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Wednesday, October 15th, 2014
That’s the question I’ve been asking myself and likely you have too if you saw or watched the NBC News Report last week, which linked more than 30 cases of cancer among soccer players to the fact that they played on artificial turf. My kids are still in elementary school and don’t play on artificial turf very often now. But if they stick with soccer as I suspect that they will, they will be on it a lot. Perhaps several hours a day, several times a week. And my son — who I know will play some sort of field sport as a middle or high schooler — will play not just on my town’s turf, but on neighboring towns’ too, as artificial turf is becoming more and more popular across the country. And like the players in the NBC story, he will come home with the tire crumb in his uniform, in his hair, and even in his belly after ingesting it during a big play/tackle/save/what have you. And all I can think is, That’s it. He’s not playing any field sports!
Oh, I know that is not rational thinking. And I realize the many wonderful benefits there are to playing a sport. But as a mother, the stories of those goalies with cancer are just as compelling and frankly, they are so scary that I just couldn’t put it in the same bucket with all those other Many Things Out There We Parents Can’t Control. I kept coming back to this simple question: What if in 10 years my son is diagnosed with cancer and I KNEW this information and yet I did nothing? How could I live with myself?
To get some perspective, I went to an expert in pediatric environmental health: Joel Forman, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC. He brought me off the ledge, a bit. He points out that we’ll never be able to prove that the goalies’ cancers were caused by the artificial turf. But we’ll also never be able to prove that they aren’t. “There are just so many gaps in the data as to what the long term affects might be,” he says. “We just don’t know. We’ll probably never know.” And it’s not just that we won’t know about cancer, he notes. We likely won’t ever know for sure if any of other multitude of chemicals in the turf cause any other problems in our kids, either.
Okay; not so reassuring. But as parents, we can be more aware. First of all, it’s important to know what type of artificial turf your child is playing on (or will play on in the future). The surface that is under scrutiny here is “tire crumb” or “crumb rubber”. It’s basically a surface that is made up of used tires with fake grass coming out of it. (The grass itself used to be made with lead — thankfully, that is no longer the case.) Tire Crumb is a popular choice in fields across the country because as you can imagine, there are a lot of old tires out there that could otherwise be taking up space in landfills. The trouble though, as Dr. Forman points out, You don’t know where those tires have been. “Think of all these tires running around on different vehicles collecting pollution, exhaust. The list of chemicals in those tires is just so long.” (You can see the list here collected by the EPA; some of which are known carcinogens and/or have been linked to cognitive delays or other problems in children.)
The best thing to do? Replace the crumb rubber with a substance we do know more about. Coconut husks. Cork. Sand. Even plastic. New York City uses a turf called SandFlex (the city banned crumb rubber infill in their fields in 2008.) And the NFL is using a substance called TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) which is basically plastic and new rubber (not recycled tires). While Dr. Forman points out that none of them have been studied either, this is what convinced me: “At least you know what you’re getting. You don’t have this long list of compounds like you do with used tires.”
Replacing the turf in your town or school’s field may not be easy to do. Especially if your town just built a gorgeous new field made with crumb rubber infill like a lot of communities have. But if they haven’t, suggest that they look at alternatives. And perhaps even if they have. After all, I would hate to have to look my son in the eye one day and say Yes, we knew about this. We all talked about it for days, weeks. It totally went viral back in the day. But we didn’t do anything about it.
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Wednesday, September 17th, 2014
We’re big football fans in my house, and each Sunday during football season my husband, two sons, and I proudly don the purple jerseys of our hometown team, the Minnesota Vikings. But as a fan, a woman, and a mom, I’ve been distressed and disgusted by what’s going on in the league right now. (Today’s decision to “indefinitely bench” the Vikings’ star running back, Adrian Peterson, while he addresses child abuse allegations is the right decision in my mind.)
