10 Science-Backed Reasons You Shouldn't Work Out to Lose Weight

Take a guess at the number one reason people exercise. To lose weight, of course. But that’s not the only reason to make it a habit.

Take a guess at the number one reason people exercise.

To lose weight, of course. We all know that.

Unfortunately, we also know that the majority don’t keep it up and don’t reach their goals. They start out strong at the beginning of a new year with big resolutions, but fizzle out from boredom, loss of motivation, overtraining, or lack of results. (Sound familiar?)

The truth is, those who keep up a regular fitness routine in the long run are motivated by things other than weight loss – and they’re healthier overall as a result. Losing weight is just a side effect, really.

It’s time to STOP exercising because you HAVE to just to lose weight. It’s time to broaden your view and value how it makes you feel and the positive effect it has on all aspects of life – not just your waist line.

Here are 10 solid science-backed benefits of exercise (that don’t include weight loss):

Relieves stress

You can’t avoid stress. The only way to improve it is to manage it. And there’s nothing like a good sweat session to release frustration, anger, and tension. Bonus: It helps prevent stress eating, too.
Besides that awesome one-healthy-habit-tends-to-lead-to-more effect, a recent study shows that high-intensity workouts affect hunger hormones and lead to decreased food cravings.

Helps you sleep better

It is well documented that regular moderate exercise helps you sleep better. It helps regulate daily and nightly rhythms and reduces stress, leading to improvement in both sleep time and quality. In fact, exercise is a great natural remedy for insomnia.
The National Sleep Foundation reports that those who get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week experience 65 percent better sleep quality. And check out what awesome things happen when you get better sleep!
Consistent long-term sleep improvement is only realized when you continue an exercise routine for at least 16 weeks. So get on it and stick to it.

Gives you energy

It seems counterintuitive. You’re so tired already, how are you going to muster up the energy for a workout? But in reality, a brisk sweat session can actually be invigorating. A blast of feel-good endorphins will do wonders for your energy level and overall mood. Exercise also serves as an effective therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome.
It’s simple. Your body was meant to move. Give it what it craves!

Makes you smarter

Fact: Exercise boosts both short- and long-term cognitive function. The CARDIA study found that higher fitness levels are associated with better executive function, verbal memory, thinking skills, and psychomotor speed. Even one 20-minute burst before an exam can improve scores.
Exercise causes positive changes in the brain that help attention span, focus, and memory. A 2012 study found that the exam performance boost best occurs with a regular routine, plus a pre-test workout session.

Helps prevent cognitive decline

Those brain benefits extend into late life as well. Exercise is fast becoming an effective therapy for dementia and Alzheimer’s as research has found that it slows the decline in cognitive function. Older adults who follow a regular exercise program demonstrate better thinking skills. Focusing on strength training in particular can improve memory and stave off symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Boosts immunity

Getting adequate exercise reduces your chances of developing many illnesses and diseases, from heart disease to diabetes to osteoporosis and many others. Regular exercise has even become an important therapy for boosting immune function in cancer patients.
But did you know that a regular fitness routine also helps defend against infections, like the common cold and flu? The fitter you are, the less likely you are to suffer seasonal sickness – up to 43 percent less likely, according to one study. And if you do get sick, it’ll be less severe.

Makes you happy

The stress relief and endorphin release from exercise can help fight depression and anxiety. Long-term exercise has been proven comparable to psychotherapy and drug therapy. Not only can it help improve a bad case of blues, but a continued routine can prevent further episodes.
Exercise may seem like the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling down and out. But once you get over that hump and get in the habit, you can’t imagine life without it.

Boosts confidence

No surprises here. With a better mood, more energy, and reduced stress along with increased strength, speed, and resulting fat loss, your sense of self-esteem will most certainly improve. You’ll feel good about your body, your outlook, your future, and your goals. The positive effects tend to bleed into all areas of your life!

Fights addiction

If you have a habit of turning to unhealthy habits (like alcohol, smoking, drugs, or binge eating), a fitness habit could be just the thing to help you. The stress release, confidence boost, and natural high you get from a workout strengthen addiction treatment. All the positive changes in the brain lessen your cravings for harmful substances.
Why not replace a bad habit with a healthy one? “Runner’s high” is a real and beautiful thing. Go chase that!

Improves work performance

By now it’s obvious – exercising makes you a better everything, including a better employee. Obesity is associated with poorer work performance and more missed days, while maintaining a fitness routine builds determination and strength, thus improving your ability to meet and exceed work demands.
With a regular exercise regimen, you’ll be more focused and productive and likely take fewer sick days – a major bonus for any boss. This also applies to your ultimate job of taking care of your kids and household. Hello, Supermom!

Now that you’re motivated to get those workouts in, remember that moderation is still important. You can’t reap the many benefits of exercise if you overdo it. Overtraining, in fact, can have the opposite effect, leaving you tired, moody, and depressed. Exercise should be something you enjoy, not dread.

This post originally appeared on Fit Mix Mom.

When Furniture Falls, We Blame the Parents

Accidents happen. Parents and companies make mistakes. But in the age of social media, extending any sort of understanding has become a rare occurrence.

Earlier this month, a terrifying video of twins climbing a dresser circulated on social media. The video, caught by security camera, shows twin brothers Brock and Bowdy Shoff climb and accidentally topple a dresser.

The camera also captures the painful-to-watch-minute during which Bowdy, after gasp-inducing trial and error, finally figures out how to pull the dresser off of his brother.

Richard and Kayli Shoff were fearful that if they shared the video they would be labeled bad parents, but chose to post the video to highlight the dangers posed by unanchored furniture. They have followed up their original posting with videos showing how to get furniture anchors and how to safely anchor a dresser.

This video has brought attention to an important safety issue. It has also raised important questions about how guilt and social shaming function in our culture.

The dangers of tipping furniture

The Shoff’s video is a good primer on the risks of unsecured furniture. At age two, Brock and Brody represent the age group most at risk for furniture-tipping injury and death.

