Children’s Health is Different Today

“If our American way of life fails the child, it fails us all.” — Pearl S. Buck

Are our children any different than we were as kids? Are they doing the same things? Are they eating the same foods? Is the environment the same as it was 20 or 30 years ago?

We know that their health is different. When I was a kid I knew one girl with asthma and, looking back, one or two boys that today would probably be diagnosed with ADHD. No one had a peanut allergy or a milk allergy or was gluten intolerant. I never even heard the term autism until I was in my 20s.

There have been 80,000 new chemicals introduced in the last 20 years and most of them have never been tested for safety. These chemicals can be in our food, the air we breathe, the clothes we wear and the beds we sleep in. Today, more than 200 chemicals are being found in newborn babies’ umbilical cord blood samples.

Did you know most children’s pajamas are treated with flame retardant chemicals? And so are their mattresses?

Sixty years ago all the food we grew was organic because we hadn’t started using pesticides on our crops. None of our food was genetically modified.

When I was young, processed food was available but wasn’t an every meal staple. I remember that TV dinners seemed so cool, with all your food in separate compartments including dessert! I ate cereal for breakfast most days, but many of my friends were still eating a home-cooked breakfast. We packed a lunch because there wasn’t any choice until we got to high school. And everyone ate a home-cooked dinner.

Remember when McDonalds was a treat? Maybe once a month, if you were lucky? Remember what a small-sized pop looked like? Remember when water came from the tap, instead of a plastic bottle with BPAs?

Microwaves came out in the late 1960s. Most families had one by the ‘80s. I remember my mom said she didn’t think it was a good idea to heat our food up with radiation waves. She always was ahead of her time. Research is indicating that radiating our food may not be good for us after all.

We made popcorn in a pot or a popcorn maker with the little butter melting compartment that never seemed to work quite right. Our kids are microwaving their popcorn in bags that are coated with chemical non-stick coating.

How about “screen time” or “electronics” as we call them in our house? When we were kids we watched TV — all 12 channels when cable became available! We had some weekend morning cartoons and some after-school shows. Today’s children have more than 200 channels to choose from as well as on-demand shows. Not to mention pay-per-view movies and DVDs. That’s kids’ programming 24 hours a day!

What about video games? I remember when a friend got an Atari. Kids today have a choice of Wii, Playstation, iPods and cellphones. Screens have something called flash rates, which can have an effect on mood, behavior and hyperactivity. Ever notice how your child can become angry when it is time to stop playing and sometimes that mood will linger?

Whatever happened to playing outside? Today’s children are entering kindergarten without the gross motor skills that we had by age 5. Kids aren’t getting enough exercise, either, as witnessed by soaring childhood obesity numbers.

Have body care products changed? We didn’t use much — shampoo and soap and maybe some lotion. I remember the first time we bought “cream rinse,” now known as conditioner. It replaced the “No More Tears” detangler that my mom thought was the greatest invention ever.

There was no such thing as sunscreen in those days. Why weren’t we getting skin cancer? Think of all the products that line shelves today. They’re not made with natural products; they are full of chemicals.

How about the pace of life? Are we busier today? Absolutely. Multi-tasking wasn’t even a term until recently. We run ourselves ragged, driving our kids from one activity to another and grabbing some fast food on the way.

Has life changed? Yes, and our health along with it. The most apparent change is in the health of our kids. Allergies, asthma, autism, ADHD, diabetes and obesity are at all-time highs. Our children are trying to tell us something. Are we going to listen?

Join me for a workshop on children’s health from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Monroe County Community College. Learn how to have healthy babies, how to re-establish health in your child and how to give your child a lifetime of health.


Originally published in The News Herald column Food for Thought by Theresa Edmunds.