Risky Convenience

Ponchos containing phthalates

These ponchos were tested for — and contain — phthalates.
Cropped image. CHEJ, Flickr. CC License.

Plastic is handy. It’s lightweight, doesn’t break easily, is waterproof, comes in attractive colors, and can be molded to any shape. But what does this convenience cost us?

Multiple health concerns in children — including male birth defects, asthma, and behavioral deficits — are attributed to a group of common plastic additives: phthalates (pronounced THAL-ātes). Phthalates serve to make vinyl (PVC) flexible. They also occur in artificial fragrances, such as perfume and air fresheners.

These harmful additives, however, aren’t needed. After a four-year phase-out period ended in February, the European Union banned six of the most harmful phthalates from all products. Europe’s REACH regulators consider these phthalates “Substances of Very High Concern”.

The United States also recognizes phthalates as hazardous, banning three of them (DBP, DEHP, BBP) in children’s toys and certain child care articles in 2009. Three other phthalates (DINP, DnOP, DIDP) were banned temporarily for products children put in their mouths, as well as child care articles. But many household goods, cosmetics (including perfume and nail polish), and cleaners (e.g., air fresheners, “plug-ins”, etc.) — which children are exposed to regularly — still contain phthalates.

The health effects are not exclusive to children. Phthalates are linked to reduced testosterone levels, increased pregnancy losses, and increased breast cancer risk in adults.

The Ecology Center, a local non-profit, tests everyday items for harmful chemicals through its HealthyStuff program. Last year, dangerous phthalate levels were found in vinyl three-ring binders, shower curtains, and iPod chargers from Walgreens. In February 2015, a new dollar store report revealed high levels of phthalates in vinyl floor runners, silly straws, pencil pouches, and bathtub appliqués. And this March, HealthyStuff is wrapping up phthalates testing of vinyl floor tiles from several popular retailers. Stay tuned for results!

Concerned consumers should minimize their use of vinyl (recycling #3) whenever possible. Choose natural materials, like washable cloth shower curtains, cardboard binders, cotton or jute floor runners, and use natural fragrances for home and body. (Remember baking soda and vinegar absorb odors in the home rather than covering them up. You can also choose healthier cleaning solutions using these recipes.)

Avoid vinyl in all child care products, even if they are free of the six phthalates restricted by federal law. Manufacturers have begun to use a variety of different chemicals as alternative plasticizers in vinyl, some of which have properties similar to those of phthalates. Yet the health effects of these alternatives aren’t well studied.

Items of special concern are surfaces where babies and children sleep, such as nap mats, playpens, changing pads, vinyl mattresses, waterproof mattress covers. Heat, including body heat, increases the off-gassing of plasticizer chemicals. Also, a new study published in Environmental Science & Technology reveals that the breathing zone of an infant sleeping on a vinyl crib mattress cover can have four times the amount of plasticizer chemicals.

Concerned citizens can also ask state and federal legislators to protect the health of Americans just as Europe protects its citizens. After all, toxic for one, toxic for all.

– Melissa Cooper Sargent, Environmental Health Educator with LocalMotionGreen at Ecology Center. For more information, you can email her at melissas@ecocenter.org or visit http://www.ecocenter.org/lmg. 

We All Make Mistakes

We all make mistakes and it's OKAY. – Maria Dismondy

One thing I’m learning as a parent is how important my role is as a model to my children. They are watching my every move. My behaviors and actions affect them more than I know. This puts a lot of pressure on us as parents but at the same time, this provides us with a wonderful teaching opportunity.

Let’s teach our children a valuable lesson about making mistakes.

First, let’s teach them that it’s OK to make mistakes. Mistakes can teach us something important. We can make mistakes, learn from them, then move forward. I love the book by Todd Parr called “It’s Okay to Make Mistakes” for enhancing this life lesson.