According to a Consumer Product Safety Commission report, 360 children died from a household tipping accident between 2000 and 2013, and 65 percent of those children were between one and three-and-a-half years old.

That Brock was not seriously injured by the tipped dresser is also reflective of the typical sources of injury and death. The CPSC report separates injuries and deaths into three categories: televisions, furniture, and appliances.

Televisions are by far the most dangerous item, responsible for 74 percent of the deaths counted by the CPSC between 2000 and 2013.

The twin climbers also reflect a third trend found in the CPSC report. Of the deaths due to furniture tipping, 53 were boys and 28 were girls. That gender difference evaporated with televisions (135 boys to 132 girls).

One final trend not included in the CPSC report was the source of the dresser: IKEA.

Ikea’s recall

If you’ve ever owned a piece of IKEA furniture, you are probably familiar with the assembly instructions, which feature the smiling assembler, the helpful friend-with-pencil, and multiple pages of illustrated instructions.

Perhaps tired after inserting all those tiny dowels and screws, owners are more likely to skip the final few steps of securing furniture to the wall, even though IKEA’s manuals clearly showed anchoring instructions. Or perhaps in the U.S., where the majority of furniture is built to stand safely without anchors, consumers viewed IKEA’s anchors as an abundance of caution rather than a necessity.

In 2014, after two toddlers died under tipped dressers from its MALM line, IKEA initiated its Secure It! campaign, designed to alert consumers to the dangers of tipping furniture. In 2016, after a third toddler died from another unsecured MALM dresser, IKEA took the unprecedented step of recalling all 29 million MALM dressers sold in the U.S. before 2016. 

IKEA’s response is important because it’s the world’s largest furniture retailer. To get a sense of just how large an influence the company has, consider that IKEA uses one percent of the world’s lumber supply. It is an enormous company with enormous influence, so its decision to recall all of its MALM dressers, not only in the U.S. and Canada, but now also in China, suggests an industry-wide change in furniture safety.

Guilt meets safety shaming

Ikea’s recall – and the lawsuits that led to it – highlight another important component of the falling furniture problem. There are relatively few lawsuits and, therefore, relatively little public attention, focused on falling furniture and televisions.

One reason parents don’t know about the dangers posed by tipping furniture is that parents who have experienced this aren’t willing to talk publicly about it. ​Michael Carr, an attorney who has represented other families whose children died when dressers tipped over, suggests that parents are less likely to blame the manufacturer out of a sense of their own guilt.

Given the comments posted to the Shoff’s video, it’s no wonder that parents’ guilt may be discouraging them from speaking out. Alongside the arguments that one brother didn’t “save” the other at all, that Bowdy was a “retard” for not realizing jumping on the dresser would hurt his brother, that Bowdy didn’t care about his brother because it took him over a minute to act, there is a firehose of judgment directed at their parents.

Commenters label the Schoffs irresponsible for leaving their kids alone in the room. They are lazy for sleeping instead of watching their children. They are neglectful for not coming into the room as soon as the dresser fell. They are fame chasers for re-uploading the video a few weeks after the original posting.

It appears that the Shoff’s initial concerns about sharing the video were valid. The flood of comments on their videos, which brought more attention to their story, led the Schoffs to defend the reality of the video in a segment on Good Morning America.

In the comments section underneath that segment, viewers double down on their conspiracy theories, and, for good measure, shame the Schoffs for distracting their kids with electronics in order to talk to George Stephanopolous.

It is important for companies to build safer furniture. It is important for parents to look for sources of risk in their homes. It is important for us as a society to discuss the balance between corporate and personal responsibility. But perhaps more important than all of these issues, is the need for people to stop jumping to safety shaming in the wake of other people’s tragedies and near-tragedies.

 

Why Is Suicide on the Rise Among Middle Schoolers?

Adolescence is a tumultuous time, with many changes happening at once. Between 2007 and 2014, the suicide rate among U.S. middle school students doubled.

The pressure on kids today is unfathomable. Between extracurricular activities and academic achievement, organized athletics and outward appearance, the burden to be the best weighs heavy on most young minds.

That’s to say nothing of the pressure to both have and maintain an active social media presence. The associated expectations create a culture of cattiness and cruelty. Insecure kids with overactive imaginations operate under the belief that their peers must have perfect lives. They live in a state of fear about what others must think of them. They believe they must project a certain image at all costs because, at the heart of this generation’s culture, individuality is admonished and childhood must be discarded as soon as possible.    

These ruminations, a form of maladaptive coping itself, perpetuates negative feelings and creates an environment wherein more destructive behavior may occur. Depression, anxiety, self-harming, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, sexual promiscuity, substance abuse, and suicide are just some of the maladaptive coping mechanisms young adults may turn to in response to external pressures. 

Adolescence is a naturally tumultuous time, with many changes happening at once. Highly volatile emotions combined with physical, psychological, and social changes can make even a minor social slight feel like life and death to an individual – so much so that they may choose to end their lives by suicide. 

According to a recent CDC report, suicide is one of the leading causes of death among children and young adults between the ages of 10 and 24. Each year, almost 5,000 teens and young adults die by suicide.

It gets more dire for middle schoolers, specifically: between 2007 and 2014, the suicide rate among U.S. middle school students doubled, exceeding for the first time the frequency of kids (aged 10 to 14) who died in car accidents.

In 2014, about 1.7 per 100,000 girls in this age group died by suicide. That’s increased from one out of every 200,000 in 1999. 

American Indians and Alaska Natives had the highest rate of suicides, but the largest change in female adolescent suicides was for non-Hispanic white females (aged 10-14 years).  That figure more than tripled from 0.5 per 100,000 in 1999 to 1.5 in 2014.

On average, the number of adolescent suicide attempts amounts to around 575,000 each year.  Why are so many children trying to take their lives and succeeding?

Some causative theories are as follows:

Social media

Some studies suggest we should look at internet usage rates to assess which children are most at risk. The advent of Smartphones, filters, and “followers” easily perpetuate a “clique-mentality.” Exclusivity is prized above all else. Kids are inevitably left out and thus filled with a deep sense of rejection. The superficiality of the internet spills over into real life, and adolescents have trouble distinguishing their online presence from reality, remaining in a state of subconscious despair.    