Given the current state of affairs, it was heartening to actually read something positive about an NFL team recently—even if it’s one I don’t normally want to win. During the preseason, the Cincinnati Bengals cut defensive tackle Devon Still, but then signed him to the practice squad so he could keep his health insurance—something that’s important for any player, but especially one who has a 4-year-old daughter fighting cancer. Then, the team did something even more heartwarming: it announced that all proceeds of sales from Still’s jersey would benefit Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and pediatric cancer care and research. And then Still was added back to the official roster—thus ensuring that there will be more interest in the jerseys.
As Today.com reported, after the announcement about the jerseys was made, single-day sales of Still’s number 75 set a team record, according to Bengals director of sales and public affairs Jeff Berding. To date, more than $400,000 has been raised thanks to the jerseys. (If you can’t afford to buy a jersey, there are other ways to help the cause, too, including a Still Strong T-Shirt and website where you can pledge your support: Help the Bengals Sack Pediatric Cancer.)
A cynic might say that Still’s re-signing was a good PR move for a league in dire need of some positive publicity. But to me, the reasons don’t really matter. What matters is this: a dad is able to help his daughter get the treatment she needs, and a worthy cause is getting much-needed publicity and funds. Touchdown.
Image: Devon Still/Instagram
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Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014
Obesity affects at least 18 percent of all children in the United States—triple the rate of a generation ago. While much of the focus has been on the poor dietary habits of our kids, the truth is that exercise (or lack thereof) is just as big a factor. Most kids don’t come close to the 60-minutes-a-day ideal for exercise, and schools aren’t helping much. As we reported, third graders average just 69 minutes per week of gym class, a fraction of the 150 recommended for that age group. Factor in the absence of recess in our testing-crazed academic environment, the increased time demands of homework, and children’s obsession (like ours) with all things electronic, and it’s little wonder they’re falling short—and getting bigger.
So as we embark on National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, it’s nice to know that some organizations are taking an active approach to the problem. On Monday, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) held a youth tennis exhibition prior to that day’s action at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, New York. The purpose was to highlight the organization’s youth tennis initiative, 10 and Under Tennis, which shortens the court and lessens the bounce (via softer, spongier balls) for kids starting with the game.
The USTA has installed more than 13,000 youth-sized courts around the country and now holds all officially sanctioned tournaments for kids under 10 on them. It’s an investment in the future of the game that helped boost youth participation by 12 percent last year—and, more important, has made a difficult, highly skilled game easier for kids to feel successful.
The demonstration featured former boxing champ, health expert, and mom Laila Ali (pictured above, with a group of budding players). Ali, who dabbled in tennis as a kid before following in the pugilistic footsteps of her legendary father, Muhammad Ali, has rekindled her love for the game and plans to build a youth-sized court in her driveway for her kids, who are 6 and 3.
The exhibition also kicked off more than 1,000 free “play tennis” events for kids and families being held throughout the country this month. You can find one in your area here. I highly recommend giving it a try—your child is far more likely to play if you do.
The USTA is also a presenting sponsor of Nickelodeon’s 11th annual Worldwide Day of Play, which takes place in San Diego, Detroit, and a third city to be named (it’s being chosen via an online contest). It will feature a host of sports and activities—from football to dancing to double dutch. Perhaps most significantly, the station will suspend programming from 12pm to 3pm (that’s right—no SpongeBob for three whole hours!) in order to encourage kids to go outside and get active. It’s a fun event and a great cause, so don’t just read about it. Grab a racquet, a basketball, or your sports gear of choice, and go do something active with your kids. Their healthy future depends on it.
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10 and Under Tennis, exercise, free tennis events, Laila Ali, obesity, Worldwide Day of Play | Categories:
Big Kids, Health, Must Read, News, Parenting, The Parents Perspective
Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014
Last fall, we partnered with researchers at Brown University School of Medicine, Children’s National Medical Center, and New England Center for Pediatric Psychology to help find answers to pressing questions about how media use, family routines, and parenting style affect kids. We encouraged readers to answer a brief survey as part of The Learning Habit Study, and more than 46,000 parents in 4600 American cities participated in the research being published today in the American Journal of Psychology as well as in the book, The Learning Habit, by Dr. Robert Pressman, Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, and Rebecca Jackson.
