Archive for the ‘ Must Read ’ Category

Protecting Young Athletes’ Arms

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

This guest blog is from Glenn S. Fleisig, Ph.D., research director of the American Sports Medicine Institute.

You can hardly look at the sports headlines today without seeing that another star pitcher has blown out his elbow and is heading for the dreaded “Tommy John surgery,” which will sideline him for at least a year and perhaps curtail his career. Roughly 25 to 30 major league pitchers have the surgery every year, and one out of four has had it during his career.

This may naturally lead parents to wonder whether baseball is a dangerous sport—not just for pros, but for our kids.

The answer: Absolutely not. Baseball is a great sport and generally a safe one, especially when the proper guidelines are followed. Based upon nearly 30 years of research at the American Sports Medicine Institute, my colleagues and I have identified key factors for pitchers to minimize their risk of injury.

Last year Major League Baseball (MLB) formed a task force of medical and scientific experts, including me, to look at pitching injuries and take action to make the sport safer. The first thing we found was that Tommy John elbow injuries are indeed on the rise in pro baseball. Our opinion was that these injuries to “the big boys” are directly connected to a sharp rise in elbow and shoulder injuries among adolescent pitchers. Our task force concluded that the best way to prevent pitching was to make recommendations for all levels of baseball—from youth leagues on up to the Majors. MLB then teamed up with USA Baseball to launch a new initiative, including a website of recommendations, called Pitch Smart.

One of its key components is recommended limits for pitch counts and rest between pitching outings. The frequency and amount of pitching has been scientifically proven to be a key factor in determining who gets hurt versus who stays healthy. So kids 8 and under should be limited to a maximum of 50 pitches followed by two full days of rest before pitching again, while 9- to 10-year-olds should max out at 75 pitches, followed by four off days for recovery. (The limits gradually increase as a player gets older.)

How to Pitch Like a Big Leaguer
How to Pitch Like a Big Leaguer
How to Pitch Like a Big Leaguer

Pitch Smart provides a number of other safety recommendations that center on what to do to protect your child’s arm: avoid pitching with arm fatigue, avoid pitching on multiple teams (like a traveling and a school team) with overlapping schedules, and avoid playing both pitcher and catcher (since these two positions put the most stress on the arm). Young pitchers should also wait to throw curveballs and sliders and take at least a four-month break each year from competitive pitching.

Prevention of arm overuse is more important now than ever before. When I was a kid many moons ago, my brother Wayne (a current member of Parents board of advisors) and I would play sports with our friends year-round. Sometimes it was organized play, like the school baseball team or the town soccer league. More often than not, though, it was simply free play with friends in the neighborhood.

Clearly times have changed. No longer do most young kids wander out with the simple instructions from Mom and Dad to “Be home by dinnertime” or “Be home by dark.” Free play has been replaced by organized, adult-supervised activities including travel teams and private lessons. Although the current system was created with the best intentions, it has significantly increased the risk of overuse injuries.

Besides educating parents about safe baseball practices, Pitch Smart is also engaging the baseball organizations themselves. Major League Baseball and USA Baseball recently announced the development of a program designed to assist the public in identifying organizations that have adopted our guidelines and principles. The list of compliant organizations includes Little League Baseball, Perfect Game, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI), and Dixie Baseball Boys and Majors.

It’s exciting to see how many organizations, coaches, and parents are turning to Pitch Smart for guidance. The idea behind it is straightforward and logical: Let your kids be kids. Let them play baseball and many other sports, get physical activity, and have fun—while staying healthy, so they can stay on the field.

Glenn S. Fleisig, Ph.D., is the research director of the American Sports Medicine Institute. He is an advisor for Major League Baseball, USA Baseball, Little League Baseball, Motus Global, and MomsTEAM Institute.

Photo of boy pitching via Shutterstock

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Why You Should Think Twice Before Your Next Manicure

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

Pregnant women are told to be careful when they get their nails done, to bring their own non-toxic nail polish from home. But according to a series in The New York Times it turns out the people at most risk at nail salons are the women who give us our manicures and pedicures.

I have long said that there is only one aspect of life in NYC that is less expensive than anywhere else in the country: manicures and pedicures. Within three blocks of my Brooklyn apartment I can get a manicure at four different nail salons for $10 or less. A pedicure will run me about $15. In the summer I get a pedicure every two weeks, and I sometimes bring my 9 year-old daughter with me. She likes to get alternating colors on her fingernails, and she was so excited when her feet finally reached the whirlpool in the pedicure chair.

