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Today is Melanoma Monday

Monday, May 6th, 2013

I have a confession to make: I haven’t always been good about putting on sunscreen. I remember a few summers in particular—two when I was a lifeguard, the third when I was a canoeing counselor—when I’d hastily slather on a bit of block in the beginning of the summer (never reapplying, of course), then by the end of August, I’d head off to work with perhaps a few dabs on my shoulders and nose. I’ve since reformed my ways, but knowing that 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime makes me wish I had become sunscreen savvy a little sooner.

 

In my effort to take better care of my skin now, I asked Latanya Benjamin, M.D., a dermatologist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Menlo Park, California, to give me (and you!) a quick reminder of sun-safe practices:

  • Look for broad-spectrum sunscreens, which block both UVA and UVB rays, with an SPF between 30 and 50.
  • Check the active ingredients list for titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are especially good for kids’ sensitive skin.
  • Put it on before you leave your house and reapply every two hours. A golf ball’s worth of sunscreen will cover the entire body.
  • Whenever possible, stay inside or seek shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest.
  • In addition to sunscreen, wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and loose fitting, long-sleeved shirts and pants when you’re in the sun.

 

Finally, I also plan to take part in one of the free skin cancer screenings happening in New York in May. It’s sobering to think that just one blistering sunburn in childhood can double your risk of developing melanoma, but since I can’t change my past, it helps to know that, when caught early, skin cancer is very treatable. Find a screening in your area by clicking here.

 

 Image: Mom putting sunscreen on her child via Shutterstock.

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New Guidelines For Introducing Allergenic Foods

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

Throughout my entire childhood (which I bid a fond farewell to roughly a decade ago), I can remember one person I knew with a food allergy—a boy at summer camp who was so allergic to peanuts we couldn’t serve peanut butter in the dining hall. Back then banning peanut butter felt like a foreign concept; today it seems common. I’ve often wondered if the apparent rise in food sensitivities is all in my head. Whether I was just oblivious to friends and classmates who couldn’t eat eggs, nuts, wheat, or other allergenic foods, and whether I’m simply more aware of food allergies now, working at Parents. That doesn’t appear to be the case. According to Food Allergy Research and Education, food allergies are on the rise: The number of people with a food allergy rose 18 percent between 1997 and 2007, and today 1 in 13 kids is affected, or roughly two in every classroom. What if there was a way to stop this trend in its tracks? A recent study from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology suggests parents may be able to do just that, by introducing the most common allergenic foods—cow’s milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish—around the time you start solids, generally between 4 and 6 months. “Food allergies have increased in the last 10 years, and it’s possible that delaying the introduction of allergenic foods has contributed to that,” says study coauthor David Fleischer, M.D., an associate professor of pediatrics at National Jewish Health, in Denver, Colorado. “There’s a window of tolerance for preventing food allergies.”

Before now there haven’t been any updated guidelines on how to give these foods to a child, and some parents may still follow the recommendations from 13 years ago, which advised against offering your child cow’s milk until age 1, eggs until age 2, and nuts and fish until age 3. But after looking over past research, Dr. Fleischer says it’s safe—and beneficial—to introduce these foods earlier, with a couple exceptions. Children with moderate to severe eczema, which puts them at higher risk for food allergies, and those who’ve already had a reaction to an allergenic food should see an allergist before trying any of the above (and below!) mentioned foods.

Now, without further ado, the most recent advice for introducing cow’s milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish:

  • Do not offer your child one of these highly allergenic foods as the first solid. Begin with rice or oat cereal, vegetables, or fruit to see how your child handles them. Once you’ve successfully introduced a few of these foods, you can begin to offer foods like fish, eggs, and yogurt.
  • The first time you introduce an allergenic food, give it to your child at home, rather than at day care or a restaurant. If there is no apparent reaction—including hives, a rash, swelling, breathing problems, vomiting, or diarrhea—continue to offer the food to your child, gradually increasing the amount.
  • Offer one new food every 3 to 5 days if you don’t see any reactions.
  • Continue to avoid whole cow’s milk until age 1, but not because of allergy risk—it can lead to kidney complications and may affect iron levels in the body. Cheese, yogurt, and milk-based formulas are fine to offer.
  • Peanuts and tree nuts pose a choking risk, so should not be offered before age 1, but nut butters are safe. If you have an older child with a nut allergy, see an allergist before offering peanut butter to your younger child—he’s at an increased risk for developing a peanut allergy.

