Posts Tagged ‘ kids’ health ’

Have you ever wanted to make time stand still?

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Courtesy HBO

Like any parent you’ve probably felt that way now and then—I know those twinges come more and more often as my kids get older. But I can’t imagine anyone who has yearned more desperately to stop the clock than Leslie Gordon and Scott Berns and their teenage son Sam, who are the focus of the wrenching but wonderful new documentary “Life According to Sam,” which premiers Monday, October 21 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO (check local listings).  Sam has progeria, an incurable genetic disease that speeds the body’s natural aging processes. By the time kids with progeria are 9, they resemble elderly people, with hair loss, muscle loss, brittle bones and the least visible but most dangerous symptom: the blood vessels of an 80-year-old. Virtually all of these children suffer heart attacks and strokes; on average they do not live past age 14.

Progeria is one of the rarest diseases; only 250 children worldwide have it. So drug manufacturers aren’t exactly racing to find a cure. That’s why soon after Sam’s diagnosis in 1998, Leslie and Scott, both doctors, founded the Progeria Research Foundation along with Leslie’s sister Audrey Gordon. (I first met Scott through the March of Dimes, where he is a senior vice president and I am a board member.) PRF quickly raised over $1 million and 4 years later had found the gene for progeria. The film chronicles the family’s race to study a drug therapy for the condition in a trial at Boston Children’s Hospital, even as they also slow down to savor the time they have together.

“I didn’t put myself in front of you to have you feel bad for me,” Sam says early on in the film. “I put myself in front of you to let you know that you don’t need to feel bad for me. This is my life. Progeria is part of it. It’s not a major part of it. It’s a part of it.”  The family’s ability to keep up with everyday life in the face of this disease is remarkable. Sam goes on a ride at an amusement park and cracks two ribs, but he also goes to school, plays sports and enjoys rock concerts. He is fragile but extraordinarily strong.

People “take time for granted,” says Leslie midway through “Life According to Sam.” Anyone, but especially other parents, will be awed by the family’s courage and amazed that they could spare one single moment of their time together to share their experience. “Everyday what I’m thinking of is how to save the kids and how to save Sam’s life,” says Leslie.

You will find yourself rooting passionately for Sam and his family and all the other kids in the trial, who come from around the world because the PRF is their best hope.  (Parents who loved “Miss You Can Do It,” from the same executive producer, Sheila Nevins, can expect to be similarly wowed by “Life According to Sam.”)

Sam allows himself to be documented in excruciating detail in his quest for a cure. His deed is a gift to the children with progeria who will continue to come after him and whose families already line up outside Leslie’s door, looking for a cure. But by putting themselves in front of the camera, Sam and his parents give a gift to all of us, a reminder of how fast the days pass. Watch it as a reminder of how very much we should value our fleeting moments together. But most of all, watch it to meet Sam, and to celebrate each passing birthday with him.

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McDonald’s, Soda, and Our Market System at Work

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

I’ll admit to having sympathy for fast-food chains and other purveyors of what is, let’s face it, food that is generally unhealthy. On the one hand, there is a host of voices—parents, doctors, public-health advocates, politicians, and others—clamoring for healthier choices for ourselves and our kids. After all, obesity and its related health problems are an increasingly worrisome problem in the U.S.

On the other hand, corporations like McDonald’s are moneymaking ventures, responsible primarily to shareholders looking to maximize their profits, and the inescapable truth is: junk food sells, and healthy options often bomb.

And so, I applaud those companies taking steps to improve the quality and healthiness of the food they offer, especially to children, even when those steps are small, tentative, or even symbolic. The latest such move is McDonald’s announcement that it will no longer list soda as a drink option for its Happy Meals, a decision Elisa Zied explored in depth in her blog The Scoop on Food. To be clear, soda is still available to all customers of any age. All this move does is introduce some separation between kids’ Happy Meals and these sugary drinks, requiring parents give the choice even a moment’s extra thought.

The response by some readers to Elisa’s post and the McDonald’s soda news fascinates and worries me, though. Here are just a few comments people posted to her blog and our Facebook page:

“The govt and McDonald’s need to stay out of my children’s diet. We don’t get them often, but for gosh sake let the kids have a little fun with a toy and a friggin soda.”

“For the love of all that is holy… STOP telling people what to eat, drink, how to raise their kids, what their weight should be. Just worry about you and stop being the freaking police of everything. We are to the point where life isn’t ours anymore.”

“Unbelievable! 99.9% of the time, my children drink milk or water. The also eat healthy meals that same percentage of the time. If I want to get my child a happy meal AND, let them have a soda once in a blue moon, that should be MY prerogative as their parent and, not the decision of McDonalds or some group of strangers. Why should I have to suffer because other parents make poor choices for their children and, don’t know how to say, “NO” to their kids asking for pop all the time.”

“hey i’ve got an idea! government and everyone in the USA…..how about you raise your kids the way you want, and not worry about what everyone else is doing!? I like to call it the…”mind your own damn business.”

Plenty of other people voiced support for the McDonald’s decision, but opinions in this vein dominated the comments. Posts like these remind me of some conservative commentators’ reactions to Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity efforts. Public figures such as Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh, among many others, have denounced the First Lady for trying to raise public awareness and work with major corporations to provide healthier options for more people. To them, like to so many people commenting on the McDonald’s announcement, this is all the result of government intrusion into our daily lives, the government eliminating choice and dictating our behavior.

It’s sad to me that our society is polarized and politicized to the point where efforts to improve the health of our children are denounced. Our history is filled with successful campaigns to improve public health, change personal habits for the better, and affect corporations’ behavior. First Ladies have long had pet causes, just as activist groups have long worked to put pressure on companies to achieve social or economic goals. None of this is inappropriate in our society. Quite the contrary. The bully pulpit, whether from the White House or the media airwaves, is an important and powerful tool.