While nail services are dirt cheap here in New York, for many moms, no matter where they live, a mani-pedi is an affordable luxury. It’s pampering that helps us feel a little better about ourselves without breaking the bank. Which is what made the recent New York Times stories so horrifying.

The reporters for the Times spoke with salon workers and doctors to reveal that many of the workers, almost all women, suffer from long-term health problems caused by the chemicals they wield to make people like me look a little more polished. They are suffering from cancer, lung diseases, and debilitating skin injuries. Even more heartbreaking, some women have discovered they can’t carry a baby to term, or the children they do have suffer from cognitive and physical disabilities.

Really, we shouldn’t be surprised. Solvents, polishes, and acrylics – all ubiquitous in nail salons – are full of known dangerous chemicals. Three chemicals in particular seem particularly bad. One is listed as a reproductive toxin. Another can “adversely affect the developing fetus” according to Environmental Protection Agency. A third chemical is formaldehyde, a confirmed human carcinogen. In 2016 formaldehyde will be illegal in cosmetics in the European Union. But apparently we’re just not that concerned about it over here.

And not only are these salon workers risking their health and the lives of their unborn children, they’re doing it for incredibly low wages. Most are paid below minimum wage, and sometimes they’re not paid at all. Yes, tips make up some of the difference, but not enough to pay a living wage. One salon in Manhattan pays manicurists only $10 a day. Most of these women don’t speak much English, and some are in the country illegally. That gives them very little power to speak up.

Let me quickly add that while the situation is dire in New York, this is a national problem. There are over 17,000 nail salons across the country, and chances are if you think your manicure is a bargain it’s exactly the opposite for the woman doing your nails. Sarah Maslin Nir, the lead reporter on the Times’ stories, says the greatest lesson she learned doing her reporting is that, “There’s no such thing as a cheap luxury. It’s an oxymoron. The only way that you can have something decadent for a cheap price is by someone being exploited.”

My first reaction, of course, is that I should start doing my own nails at home. But, if I do that and everyone else does that these women will make even less money, which doesn’t seem like an ideal outcome. The Times offered three suggestions for being a “socially conscious nail salon customer”, but, frankly, the first two seem unrealistic. Yes, it would be a good idea to interview my manicurist to find out how much her base salary is. But, honestly I can’t imagine doing that while her boss stands nearby.

The best suggestion is probably the third one: Pay more, since the lower the price of the service the higher the probability that workers are making rock-bottom wages. But then, of course, nail services become more of a special occasion treat, at least for me.

The good news is that the stories spurred action. New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced emergency measures to protect exploited salon workers including inspecting salons, instituting new wage and health rules, and launching a multi-language campaign to educate workers about their rights.

I doubt change will come overnight, though. For my part I am going to do my nails at home more and do some research to find an ethical salon to patronize. I won’t forget these women’s stories the next time my nails need a little TLC. After all, what may be a cheap luxury for me is costing these women something of incalculable value—their health and well-being.

Jenna Helwig is Parents‘ food editor and the author of the cookbooks Real Baby Food and Smoothie-licious. Follow her on Twitter.

Household Chores During Pregnancy: Safe or Not?
Household Chores During Pregnancy: Safe or Not?
Household Chores During Pregnancy: Safe or Not?

Image: Manicure via Shutterstock

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Tags: | Categories: Must Read, News, Safety, The Parents Perspective

My Daughter Eats Better By Following The Traffic Lights

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

Childhood obesity is a big problem (pun intended). One out of three children and adolescents in this country are considered obese or overweight based on their body-mass index (BMI). In our pages we’ve talked about the root causes: the activity deficit caused by today’s sedentary lifestyle—less walking to school, less gym and recess, more game-playing; unhealthy eating, characterized by excessive consumption of processed, high-fat, high-sugar foods; and a general lack of awareness or acknowledgement among parents whose kids weigh too much relative to their size and age (defined as being above the 85th percentile in BMI)—a red flag that they may be heading for a weight problem.