Second, everyone makes mistakes. Practice makes better. I don’t teach my children that practice makes perfect because we might not ever master something, even after plenty of effort. I think there’s a balance to find when teaching our children about perfection. We’re learning in school to discover our likes, dislikes, and to recognize areas where we have strengths and weaknesses. In the end, it’s important we learn that it’s OK to have weaknesses and they don’t equal failure.

This month as I travel throughout Michigan speaking to thousands of children, I’m sharing my writing with them. I show them my writing from elementary, middle and high school. I point out that I made mistakes in my writing growing up and that even today, as a grown-up, as a published author, I still make mistakes and that is OK.

We all make mistakes.

– Maria Dismondy is a mother of three, reading specialist, fitness instructor and bestselling children’s author living in Southeast Michigan.

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month

Model of a brain

Cropped image. Army Medicine, Flickr. CC License.

Concussion is a “hot topic” in the news, but did you know that a concussion is a traumatic brain injury? Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, can be classified anywhere from mild to severe and is often caused by a blow, bump or jolt to the head. There are many misconceptions about concussions, so to test your own (or your child’s) concussion knowledge, try taking this simple true and false quiz.

A concussion quiz for athletes, parents and coaches

How did you do? If either of you need a refresher, everything you need to know about concussion is on Beaumont’s neuroscience page. Don’t forget to watch the video; I make my acting debut!

You can reduce your risk for traumatic brain injuries. Here are 10 tips to get started:

  1. Prevent falls. Falls are the leading cause of TBI, accounting for about 32.5 percent. Safe Kids Worldwide offers some great tips on how to prevent childhood falls.
  1. Ensure your young children are properly secured and in the correct car seat. Recommendations have changed over the years based on research. To familiarize yourself with current recommendations, visit the CDC’s Child Passenger Safety page.

    Beaumont Children’s Hospital offers free car seat safety checks monthly (by appointment only). To have a certified child passenger safety technician check your car seat installation, click here for dates and information on how to make an appointment.

  1. Keep older kids in the rear seat until they are at least 13 years old. Did you know an airbag deploys at 140 mph? Airbags save lives but for younger kids, they can actually cause severe injury and even death.

    Also, never put a rear-facing car seat in front of an airbag. This video shows exactly what can happen to a rear-facing seat in the front. Bonus, you can show your tween how fast the airbag would come out at them if they give you any grief about riding in the back seat.

  1. As a parent, don’t drive distracted! Distracted driving includes alcohol, drugs (including medication that may make you sleepy), texting, talking on the phone, eating and applying makeup.
  1. Have your child always wear a helmet. In addition to sports such as football and hockey, also wear a helmet while bicycling, skateboarding, on scooters (these can hit a rock and flip your child over the handlebars), snow sports, horseback riding, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. Kids often are in a hurry to be more “grown up”, so don’t forget to have the adults always wear a helmet as well!
  1. Anchor your furniture and televisions to the wall with furniture straps. One child dies every two weeks due to tip-overs in the home. Read this article for more information about furniture and television tip-overs.
  1. Never prop an infant seat on top of a shopping cart. According to a report published by The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), more than 20,000 kids under the age of five are seen in Emergency Departments each year with shopping-cart-related injuries. The majority of the children, 84 percent, suffer from head and brain injuries. Read more about shopping cart injuries here.
  1. Show your kids the safe way to enter water. Brain and spinal cord injuries occur when diving into shallow or water with an unknown depth. Even far from shore in open water, there could be a large rock or sandbar that’s unknowingly close to the surface. The safest way to enter water is feet first!

    Remember that even simple water play can be dangerous and that it takes less than five minutes to drown. Heading to open water? Brush up on these additional open-water safety tips.