In this case, McDonald’s is reacting to market, not governmental, pressures. To the extent any governmental agency is involved, it is to help parents make healthy decisions for their children, not to regulate those decisions. (As many have pointed out, nothing is stopping parents from ordering a large Coke with their kids’ Happy Meals. McDonald’s is just un-linking the two, making it just that much less routinized to bundle soda with kids’ meals.)

We should be celebrating McDonald’s for aiding in this effort. This is our democratic, capitalist system at work; accusations that this is some form of nanny-state socialism are far off base.

For guidance in feeding the youngest members of your family, download our free Homemade Baby Food guide. Or for a treat, check out our Year of Cupcakes download.

Image of soda cup courtesy of Shutterstock.

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U.S. Open Tennis: Combatting Childhood Obesity

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

USTA youth tennis eventThis past weekend marked not only the end of summer, but the start of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. As we all know, childhood obesity is a growing problem in our country, caused by factors such as poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. Over Labor Day weekend, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) held an event to reveal that the physical inactivity of our youth has become a public health epidemic that they intend to help resolve.

Currently in the midst of the second week of competition for the U.S. Open tennis championships in Flushing, New York, the USTA also capitalizes on the tournament as a way to bring tennis to America, specifically our youth. The USTA has partnered with over a dozen organizations, including Partnership For A Healthier America, the Clinton Foundation, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, to get our kids active.

“Physical inactivity is estimated in 2009 to have killed about 5.3 million people due to chronic diseases across the world,” said Bill Kohl, Professor of Epidemiology and Kinesiology at the University of Texas and Founder and Director of University of Texas Physical Activity Epidemiology Program. According to Kohl, 80 percent of children around the world are not getting enough exercise for optimal health and it’s time to do something about it. After all, this generation of children is expected to live five years less than their parents.

Physical inactivity is a huge contributing factor to this calculation. “We as adults have engineered the opportunities for physical activity out of daily life—engineered this to a point where [kids] are sedentary and not physically active,” said Kohl. The recommendation from the CDC is that kids participate in 60 minutes of physical activity each day and, according to Kohl, even the best of physical education programs in schools are only able to provide a quarter of that.

The USTA has focused its energies on making tennis a more accessible sport for young players so they can get the exercise they need. “The primary reasons that kids are going to play sports is because it’s fun,” said USTA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Alexis Colvin. The USTA has worked hard over the past year to develop what they are calling “ten and under tennis”—tennis for young kids using equipment and rules tailored to their size and experience to make the sport more fun to learn. Softer balls, smaller courts, lighter racquets and the elimination of rankings and tournaments for the under-10 age bracket are all part of the reformation.

“Can you imagine we had four-foot tall kids playing with the same ball and racquet as Roger Federer?” said Sue Hunt, USTA Chief Marketing Officer. “We’ve changed the game and it’s fun to play now.” Fun is what will keep kids engaged throughout their lives, keeping physical activity up and health benefits with it. The USTA also hopes to be a model for other sports so that children will become lifelong (but not necessarily professional) athletes.

Bob Harper, fitness expert and training extraordinaire of The Biggest Loser, seconds that. “The last thing I would want to see is a child in a gym on a treadmill,” he said. “What I want to see is the parents taking their kids on a weekend getaway of hiking and biking.” Making exercise fun truly begins at home. “We have to get our parents, not only getting our kids to be more active, but they need to be more active because our children watch what we do.”

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A Healthy Back-to-school

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

The Children's Health Fund's mobile medical clinic.

The Children’s Health Fund’s mobile medical clinic.

Keeping track of my kids’ medical and dental appointments–making them, taking the kids to them, filing away the records–sometimes stresses me out. But I’ll never complain again after my visit to the big blue bus run by the Children’s Health Fund, which is devoted to providing health care for kids who don’t have access to it. This mobile medical center was parked on the sidewalk in the South Bronx on a blistering hot day last month, and Parents editors Diane Debrovner, Kara Corridan, and I stopped by.

I’d first learned about the clinic on wheels as we were preparing this story for Parents about how important good medical care is to a child’s school success. Inside the cheerful yellow-accented RV is a state-of-the-art two-room medical clinic, complete with a triage area and a nurse’s station. In 25 areas across the U.S., including New Orleans, Detroit and Washington, DC, facilities like these provide check ups, vaccinations, and treatment for a range of conditions to kids who have no other access to medical care.

“Our screening starts with ‘do you have enough food? Do you have a place to sleep tonight?’” says Delaney Gracy, M.D., M.P.H., chief medical officer for CHF. If families need either, CHF connects them with social services. Many of the sites where the buses stop are linked with schools, so that care providers can work with school nurses or administrators to help make sure kids get asthma medication, for example. The clinics use a state-of-the-art electronic health records system to store information about their patients, not because it’s the latest high-end healthcare fad, but because it makes it possible to track the care of children who are homeless.

The nurse's station inside the bus.

The nurse’s station inside the bus.

This care helps ensure that kids arrive at school healthy and ready to learn, which is a key focus of the Children’s Health Fund. The connection between health and learning goes deep: Vision or hearing problems, poor nutrition, chronic conditions and even lack of sleep can make it difficult for kids to succeed in school and contribute to a cascade of future problems.

If you want to help the CHF make sure more kids get the care they need, visit childrenshealthfund.org to add your voice to the “Every Child a Chance” campaign on the site. And if all this is making you realize your own kids are probably overdue for a back-to-school exam, brush up on the vaccine recommendations for every age and read our advice on how to make the most of your child’s checkup here.

Kids who visit the bus get a book to take home.

Kids who visit the bus get a book to take home, a special touch for children who have few possessions.

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