Saturday, May 11, 2013

Are We To Clean...And is it Harming Kids?

Parents are reporting more skin and food allergies in their children, a government survey found.

Experts aren't sure what's behind the increase. Could it be that children are growing up in households so clean that it leaves them more sensitive to things that can trigger allergies? Or are mom and dad paying closer attention to rashes and reactions, and more likely to call it an allergy?

"We don't really have the answer," said Dr. Lara Akinbami of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the senior author of the new report released Thursday.

The CDC survey suggests that about 1 in 20 U.S. children have food allergies. That's a 50 percent increase from the late 1990s. For eczema and other skin allergies, it's 1 in 8 children, an increase of 69 percent.

Experts believe there is a real — and unexplained — increase going on.

One of the more popular theories is "the hygiene hypothesis," which says that exposure to germs and parasites in early childhood somehow prevent the body from developing certain allergies.

The hypothesis argues that there is a downside to America's culture of disinfection and overuse of antibiotics. The argument has been bolstered by a range of laboratory and observational studies, including some that have found lower rates of eczema and food allergies in foreign-born children in the U.S.

There could be other explanations, though. Big cities have higher childhood allergy rates, so maybe some air pollutant is the unrecognized trigger, said Dr. Peter Lio, a Northwestern University pediatric dermatologist who specializes in eczema. [1]

Some suspect the change has something to do with the evolution in how foods are grown and produced, like the introduction of genetically modified foods, and heavy use of growth hormones and antibiotics in the conventional livestock and dairy industry. In fact the excessive use of antibiotics on livestock has lead to real problems with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. [2] Also consider the wide and ever expanding array of food additives and preservatives that occur in such minute amounts they aren’t required to be labeled falling under the nebulous note of “natural flavors.”

Go to any school these days and when you walk in they will inevitably have a pump of anti-bacterial gel right inside the door. Not to mention it’s a standard accessory on every kid’s backpack. There is no doubt that in our culture everything is scrubbed down and heavily sanitized.

Consider that when I was a kid my dad would literally go out milk our goat and drink the milk straight. I thought he was crazy of course but that’s what he grew up on and the man has a gut of steel. If you produce raw milk in this state and try to sell it you’re in big trouble with the law. Raw milk advocates say it is the perfect life sustaining food but for the vast majority who has never been exposed to it, it’s not a good idea to start now. The milk we buy from the story is basically a dead food that has been so heavily processed it has little resemblance to the raw milk that comes from the cow.

And there in lies the rub in regard to the food industry and government oversight of the industry. In an effort to eliminate food borne illness the food has become an inert mass of sterilized foodstuff. Our slate is so clean that if we get a speck on it we don’t react well.

I grew up on a farm and as kids were always running around barefooted and rolling around in the grass and dirt. We were definitely exposing ourselves to the environment building not only strong bodies but immune systems as well. And I have been reading plenty in recent months on the benefits to your health of walking/playing outside barefoot, aka grounding (topic for another time). [3]

A couple of weeks ago I touched on the future of the food industry and some of the rather odd products that are on the horizon. [4] Consider that the quick serve food industry like KFC is introducing new varieties of boneless chicken and this is likely only a first step in a fairly scary trend.

Scientists are working toward engineering meat from stem cells and literally growing it in test tubes. Quick serves like McDonalds already have introduced boneless chicken in the form of the McNugget (which by the way is only 50% chicken, the other 50% is nothing but binders, flavorings, and other synthetic ingredients). [5]

The strategy by KFC and others may be to establish boneless chicken as normal and when you consider how rarely we eat the whole chicken these days, instead opting for the breasts, this won’t seem all that strange. This will make it easier for the processed food industry to “sub” in the meat that’s been engineered in the lab without the consumer even knowing it. I know it seems far-fetched and you may expect government oversight to restrict them but please remember at this time genetically modified foods do not have to be labeled in the U.S.

Have you noticed recently that a lot of quick serves are offering boneless chicken wings? Given the information above it makes you wonder what you are really eating…

Check out this recent headline:

Abbott Laboratories shareholders reject proposal to remove GMOs from infant formula.

An Abbott Laboratories shareholder proposal to remove genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from its natural products - including its Similac infant formula- was recently rejected. Infants are being exposed to this stuff at such a young age that it is hardly surprising food allergies are becoming so prevalent in kids. [6]

It would be easy to become discouraged and throw your hands up in frustration over not being able to trust what is in the food that you and your family eat. But I urge you to keep it in perspective, because we all have to eat!  Unfortunately it just isn’t practical to raise our own meat and grow our own vegetables, so we have to test the marketplace to obtain our food. If we have an occasional McNugget it’s not going to devastate our health but I do believe it’s extremely important not to bury our heads in the sand. As long as you are aware of what is coming and what’s really out there you can prepare yourself to make the best decisions possible when it comes to feeding your family.

Phil Loomis
Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist


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