  1. Inspect playground equipment before use. More than 200,000 children are injured on America’s playgrounds each year. That’s one child injured every 2½ minutes! This article has more tips on how to give the playground a “once over” so you can relax and watch your kids play.Additionally the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a specific policy that advises pediatricians to discourage the use of recreational trampolines. The report shows that head and neck injuries account for approximately 10–17 percent of all trampoline-related injuries.
  1. Have your athletes take a baseline concussion screening before they are injured. Beaumont’s Concussion Health Awareness and Management Program (CHAMP) offers both pre- and post-concussion screenings for athletes and other individuals age 13 and older through ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing). It’s important to have a baseline screening on file, so health care providers can determine the best concussion treatment plan.

– Erica Surman, RN, BSN, Pediatric Trauma Program Manager, Beaumont Health System

Lucky Babies: Popular Irish Names

Happy St Patrick's Day balloon

Cropped image. Hongreddotbrewhouse, Wikimedia Commons. CC License.

Choosing a baby name can be one of the more difficult decisions new parents face. For some lucky people, the name is easily chosen. For others, finding the perfect name can be a long process and feel like an out-of-reach pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I looked at the current trends in Irish naming. Many of the names often used in Ireland today are the same as the popular names in the United States (like Jack, James, Ben, Ava, Emily and Chloe). However there are also some uniquely Irish names in the top 25 according to the Irish Central Statistics Office.

Here are some popular Irish/Gaelic names with some pronunciation help and meanings, as well as some Irish-inspired names and meanings. Erin Go Bragh and happy naming!

Girls

  • Aoife (pronounced EE-fa) (beautiful, radiant)
  • Caoimhe (pronounced KWEE-va) (beauty, grace)
  • Ciara (pronounced KEE-ra) (dark hair and eyes)
  • Niamh (pronounced NEEV) (luster, brightness)
  • Saoirse (pronounced SEER-sha) (freedom, liberty)
  • Alannah (darling child)
  • Bridget (power, virtue)
  • Maeve (great joy)
  • Meara (sea)
  • Orla (golden princess)

Boys

  • Cian (pronounced KEE-in) (ancient, enduring)
  • Cillian (pronounced Kil-EE-an) (church)
  • Darragh (pronounced DAR–ah) (oak tree)
  • Eoin (pronounced O–in) (God is good)
  • Oisin (pronounced O-sheen) (little deer)
  • Cormac (son of the charioteer)
  • Eamon (guardian of riches)
  • Fergus (strength)
  • Padraig (nobly born)
  • Sean (gracious gift)

– Sara Kuhn is a Parenting Program participant and volunteer.

Watch Out for That Little Girl

Little girl peering over bounce house wall

Unaltered image. Elaine Ashton, Flickr. CC License.

I’m the proud father of two great girls. One is seven, the other closing in on four (wow, four already, that’s for another blog). Like most everyone in Michigan, we just went through another harsh winter and to say we had cabin fever when it finally clicked into March would be an understatement. So we needed to find a place where these kids could burn some extra energy, and quick!

After a bit of research my wife found a Groupon for a place that had indoor bounce houses—a lot of bounce houses. Perfect! When we got there, this place was like toddler Vegas, with inflated bouncers as far as the eye could see. Green, red, yellow, blue, it’s was truly sensory overload. Our girls went from piece to piece without one foot touching unsupported, air-filled ground.

They were in nirvana. They timed themselves through an obstacle course, climbed what seemed like two stories just to have a .6-second ride on a slide. They played soccer, shot baskets and just let it all hang loose. It was great seeing them smile that smile when they seem truly happy.

We arrived when it wasn’t too crowded, so it wasn’t uncommon to have our almost 4-year-old have a 20×20 bounce house to herself. She’d bounce from corner to corner, try sliding after jumps, and learning that it might not be that much fun to slide on vinyl after bounding high in the sky.

As the place filled up with the after-dinner rush, each bouncer got a little busier, but more the merrier because you can bounce more when there are more kids bouncing.

As we headed over to the 20×20 bouncer, our little one had company of two boys who weren’t much more than seven. Even before the boys could step one foot beyond the hole they crawled in, their Mom was yelling, “Watch out for that little girl!” I counted no more than 12 times that she said it in about six minutes.

