Written by Robyn O’Brien after visiting farmers in Iowa in August 2010.
Had someone told me four years ago that I’d be standing tractor-side, appealing to farmers who grow genetically modified corn and soybeans for their support on the cornfields of Iowa, I’d have thought they were nuts. But there I stood in August in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa for aTractor Ride for Tots.
The event had been the brainchild of a big-hearted farmer named Scott McAllister. Scott, a fourth generation farmer, had reached out after learning about my work. He wanted to show me the farms.
So there we stood on a humid August day – Scott, farmers and tractors- ready to kick off our 50 mile tractor ride across the small towns of Iowa, and I had no idea what to expect. As Scott introduced me to the farmers, they smiled in amusement eager to get out on their tractors (reminding me more of my boys on their bikes than the agricultural giants I’d been a bit fearful of meeting).
And as I spoke about how 1 in 3 children now has autism, ADHD, allergies or asthma, they nodded in agreement as they’d seen the TV commercials on their local stations that spoke of how pervasive autism had become in military families, now affecting 1 in 88 children and knew what was happening to their grandchildren. They then introduced themselves and we set out on our tractor ride.
It was pretty quiet.
As the day wore on, so did the stories. A man named Mark shared tales about his high school reunion, while “Pa” shared stories about his grandson. And one they called “Beauford” spoke of their stewardship of the land learned at their grandfathers’ knees, record harvests and record rainfalls (and told a funny tale about how his wife moved out on him). They shared stories about lost crops, lost livestock and lost loved ones. They were sincere and authentic, proud and humble, and dedicated to their trade in ways seldom seen in today’s culture. As fourth and fifth generation farmers, their legacies were deep and their commitment strong.
Yet at the same time, as they spoke about the recent changes in agriculture and its new costs structures, there was an ambiguity. With trait fees, licensing fees and technology fees now required of farmers, this wasn’t the same business model that their grandfathers had built, and they knew it, with numbered lot signs and logos down the sides of their fields. As we discussed the privatization and patenting of agriculture and the impact it was having on their business, one of them shared, “The toes they step on today will be the tush they’ll be kissing tomorrow.” As they had witnessed firsthand the impact that this new cost structure had on debt loads and declining income levels and spoke candidly about monopolistic practices and predatory pricing.
And as we road from town to town, they laughed about their lives and livelihoods being in the hands of Mother Nature, saying “It either makes you religious or alcoholic,” as all of them chuckled. And having seen billboards juxtaposed against each other on the side of the Iowa highway, I had seen what they were saying and couldn’t help but listen.
I asked about their friend, Tom Vilsack, who now serves as the Secretary for the United States Department of Agriculture, and they shared stories about how he’d lived in their friend, Jimmy’s, childhood home, as well as his unusual political beginnings, quickly rising to Mayor, when a gunman shot and killed Mt. Pleasant’s mayor. And I listened as they shared their stories, shared their lives and shared their passion for farming.
And as the day came to a close, a farmer named John asked, “Did you see that lady with the white hair back there?”
“Yes. She smiled and waved and was so pretty,” I said.
“Well you see, you see…..that…well….she’s my wife. And, and, and…..” And as I looked into the face of this farmer, his eyes welled with tears, and my heart hurt, and I asked, “Is she sick?” And he nodded. Cancer. Twice.
And as the tractors were put away, we said our good-byes, reflecting on new dialogues, new knowledge and new friendships. And we knew that we were all in this together.
And while none of us could do everything, we also knew that all of us could do one thing. And sometimes that one thing is simply taking the time to listen. Really listen. Because if you do, you may realize that there is far more that unites us than divides us, as our hearts beat in unison for the love of our families.
Since the original posting of this article, Big John’s wife died of cancer. She was beautiful, and it was an honor to meet her
Dr Bob: Welcome to my series of blogs that will continue to be written until someone at the Centers for Disease Control and PREVENTION gets on the ball and says “Yes, we have an autism epidemic! We are now very concerned and will do something about it.”
The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics just released a study entitled “Changes in Prevalence of Parent-Reported Autism Spectrum Disorder in School-aged U.S. Children: 2007 to 2011-2012.” (1) Their findings: 1 in 50 children ages 6-17 have autism.
