Archive for ::Health Issues

To Play, or not Play?

At first glace of the article’s title in this week’s New York Times Magazine (Taking Play Seriously), and a quick read through of the first page, I really became excited about the prospect of some real scientific ‘findings’ and hard fact research about the high correlation between childhood play and developmental success as a direct result. Though the (long) article does to some extent conclude how important imaginative and creative play is for a child’s cognitive, behavioral, social and physical development, some sources of research for this piece argue differently – Read for yourself and you’ll find some interesting observations made by a variety of scientists on this subject.

As a parent living in this 21st century, knowingly wary that the overscheduling of ‘enrichment’ activities we convince ourselves (and by extension, our peers) is good for our children – I stop myself each time it’s ‘sign-up’ season and wonder if  I really AM doing the right thing for my children.  I want them to avail of the myriad of classes and opportunities to develop their skills and interests with all that is around us in the metro-regions and affluent towns our overacheiving families live in.  Piano will help her with her mathematics.  Art allows for his creative side to emerge (and help with handwriting skills!).  Softball is great for instilling teambuilding skills.  Yes, of course all this is wonderful. I boastfully tell my friends sometimes that this time I’m cutting back on ‘x’ or ‘y’ activity – and luckily, I have to admit, I have rolled back – a bit.  I mean, what are you supposed to do when your kid says, “Mama, I’m tired of all these activities – I just want to play”.  So we cut back- a bit – and now we try to make more time for impromptu playdates with friends from school and the neighborhood.  I think it has made them happier?  But even arranging and scheduling these playtimes is a chore in itself!  We have to book out 1, 2 or even 3 weeks sometimes, to find a time to play with a friend.  So, while they wait for their scheduled playdates (kids just don’t really go out into the streets and play with the kid across the street anymore – too many child predators, speeding teens in cars, or worse out there – so we are inhibiting our kids further, from being truly in ‘free play’) what do we do?  Encourage them to play by themselves or with siblings – kids find doing things independently almost too difficult these days too…why? We did?  Perhaps again, because we’ve structured their activity time too much and they cannot play endlessly on their own as they await direction from their adults on how to proceed with play and activities?  Many kids then fall into the TV trap – while many of us responsible parents limit TV watching strictly, (some parents admit unwillingly that their kids do watch a bit too much TV….) it still ends up being a ‘filler’ for down time, post school stress de-tox or as a treat after completing homework.  So, where does that leave us?  Just read the article – it’s as detailed and comprehensive as you’d want to get!

 

From the New York Times Magazine – February 17, 2008)

Why Do We Play: Taking Play Seriously
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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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