I know she was trying to protect my youngest. But the way the mom was saying it made me feel, and I think my daughter a bit, that she was frail and couldn’t handle herself. We try and raise our girls to be strong, independent people (a little much sometimes … again, for another blog) who hopefully will be able to handle themselves in most situations. And our youngest didn’t disappoint.

She kept bouncing and bouncing until she did a bit of a cannonball-type jump that made both boys fall, and then she slid out and went on to the obstacle course where I think she might’ve put in her personal best time from end-to-end.

In a completely puffed-out-chested, proud Dad way, it made me proud that she wasn’t phased at the mom’s words. It might’ve been coincidental, but I saw the look on her face after she did it. I know, sadly, that my daughters will have a bigger battle than a bounce-house bully as they will have to fight wage inequality, glass ceilings, and other asinine hurdles that are completely man-made, but I also know that they won’t hesitate to bounce people on their bottoms when the time is right.

With saying all of that, I guess I have to agree with that overprotective stranger. Watch out for that little girl; she might rule the world someday.

– Jim Pesta, Parenting Program participant and father of two girls

Seeing Shamrocks? Try Green Super Foods!

Fresh greens and carrots

It’s March! That means it’s one month closer to spring (it can only get warmer at this point, right?) and St. Patrick’s Day is a week from today. This means there’s lots of “green” everywhere you go. However March isn’t the only month we should be seeing green.

Eating foods in a variety of colors should be part of your diet every day of the year. So in the spirit of St. Patty’s Day, I thought I’d share some amazing and healthy green foods.

Eating green isn’t that hard when you think about it. I love bitter foods so I’ll eat almost any vegetable. My 4-year-old daughter loves anything green, but my 7-year-old son won’t even touch his plate if there is anything a shade of that color within a 5-mile radius. But as a typical consumer, one walk down your local grocer’s produce aisle will lead you to many green fruits and veggies and your options are endless. My family’s personal favorite “green” food is avocado!

Avocados

  • What they are: Avocados are actually a fruit. They’re a large berry with a big single seed in the center. They grow on trees and 95 percent of the avocados found in the United States are the “Hass” variety and grown in California.
  • Health benefits: Avocados are high in a variety of healthy fats. They contain around 20 nutrients in total, as well as vitamins B, C, E and K, and phytonutrients (read a more in-depth nutrient analysis here.
    • The “official” serving size of an avocado is only 30 g, which equates to 1/5 of the fruit, but most of us tend to consume about ½ (68 g), which is approximately 114 calories according to a NHANES analysis.
    • Avocado’s dense healthy fat content may be responsible for healthy blood lipid profiles, and aid in vitamin absorption. That study concludes with: “Avocado consumption is associated with improved overall diet quality, nutrient intake, and reduced risk of metabolic syndrome.”
    • Another paper published in 2013 by Dreher cites studies that have shown some benefits of eating avocados as well. One study by Grant (1960) demonstrated that a diet ranging from ½ to 1 ½ avocados per day helped men lower their total cholesterol levels. Other studies that have shown how avocados may help in weight management and healthy aging were also cited. Time magazine published an excellent article that goes into more details on the powers of avocados.
  • What to look for: When shopping for avocados you want to look for a couple things. If you want to buy them unripe, look for ones that are still green, firm, and have the stem still attached. If you want to eat them relatively soon, look for ones that are soft and dark brown. The best method for ripening your avocado is to place it in a brown paper bag along with a banana peel and leave it on the counter for a few days. If you have a ripe avocado that won’t be consumed quickly, you can place it in the refrigerator.