I will ask again: Why is nobody alarmed? Why is nobody at the CDC issuing a press release saying, “Parents, we hear you, we are just as concerned as you are. We now realize there is an epidemic that continues to worsen year after year and we are dedicated to determining the cause.”
Here is why – you can read it in the conclusion of the study: “much of the prevalence increase from 2007 [which was 1 in 86 school-age children] to 2011-2012 [1 in 50 children] was the result of diagnoses of children with previously unrecognized ASD.”
Translation: “Don’t worry. Sure, autism is common, but it’s no more common now than it used to be, so there’s no need to panic.”
Well, I’ll tell you that as a pediatrician and a parent, I am in a panic. Partly because I continue to see patients in my own office develop autism at an alarming rate. Partly because I continue to see the children of friends and relatives develop autism spectrum disorders. On a very personal level, my own older children who are now 17 and 20, will probably start having kids of their own soon, and I can’t yet tell them what causes autism and how to completely prevent it. Back when my kids were young, I thought we would surely get to the bottom of this before they would be grown up and start having kids of their own. Well, now we are here, and we still aren’t getting any closer to an answer. Why? “Because there isn’t an epidemic.”
If I told you, “Hey – there’s a new infectious disease that will strike 2% of all children that will significantly impair them for their entire life,” wouldn’t you expect the CDC to jump all over this and get to the bottom of it quickly? If we have a sudden epidemic, the CDC jumps all over it to avoid a panic. The swine flu comes to mind. But if there’s a disease that is very slowly making its way through our population with only a very gradual, but questionable increase, then there’s no reason to panic. We’ll get to the bottom of it someday. That’s how I think the CDC is looking at this. They certainly want to help. They are good people who do good work. I know they’ll find the answer some day. But they are trying to portray autism as something that has always been around and is barely increasing. They don’t want parents to panic. They don’t want people to stop having children. They don’t want people to start making up reasons why autism is increasing. They don’t want parents to look for answers on their own.
The problem with this approach is that it leaves the million or more children with autism and their families out in the cold, feeling alone,like victims of an epidemic that no one will admit is happening. And it means that another million children will develop autism over the next ten years.
Back in medical school, I rarely heard the word autism. Now, not a day goes by without autism being discussed in my practice. We must have answers now. We need to have this epidemic acknowledged by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics. We need to know why autism is happening, and how to more effectively treat it and help children recover. We are doing fairly well at this for some kids. We do bring some children to recovery, but not enough. For every child that does recover, several more are being diagnosed to take his or her place.
We need to be concerned. We need to act with a sense of urgency. We have to care more about autism and do something about it. Parents and the future generation of children are counting on us. And I will keep raising concern in hopes that someday this message will be heard and action will be taken.
Dr. Bob Sears
TACA Physician Advisory Member
Pediatrician and author of The Autism Book: What Every Parent Needs to Know about Early Detection, Treatment, Recovery and Prevention
For more information about Dr. Bob, please see www.askdrsears.com
What’s a Mom to Do? Preventing Early Puberty and Hormone Problems in Our Daughters – Here’s the Why and How
Written for AllergyKids Foundation by Aviva Romm, MD who practices at the UltraWellness Center with Dr. Mark Hyman.
For years scientists have disagreed whether early puberty was really an emerging phenomenon. Now there’s no doubt. Girls are getting their periods earlier. Many about a year earlier, according to a 2007 article in the Journal of Adolescent Health. But a study published in Pediatrics in 2011 found that in the United States, 15% of American girls begin puberty by age 7. Their breasts are starting to grow at a younger age, too. Black and Latinas girls are the most affected, but it is happening in all populations.
“Some girls get their period as young as 8,” begins a section for mothers on the Kotex U Brand website. Kotex initially spent over $23 million in research and development to target their new young consumer group.
