The Seven Year Itch
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.