Archive for February, 2006

The food we feed our children…food allergies double in past 5 years.

FOOD ALLERGIES – BUT WHY? 

For those of us who have children living with moderate to severe and even life threatening food related allergies, we know all too well the challenges associated with this condition.  Others may have close friends, relatives, co-workers' children or students who may be allergic to as little as one food or up to six or eight!  The most frequently asked question after I mention to someone what my child is allergic to is, "Why does she have all these allergies?"  It is a natural question to ask and for the most part, the medical community refuses to admit what the possible immediate causes may be and is on the whole, very wishy washy on providing any solid 'theories' and reasons on why so many children today are afflicted by food allergies, which are on the rise.  Anytime I have provided possible causes or reasons why I as a parent conclude what may be a cause, they grudgingly agree, saying that 'all of those reasons can contribute to the causes, but there is no one single reason why, and none are conclusive at this stage….'

                          Egg Carton                            Do other eggs come from hens fed with stimulants?

Milk Carton Text                      rBST is a bovine growth hormone. Most milk you buy contains rBST and antibiotics given to cows which are potentially harmful ingredients.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE & LEARNING: 

My daughter, now five is afflicted by several food allergies (milk, peanuts, tree nuts, certain fruits), asthma, allergic rhinitis, food allergy related diarrhea, and pollen/environmental allergies.  While we now feel that she may be outgrowing her milk/dairy allergy, she still has a severe contact reaction to peanuts and sesame (common ingredients in Chinese food).  She develops intense itchiness if she consumes coconut, kiwi fruit, canteloupe, (no longer bananas now!), green beans, or some undeclared ingredient in a packaged food and often times from ingredients which are not clear, like 'arificial flavors' and the like.  I can say with full confidence now, that I am an accomplished and zippy reader of ingredient labels on packaged foods.  Living with food allergies and making sure our daughter is not exposed to her allergenic foods is naturally challenging, but not impossible.  There are those who suffer from foods which are more frequently present almost ALL foods (corn (starch), wheat (gluten), eggs).  For many, the ingestion or even contact for some can trigger mild to life threatening reactions, which range from itchiness, hives, diarrhea, vomiting, exema to the most dangerous and possibly fatal, anaphalaxis.  Anaphalaxis, or closing of the airways, leads to loss of breathing as the throat muscles constrict and don't allow the individual to breathe.  Unless an epinepherine injection (aka:adrenaline shot) is administered almost immediately, it could lead to death. 

As the years have gone by, and we have managed to provide our daughter with a safe food environment. It became more challenging as she grew older, more independant and entered the school system, where the parent's watchful eyes and control are not always around.  We do our best to educate and communicate with those she spends time with (teachers, care givers, her friends and their families, relatives…) and tell them how important it is for them to be watchful and double check what they give her or ask us before they offer her anything.  She has 'safe snack' lists, medication which travels with her at all times and has also developed her own self defense mechanism, asking from the ripe old age of three and a half, 'Nana, did you read the ingredients in…"__" ?'

I often think about how other children and parents cannot understand the full scope of what all goes into planning for our daughters day to day life.  The challenges of raising children is tough enough.  Our son, (#2), fortunately does not suffer from any (known) allergies at age 1.5 years.  To not have to worry about what our son puts in his mouth, reminds us again of how different our daughter's life is.  But with passage of time and advanced planning, it eventually becomes second nature.  This takes me to my oft asked question – Why does my daughter have all these allergies?  Why are kids living in other countries (where our families are from, for example), like South Asia, not afflicted by food allergies at this high indidence level if at all?  The incidence of food allergies in Asia, Africa, and to some extent even Europe, are significantly much less or non-existent.  This just makes wanting to know the real reasons causing food allergies to develop in children in the Unites States even greater.  Recent studies (and anecdotal evidence) are now saying that food allergies are on the rise and have in fact doubled in the past 5 years. Is there something rotten in these [United] States….?