Kale

  • What it is: A member of the brassica family like broccoli and brussels sprouts. It has long stem with crinkly, green leaves. For the longest time I thought that kale’s only purpose was to garnish salad bars, but now I grow it in my garden and find many ways to enjoy eating it!
  • Health benefits: All deep green colored leafy greens (e.g., broccoli, cabbage, spinach, chard, etc.) contain about the same variety of nutrients. These can include carotenoids; vitamins A, C and D; folate; minerals like calcium, potassium, and iron; as well as lots of dietary fiber. All that means that it’s good for the eyes, bones, blood vessels and brain.
    • One of the most regarded super foods is kale. It’s rich in the vitamins mentioned above, as well as vitamins C and K. Kale’s calcium is more easily absorbed by the body than spinach, and has 1000 percent more vitamin C. It also contains more than 40 flavonoids, which act as antioxidants, containing many anti-inflammatory properties. However because of kale’s vitamin K content, people on blood thinners need to be cautious when eating a diet rich in these greens.
    • It seems like you can find numerous health studies toting the benefits of eating kale. Some of those perceived benefits include lowering your risk of heart disease and certain cancers. The fiber helps promote a healthy GI tract, and helps regulate blood glucose levels, which can be helpful in those suffering from Type I or Type II diabetes. You can read an article on those mentioned health claims and more here.
  • What to look for: Choose bundles with dark leaves; avoid those with yellow or brown spots. You can store kale in the refrigerator in a zip-close or other plastic bag. I like to wrap a wet paper towel around the base of the stem to keep the leaves crisp. Keep refrigerated for up to five days.

Green Tea and Matcha

  • What it is: I’m sure most of us are familiar with green tea, but some people are just now discovering “matcha.” Remember that scene in “The Karate Kid II” when Daniel-san is taking part in a tea ceremony with that lovely Japanese girl? That wasmatcha! It’s essentially green tea ground into a fine powder.
    • Green tea leaves are known scientifically as Camellia sinensis and originate from China although today it’s grown all over the world, including the U.S. The methods for processing the raw leaves vary from location to location, but most are done using the methods used in China or Japan. Matcha, however, is only grown in Japan.
    • The key difference between the green tea used to make matcha and “regular” green tea (like you find loose leaf or in packets) is that the leaves of the plant are covered for a few weeks before harvest. The tea is also prepared differently. While you usually steep or use a press for green tea, matcha requires different instruments such as a whisk and a bowl. The end product is a rich, creamier drink—similar in the way that espresso is to coffee.
  • Health benefits: There seem to be more benefits to matcha over traditional green tea because you are actually consuming the leaves (since they’re ground up), unlike drinking tea made from loose leaves. Nutrient-wise, matcha provides a boost of antioxidants, vitamin C, protein, and minerals such as calcium and potassium. (An excellent table comparing the nutrient values of matcha, green tea, and coffee can be found here.)
    • A class of antioxidants called “catechins” is thought to yield many benefits such as reducing the risk of cancer, improving brain function, lowering your risk of heart disease, increasing fat oxidation, and helping to increase bone density in elderly women.
    • So you can see there are many possible benefits. Personally I enjoy the calming effects it has on the body. It seems to give me an overall sense of well being.
  • Where to buy: If you do an online search, you’ll certainly come across a number of sites that give you fancy names and varieties, but really what it comes down to is finding a brand you enjoy.
    • For green tea (in tea bags) I recommend buying products from Japan, Korea or China, which you can easily do at any Asian grocery store. I like this tea from Amazon, or I pick it up from my favorite Korean store (Han Mi Mart in Troy).
    • As for matcha, you can find it most places online and in some local stores like Teavana. I suggest finding a local coffee shop that offers this type of tea and trying it there, then ask where they get their matcha from. That way you know it’s a brand you’ll like.