Some doctors are calling this the “new normal,” according to Science News. But there is nothing normal about it and many physicians and scientists are quite alarmed. And even if your daughter isn’t showing signs of early puberty, she may still be exposed to the factors that cause it – so please read on…
It’s not just that having your period in second grade, or your breasts develop in kindergarten really sucks for all of the obvious social and emotional reasons. It’s also a sign that something is seriously wrong in our daughters’ endocrine (hormonal) systems. They are getting “hormonally hot-housed.” Endocrine disruption can increase our daughters’ risk of developing hormonally related cancers later in life. It also increases a girl’s risk of sexual harassment and abuse, early sexual involvement, and risk-taking behaviors. She might be seen as, and potentially act, more sexually mature than she actually is psychologically and emotionally.
Our daughters (and our sons, too) are unwittingly the canaries in our social and ecologic coal mine.
There is little mystery underlying this increased rate of early puberty. Medical problems that cause it such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia, disorders of the gonads (ovaries in girls, testes in boys) or adrenal glands, McCune-Albright syndrome, or hormone-secreting tumors are exceptionally rare.
The 3 biggest contributors to early puberty are:
- Obesity: About 20% or more of US kids are now obese. This rate has tripled in the past 30 years, and this trend corresponds to earlier puberty.
- Exposure to environmental toxins that act as estrogen in the body: Many substances used in flame retardant fabrics, cosmetics, plastics, pesticides, detergents and other common household and industrial products can mimic the effect of estrogen in our bodies. The CDC has linked a solvent used in some mothballs and solid blocks of toilet bowl deodorizers and air fresheners to earlier menstruation – they also found it in the bodies of nearly all the people tested in the U.S.! It doesn’t take much exposure to cause health effects, which may include increased risk of early puberty, diabetes, and cancer. These environmental chemicals accumulate over time and because they accumulate and are stored in fat cells, may be even more of a problem for overweight girls.
- Stress: Stress can wreak havoc on the endocrine system. And most of us suffer from stress starting at any earlier age than ever. Inadequate sleep, school pressures, stress at home, peer pressure and bullying are just a few of the major stressors to which our girls are regularly exposed. Stress can also make us fatter; more fat means more estrogen and this can lead to earlier puberty.
While government, food companies, and industry also need to tackle these issues on a global scale, the factors leading to early puberty and endocrine disruption in our daughters can be prevented or mitigated through the diet and lifestyle choices we make and teach them.
Here are steps you can take:
- Cut out the soda and juice completely! (Water is the best beverage.)
- Cut portion sizes in half.
- Do your best to eliminate bread, pasta, potatoes and white rice from the diet: emphasize good quality proteins and vegetables as the mainstay of their diet.
- Cut the amount of TV watching in half (and adding exercise will make this even better!).
- Make sure you are doing all of these things yourself!
Prevent Exposure to “Environmental Estrogens”
- Avoid flame retardant products (See http://avivaromm.com/stop_flame_retardants).
- Encourage your girls to avoid cosmetics, and if they are going to use them, go natural. It’s more expensive in the short run, but the health price tag is much lower over time!
- Get your daughter a glass water bottle and teach her not to drink out of plastic bottles
- Avoid plastic wrapped foods and plastic food containers for reheating and storing hot foods as much as possible.
- Eat organic whenever possible, especially dairy products, which accumulate environmental contaminants, and foods in the “dirty dozen” (See http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/).
Stress-Proof Your Daughter
- Teach your daughter to get help from a teacher and to come to you if there are peer stressors at school or bullying.
- Encourage your daughter to join a school or after school sport, dance class, or other physical activity which is enjoyable for her.
- Reduce exposure to TV violence.
- Teach simple meditation or relaxation skills to be done before bedtime, exams, or in a stressful situation. Simply breathing in and saying, “I am” on the inhale, and “At peace” on the exhale 4 times in a row, or “counting to 10” with deep breathing can make a difference!
Teach Your Daughters Well
If your daughter has a medical condition or other reasons that she’s already gone through puberty, it’s absolutely important to help her feel comfortable in her body and not add to her stigma. But for all of our daughters’ sakes, obese should not be the new norm, nor should early puberty. We can teach our daughters the healthiest possible habits from their earliest years and give them a lifetime of health.