Cyberbullying

With the anonymity of the internet, kids are becoming more brazen with their bullying. They can hurl insults or start rumors instantly, easily, and with little or no repercussions to their own reputation. They can literally abuse another student 24/7 as opposed to being limited to the hours in a school day.

If a person being bullied happens to be predisposed to depression, anxiety, or any other psychological stressor, the emotional fallout could be exponentially worse, and thus, be a causative factor in suicide.         

The normalization of self-harm and suicide

In one study, about 60 percent of adolescents said that they had researched suicide online. Almost three-quarters of those who engaged in self-harm also said they had researched it online.

Internet “support forums” that discuss self-harm may actually hurt more than they help. Experts say that they may make self-harm (i.e. cutting, burning) seem like normal, acceptable, even glamorous, behavior. It’s been reported that approximately 10 percent of forum posts addressed methods to complete self-harm and even how to hide the evidence of it. While self-harm is not intended to be lethal, in severe cases it may lead to true suicide attempts by lowering inhibitions to actual suicidal thoughts and behaviors. 

Furthermore, researchers have found “clusters” of adolescent suicides to possibly be related to the media exposure and social discussion of other suicides.

Early-onset puberty

Another contributing factor to the higher suicide rate is an earlier age for the start of puberty.  For any individual, going through puberty is an emotional roller coaster. Adding in other factors, such as social or academic pressure, could create a high-stress, emotionally-charged environment.

It’s important to note, however, that psychiatric disorders like anxiety or depression usually begin around the onset of puberty. Therefore, earlier puberty could mean an earlier onset of psychiatric illness for those individuals predisposed, leading to a higher risk for suicide at a younger age.

Untreated depression or other mental illness

Individuals with an untreated psychiatric illness have an increased risk for suicide. A person may become triggered by an instigating event in their lives, feeling as though their current situation or problem, although temporary, is a permanent one. This may prompt suicidal thoughts and behavior. 

In particular, individuals with borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder have an increased risk for suicidal thoughts or behavior.

Other factors

Other variables, such as family history, substance abuse, medical conditions, and home environment are all considered factors of influence. The presence of firearms in the home has also been associated with increased risk.

The fact is, such malleable minds are looking for direction. The time to talk to students in crisis is now. Ten to 14 years old is a pivotal age. Online bullying is at an all-time high. People have never felt more isolated, alone, or inferior. Poor body image, self-esteem, and lack of personal sense of identity can and should be addressed. 

Words are powerful. They don’t always have to cause pain. They can provide guidance and help. 

Warning signs of suicide

They include, but are not limited to:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Talking about feeling trapped
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Behaving recklessly
  • Changes in mood, diet, or sleeping patterns
  • Becoming socially isolated
  • Decline in school performance
  • Giving away belongings
  • Poems, essays, and drawings that refer to death
  • Dramatic change in appearance
  • Sense of guilt, shame, or rejection
  • Talking about feeling unbearable pain, or feeling like a burden to others

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

OR Text “START” to 741-741

How to help

Ask and listen

Ask at-risk individuals if they are considering suicide. If they have a plan, remove the lethal means. Listen and be available to them.

Trust your gut

If a situation is serious, call for help.

Get them help

Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Follow-up and stay in touch

Follow-up with individuals after the crisis or after being discharged.

New Peanut Recommendations Ask Parents To Be Brave

New guidelines issued this month advise parents to introduce peanuts into their kid’s diets as early as possible to protect them against peanut allergies later in life.

Did you know that bravery was a prerequisite for parenthood? I have to admit, I didn’t realize how often I would have to muster up my courage as a mom.

I think the first time it truly hit me was when I was in the hospital about to give birth. I have never been more frightened in my entire life. I wanted to run as far away from that place as possible. But then some deep-seated instinct kicked in, because I knew I had to be brave for the child I was about to welcome into this world. 

Over and over again, throughout my eight-and-a-half years as a parent, I’ve had to be brave for my child’s sake. Whether it was the first time I gave him solid food, let go of him in the swimming pool, sent him off to preschool, or watched him wave goodbye from the camp bus, each of these scary feats were actually critical steps in his development.

As most of us are well aware, there are so many more moments ahead (cell phones, overnight camp, dating, driving, college, etc.) when we’ll have to be courageous for our kids, even if it feels like we are jumping off a cliff.

The latest bravery test for parents involves peanuts. Even though many of us grew up with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as a staple lunch option, we now see peanut-free classrooms and lunchrooms, and are very cautious about serving food with peanuts during playdates and birthday parties.

This is because over the last 10 years the number of peanut allergies has doubled in countries where parents are advised to avoid peanuts during pregnancy, lactation, and infancy. According to CNN, two percent of American children currently suffer from a peanut allergy.

A peanut allergy is serious business. It can lead to anaphylaxis and even death if allergic children are exposed. Unfortunately, no treatment exists for this type of allergy, so the only option is to avoid the trigger. This causes inconvenience and panic on a daily basis for parents, schools, and others responsible for children’s lives.

In fact, for years we’ve been told to not give our children peanuts at a young age because it could cause them to develop an allergy. Many parents, myself included, avoided giving their children peanuts until they were at least three years old, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). But many scientists now believe that exposing our children to peanuts at an early age will help their immune system to better tolerate the peanut proteins, and therefore prevent a peanut allergy from forming.

New guidelines issued this month advise parents to introduce peanuts into their children’s diets as early as possible to protect them against peanut allergies later in life.

New recommendations

Collaborating with 25 professional organizations, federal agencies, and patient advocacy groups, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) just released new guidelines for introducing peanuts into a child’s diet.

The recommendations fall into the following three categories:

Children who are believed to be most likely to develop a peanut allergy

This recommendation is for infants who have severe asthma, an egg allergy, or both. Parents have two options: 1) Either introduce your child to food containing peanuts at four to six months or 2) visit an allergist who will administer a skin prick test or a blood test to determine whether your child is allergic to peanuts.
If your child is not allergic, you can introduce peanut-containing foods at four to six months. If your infant is allergic, you should refrain from feeding any products containing peanuts.