A few other green super foods:

  • Kiwi: The little, round, fuzzy balls of fruit are considered to be the most nutrient-dense of the 27 most commonly consumed fruits. They’re full of antioxidants and vitamin C, as well as fat-free, high in fiber, have a low glycemic index, and contain more potassium than a banana.
  • Edamame: Probably the only time I ever eat edamame is when I’m having sushi, but these delicious soybeans are a good source of plant protein; antioxidants; omega fatty acids;  nutrients such as vitamin K, copper, manganese and potassium; and are high in fiber. New research suggests edamame may protect against certain types hormone-dependent cancers such as prostate and breast cancer, but shouldn’t be consumed as much if someone is already diagnosed with one of these cancers.
  • Pistachios: These nuts are a great source of healthy fats that help keep levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) low. They contain antioxidants such as vitamin E to protect cells from oxidation and maintain the integrity of cell membranes. Pistachios are also high in B vitamins and many minerals such as iron, copper, calcium, and magnesium to name a few.
  • Beans: They are full of fiber, high in protein, and are known to help lower cholesterol and decrease your risk of developing diabetes, cancers of the colon, heart disease, and so forth. Not only do they contain fiber, but also antioxidants, vitamins A and B, carotenoids, and minerals such as iron and calcium.

Summary

Green fruits and vegetables all seem to have the same healthy benefits:

  • They are rich in most vitamins.
  • They contain antioxidants, carotenoids, and many minerals.
  • They’re good for the heart (and as one of my professors says, “What’s good for the heart is also good for the brain”).
  • They may help prevent certain types of cancer, aid in vision, boost your immune system, and provide your GI tract with a good source of fiber.

There are numerous health claims for these “super foods”, but one thing I want to caution is that many claims have anecdotal evidence, so it’s important to consult with your doctor or dietitian if you have any questions. As mentioned before, some of these foods may have a synergistic effect with certain drugs and can be very dangerous. With that being said, there’s nothing wrong with trying to incorporate more of these foods in your diet as long as you’re eating a variety and in moderation. I do have some bad news though…

Green beer is not considered a super food.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!

– Joohi Schrader, is a nutrition and food science major at Wayne State University, a mother of three amazing children, and a certified Square Foot Gardening instructor. She’s also a Parenting Program volunteer.

Sources:

  • Clausener, Andrea. “From Avocados to Yogurt: 15 Super Foods for Super Health.” International Journal of Humanities and Peace 21.1 (2005): 85. ProQuest. Web. 4 Mar. 2015.
  • Dreher, Mark L., and Adrienne J. Davenport. “Hass Avocado Composition and Potential Health Effects.” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 53.7 (2013): 738–750. PMC. Web. 4 Mar. 2015.

It’s Daylight Savings Time!

"Don't forget to set your clocks ahead" written on chalkboard

Retouched image. Will, Flickr. CC License.

While you’re changing clocks this weekend, check these things too.

Twice a year here in Michigan, we experience a time change known as Daylight Savings Time. It’s often suggested to check a few things in your home during this time as a way to make sure it gets done at least twice a year. So, while you’re changing your clocks, here are few other things to check out around the home!

  • Replace batteries in all of your smoke detectors. If the smoke detector itself is over 10 years old, time to get a new one.
  • Replace the batteries in your carbon monoxide detectors, too. It’s advised to have at least one detector on all levels of the home, specifically in the area outside each sleeping area. For more information on carbon monoxide click here.
  • With your family, review the location of your home fire extinguisher and how and when to use it. Most importantly, discuss a safe fire escape plan and do a practice home evacuation. Here is more information on how to implement this plan.
  • Check home medicine cabinets for expired medication and first aid supplies. If you carry any medication in a purse or backpack, such as an EpiPen® or Glucagon kit, make sure those haven’t expired as well.
  • Check the contents of your home emergency kit to see if medication or food has expired and if any supplies were used. If you don’t have a prepared kit, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers a checklist.
  • Reverse the direction of your ceiling fan. In the summer you’ll want to use your ceiling fans on low in a counter-clockwise direction.
  • Change the time on any medical equipment such as a blood glucose meter.

– Erica Surman, RN, BSN, Pediatric Trauma Program Manager, Beaumont Health System


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