 

Image: Spoon and jar of peanut butter

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Dreaming of the Beach

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Listening to the radio this morning, I hear that it’s 13 degrees in New York City, but it feels like 4. As I grab a thicker sweater, my mind drifts to warmer days—specifically a weekend in October I spent on Emerald Isle in the Southern Outer Banks in North Carolina. I arrived late at night, and though I couldn’t see the beach when I got to the house in which I’d be staying, I was greeted with the sound of the waves and the refreshing smell of the salty air.

The view from my room.

After a restful night’s sleep, I awoke to a view of the sun rising over the beach. Ah. Heaven! I would’ve loved to have sipped coffee on my room’s balcony, but there was no time to sit and stare (plus, there’d be time for that later. I soon realized that staying in a rented beach house, with it’s mix of privacy and luxury, is a nice change of pace to my usual resort vacations). After a quick breakfast with a few fellow journalists who were also touring N.C., we were off to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. Once there, I gazed at the various swimming creatures, pet a couple rays in the touch pool, and took part in the Sea Turtle Rescue exhibit, where I assessed the ailments of a (plastic) turtle and diagnosed it with hypothermia. How appropriate. I’d welcome the blanket I used to treat the little guy now!

Me, posing at the aquarium!

Later that day, we took a boat ride to Cape Lookout National Seashore where we had a picnic lunch on the beach to fuel our 207-step climb to the top of Cape Lookout Lighthouse. From our new perspective we gawked at the gorgeous view of sand, sparkling ocean, and the wild horses galloping on a nearby island.

Looking at the lighthouse before our climb. It wasn’t as strenuous as I expected!

 

After our descent, we got back on the boat and headed for home. About midway back to shore, a team (school? Pod?) of dolphins surrounded us! The playful fellas jumped and squeaked, seemingly pleased to pose for our cameras.

Click to watch a video of the dolphins!

The following day we got up early and headed to Hot Wax Surf Shop for a stand-up paddle-boarding lesson. Don’t let the picture fool you—we did make it out on the water! We were doing great, despite it being all of our first times, until the Coast Guard cruised by and knocked us all down with the waves created by their boat! There was no harm done, though, and we all had a good laugh, got back onto our boards, and continued paddling.

The beginning of our lesson.

After drying off and freshening up, the gang headed to historic Beaufort (the third oldest town in North Carolina) where we heard about the history on a double-decker bus tour. It’s a quaint town right on the water that started as a fishing village. (Side note: If you’re a fan of fishing, the Outer Banks is the place for you! I took a run on the beach each day of my trip and dodged happy-looking fishermen, -women, and -children the whole way.) Okay, back to Beaufort: Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to spend there but other highlights are the Maritime Museum, tours of restored historic buildings, and a yummy fudge shop (okay, I may have made the time to sample some fudge).

The group in front of the double-decker bus.

Later that evening, we were treated to a 5-course catered dinner at our vacation house, where we raised a glass to a great stay in North Carolina!

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It’s Not Too Late For New Year’s Resolutions, Right?

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

This is a photo of me from a few years ago before the More/Fitness Half Marathon, an all female race in New York City. It was pouring rain that day, but as you can see from the smile on my face, I was pumped. I wasn’t always so jazzed about running, though. I took it up my freshman year of college and I hated (I repeat HATED) those first couple months. I couldn’t run fast. I couldn’t run far. It sucked. But for whatever reason (probably fear of the infamous Freshman 15), I kept with it, and somewhere along the way I actually started looking forward to lacing up my sneaks and hitting the pavement.