Children with mild to moderate eczema

These children are less likely to have an allergy. You should introduce peanut-containing foods when your child is six months old.

Children with no eczema/food allergies, and no family history of either

These children can be fed peanut-containing foods at the same time they are introduced to other solid foods.

No matter which category your child seems to fall into, the experts still encourage you to consult with your child’s pediatrician for help determining if your little one is at risk and how to safely add peanuts to their diet. It is good practice to keep your pediatrician in the loop when you plan to introduce peanuts in case there is an adverse reaction. (This is where the bravery really comes into play!)

Why the change?

Medical experts began to question the existing guidance on peanuts as they saw a major difference in the number of allergy cases in various countries depending on when children began eating peanut products. There were lower rates of allergies in countries where children typically eat high levels of peanut protein starting in infancy compared to countries like the United States where peanuts are avoided during the first few years of childhood.

As scientists explored this trend, they found that eating peanuts can actually help prevent allergies. This idea is known as the dual-allergen exposure hypothesis, which suggests that eating small doses of the allergen at a young age can help children develop a tolerance and reduce their chances of forming an allergy.

A large medical trial, known as the Learning Early About Peanut allergy (LEAP) study, led to these new recommendations. It is the first and only large, randomized prevention trial for peanut allergies. More than 600 children participated in the study. Each child was randomly assigned to one of two groups: The first group ate low-dose peanut-containing food three times a week starting in the first year of life and continuing to age five. The children in the second group avoided eating peanuts for the first five years of their lives.

The children in the first group were given peanut butter or Bamba, a peanut-flavored puff snack produced in Israel, instead of whole peanuts because they’re a choking hazard for young children. All the children participating in the study were considered high risk for developing a peanut allergy due to family history or having eczema or an egg allergy.

At age five, the children in both groups were given peanuts and observed. The study found that 18 percent of the children who had been avoiding peanuts had a peanut allergy at age five, while only one percent of the children who had been introduced to peanut-containing foods at a young age were allergic.

According to experts who conducted the study, this result showed that early introduction of peanut flour had a prevention effect of more than 80 percent. They also evaluated the children a year later and discovered that all the kids who did not have an allergy at age five still did not have peanut allergy at age six.

Advice for feeding your child peanuts for the first time

You may be very nervous to feed your child peanuts for the first time. Fortunately, the NIH guidelines walk you through the best way to approach this risky moment:
1 | Prepare a full portion of a peanut-containing food such as:
 

  • Peanut butter dissolved or thinned with water
  • Peanut butter
  • Peanut flour or powder mixed with a fruit or vegetable puree
  • Several pieces of Bamba, a puffed snack containing peanuts that can be softened with water.

 
2 | Offer your infant a small part of the peanut serving on the tip of a spoon.
3 | Wait 10 minutes.
4 | If there is no allergic reaction after this small taste, then slowly offer the rest of the snack. According to the Mayo Clinic, typical allergic reactions to peanuts include runny nose, skin reactions, like hives or swelling, itchy or tingling in or around the mouth and throat, choking or gagging, shortness of breath, or wheezing.

It is a good idea to give your child the first bite of peanut-containing food during the day when your pediatrician is in the office. Keep the number handy just in case you notice an allergic reaction.

Feeding our baby peanuts for the first time may feel like risky business, but we now know that it’s the best way to prevent an allergy from forming later on.

Why I Stopped Cutting My Kid’s Grapes

Sure, grapes are a choking hazard. But are they any more dangerous than most foods that comprise the typical kid diet? Research suggests not.

When our son was just starting to feed himself solid foods, mealtimes were often interrupted by me springing across the table to avert what I thought sure to be a near-choking disaster.
My completely unflustered physician-husband would, without looking up from his own plate, quietly remind me that “if he’s coughing, he’s breathing,” occasionally adding the reminder that tapping my seated infant’s back did not count as a back blow.
What my husband knew that I didn’t was the sound of choking. For him, the doctor who deals with patients with airway obstructions as a matter of routine, the sound of coughing is entirely separate from the sound of choking. For me, the uninitiated parent with an hyperactive imagination, every episode of coughing was a possible gateway to choking.
Then my son choked on a satsuma wedge.
I can now confidently distinguish between the sound of coughing and the sound of choking. One is loud, while the other is terrifyingly silent. I now also know how to supreme citrus.
But do I need to be taking such precautions with every orange or grapefruit my son eats? Do I need to be using the two-lid technique to cut his grapes, and, just to be safe, grape tomatoes? What are the actual risks of injury and death associated with choking, and how should our family’s eating change in light of those risks?

Defining choking hazards

As I learned in the wake of the satsuma incident, “choking” is often used in our culture to apply to a wide variety of symptoms (including coughing and gagging) that are separate terms in the medical community. In the medical literature, “choking” refers to an obstructed airway, meaning that the child cannot breathe. This is different from gagging or coughing, the very noise of which indicate that the child is breathing. Uncomfortable, perhaps. Scared, possibly. But breathing.
A good deal of the confusion over child choking is wound up in this definitional problem: we see a kid coughing and think he’s choking, when in fact he’s doing the opposite of choking; he’s working to protect his airway.
More confusion stems from exactly which foods are considered most dangerous. Google “top choking hazard in children” and you’ll find many culprits. Hot dogs. Candy. Coins. Latex Balloons. Button batteries. Part of this confusion comes from how different choking hazards are categorized.
In medical literature, choking hazards tend to be grouped into “food” and “non-food” categories, perhaps because there are different governing bodies tasked with regulating those categories (the FDA and the CPSC, respectively).
The food category tends to be further broken down into “fatal” and “non-fatal” choking. We tend to imagine choking as a fatal event (the classic kid with a hot dog), but studies of choking suggest that choking is more often non-fatal than fatal. Furthermore, data on choking hospitalizations is likely to skew our sense of choking hazards because so many choking incidents resolve themselves and thus go unreported.