One of the study’s biggest findings was that kids’ total screen time—especially more than two hours a day—was associated with lower grades, while increased family time—including family dinners, playing board games, and attending religious services—was linked to higher grades. The researchers think that spending time with our kids can help mitigate the negative effects of too much screen time.
The study also found that a parenting style known as empowerment parenting is the most effective way to build habits that benefit kids in school and life. Similar to what’s commonly known as authoritative or positive parenting, empowerment parenting helps children build good habits by establishing rules; empowers children by giving them choices, and encourages children by praising their efforts. In their book, the researchers write about how parents can create opportunities for their kids to develop these eight essential learning habits: media management; homework and reading; time management; goal-setting; effective communication; responsible decision-making; concentrated focus, and self-reliance.
The statistic from the study that I found most interesting: Two-thirds of 5- and 6-year-olds don’t make their own beds—and neither do the same percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds. So if you don’t want to be making your kid’s bed until she leaves for college, get into the habit at a young age by letting her know that it’s her responsibility.
Make it easier by downloading our free chore charts.
Photo via Shutterstock
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family, family bonding, family dinner, family dinners, grades, media, parenting, parenting style, screen time, social media | Categories:
Big Kids, Child Development, Education, Food & Nutrition, News, Parenting, The Parents Perspective
Thursday, August 28th, 2014
Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Parents advisor Ari Brown, M.D., who is a pediatrician at 411 Pediatrics, in Austin, Texas, the author of Baby 411, and a mom of two.
It has been 16 long years since the shot heard round the world. I’m not talking about the Revolutionary War, but the Modern Vaccine War. It all started with a press conference held in London on February 26, 1998.
Researchers convened the press to discuss the findings of a newly published case report in The Lancet on a handful of children with gut problems and autism. It turned into a worldwide panic attack about the combination Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine possibly causing autism. Despite the fact that their report proved nothing of the sort (and has never been validated by later studies), the researchers chose to vilify the combination vaccine and advise that the three vaccines should not be given together.
As we know now, the Lancet case report had no scientific merit. What makes good science? When various independent researchers set up well-conducted studies and they all find the same results.
(Forget about the fact that the researchers on that Lancet report were paid six-figure sums to publish the study, the lead researcher lost his license to practice medicine in the U.K., and the report was permanently retracted from the journal. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction!)
My point is simple and I bring it up today because there is yet another “controversy” swirling around social media about vaccines and autism.
Here’s the rub: A biochemical engineer dad with a child who has autism reviewed data from a 2004 study conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After looking at the raw data, he determined that African American males have a greater risk of autism if they receive the combination MMR vaccine before age 3. (The CDC did not include some of this data in the published study because they did not have the complete data on race for all study participants and including it in the report might have led to erroneous conclusions.) He was alerted to this “hidden data” by a CDC researcher, Dr. William Thompson.
(Forget about the fact that this well-meaning gentleman is not an epidemiologist or a statistician and believes that his own child developed autism from vaccines. Although Dr. Thompson actually publicly agrees on the need for transparency in all research, he does not feel parents should “avoid vaccinating children of any race.”)
As you can imagine, this has brought the anti-vaccinationists, denialists, and conspiracy theorists out of the woodwork. While it certainly makes for provocative YouTube videos comparing the vaccination program to the Holocaust, let’s go back to my simple point.
What makes good science? Independent researchers study the same hypothesis and draw the same conclusions. The study in question came out in 2004, and was certainly not the only or definitive study done on the safety of the MMR vaccine. Believe me, the MMR vaccine has been studied repeatedly by researchers all over the world since the Modern Vaccine War began in 1998. Good science shows there is no association between the MMR vaccine and autism. Period.
Image via Shutterstock.
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