On this last point I speak from personal experience. My 10-year-old daughter has always been an active child. She dances five days a week and would do so even more if she had time. She lives in Manhattan, which is to say she does plenty of walking. Despite all this exercise, she has struggled with her weight in the past couple of years. Previous generations might have dismissed the extra pounds as “baby fat” she’d outgrow. At checkups, the pediatrician has talked to her about portion control and cutting down on sweets. But we couldn’t come up with an easy, guilt-free way to put these strategies into action. When she asked for help in making smarter choices, we realized we needed some guidance.

That’s why I was so intrigued by Kurbo, a new online weight-loss program for kids ages 8 to 18. Based on 30 years of pediatric weight-loss programs at Stanford University and SUNY Buffalo, Kurbo aims to change your child’s relationship with food and help her become a more mindful eater. The concept is simple: Every food is categorized like a traffic light. Fresh fruits and vegetables are green (good to go!). Yellow-light foods (1% milk, pasta, lean ground beef) are fine as long as you use caution. And red-light foods (fries, cookies, sweetened drinks) need to be reduced.

Kurbo has a three-tiered approach to achieving change. A coach chats with you and your child weekly to review food choices and exercise for the past week and discuss upcoming goals. A virtual coach provides smart food suggestions based on previous choices. And a mobile app lets your child track what she eats each day (along with offering games and weekly challenges). The cost is $25 per month per month for the basic service (in which you communicate by text) and $75 if you want weekly one-on-one video-coaching sessions.

My daughter was reluctant to try out Kurbo at first. But as soon as she “met” Esther Levy, her coach (and a former dancer), she was sold on the idea. Esther started her with a weekly “allowance” of 42 reds, then began to whittle it down. Within 12 weeks, she was down to 28. Logging her daily intake on her iPod touch (the app works on Apple iOS and Android) proved far easier than I imagined. The app was intuitive, and she quickly made entering the data after dinner part of her routine.

Esther was enthusiastic and supportive throughout, praising her progress and brushing aside little slipups (hello, Thanksgiving!). She helped us devise strategies for making little changes every week—from adding fruit to breakfast to suggesting “yellow light” snacks to replace the sugarcoated cereal that had once been an afternoon staple. Eventually, the meetings became shorter and almost seemed superfluous. By then my daughter knew which foods to limit, and was eating better on her own—without nagging and only occasional reminders. She’d take a piece of white bread, then put it back, saying, “I’ve decided to make a smart food decision. This isn’t worth wasting a red on.”

Two months later, she has mainly kept up her revamped habits: limiting desserts to weekends, cutting down on her carbs, eating healthier cereals. I can’t say it’s had a magical effect on her weight. But she’s curbed her pattern of gaining, and, more important, she looks and feels better. My daughter still points out wistfully that some friends can eat all kinds of junk and stay super skinny. She doesn’t have that luxury. But making the necessary changes now will go a long way toward ensuring that she won’t need to worry about her weight in the future.

David Sparrow is a senior editor at Parents and a dad of two.

How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids

Image courtesy of Kurbo

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Friday Night Tykes Is Mesmerizing (And Scary)!

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

I didn’t watch the first season of Friday Night Tykes, a documentary series chronicling the ultra-competitive Texas Youth Football Association (TYFA). I had heard about it—the intensity, the injuries, the cussing—but I figured that having seen Dance Moms with my 10-year-old daughter, it would be a testosterone-fueled version of that popular reality show. Boy, was I wrong.

The 20-minute preview of the second season, which begins tonight on Esquire Network, is like nothing you’ve ever seen before (even if, like me, you are a sports parent who has coached your kid for years). It depicts 10- and 11-year-olds being put through a training regimen that puts many high school athletes to shame. They complete endless tackling drills in searing heat, in which the object is to hurl your teammate to the ground. As a 10-year-old lies on the ground in agony, a coach tells him, “If you can’t play with pain, you’re in the wrong sport.” Another says having feelings is a “girl thing” that has no place on the gridiron.

During a game, one coach removes a center that has made two errant snaps and yells, “What the f— are you doing?” I quickly lost count of the number of curses, but I can tell you that the coaches hurl expletives at their players, the referees, and each other with alarming regularity. It paints a brutal picture—of the state of youth sports in America; of the parents who allow their kids to be verbally harangued and put them at risk of serious injury (not to mention burnout) in pursuit of a long term, long-shot college or NFL dream; of the well-meaning but sometimes misguided coaches, who push these young kids so hard to win at all costs.