Understanding press releases about choking

If you have been scanning recent headlines, you’ve likely learned that grapes are the new hot dog. Because most parents have satsuma incidents of their own, headlines about choking dangers are likely to lodge in our brains.
That’s why headlines like “Choking on grapes can kill young children, doctors warn” concern us. Such headlines carry a lot of authority and have the power to change our behaviors. If we investigate their claims, however, articles like these lose a lot of their authority.
Take the summaries from three separate news reports citing the same scientific article:
“Food accounts for more than half of choking deaths among children younger than five, the study authors said. The top three food causes are hot dogs, candy, and whole grapes.” – CBS News
“Grapes are the third most common cause of death among children who die in food-related choking incidents, and doctors say a lack of awareness among parents, carers, and health professionals could be leaving young children at risk.” – The Guardian
“According to research conducted in the United States and Canada, grapes occupy the third place when it comes to deaths caused by food-related incidents, after hotdogs and sweets.” – Tech Times
All of these summaries come from articles that look quite similar, which suggests they were written based on a press release from the hospital where the doctors conducted the research or the journal that published their findings. That’s common practice for new publications in medical literature, which can often be difficult to explain.
Press releases, which are often written in concise and clear language, help journalists understand the key significance research findings. When journalists rely solely on press releases, however, what the authors or institutions say about their work becomes what’s true about it. In the case of this grape claim, that’s especially problematic because of the limitations of the original two-page article that has generated so much recent news coverage.

Determining the safety of grapes

All three of the above-cited news reports are referencing the same article, Lumsden and Cooper’s “The Choking Hazard of Grapes: A Plea for Awareness,” published in December 2016 in “Archives of Disease in Childhood”. The two-page article summarizes three single cases of grape choking, two fatal and one non-fatal, and based on those summaries, makes recommendations about how to prevent future choking.
The press releases about this paper, however, include a finding that was not part of this case study: the finding that grapes are the third most common cause of choking death in children. Lumsden and Cooper did not discover this, but instead cited this information, which came from a separate study.
Lumbsden and Cooper assert that “Grapes are a popular food with young children, but are ideally suited to cause obstruction of a pediatric airway and are the third most common cause of food-related fatal choking episodes after hotdogs and sweets.” In support of this claim, Lumbsden and Cooper cite a 2008 study of fatal and non-fatal choking in children.
That study, although larger than Lumbsden and Cooper’s, is still a relatively small study for the sweeping generalizations resulting from it. That study examined 103 choking fatalities at 26 hospitals. Of those 103 deaths, 16 were from hot dogs, 10 were from candy, and eight were from grapes. So technically, yes, in this particular study, grapes were the third most likely cause of death.
However, they were followed by meat (seven deaths) peanuts (seven), carrots (six), cookies (six), apples (five), popcorn (five), and bread (four). Given the small sample size of the population being studied, it is implausible to farfetched to assume that grapes are significantly more dangerous than the other items included in the list.
Studying fatal choking is difficult because there are relatively few choking deaths. There are, however, many non-fatal food choking incidents, and studying them can help provide more perspective.
The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a database of 100 emergency rooms designed to track accidents caused by consumer products in the U.S., also maintains the All-Injury Program, based on all injuries of 66 of its participating hospitals. That injury information can be used to estimate overall rates of injuries across the U.S., which is exactly what a group of researchers did in their study of non-fatal food-related choking in U.S. children, published in “Pediatrics” in 2013.
This study is not nearly as news-friendly as the grape studies above because it does not contain case studies of individual children. But it’s an important source of data for what it can teach us about choking risk more broadly.
By querying the NEISS-AIP for food-related choking, researchers were able to study almost 3,000 cases of choking. They found that hard candy was involved in the most choking cases (15.5 percent), followed by other candy (12.8 percent), meat (12.2 percent), and bone (12.0 percent). Those four (or three, depending on how you categorize candy) foods, then, were responsible for over half (52.4 percent) of all non-fatal food choking.
Fruits and vegetables came in fifth at 9.7 percent. The study’s authors conclude that children under the age of five should not be given hard candy or gum, a reasonable if perhaps not completely achievable goal given the ingenuity of kids to find candy everywhere. The authors make no specific recommendations for any individual food item. They do, however, argue that caregivers should cut large fruits and vegetables into more manageable pieces.

Testing alternative explanations

Given the dangers posed by grapes, we had better start feeding our kids exclusively on white truffles. There is zero data suggesting that kids choke on white truffles. We never hear about a child given a white truffle on a playground and choking to death before her parent got to her. We never hear about rescue workers having trouble dislodging white truffles from children’s airways. We never hear about how the FDA should print safety warnings on white truffle packaging.
The problem with this logic, or course, is that most children are not eating white truffles.
When we read that hot dogs, or grapes, or candies kill kids, we need to take into account what children’s diets are composed of. When you look at the list of choking hazards in the above studies, they look very much like a typical American child’s diet: hot dogs, candy, grapes, meat, peanuts, carrots, cookies, apples, popcorn, bread. Add spaghetti and french fries, both of which appear in the above studies but in much smaller quantities, and you’d have the complete children’s menu of most restaurants.
Without controlling for the frequency of how often something happens (how many grape-eating toddlers there are), it’s difficult to determine whether a particular food is a choking hazard in and of itself or if children choke on a particular food more largely because they eat that food more often.
Of course, it’s still possible that grapes are more dangerous than other foods – there is certainly that theoretical possibility given their shape – but the frequency of choking alone isn’t sufficient to make that claim. We need to see what children are eating, and in what volume, in order to make claims about what foods are most dangerous.
It’s also worth thinking about where these most dangerous foods tend to be concerned. Choking in young children seems to be correlated with distracted eating, and many of the foods identified as the most dangerous (candy, hot dogs, grapes) appear in places where kids might be distracted, like birthday parties, cookouts, and fast food restaurants.

