frequently that are used by your sick child separately from other children’s things in hot water and detergent.
  • Emptying bathroom and bedroom trash baskets (full of tissues) into plastic garbage bags that are tied and deposited in the garbage. Make sure also to dispose of diapers of children with colds immediately. Flu viruses can spread via feces too.
  • Making sure the surfaces of kitchen counters, bathroom counters, toilets, hand railings, etc., are disinfected with wipes at least once a day.
  • During the duration of your child’s cold, use paper cups in the bathroom that can be trashed, instead of plastic bathroom glasses where germs can reside more permanently.
  • If a child is very small or is teething and has a cold, make sure to wash their pacifier, teething toys and other washable toys in hot water after they use them; and wash their face and hands after a sneeze, thoroughly patting them dry to avoid chapping.
  • Teach children who are old enough to learn to cover their cough or sneeze with their elbow or a tissue–and to place that tissue in another one and then in the trash.
  • Touching the nose, mouth or eyes can spread that cold through the tiniest amounts of mucous, sputum or tears. Often this is the way children pass colds to others.
  • We know it can be nearly impossible, but keeping a very sick child temporarily away from well children is a big help in restricting the spread of a cold virus.
  • Once a cold is over, ditch your child’s contaminated toothbrush and give them a new one, along with clean towels and washcloth.
  • Parents, don’t forget to wash your hands and cover your coughs and sneezes too! You don’t need to be the next target for the flu.

Meanwhile, please try to have a happy, healthy holiday season!

Kids and Hand-washing

Posted by Marianne Frederick

Every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 14,000 cases of shigellosis are reported in the United States. Shigellosis is frequently begun and spread by the infamous bacteria E. Coli, with which we have become all too familiar in recent years with respect to food and food handling safety.

The symptoms of shigellosis are diarrhea, cramping and fever. The illness can last a week or months–and if it lasts too long, it can become dangerous to infants, children, the elderly and those who are already ill or have weakened immune systems. The disease often occurs in child care settings, such as daycare, or in families with small children.

Shigellosis is particularly common and repeatedly causes problems in settings where there is often poor basic hygiene. It can affect entire communities and is more prolific in the summer than in winter. The biggest target for shigellosis is children from age 2 to 4–not to mention the caregivers and family members who care for them. Shigellosis can occur where water or food have been contaminated by the bacteria, it can be spread by consuming contaminated produce–fruits or vegetables. Making municipal water supplies safe and treating sewage are effective measures communities can put in place to combat shigellosis. Washing hands, especially when children have been toileted, is one way parents and caregivers can make sure the disease doesn’t get started or spread. Currently, there is no vaccine against shigellosis, although there is active research toward its development.

CDC suggests the following things parents and caregivers can do to help prevent the spread of Shigellosis:

  • Wash hands frequently and carefully with soap, especially after going to the bathroom, changing diapers, and before and after preparing foods and beverages;
  • Dispose of soiled diapers properly;
  • Disinfect diaper changing areas after using them;
  • Keep children with diarrhea out of child care settings;
  • Supervise hand-washing of toddlers and small children after toileting;
  • Do not prepare food for others while ill with diarrhea;
  • Avoid swallowing water from ponds, lakes, or untreated pools.

Shigellosis can be a very big problem– and hand-washing is an important part of the solution.

Children and Junk Food

Posted by Marianne Frederick

As we look again at the scourge of childhood obesity and early onset Type II diabetes in our families, we need to examine our tendency to choose fast food or junk food over healthier meals. Mac n’ cheese is okay once in awhile, but, it should not be a staple. If “you are what you eat,” your children are what you feed them.

Although I’ve loved French fries since childhood, I know if I eat them regularly I will have a weight problem. French fries are simply fat-drenched potatoes (starch) sprinkled with salt (sodium or potassium chloride). If you break down that silly oh-so-satisfying snack, the potatoes are healthful fiber, but a healthier alternative is bake and top them with plain, low-fat yogurt. We all know that junk food is more often than not, a faster alternative to time-consuming, thoughtful food preparation. Just drive to the local fast-food restaurant and the family can eat in the car, no preparation and little clean-up required! But do you know that an order of French fries can contain 13 grams of fat, 250 calories which is 20% of your daily recommended fat intake?