Fast forward to January 2011, well after my college days, my love affair with running was in full swing, and I had one marathon, two halfs, and countless shorter races under my belt. Then I tore the cartilage in my knee. I remember the first thing I said after the doctor gave me the bad news was, “When can I run again?” And though he assured me I’d only be sidelined for a couple months, it took me a long time to get over my fear of reinjuring myself. Even after I had successfully reacquainted myself with running, and despite my feelings of jealousy every time I heard anyone talk of training for a half or full marathon, I was still terrified of attempting another long distance race…

…until now. I finally realized I’d never know if I’m still able to run long distances until I try, so this past weekend I began training for this year’s More/Fitness Half Marathon. I’m taking it slow, though, and will be using RunCoach as my guide. When I signed up for the program, I created a profile with my running history and got a plan customized for me. I’m sure I’ll miss workouts here and there—because of lack of motivation or if my knee is bothering me—but the thing I like about RunCoach is that I can adjust my training schedule and it’ll change up my routine and get me back on track. And if I have questions about stretching or warm ups (two things I’ve always been terrible about doing), I can email the folks at RunCoach for advice.

So now, at the end of January, I’ve made my New Year’s resolution. And no, it’s not to get back into distance racing. It’s to live by the motto, you never know unless you try. If my knee starts to hurt too much, I’ll stop training. But I’m no longer letting fear of the unknown hold me back from seeing what I’m capable of—in running, at my job, in everything. What’s holding you back from doing what you want to do?

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What Does it Mean to Make a Difference?

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Tomorrow is National Make a Difference Day, a day when people of all ages are encouraged to get out and volunteer in their communities (you can find service events in your area here).  Projects range from planting trees to volunteering at a food bank to painting a preschool. And while, of course, helping out in this way is necessary and awesome and encouraged, the concept also made me think about the little ways we make a difference in each other’s lives everyday. The things we do that maybe we don’t even give a second thought to.

 

Think back and recall the times in your life when someone did something for you that, to this day, still means something to you. For me, a couple things spring to mind. The first was when I first moved to New York City and knew very few people. There was a man who stood at my subway stop and gave out newspapers, but more importantly, he greeted everyone with a smile and a warm, genuine, “Good morning.” Those who frequented that station often took a break from their commute to stop and chat with him. As someone who was still uncertain what I was doing in a big, bustling city, it helped to have a reminder that there are kind people wherever you go, even in a place thought to be the most neurotic and unfriendly in America by a survey of 620,000 people. The other act of kindness that stands out is when I was running a marathon 5 years ago. My friend’s father was also running it, and at around the 20-mile mark, when I was s-t-r-u-g-g-l-i-n-g, he came up from behind me and ran with me the rest of the way. He didn’t do anything especially out of the ordinary. He just stuck with me (when he could easily have run ahead of me and gotten a better time), talked to me, and took my mind off the ache in my legs. I didn’t ask him to run with me, but it was exactly what I needed at the time.

 

I’ll bet you’re making a difference in your child’s life by doing things you don’t give a second thought, too: Making him stick to his bedtime so he gets a good night’s sleep, giving him a hug, or offering him an apple instead of the cookies that he’d prefer. These things may be small, your child may even resent you (now) for a couple of them, but they matter.

 

Who would you like to thank for making a difference in your life? Big or small, share your stories of kindness in the comments. And go out and pay it forward tomorrow (or any ol’ day) by volunteering, bringing new parents in your neighborhood a home cooked meal, or greeting others with a friendly smile.

 

Image: “Make a Difference” stickie.

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Modern Family’s Julie Bowen Talks About Her Son’s Allergies

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

A few days after her Emmy win, I had a chance to chat with actress Julie Bowen but, following a quick congratulations, asked her to switch gears from an exciting moment in her life, to one that was downright scary. When Bowen’s oldest son, Oliver, was a toddler, his face and neck swelled up after eating a bit of peanut butter, and he began having trouble breathing. He was rushed to the emergency room. “My husband and I thought we knew a lot about children and food allergies,” says Bowen. But after his allergic reaction, “we realized how little we knew. That wasn’t even his first exposure to peanuts.” Luckily, Oliver, who is also allergic to bee stings, recovered quickly, but for Bowen, it was a wake-up call.

Now she’s taking part in the Get Schooled in Anaphylaxis initiative, which aims to increase awareness of and preparedness for allergic reactions in school. Bowen says that, in a way, it was helpful that Oliver had such a strong reaction: “We knew right away to take him to the emergency room.” But sometimes symptoms can be more subtle. Your child may experience dizziness, headaches, chest pain, trouble breathing, an itchy throat, nausea, or a rash, among other things.

