Health Bits

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Be in-the-know for optimal family health.

what are you bathing your baby in?

Sandy Warren washes her baby in California Baby pesticide- and additive-free baby wash and shampoo. She switched from Johnson’s baby wash after finding out it contained moderate levels of potentially cancer-causing chemicals on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Web site, cosmeticsdatabase.com. There she saw that the Washington-based activist group gave the baby wash an orange mark, indicating “a moderate level of concern.”

“We want to believe these products are safe,” says Karen Rivo, a mother and public-health nurse who discovered the acne medicine she’d bought her daughters received a red mark, or high level of concern. “I see what we can change.”

Change is the goal of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which rates the safety of thousands of products we slather, brush, roll and paint on every day.

“Most people assume that if something is on a store shelf, the government is looking at it,” says EWG spokeswoman Lauren Sucher. “But 99 percent of personal-care products haven’t been reviewed for safety.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration essentially leaves the safety of personal-care products in the hands of manufacturers. It does not require pre-market testing, as it does with drugs. The EWG’s mission is to warn consumers about potentially dangerous ingredients in toiletries, including baby wash, toothpaste, perfumes and more. Most of the suspect ingredients have been linked to reproductive abnormalities, cancer or birth defects. Ultimately, EWG leaders hope consumers will use their purchasing power to force cosmetic manufacturers to eliminate toxic chemicals.

The EWG began delving into cosmetics safety following a 2001 study at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that revealed surprisingly high levels of a metabolite of dibutyl phthalate in the urine of women of child-bearing age. Dibutyl phthalate is commonly used in moisturizers and nail polish. Scientists were alarmed by the finding because dibutyl phthalate is known to suppress sexual development in male rats. Studies suggest male children of exposed women also may be affected.

Cosmetic manufacturers don’t dispute the studies, but say those effects come only from much higher levels of exposure than what we get from normal cosmetic use.

“There’s a big difference between what humans are exposed to and what produces an effect in animals,” says researcher Paul M. D. Foster of the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology.

What nobody knows and what concerns consumer advocates most is the effect in humans over a lifetime of exposure. Mere suspicion that a chemical might be harmful should be enough to eliminate it from toiletries, the EWG contends.

“So much hasn’t been tested,” Rivo says. “For 30 years women thought taking estrogen was safe. Now we know it causes cancer.”

For mothers and daughters who want to look pretty and stay healthy, there is hope. Two hundred cosmetic manufacturers have signed a pledge promoted by the EWG to use no chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects or genetic mutations. Most of the companies are small and obscure. Industry giants L’Oreal and Revlon broke new ground last year when they promised that products they sold in the U.S. would meet the tougher safety standards of the European Union, which in 2005 enacted a ban from toiletries of chemicals suspected of causing cancer, mutations or reproductive abnormalities.

More formula changes can be expected after the first state cosmetics safety act goes into effect. California is the first state to have passed a law that requires manufacturers to report potentially hazardous ingredients to the state health department, which will alert the public. Consumer advocates predict manufacturers seeking to avoid negative publicity will remove, rather than report, suspect ingredients and market those safer formulas from coast to coast.

“I’m glad there are groups bringing the issue to the forefront,” Rivo says. “I love that there are companies committed to making safer products.”


a sign of the times

We all know a skull and crossbones means poison, and a stick figure with a triangular skirt identifies the ladies’ room. Now how about a fat exclamation point in the middle of a green octagon? Don’t worry if you don’t know yet. But soon, entrepreneur and mom Robyn O’Brien hopes her graphic creation will be as familiar as a stop sign.

O’Brien designed the symbol to alert people to food allergies in children. One in 15 children younger than age 3 has a food allergy. Such statistics became intimately familiar to O’Brien when the youngest of her four children developed food allergies.

She learned that nearly all allergic reactions are associated with milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soybeans, fish and shellfish. Every year, some 1,800 people are hospitalized for allergic reactions to food. Most exposures happen when children are away from home. Teachers, day-care workers and friends might not know of a child’s allergies, so O’Brien hopes to familiarize people with the green octagon.

Her AllergyKids mail-order products give parents a variety of opportunities to alert people to their child’s allergies. Green wristbands and pins children wear on their clothes help others realize certain foods are off limits. Stickers and refrigerator magnets with the same logo remind family and friends of what those foods are, while branded lunch and snack bags enable youngsters with allergies to carry safe foods without worrying about switched lunch bags.

“My goal is to have that symbol on products in every Target and Wal-Mart,” says O’Brien.

When she started her business, O’Brien also established a foundation to fund food-allergy research. She plans to donate at least 10 percent of the proceeds from AllergyKids to the foundation.

The prevalence of childhood food allergies is staggering and, nobody knows why,” O’Brien said. “Our goal is to fund the medical research.”

For more information about AllergyKids, visit allergykids.com or call 800-671-1525.

fire prevention week october 7 – 13

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) urges all families to have an emergency plan in order in the event of a house fire, but that’s still not enough! Families must practice, practice, practice! While 66 percent of Americans have an escape plan, only 35 percent have practiced it. Teach your kids the easiest and safest escape route. Download an escape plan at nfpa.org and ensure you have working smoke detectors in yoru home. Lastly, make sure your children know to NEVER play with any type of firestarters. It only takes a second to send a house up in flames. To learn more about Fire Prevention Week, visit nfpa.org.
– ashley driggs

seeing fewer sports injuries

Raise a child without a baseball, bat and glove, and you’ll be accused of child deprivation. Deprive him of a pair of sports goggles and nobody will notice. Goggles, though, are as important as any other tool of the game. Eye injuries from sports send more than 41,000 people to the hospital every year. More than 40 percent of them are children younger than 15. Sadly, 90 percent of those injuries could be prevented simply by wearing protective eyewear.

“Children can end up with injuries ranging from abrasions of the cornea and bruises to the lids to internal eye injuries such as retinal detachments and internal bleeding,” says Craig McKeown, M.D. “Some of these kids end up with permanent vision loss and blindness.”

Sports goggles are especially important for any sport involving flying objects. Basketball causes the most sports-related eye injuries, followed by baseball, swimming and pool sports, racquet and court sports, football, soccer, golf, hockey and volleyball.

Today’s sports goggles are flexible and lightweight. The safest lenses are polycarbonate, which is 10 times more shatter-resistant than plastic lenses. “A hard blow might cause superficial bruises,” says Yin Tea, M.D., an assistant professor of optometry. “But there won’t be direct impact to the eyes.” Tea recommends parents buy their budding athletes’ protective eyewear from an eye-care specialist.

“I like them to be custom-fitted,” she says, “so you know it’s the right size.”

Optometrists can fit sports goggles with clear or prescription lenses, which can even be made for swim goggles, ski goggles and diving masks. Tea emphasizes that children should never participate in high-impact sports with regular glasses. Frames broken by a ball or elbow can turn what would have been a bruise into a serious laceration.

the easiest temp taker

The days of mercury thermometers are long gone, and with the arrival of the accu-touch forehead thermometer, the days of probe thermometers may be limited as well. Safety1st’s new thermometer can read from the forehead or underarm in seven seconds, and the accuracy is right on! Available at Wal-Mart for $34.87. – ashley driggs

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