Aviva Romm is a Yale-trained physician, a midwife, and an award winning herbalist and author. She has spent nearly 30 years as a health care practitioner and advocate for women and children and is a leader in the health care revolution to transform the current medical system that over-medicalizes life, from birth to death, into a model that respects the intrinsic healing capacities of the body and nature. She practices at the UltraWellness Center of Dr. Mark Hyman in Lenox Massachusetts.
Bell, L. Early Arrival: Premature puberty among girls poses scientific puzzle. Science News. December 1, 2012; Vol.182 #11. http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/346459/description/Early_Arrival
Konkel L. Early puberty? Girls exposed to household chemical menstruate earlier, CDC study finds. August 2012. http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2012/puberty/
Newman, AA. A Younger Group for Feminine Products. New York Times. April 14, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/business/media/15adco.html?_r=2&
I am a fan of confronting challenging situations and finding solutions. And at AllergyKids, we are continually inspired by the parents that share their stories about how they are doing exactly that – creating the solutions they need to address the escalating number of children that now have food allergies, asthma, ADHD, autism and other conditions.
Today, 1 in 3 American children now has allergies, autism, ADHD or asthma. That number should give us all reason to pause because while our children only represent 30% of the population, they are 100% of our future, which is why I am excited to share the following article, written for AllergyKids by my friend, Gabrielle Hankamer Welch, NC, CHHC, author of The Pizza Trap: Every Mom’s Guide to Breaking Children’s Dangerous Food Addictions, Ending Mealtime Battles and Building Healthy Habits for Life.
We need all hands on deck, and there are so many opportunities to be part of the solution. ~ Robyn
Our nation’s children are facing a serious health crisis, really a pandemic at this point, and I’m not just talking about obesity, which is what the media likes to focus on these days. That’s part of it of course, since obesity has eclipsed smoking as our primary health concern in the US. Our kids are also facing a huge epidemic of chronic childhood illness that’s sweeping our nation as a result of the toxic environment in which we live.
As a mother, nutritional consultant and now author, it’s one that both compels and scares me at the same time. My goal as a mom activist has been to help educate as many parents as I can, so that they can make good decisions for their families at a time when our nation is facing a record number of life threatening children’s health issues.
I wear many hats daily, like I know many of you do. Aside from being a mom and a wife, I have a nutritional consulting practice, I’m a public speaker and now I’m an author of a book entitled the Pizza Trap: Every Mom’s Guide to Breaking Children’s Dangerous Food Addictions, Ending Mealtime Battles and Building Healthy Habits for Life.
In my practice, I teach busy moms how to get their kids off junk food and how to make healthy eating easy, convenient and fun. My program also teaches moms how to avoid and eliminate toxins that go in, on and surround their children’s bodies to help prevent and reduce allergies, asthma and other increasingly common childhood illnesses.
My motivation for this journey has been my three wonderful girls, ages 8,10 and 12, one of whom has had chronic asthma, allergies and eczema, along with several hospitalizations since she was 3 years old. This is really what started me on my journey as a children’s food and health advocate and mom activist.
I decided to reinvent myself and help other moms out there for one reason and one reason only: to give them the information they needed to keep their kids from getting sick. Maybe you have a child who is chronically sick like I do. Maybe you’ve spent sleepless night as I have in the ER with a child whose chest is collapsing, or worrying about their health at home in bed at night when you can’t sleep or hear them coughing night after night, or just wondering what else you can possibly do that you are NOT doing to get them better. As a mom, I think this is one of the scariest things we can go through, having a sick child and feeling totally powerless to help, day in and day out.
Since 1/3 of American kids today have either asthma, allergies, ADHD or autism and are most likely taking some sort prescription medication daily, the odds are, you probably do have a child with some sort of chronic illness. If not, your child might very well be one of the 34% of kids in the US who weigh too much, or even worse, one of the 17% who are obese.
Whether it’s asthma, allergies, ADHD or your child is struggling to lose weight, you CAN help them better their quality of life by taking a few easy steps to clean up their food environment.
As a mom, you can do this for your children like I have done for mine. Take the offensive…don’t be a passive observer in your kids health and life and just hope for the best!
