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.
That’s according to the results of a national survey of more than 1,000 mothers, conducted by Fleishman-Hillard and TheMotherhood.com. The study, “Cart to Kitchen 2013: Slicing Into Moms’ Food Decisions,” identified key drivers behind moms’ consumer behaviors in meal planning, grocery shopping and meal preparation, as well as changes food marketers should anticipate in 2013. It also uncovered insights about the food influencers and media channels moms trust most when it comes to making food-buying decisions.
“Moms are turning to their peers online and off for information about food – from general to more specific information about genetically modified organisms, pesticides and other food safety topics,” said Kristie Sigler, senior vice president at Fleishman-Hillard. “This study showed that moms place higher priority on the opinions of bloggers and peers than that of experts like doctors and dietitians – an important takeaway for food marketers.”
Nutrition is Key Focus
Moms indicated that in 2013, they want to be more organized in how they shop (41 percent), and they want to make fewer trips to the grocery store (33 percent). Additionally, they would like to be more organized with weekly meal planning (67 percent) and make meals ahead and freeze them (51 percent). Moms are looking to food brands to help them become more organized.
Nutrition is another key focus for moms, whose list of desired 2013 food-purchase changes starts with a drive to buy healthier food. More than half of the moms surveyed said they started that behavior in 2012 by reducing purchases of snacks, sugar, processed foods, soda and carbohydrates. And 49 percent of moms want to buy less processed food in 2013, particularly moms younger than 30.
Further, 50 percent of moms said they are reading more food labels now than they have before. In fact, reading food labels is a behavior of the majority, with 78 percent saying they read labels. Another 15 percent does so “sometimes,” particularly those who cook dinner at home four or more times per week. They are looking for ingredients they want to consume less, including high fructose corn syrup, sugar, artificial dyes and gluten.
Cooking With Technology
Moms also revealed that technology is prevalent in the kitchen. Only one-fourth of moms said they don’t use any technology in the kitchen while cooking. Of the three-fourths of moms who said they use technology while cooking, sources such as AllRecipes.com (25 percent), Pinterest (19 percent) and FoodNetwork.com (15 percent) ranked highest.
Beyond these websites, moms rely upon food-based TV programs and the online counterparts of food magazines.
“We found it interesting that more than three-quarters of moms are watching food programs on TV and reading food media websites, and nearly three-quarters have signed up for food brand emails, considering these are not all ‘foodie’ moms, but everyday meal-preparing moms,” said Cooper Munroe, co-founder of TheMotherhood.com.
In close? “Food brands must evaluate how they are using these trusted channels to deliver the right messages, mom to mom.”
Time to get busy building that communication channel. The health of our children are depending on it.
Stars like Emmy Award winners Michael J. Fox and moms like Julie Bowen and Ali Larter have joined the efforts to label genetically engineered (GE) foods.
The celebrities are featured in a new Just Label It (JLI) video calling for the FDA to require labeling of GE foods. Fox, Bowen and Larter are joined in the video by 24 other entertainers like Chevy Chase and advocates and Just Label It (JLI) Chairman, Gary Hirshberg.
Bowen, a mother of three sons, shows her support for labeling by revealing a sign in the video with the message: “Every modern family has the right to know what’s in their food!”
As a mom, she gets it. And it’s a message many of us can relate to.
It’s great to see mothers like Bowen, Ali Larter, Kimberly Van Der Beek and Anne Heche stand up for their right to know what’s in the foods they are feeding their families, as it’s a right that’s already been given to eaters in dozens of countries around the world, even in China, Russia and India.
The United States remains one of the few developed countries in the world that has not yet labeled these ingredients, introduced into our food supply in the 1990s, in our foods.
The message in this video sums up the argument JLI has been making throughout the country: every American deserves the right to know about their food and whether they are eating or serving their families food that has been genetically engineered.
Just Label It is petitioning the FDA to update its 20-year-old voluntary guidelines and require labeling for GE foods, giving a voice to all Americans who are concerned about wha is going into the foods they are feeding their loved ones. Today, more than 1.2 million Americans have joined the petition. I hope you will too, so that together, we can have this same basic right enjoyed by citizens around the world.
To learn more, please visit Just Label It .
Did you know that according to the National Retail Federation, there will be over $1 billion in candy sales this Halloween? In 2005, the average American consumed 25.7 pounds of candy, per capita, much of it around Halloween. And on top of that, the CDC recently reported that 1in 3 Americans are expected to have diabetes in the next forty years.
So what’s a parent to do? It’s Halloween, for crying out loud!
When trick-or-treating entered the American scene in the 1920s, neighbors gave children items like apples, pastries, breads and even money. So why, 40 years later, are there $1 billion in candy sales each Halloween? How has food marketing taken over this tradition?
“Companies went after Halloween candy a long time ago,” says Nancy Childs, Ph.D., professor of food marketing. “Candy companies are active and aggressive marketers who offer convenient, pre-packaged treats to fulfill the tradition.”
But have you ever read the side of a candy box?
According to Pure Fun Candy, the FDA does not monitor artificial colors, flavors and preservatives nor require that they be tested. Rather, the concept of “threshold of toxicological concern” has been proposed by the FDA to set acceptable daily intake for chemicals of unknown toxicity, apparently on the theory that a little bit can’t hurt. But have you ever seen a kid eat a ‘little bit’ of candy?
On top of that, research published in The Lancet, a leading medical journal in the UK, suggests that these additives do affect the brain chemistry of children, causing hyperactivity and ADHD like behavior. The research is so strong that Wal-Mart in the UK agreed to ban these ingredients in children’s foods and government agencies around the world have banned or removed these chemical additives in children’s foods. But American kids still consume these additives in record amounts, especially at Halloween.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
And while sugar is still sugar, organic candy does not contain toxic pesticides, high fructose corn syrup or other chemicals or genetically modified ingredients (ingredients engineered into corn and soy by the agrichemical industry to help these plants produce their own insecticides or withstand increasing doses of weed killers) that aren’t used in children’s foods in other countries.
But with budgets tight, that’s not an option to most families, But given reports by CNN addressing toxicity in children and last year’s Senate hearing in which CNN’s medical correspondent, Sanjy Gupta, addressed the same, perhaps we should take a cue from parents in the 27 countries in the European Union, in Canada, Australia and try to avoid the ingredients that their government agencies have banned in children’s foods – things like high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, MSG and those genetically engineered ingredients producing their own insecticides.
Do One Thing
So while we can’t make the perfect the enemy of the good, we can all do something, focusing on progress not perfection. So maybe this Halloween, you can opt-out of juice that contains high fructose corn syrup or artificial colors as a way to reduce your children’s exposure. Or when it comes to that inevitable deluge of candy, you can offer to engage your kids in a candy swap. For every few pieces of conventional candy that they collect, trade them in for a healthier treat, a sticker or some small toy.
Or better yet, write a letter to the Great Pumpkin. Apparently, he’s been known to bring little presents like gift cards or a book to children who leave their candy baskets outside the front door for him in the first week of November.
You can make a difference in the health of your family. The opportunity is enormous, and the time is now.
To learn more about ways to protect your children from genetically engineered ingredients in Halloween candy, you can visit the Non-GMO Project’s Guide to Halloween.
Additional information is also available at www.greenhalloween.org