Three things to do instead of cutting grapes

There just isn’t enough evidence in Lumbsden and Cooper’s paper to convince me of the particular dangers posed by grapes. That isn’t to say that grapes aren’t a choking hazard, or that cutting grapes isn’t useful, just that there isn’t yet enough data to change my practice. Other parents confronted with the same evidence might make a different choice.
The problem, of course, is that this kind of nuanced position is not exactly a “clickable” one. “Think Carefully About the Conclusions Drawn by Medical Journal Articles Reviewing Choking Incidents” just doesn’t hold the same appeal as headlines touting the dangers of grapes. Yet this kind of thinking is necessary for dealing with the near-constant breathless reporting about new “dangers.” Without strong research skills, it’s difficult to separate the good data from the bad, and easy to be led by conclusions that don’t follow from the evidence.
Here are the three things I’ll be doing instead of cutting grapes:

Viewing any sweeping recommendations with skepticism

Let’s return for a moment to the reporting on grape dangers, which emphasized that “food accounts for more than half of choking deaths.”
Statements like these paint food as an unreasonable danger to children. But if we pause to think, this figure shouldn’t make us scared of food. People are supposed to eat food. People need to eat food. It’s reasonable to assume that some people will choke on food. What’s more concerning about that figure is the number of non-food choking deaths in children.

Verifying before trusting

When a headline about a new danger for children is about to send me rushing off to change my practice, or buy a new piece of gear, I will take a moment to see where that finding came from.
Although data from medical institutions may generally be regarded as trustworthy, not all scientific papers are created equal. Reading academic publications can often be difficult because many require subscription access. The two papers cited in all of those grape-based news pieces, for example, are available to the general public only in abstract form.
But there are good sources of information to be found for free, if you know where to look. If you are new to reading scientific articles, “Pediatrics”, a well-respected journal in its field, might be a good place to start for a few reasons. First, you can often get free full-text access through the American Academy of Pediatrics Gateway.
Second, articles usually come with two really helpful paragraphs: “What’s known on this subject” and “What this study adds,” which can give you a nice overview of the article’s main points.
Third, the articles normally include glossaries of acronyms and other medical terms that might otherwise create confusion.

Sitting down to eat

The American Academy of Pediatrics asserts that children are easily distracted when eating, and that this distraction can lead to choking incidents. I’ve certainly been guilty of handing my child a little bowl of snacks and telling him to go play.
In light of this evidence about choking and distracted eating, I’ll make a better effort to sit and eat together. When we’re sitting at the table together, I will make every effort to treat my young eater as a learner.
The issue of choking, at least for infants and young children still mastering the art of feeding themselves, is so tricky because it sits at the intersection of independence and safety. We want our children to be free from harm, but we also want to encourage their exploration of the world, to take reasonable risks.
When I panic over every bite my child takes, I’m teaching him to be fearful of food. When I give him foods that are just outside his comfort zone, he has to work a little harder to eat them, which helps him learn more independence and confidence.
Maybe soon I’ll even give him another satsuma.

No, I Don't Want a Device That Monitors My Kids When They Drive

A possible contender for “worst parenting gadget ever invented” is the Verizon Hum. Why would I want one more reason to worry? And how would it help?

A possible contender for “worst parenting gadget ever invented” is the Verizon Hum. I was at the Verizon store the other day buying my youngest son a new phone and before we were allowed to complete our purchase, we were given the hard sell for the Hum.

Apparently, it’s a device you can install on a car that can track a whole host of things, including the speed at which your vehicle is going. The salesperson actually said to me, “Don’t you want to know when your child is speeding?” A little intrigued – but mostly horrified – I asked how the device worked and was told that I’d get a text message every time my child was speeding. He also said that the device was so small that my child wouldn’t even have to know I had installed it on the car.

No, I certainly do NOT want to know every time one of my sons speeds. I’m anxious enough without receiving text messages about their driving. I could see myself drifting off to sleep and then being jolted awake – and into full panic mode – after receiving a text message that my son has gone above the speed limit.

What am I supposed to do with the information? If I call him on it he’s going to know that there’s a device on the car. Despite occasional evidence to the contrary, my kids are pretty bright.

I can just see the conversation: “I have a hunch that you were doing 75 in a 65-mile zone, cut it out.” To which my child would respond suspiciously, “How do you know that?” And when I tried to explain that I truly am telepathic, they’d pull over, locate the Hum, quickly disable it, and then toss it out the window.

This would do absolutely nothing to improve the mother-son relationship. The way speeding works in this house is like this: If they get a ticket, they have to pay it, and they have to deal with the consequences. When my middle son received a speeding ticket last fall, it cost him half his monthly allowance. This put a big dent in his spending money. I told him if he got another ticket, I’d simply take away the car. No Hum device needed.

To be fair, the salesperson was young enough that it’s unlikely he has any children, much less driving-age teenagers. If he did, he wouldn’t have tried to sell me this device with a straight face.

The Hum is another example of too much information, a trend now completely out of control. They call my generation “helicopter parents” and then they force us into helicopters and make us fly them. The school parent portal? TMI. Apps on our phones that help us locate our children at all times? TMI. (By the way, that locator app can truly make you crazy, especially when it shows your kid is in the middle of a body of water.)

My husband suggested that we should just LoJack them. Or perhaps we should hook our kids up to biometric appliances that will track their body temperatures, caloric intake, and waste output, not to mention all of their thoughts and emotions. (Good luck with those last two—you would need a Vulcan mind-meld with my boys.)

By the way all the salespeople in the store were pushing the Hum, I’m guessing those devices are not exactly flying off the shelves, and I want Verizon to understand why. It’s not that we don’t want information about our children. We do. We just want to get it the old-fashioned way – by prying it out of their surly selves.

We don’t want fancy gadgets making it too easy for us, or giving us more than we want or need to know. In a last ditch effort to get us to purchase the Hum, our salesperson told us that we had two weeks to reconsider our decision before the “special” price would be rescinded. I assured him that I don’t need two weeks, my mind is already made up on this one.

On the other hand, if Verizon can come up with a device that gets my kids to empty the dishwasher or clean their rooms without being asked countless times, I’ll be first in line.