The best way to cut down on the risk is to avoid allergic triggers, but of course, accidents can happen. So what can you do? First, know the most common causes of anaphylaxis: cow’s milk, eggs, nuts, fish, soybeans, and wheat, as well as non-food triggers such as insect stings, certain medications, and latex. Children who are younger than 3, have a family member with allergies or asthma, or other predisposition are more likely to develop allergies. If your child has one, find out if his school has a prevention and treatment policy, and meet with the school nurse to discuss an action plan in case of anaphylaxis. Even young children can look out for themselves, as well.

“Oliver is his own best advocate,” says Bowen, of her now 5 year old. “He never puts anything he’s never had before in his mouth without asking, and he always asks a grown-up to read him the ingredients label.” When I seemed impressed by his proactive attitude, Bowen told me that, for younger kids, having an allergy can make them feel cool and special. As they get older, they may start to feel like an outsider. That’s why Bowen makes sure her son understands his allergies are just another characteristic, like having red hair or blue eyes. She tells Oliver, “You can’t eat nuts and, if you get stung by a bee, you need to get immediate attention,” then moves on. “I don’t want it to define him, but I do want it to be part of his everyday awareness.”

Today, Oliver keeps a prescription epinephrine auto-injector with him wherever he goes, and Bowen makes sure that, if he’s not with her or her husband, somebody knows how to use it. Aside from that, she says, “We really encourage Oliver to do the things kids love, like taking part in recess and play dates.” (Or perhaps attending awards shows with his mom?) And with a few precautions, there’s no reason he can’t!

Photo: www.anaphylaxis101.com

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Today is Worldwide Recess Day

Friday, September 14th, 2012

When I moved from rural Ohio to New York City, I bid a teary goodbye to my daily dose of shady trees, green lawns, and deer frolicking outside my dorm window (I’m speaking literally here. The deer were out there daily). That environment just begged to be enjoyed, and I took full advantage, running and biking almost daily on a nearby bike path. Now that I spend the majority of my time in an office building, I appreciate more than ever the importance of breaking away from my desk for some fresh air and vitamin D. Though I’ve traded in trees for skyscrapers, grass for concrete, and…I’m not going to go into what critters I’ve traded deer in for…any amount of sunshine does wonders for my mood and productivity, and even a 10-minute trip to Central Park is enough to put a spring in my step and a smile on my face. This isn’t just me lamenting the loss of a natural playground just outside my door. Science backs me up: Studies have found that a mere five minutes of outdoor exercise can improve self-esteem and mood, and children with ADHD seem to focus better after being outdoors. Heck, one study even found that spinal surgery patients felt less pain and stress, and took fewer pain medications during their recoveries if they were exposed to natural light.

That’s why I plan to take part in KEEN’s Worldwide Recess Day today. Just take a minimum of 10 minutes out of your day to go for a walk or play tag with your kids. If you live near a KEEN store, a company that “designs footwear, bags, and socks that enable you to play anyplace without a ceiling,” they’re hosting games of four-square, hop scotch, and tetherball around the country and around the world. To further encourage the 10-minute breather, they’re asking their fans to post images of their recess-capades with the tag #take10 on Instagram or Twitter, and offering a pair of KEEN shoes to one photo-poster every hour.

Leave a note in the comments letting us know what you did for your recess! I’m planning to take a walk in my neighborhood after dinner.

Image: Mom and child playing outside via Shutterstock

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Window Blind Safety Tips Following Recall

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Blind Xpress are recalling 139,000 custom-made vertical and 315,000 horizontal blinds, following the death of a 2-year-old girl in Commerce Township, Michigan. The child was strangled in the loop of a vertical blind cord that was not attached to the floor or wall.

 

It’s best to install cordless blinds in your child’s bedroom or play space, but as a reminder, the Window Covering Safety Council (WCSC) offers these additional safety tips:

  • Place your child’s crib, bed, furniture, and toys as far from windows and window cords as possible.
  • Keep all window cords out of your child’s reach. Make sure that tasseled pull cords are short, continuous-loop cords are permanently anchored to the floor or wall, and cord stops are properly installed and adjusted to limit the inner lift cord’s movement.
  • When you lower horizontal blinds or shades, lock the cords into position.

 

The WCSC also recommends that parents replace all window coverings made before 2001 with newer designs that meet today’s safety standards. A great goal as we head into National Window Coverings Safety Month in October!

 

Image: Window blind via CPSC

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