THE STUDIES, THEORIES AND THEIR FINDINGS:

It boils down to heredity and genes is what most in the medical field suggest as reasons why people develop allergies.  Genetics is absolutely a qualified marker for explaining why certain people are more prone to allergies, like many other diseases and conditions which highly correlate genetic predisposition to possible emergence of that same condition down the road in another direct member of that family.  While that may be the case, it still does not explain why the incidence of food allergies in particular, are on the rise, and notebly more so in the past five years.

The December 2003 study of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, states that the rise of peanut allergies in children increased two-fold over a five year period from 1997-2002: 

"Scott H. Sicherer, MD, and Hugh A. Sampson, MD, from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, along with Anne Muñoz-Furlong from the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), conducted a cross-sectional telephone study of 13,493 people using a standardized questionnaire. The study assessed rates of peanut and tree nut allergies over a period of five years.

Participants were asked a series of questions regarding allergies and seriousness of reactions. Prevalence rates were similar overall to those in the initial study. However, it is significant to note that reported peanut allergy in children increased two fold from .4 percent in 1997 to .8 percent in 2002, since this type of allergy typically develops in childhood and is usually not outgrown in adulthood.

Based on these facts, one could predict that the number of peanut and tree nut allergies may grow larger over time.

According to Dr. Sicherer (assistant professor of pediatrics at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City), 'It seems in the past two decades, we have seen a significant rise in all types of allergic disease such as asthma, hay fever and food allergies and, therefore, there are more children at risk for severe allergic reactions…' "

Reasons cited for the increase in allergies in children, included early exposure to peanuts at a younger age when the immune system had not developed fully.  This does not however explain why the doubling of incidence was not present 10 or even 15 years ago, when parents still most likely introduced peanuts and peanut butter at the same early ages.  The reasons for this increase have to lie in a more scientific explanation.

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Laws, but for whom?

As I read the news article in UK’s BBC News Online edition, I couldn’t help thinking how similar to some extent, this case and the current situation in Denmark were, as far as the legal premise is concerned.  David Irving, a British historian, has been sentenced to three years in jail by an Austrian court, for denying the Holocaust.  The claim is that the historian made some ‘illegal’ remarks in a 1989 speech where he said that there were no gas chambers used to kill Jews in Auschwitz.  He had also claimed in his writings that six million Jews did not die. In Austria, to deny the Holocaust is illegal and punishible by law. 

David Irving arrived at court carrying a copy of one of his books

There are many other European countries with laws against Holocaust denial:

Belgium

Czech Republic

France

Germany

Israel

Lithuania

Poland

Romania

Slovakia

Switzerland

 

Interestingly, while Europe is touting it’s right to free speech and opinion, such a sentence and such a law which essentially prohibits the expression of opinion found to be anti-Semetic and racist in this case, exists to punish those who express it!  The law seems antediluvian, but exists nonetheless – selectively. How is it that this insensitivity to the Jewish people, to deny that millions suffered at the hands of Hitler and the Nazis, has legal consequences and proceedings, and the same religious insensitivity towards Muslims does not elicit any action, legal or otherwise?  Why are not the publishers of the anti-Islamic cartoons, depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a degrading and blasphemous manner, being sentenced to jail time in this same Europe?  Why is their right to freedom of opinion somehow more valued in comparison to Irving?  Would sentencing the journalists/cartoonists even be appropriate?  On another note, in the event the publishers were somehow given jail sentences, would the Muslim world even take notice or applaud the governments who carried out such legal action? 

It seems that Mr. Irving hoped to either eliminate or cut down a prison sentence by revising his remarks at the current trial.  He said he had no choice but to plead guilty and was reduced to make revisions to his earlier opinions:

“I’m not a Holocaust denier. Obviously, I’ve changed my views. History is a constantly growing tree – the more you know, the more documents become available, the more you learn, and I have learned a lot since 1989.”

He did continue to say however, that it was “ridiculous” that he was being tried for expressing his opinions. 