And as parents and caregivers, unless we change our behavior we can’t expect kids to change theirs. Here are some tips to recognize and avoid–or at least curb–your and your children’s consumption of junk food:

  • Read the labels to help recognize junk food: Candy, cookies, donuts, sugary breakfast cereals, ice cream, soda, sugary “fruit” drinks, food high in salt, foods high in fat, high calorie food with little nutritional value;
  • Take greater control of your family’s diet by planning sit-down meals in advance, so you know what you’re going to buy at the grocery store. This isn’t easy and sometimes the plan falls apart, but even thinking about a plan is a good way to aim to get more of the right things into your and your children’s diets;
  • In your family’s meal plans incorporate more foods low in fat, foods low in saturated fat, foods low in cholesterol, high-fiber foods, including whole grains, vegetables and fruits; foods containing moderate amounts of sugar or salt; calcium-rich foods; and iron-rich foods.
  • Children and adults need some fat in the diet, but better “fats” are unsaturated fats, so read the labels to make sure what you are buying is good to feed your family. Children under 5 years old need only about 45 grams of fat daily; adults need about 65 grams of fat–so note that your children’s fat requirement is less than yours;
  • Buy leaner cuts of meat; and if you buy ground beef, aim for the 90% lean. Incorporate more chicken and fish in your family’s diets. If you purchase pork products, make sure they are lean–most grocery store butchers will trim the fat for you if you ask. Low-fat lunch meats are also a help in supplying lean protein in your family’s diet; bear in mind that bologna and salami can contain more fat than leaner turkey, chicken, or ham.
  • Often high fat foods are “fast foods” like sausage biscuits, double cheeseburgers, nachos, corndogs, enchiladas, thick shakes and super-sized drinks, so you may want to reduce the number of trips to fast food places that don’t offer healthful alternatives such as side salads, grilled chicken or fish, and unsweetened beverages.

Remember, parents and caregivers, regarding your family’s healthful diet, you’re in the driver’ seat!

Kids and Halloween Candy

Posted by Marianne Frederick

Halloween candy can be a genuine treat – or a scary trick – if parents don’t set limits for their children. We’re not thinking as much about childhood obesity right now as we are concerned simply about kids’ candy consumption and what parents can do to discourage the over-consumption of candy. Here are some tips:

  • Serving a healthful meal before kids go trick-or-treating is a great idea, as kids fill up on the good stuff, and then may not be too hungry for candy.
  • Know how much and what kind of candy your child has collected–ours empty their pillow cases brimming with candy, and display their haul on the kitchen table, so we can see what’s wrapped, what isn’t and remove any they should not have.
  • Store your child’s candy somewhere other than in his room! Access to the candy is half of the battle in helping to curb the amount of candy consumed.
  • Be a good role model by only consuming a small amount of candy yourself–and saving some for another day.
  • Encourage your children to be aware of the amount of candy and snacks they eat, and to stop before they are aware of feeling full or ill.
  • Offer non-food Halloween treats, like stickers, small toys and small games (like decks of cards or things you might find in a “party” store). You can always offer sugar-free candy, small bags of pretzels, small bags of popcorn, small boxes of raisins–even small boxes of cereal. Don’t give anything–toys or candy–on which children, especially very young children, could choke.

Schools in some communities have programs where a portion of every child’s wrapped candy can be donated to children in the hospital who didn’t have an opportunity to go trick-or-treating. Call your community hospital to learn if this is a possibility in your area and ask them what kind of candy donations are permitted or if there is a program your child can donate candy to for this purpose.

Make sure to have a safe and happy Halloween!

Study Says Violent Television is Bad for Young Children

Posted by Marianne Frederick

Halloween is almost upon us, and it’s no surprise that primetime television is becoming bloodier and gorier. Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services turned its attention to the problem that violent TV has a marked effect on kids in a less than healthy way, causing kids to have nightmares that keep them from sleeping soundly and getting the good rest they need. Without sound sleep, growing bodies cannot be and stay healthy.