By making a few simple changes in the way your family eats and lives, you can dramatically change your children’s health forever. I did.
Gabrielle Hankamer Welch, NC, CHHC is the author of The Pizza Trap: Every Mom’s Guide to Breaking Children’s Dangerous Food Addictions, Ending Mealtime Battles and Building Healthy Habits for Life
As my daughter’s face swelled shut, I didn’t want to witness what I saw that morning, to do the work that had to be done, to find the courage that would be needed.
In all candor, seven years ago, as all of this was hitting, there was a deep yearning to somehow go back to the simplicity that we had known before that breakfast.
But that would never happen.
I couldn’t unlearn what I went on to learn or forget what I had seen.
And as I watched her struggle to breathe that morning, my life forever changed.
What I unearthed that day – that the number of children with the peanut allergy had doubled from 1997-2002, that food allergies had become so pervasive in preschool children – was the beginning of a much greater story.
As I learned about food allergies, I learned more than I could have imagined.
Today, too many Americans have allergies or asthma. Autism now affects 1 in 54 boys in our country, while in other countries, its lack of prevalence means that the numbers aren’t even tabulated. And while the United States only represents 5% of the world’s population, 90% of the world’s ADHD prescriptions are written for our children. But it’s not just the children who are struggling under these conditions, 41% of us are expected to get cancer in our lifetimes, while 1 in 2 minority children are expected to be insulin dependent by the time they reach adulthood. The Centers for Disease Control now reports that cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15.
Our children have earned the title “Generation Rx” and “Generation XL” due to their escalating rates of obesity and these other conditions. This is so hard to hear. But we have to listen.
According to the CIA, which ranks life expectancy at birth for children born in countries around the world, the United States is nowhere near the top of that list. As a matter of fact, for children born in the United States, life expectancy at birth places us at 50 on that list, with countries like Bosnia, South Korea, Puerto Rico and others ahead of us. Why does this matter? According to the CIA, “Life expectancy at birth is also a measure of overall quality of life in a country.”
No one wants it this way.
Seven years into this work, I want to say I’ve had enough or write funny jokes about a “Seven Year Itch”, but I can’t. The severity of the issue is too great. I have met parents who have lost children to allergic reactions, farmers who have lost wives to cancer and mothers who have lost toddlers to leukemia. But I have also met others whose creative intellect, profound commitment and relentless scientific inquiry prove that together, we can create change this.
We need all-hands-on-deck.
Mounting scientific evidence continues to point to the role that our increasingly contaminated food supply plays in the health of our children – from the pesticides being poured onto our food crops in the field, to the synthetic chemicals being added to our processed foods in production. Independent science, along with the President’s Cancer Panel and the American Academy of Pediatrics, highlight the role that these non-food ingredients now going into our food supply are having on the health of our loved ones.
So while our food looks the same, a growing body of scientific research is telling us that it is not. It is painfully revealing to us that it is loaded with additives and all kinds of chemicals. And we don’t know what the combination of these chemicals will do to a little boy with asthma or to a mother who is pregnant with her first child. Nor do we know what the long-term impact of these added ingredients might be to the health of a child with autism.
In light of the growing number of children who now have asthma, diabetes, ADHD, autism or allergies, can we afford to continue to take this risk, while other countries around the world exercise precaution?
Mounting scientific evidence on these new ingredients is what is prompting other countries to take action and remove these ingredients from their food supplies, especially from the food fed to children. In other words, in other developed countries, precaution is exercised as people take priority over profits.
But not here.
At least, not yet.
Because while we can’t change the beginning of our stories, we can change the end. Each and every single one of us has the ability to affect remarkable change. For some, it might be simply changing a few items in their grocery cart, for others, it might be reaching out to a child’s school and for another, it might be reaching out to a member of Congress or the FDA or sending a letter to the CEO of a food company.
No matter what we choose to do, it is in doing something, together, leveraging our collective talents, that we will create change.
The future of our country is dependent on the health of our children. They are “adults in waiting,” and while they are only 30% of our population, they are 100% of our future.
The economic prosperity, national security and future innovation and productivity of our country are 100% contingent on their health. Let’s value it accordingly.