While I believe it is wrong for people to be tried and sentenced for expressing their right to free and open expression of their opinions, it may be wise for Europe to try to work towards reducing their double standards or at least appear to be doing so.  The fact that if laws to punish people like David Irving still exist in modern Europe, then similar laws protecting religious sensitivities should perhaps be applied more equitably and thus diffuse these kinds of double standards, instead of providing platforms for fueling them.  These actions beg the question to the protesting Muslims around the world; that if they were savvy and were able to come together in a constructive manner to make their appeals, would the Muslim world be held in better regard and in a position to take such cases to say, the courts as well?  Had they appealed in some productive capacity or sought the intellectuals of their communities (!) to carry out verbal protests, perhaps it may have taken a less violent turn.  Perhaps it is just some form of justice which is being sought and it is not forthcoming.  Sadly, there are so many other times where it would have mattered a lot more, had Muslims protested as violently as they have in response to the offensive cartoons.  The genocide and annihilation of the Bosnian Muslims would have been one such moment for the Muslim world to go ‘berserk’ in protest. Perhaps then the world may have listened more attentively and made it the content of daily news headlines.  

A few quotes of the day on this issue….

Professor Theo Ohlinger, an expert in constitutional law at Vienna University, says th[is] law is a sensitive issue.

“It is so clear that the Holocaust existed that everybody who denies it is considered a fool. But abolishing this law could signal that Austria may not be really active in fighting against any National Socialist activities, and that is a problem.”

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What about freedom of expression when anti-Semitism is involved? Then it is not freedom of expression. Then it is a crime. Yet when Islam is insulted, certain powers raise the issue of freedom of expression.                                                  

Amr Mousa
Arab League Secretary General

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Feminism: What does it mean – to you?

Betty Friedan’s passing on February 4, 2006 (on her birthday, eerily) provokes some thoughts… 

This word, ‘feminism’ has been thrust so many times at us – thrust at those in academia, those working in the professional work force, mothers, wives the whole gamut.  As a student at a women’s college in Massachusetts in the late 1980s/early 1990s, this was a topic which at best, was impossible not to discuss, debate or stumble into at some juncture during one’s college career.

As I evolved as an adult during my years in college, followed by becoming a member of the corporate and new media work force, and later as a wife and mother, I went through various phases of life which helped me define and refine my everchanging ‘role’ as a member of the female population, if there is one.  I look back and believe that my views and my personal definition of what feminism meant, really had not gravitated too much in any extreme direction.  I know that I wanted to do well in my studies so that I could acheive success down the road in a career which would be meaningful to me and also pay the bills – ‘financially independent’ and confident, as my parents hoped I would become.  I also knew that I always wanted to marry and have a family, not fully knowing at the time, how it would not only provide new perspectives towards my own life and more so, what challenges I would face while becoming that all encompassing ‘woman’.

Betty Friedan                           Betty Friedan at a rally in 1973. Tim Boxer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

So what does feminism mean?  It means so much to so many, and while the word ‘feminism’ has suffered ridicule by the media, describing feminists as crazed, bra-burning women, out to demonize the male species, it means freedom, courage and empowerment to so many more. Feminism is personal and is oft in the eye of the beholder – it means one thing to someone in the West and another to someone in the East.  But to many in the 1960s, like Betty Friedan, it meant that women needed to be ‘more’ than just mothers and wives, essentially.  That they could persue other venues in life beyond the management of a home life.  While her views on the role of women and her focus on ‘housewives’ were both revolutionary and controversial (controversial some say, as her views perhaps were not all inclusive with regard to women from the middle or lower economic strata, and her not so flattering comments on women who did housework!), she did begin the discourse of what the role of women in society was and how women’s work was [not] valued. Her groundbreaking 1963 best seller, “The Feminine Mystique” laid the groundwork for the modern feminist movement.  She was also the co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Gloria Steinem, years later, felt women had to break the ‘glass ceilings’ and demand equal opportunity and equal pay for their work at work.  I think this part of the movement for ‘feminism’ was sorely needed and was well received on the whole by aspiring women, giving them confidence to forge on and ‘be all that they could be’, while empowering them with the confidence for demand for equal pay and opportunities.  Steinem also was the founder of MS. Magazine

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