A Lack of Paid Sick Leave in the U.S. Is a Public Health Concern

Without paid time off, these workers are not only suffering through an illness while at work, they’re creating a public health problem.

The cashier is counting out your change, but right before she hands you 83 cents and sends you on your merry way, she lets out a big sneeze. “Gross,” you think. “Why didn’t she just stay at home?” You gingerly take your coins, and douse yourself in hand sanitizer the second you get to the car. There’s no way you can afford to get sick this week.

For many people, riding out a cold on the couch with a mug of steaming tea simply isn’t an option – especially if you have children and a job that doesn’t let you take time off. For the millions of workers without access to paid sick leave, they simply can’t afford to stay at home – even if it means putting their coworkers and customers at risk.

In the United States – the only industrialized country that does not require employers to provide paid sick leave – 40 percent of workers in the private sector must go to work even if they are sick, or go without pay if they stay at home. Without paid time off, these workers are not only suffering through an illness while at work, they’re creating a public health problem.

In 2009, the year of the swine flu pandemic, public health experts estimate that seven million individuals contracted the H1N1 virus from contagious employees who went to work, resulting in 1,500 more deaths than would have otherwise occurred. Many of these illnesses and deaths might have been prevented if more employees had access to paid sick leave, giving them the option to stay at home and recuperate without fear of financial repercussions.

Because paid sick leave in the United States is typically viewed as a perk, not as a basic part of employment compensation, it’s not surprising that fewer low wage employees have access to paid sick leave. Only 29 percent in the bottom fourth of workers receive paid sick leave. Hispanic and American Indian workers are also less likely to have paid sick days than other workers. 

But paid sick leave is more than a perk. It’s a way to help the general public from getting sick, and unfortunately, many low-wage positions are at a greater risk of spreading diseases. Less than one-fifth of workers in the food service industry have paid sick leave, and nearly two-thirds of restaurant employees admit to having prepared or served food while under the weather. It’s enough to make you think twice about eating out until spring comes again.

For parents, a lack of paid sick leave presents an additional problem. While some workers may be able to afford taking a few unpaid days off in order to nurse a cold, workers with children must choose between taking care of themselves, or budgeting that time for when their child is truly ill. Parents who can’t afford to do both are often stuck going to work while they’re sick, potentially spreading contagious diseases to coworkers and the public.

Children of employees without paid sick time suffer as well – if their parent can’t even afford to take unpaid time off to care for them, they can be sent to school while ill.

If employers were required to provide employees with paid sick time, mothers would stand to benefit the most. Forty percent of mothers in a National Health Interview Survey said they were solely responsible for staying home from work when a child is sick, compared to only three percent of fathers.

With women earning less than men, a family might be foregoing less money when a mother stays home. Unfortunately, employers also justify paying women less because they are more likely to take time off to take care of kids, trapping women in a can’t win situation. Paid sick leave for all employees could help even the playing field, and help all parents take care of their family’s physical health and financial needs.

Critics of paid sick leave point to the financial cost for businesses, worrying that it would cause undue strain. But while the costs of the programs are moderate, the benefits are pronounced. An analysis of Connecticut’s paid sick leave law showed an average weekly cost per worker of $6.87. Employers, meanwhile, see an increase in productivity and reduced turnover by providing compensated time off.

Going to work with the sniffles might not seem like a big deal, especially if you need the money more than you need a day to rest. But when millions of workers do the same, disease spreads more rapidly. Cities that require employers to provide paid sick leave for their workers, like Washington D.C., Seattle, and New York, have fewer cases of the flu. Not only do the workers benefit from paid leave, anyone who would have come into contact with them benefits as well.

More and more employers, states, and cities are recognizing the importance of paid sick leave to their employees, their employees’ families, and to the public as a whole. For parents, paid sick leave can offer not only improved financial stability, but also better health for the entire family.

My Cigarette-Smoking Neighbor is Killing Her Kids. And I’m Fuming. 

Secondhand smoke is well known as a proven health hazard. How can a parent knowingly expose their kids to it?

I try to teach my children not to judge people. You don’t know what anyone’s life is like until you walk in their shoes, or at least take a moment to consider what might be going on in their life. As cheesy as it sounds, I try to live that way in hopes that by doing so, my kids learn empathy and kindness.

It’s possible my whole “cutting some slack” thing is a little self-serving. After all, I’m a far cry from perfect. I’m always late. My car’s a mess. I’d rather cuddle on the couch than play Barbie. I yell way too much. Sometimes I squeeze my kids’ arms a little too hard – and I really hope no one is judging me.

But I have to confess, I’ve judged my neighbor. I think she’s a horrible mother.

I know this announcement is mother-on-mother sacrilege. Judging a fellow mom’s parenting is like taking the holy grail of motherhood and lighting it on fire, along with all of your child’s most beloved stuffed animals. You just shouldn’t do it. But I can’t help it.

I’m convinced she’s a horrible mother because she’s killing her children. And all I can do is silently watch her.

No, she is not beating them. She’s not starving them. In fact, I’ve never even heard her raise her voice at her well-behaved, adorable kids, who I’m guessing are around five and two. I’ve never asked because I can barely look her in the eye.

While she creates elaborate jungles with rainbow chalk on the sidewalk in front of her house, she is killing her children. She’s killing her children as she teaches them to play hopscotch. She is killing her children while she wheels them around the block in their red-wagon. She is killing her children as they plant purple flowers by their gate. She is killing her children as she sets up a tent in their front yard and camps out on a warm Chicago summer night.

How is she killing her children? Because during all of these activities she is smoking cigarettes. In fact, I’ve never seen her without one. And the smoke blows right in those innocent faces. I can’t get past it.

According to the CDC, secondhand smoke causes children’s lungs to grow less than children who do not breathe secondhand smoke. This means they they may have severe life-threatening asthma attacks. They contract more bronchitis and pneumonia. They wheeze and cough more than other children.

Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke inhale many of the same cancer-causing substances and poisons as smokers. This is even worse for children. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, “Because their bodies are developing, infants and young children are especially vulnerable to the poisons in secondhand smoke.”