And yet, at the post-screening forum, I was surprised by the muted reaction of the panelists, including ex-NFL stars Tiki Barber (now a CBS sports radio host) and Bart Scott (now an NFL analyst) as well as psychotherapist Robi Ludwig, Psy.D. All agreed that the footage was difficult to watch at times. The show’s executive producer Matt Maranz, said the show is designed to provoke debate on “how far is too far, how young is to young, to push kids.” But when the moderator, ESPN commentator Jeremy Schaap, asked if the footage amounted to child abuse, all three replied no.

Barber conceded that the use of profanity around kids this age is wrong, and that coaches should keep in mind that not everyone—even highly motivated young athletes—responds best to yelling. Dr. Ludwig, though, pointed out that the coaches were likely revisiting the methods they had experienced when they were players, and that despite their hard words they truly meant the best for the children in their charge.

As far as the safety of having kids participate in full-contact drills and play tackle football as early as age 7 (as they do in the TYFA), opinion was divided. Schaap pointed to research suggesting that concussions are particular dangerous to young children, whose skulls are thinner and more vulnerable than those over age 12. Barber, whose 12-year-old has already suffered a concussion, supports his son’s right to play. “The key is  educating him and making sure he follows the proper protocol if he has a head injury,” Barber says.

Scott, who in the past had said he wouldn’t want his child playing football due to the risks, now coaches his 7-year-old. “Once he decided to play, I knew he would be safer if I taught him the proper technique for tackling and falling so he doesn’t get hurt,” says Scott.

Scott and Barber were both playing pee-wee football by age 9, so neither is shocked by the physical nature of the youth game depicted in the series. Scott, who grew up in a tough neighborhood in Detroit, believes the backlash against the show is due in part to the fact that American kids today are too soft. “They need to learn how to work hard and push the limits,” he says. “And I like that this league doesn’t give everyone a trophy or make sure they get equal playing time. You earn it on the playing field.”

Scott makes a valid point about our “everyone’s a winner” mentality. I can’t say I agree that grade-schoolers are ready to work out ’till they vomit or to be instructed by a coach before a game to “rip their freakin’ head off and let them bleed.” But I do recommend you tune in and make your own judgments. It’s riveting TV, even if you often need to cover your eyes.

How to Pitch Like a Big Leaguer
How to Pitch Like a Big Leaguer
How to Pitch Like a Big Leaguer

Photo courtesy of Esquire TV

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Adopting Older Children: What You Need to Know

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Adopting Older ChildrenNovember is National Adoption Month, and there are over 100,000 children in foster care in the United States alone who are eligible to be adopted. The average age of children waiting for families is 10 years old. However, more often than not, prospective parents bypass older children.

In their new book, Adopting Older Children: A Practical Guide to Adopting and Parenting Children Over Age Four, co-authors Stephanie Bosco-Ruggiero, Gloria Russo Wassell, and Victor Groza dispel some of the myths about parenting older adopted children, and delve into both its unique challenges and rewards. Some of the benefits of adopting an older child:

There are typically fewer restrictions compared to adopting an infant. While single prospective parents, lower-income families, same-sex partners, and older couples may face challenges adopting babies, they’re typically much more welcome by public agencies to adopt an older child. Also, while families can wait up to a decade to adopt an infant, older children can be adopted more quickly.

There are trained professionals, adoptive parent support groups, and other help available to guide parents through the unique challenges of adopting an older child. These challenges may include past trauma, grief and loss, attachment issues, and developmental delays. Adoptive parents can feel better knowing that there is an understanding community available to answer their questions and appreciate their concerns. While love may not solve every problem a child might have, the authors contend that with adequate post-placement services, most older child adoptions can succeed.

We’re a Match! 3 Families Share Their Adoption Stories

The cost of adopting older children is considerably less than adopting an infant. Also, many post-placement services and benefits to parents who’ve adopted domestically in the U.S. are free or covered by insurance. These include medical, dental, and vision care; physical or occupational therapy; and tuition reduction. Most older children adopted from the public welfare system come with an adoption subsidy to help meet the child’s needs. There are often reduced fees for intercountry adoption of older children.

Adopting a child of any age can help parents to grow personally and culturally, as well as to make them much-needed advocates for needy children all over the world. This type of growth is influential on all children, but especially adopted children looking for role models.

Image courtesy of New Horizon Press

Adopting a Child with Spina Bifida
Adopting a Child with Spina Bifida
Adopting a Child with Spina Bifida

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