A study performed by Children’s Hospital and University of Washington School of Public Health in Seattle, reviewed by Dr. Michelle Garrison, PhD, MPH, noted the behavior of 565 families, some of whom permitted their young children to watch only non-violent programs such as “Curious George” and “Sesame Street”. After a year, it was observed that children in the study who watched non-violent television shows slept better and with fewer night wakings and less sleep disturbed by nightmares than other children in the study. (The study was published in the journal Pediatrics and funded by the National Institutes of Health.)

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Beat, September 18, 2012, noted Dr. Garrison’s caution that violent cartoons which might be tolerated by older children caused children ages 3 to 5 significant problems sleeping. Dr. Garrison says, “Healthy sleep plays such a critical role in child and adolescent development. We know from previous research that sleep problems can lead to behavior problems, difficulties in school, obesity, and increased injuries.”

So, parents and caregivers, if you are fans of the scarier Halloween shows, it might be best to DVR the Dracula shows and play them for big kids and adults after young children are soundly and peacefully asleep!

Magnetic Toys Still Getting to Children – Parents Beware!

Posted by Marianne Frederick

Parents may remember that in 2009 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the sale of toys for children which contained powerful magnets. The CPSC had received many reports of children having swallowed the magnets which caused the death of at least one child and serious injuries to other young children. While the magnetic toys for children were banned, the manufacturers decided to market the toys differently by making them available as novelty adult desk toys.

The problem remains that young children are still getting hold of them and swallowing them causing some pretty serious stomach and intestinal injuries. Pediatricians have met with the CPSC on several occasions and have even recommended banning them from the marketplace period! Brands of adult magnetic desk toys that have soared in the marketplace are Buckyballs, Magnet Balls, Zen Magnets and NeoCube.

Despite the fact that the novelty magnetic toys are labeled for adults or children older than 14 years of age, they are continuing to reach the very young. Whether mislabeling–as in one K-Mart online listing incorrectly noted the magnetic toys for ages 12 and up–or lack of warnings about the hazards of ingesting the magnetic balls are responsible, pediatricians are concerned that online marketing of the adult magnetic desk toys has made them more popular and more prevalent in the home and, hence, more dangerous to young children who ingest them. According to an article in the September 2012 issue of Consumer Reports,[1] Buckyballs, alone, generate annual sales of $25 million, per CEO Craig Zucker.

The Consumer Reports article also notes that non-profit safety organization, Kids In Danger, indicated in a recent report that at least “38 cases involving BB-sized magnets had been reported since January 2010,” with the results that 17 children required surgery and 8 children required other medical treatment.

The CPSC is honing in on these magnetic novelty adult toys and if pediatricians all over the country get their way, there may be more than just warnings coming down the pike.  Dr. Mark Gilger, chief of pediatric gastroenterology, Texas Children’s Hospital, warns parents, “You shouldn’t have magnets in your home if you have children, and if you suspect a child has swallowed any, seek emergency medical care immediately!”[2] We concur with Dr. Gilger.

Child Safety and Detergent Gel Pods

Posted by Marianne Frederick

The Honorable Charles Schumer, a senior Senator from New York State, has voiced a growing concern to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) about detergent gel pods and young children’s safety. Recently, children have been consuming the gel pods, which look a lot like candy, getting sick and have been hospitalized throughout the U.S.

The Senator has requested the CPSC put forward safety regulations to require safety caps on the pod packaging containers for both dish and clothes washing detergent gel pods. As the detergent gel pod use has increased in the U.S., so have occurrences of young children consuming the gel. The gel pods are small and brightly colored making them attractive to young children. Because their detergent chemical content is extremely concentrated, children who consume them are at risk of becoming ill.

Senator Schumer has been quoted as saying, “The common sense solution to this problem is for manufacturers to make the product less colorful, and for them to use child safe caps on the dispensers,” similar to those commonly used on prescription drug bottles. He also noted, “There is no reason in the world that those protections can’t be used on another product that can be equally dangerous.”