See what I mean? She is a horrible mother.

The empathetic part of me tries to understand. Maybe she has a really stressful life. Maybe smoking cigarettes is her answer to an even worse addiction. Maybe a gun-wielding monster holds her hostage in her home and orders her to slowly kill her children or he will kill them all instantly. Honestly…the last one is the only excuse I’d consider worthwhile, and my instincts are telling me that’s not what’s happening here.

It’s not the fact that she smokes that bothers me. I could care less if she lit up on her front porch every single night while her children were in bed. After all, she’s an adult in charge of her own body. It’s her choice. But inhaling secondhand smoke is not her children’s choice. She is making it for them.

I’d like to know how a mother who clearly adores and cherishes her kids can be so selfish, and put them in so much avoidable danger? I’d ask her, but since I don’t even know her kid’s names, it seems a little personal.

What I’d like to say is this: “If quitting is not in the cards for you, then why don’t you try other alternatives? Like nicotine gum, or a patch, or even e-cigarettes, which don’t create any secondhand smoke?” I may even admit to her that I know I’m being judgey, but aren’t there options? They may not be as satisfying, but think of the kids!

Empathy fails me here. And I can’t help but feel like I’m failing as a neighbor, too. Maybe I should get to know her better. Maybe if I could get past the smoke, I’d really like her. She is soft-spoken and kind, and creative. But I’m torn, because how can I like someone who is killing her children?

6 Simple Product Switches for a Healthier Home

Individually, the chemicals in these products seem insignificant, but they do add up. Small swaps can mean a healthier home and planet.

People have become increasingly aware in recent years that several of the most common home and personal care products pose dangers to people and our environment. With harmful chemicals either on the ingredient list or used to create these products, it’s easy to inadvertently put your family’s health at risk, as well as having a negative impact on the planet.

When considered individually, the dangers posed by such products might seem insignificant. But these things (and their toxicity) add up. Here are some of the regular products you should swap for their healthier alternative.

Insect repellent

Most insect repellents contain a worrisome chemical – the pesticide “DEET.” Scientists have found that DEET can cause damage to your central nervous system and impair functioning in parts of the brain resulting in problems with muscle coordination, muscle weakness, cognition, and memory. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, DEET has also been linked to seizures in children.

There are natural alternatives out there that can keep mosquitoes away and avoid damaging your child’s health. Lemon eucalyptus oil is the safest and most effective natural insect repellent. Several studies have found it to be as effective as DEET. It is even recommended by the CDC (Center For Disease Control and Prevention) as an alternative to DEET. Other natural repellents that contain neem oil, citronella oil, peppermint oil, and cinnamon oil are pretty effective and are especially safe for infants and children.

Switch to:  Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent or Ecosmart Organic Insect Repellent.

Toothpaste

Most conventional toothpastes contain sodium laureth sulfate (SLS), a detergent used to make the paste foam, has been linked to a number of health and environmental concerns. The manufacturing process releases volatile carcinogenic compounds into the environment. It’s also registered as an insecticide and has toxic effects on marine life. Finally, SLS can irritate the gums and cause recurring canker sores in those who are prone to them. 

Switch to: Natural and herbal toothpastes contain safe ingredients like mint and do not contain detergents, preservatives, or additives, making them better options for your family. Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint All-One Toothpaste is organic and detergent free. Another great option is Dr. Collins Natural Toothpaste.

Cotton

Cotton represents nearly half of all the fabric used worldwide. It is conventionally grown as a very pesticide-intensive plant. These chemicals not only eliminate pests but also their natural enemies and this interference with the ecosystem greatly reduces biodiversity.

Researchers have found that the fertilizers used to grow cotton are severely detrimental to the environment because they run off into freshwater habitats and groundwater and cause oxygen-free dead zones in water bodies. The nitrogen oxides formed during the production and use of these fertilizers also contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the agricultural sector.

Switch to: Choosing organic cotton ensures that you don’t compromise the environment and, in turn, your family’s health. Organic cotton farming eschews synthetic chemicals in favor of natural methods to ward off pests and maintain soil fertility. Naturapedic’s Organic Cotton Crib Sheets are a good and sustainable choice for your children. The Organic Trade Association can help you find other organic cotton products.

Hand sanitizer

You have bottles of it everywhere: in the bathroom, the kitchen, and even your diaper bag. The main ingredient in hand sanitizers is triclosan – which offers no benefit over soap and water. In contrast, research has shown that triclosan can disrupt the endocrine system, amplifying testosterone. It may also harm the immune system.

Switch to: A natural hand sanitizer can help protect the well-being of your children. When shopping for them, choose products that contain plant-based ingredients and essential oils. Hand sanitizers like EO Lavender Hand Sanitizer Gel and Honest Company Hand Sanitizer Spray are not only safer options, they smell wonderful, too.

Cleaning agents

Manufacturers of these kinds of products are not required by law to list the ingredients they use in making them – which makes choosing safe products a little more difficult. Several cleaning products commonly contain dangerous quantities of chemicals like 2-Butoxyethanol, which can cause kidney and liver damage, and chlorine which is poisonous and can negatively affect the lungs. By stocking natural cleaning products in your home, you no longer have to worry so much about your child accidentally getting ahold of them.

Switch to: J.R Watkins All-Purpose Cleaner rids your home of grime and dirt without using harsh toxins. Try Method Spearmint Antibacterial Toilet Cleaner, too.

Non-stick cookware

Chances are good that at least one of the pans in your home is non-stick. Regular non-stick pans are coated with polytetrafluoroethylene, which is also known as Teflon. The toxins released from Teflon pots and pans at high temperatures can cause flu-like symptoms (Teflon flu) in people exposed to it and can also kill pet birds. Teflon manufacturing also poses great risk to the environment and wildlife.

Switch to: Traditional cookware made of ceramic and stainless steel is the best option, but if you’re not willing to let go of the ease and convenience of non-stick products, GreenPan offers non-stick cookware made without Teflon.

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