When Backyard Fun Leads to Tragedy

by Shannon Rasp June 20, 2011 03:20 PM

Summer arrived in Houston about two months ago, and it’s approximately one million degrees outside today. All of the knowledge translation in the world could not convince anyone that this is a pleasant place to spend the summer. The only respites are massive amounts of air conditioning and cooling swimming pools. Then here comes the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus with a warning that portable swimming pools pose “serious risks to young children.”


Researchers at the hospital reviewed the drowning deaths of 209 children and 35 near-drownings under the age of 12 in portable, above-ground pools between 2001 and 2009. Ninety-four percent of the children were under five. Forty percent of the children drowned while being supervised, and forty percent drowned in a shallow wading pool.

The resulting study, published in the June 20 issue of Pediatrics, calls for safety precautions around all pools, not just deep or in-ground ones. “About every five days a child drowns in a portable pool in the U.S.,” said lead researcher Dr. Gary A. Smith, director of the hospital’s Center for Injury Research and Policy.


Is anyone shocked at this? I don’t even have kids, and I know you don’t let them go crazy in water, no matter how shallow it is. Children drown in bathtubs with a couple of inches of water in them. Why should portable pools be any different?


Of course, this study is triggering a storm of press, and has made “portable pools” a top search term today on the Internet. People are going to freak out, the media frenzy will blow over, and in a few weeks it will be back to business as usual in backyards all over the world.


The researchers admit that there are no easy fixes. While fencing and alarms are available for in-ground pools, portable pools don’t offer them. They called for the industry to develop affordable fencing and alarms, as well as covers for portable pools.  They do acknowledge, however, that these often cost more than the pool itself.


What do you think? Is this an overreaction on the part of the researchers, or are portable pools the secret killer lurking in backyards around the globe? And if so, how would you solve the problem? Let me know in the comments!


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When School Food Is the Only Food, Kids Lose

by Shannon Rasp April 11, 2011 01:33 PM

There’s an article in the Chicago Tribune about how a public elementary school, LittleVillage Academy, has actually banned children from bringing a lunch from home. Another public school, ClaremontAcademy Elementary, confiscates any snacks with a surplus of sugar or salt. The rationale? School administrators claim that they are “protecting students from their own unhealthful food choices.” What a knowledge translation failure.


Little Village Principal Elsa Carmona said that children with a medical excuse may brown-bag it, but everyone else must eat the food provided by the school because, “Nutrition-wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school.”

Needless to say, most of the kids aren’t too thrilled with the edict. The photo accompanying the article shows a child burying his head in hands when confronted with the truly disgusting-looking enchilada meant to be his lunch.

The reporter wrote that during her visit to the school, many of the children took the school meal but threw most of it away uneaten, saying that it tasted bad. I think that’s an opinion shared by most people who can recall the food prepared in their school cafeterias.

I grew up in then largely-rural Sugar Land, Texas, a suburb of Houston. The school district purchased surplus okra from local farmers for next to nothing, and then boiled all of the taste and crispiness out of it before serving it up to the kids. To this day, I can’t even stand to look at the stuff.

Kids need to be taught how to make healthy choices – notice I wrote “choices.” If you only provide gross food, the kid is going to go hungry until he gets home from school, then stuff himself with Little Debbie snacks. None of these kids are learning anything about healthy eating. They aren’t being taught why it’s better to choose an apple over a Twinkie. They aren’t learning why eating well is important. All they are learning is that healthy food tastes bad. And that is what the real legacy of this edict will be.

So what messages are Claremont Academy and Little Village Academy really passing on to the pupils? First and foremost, in my opinion, is that their parents don’t know what’s best for them, the faceless bureaucracy does. Parents can’t be trusted to take care of you, so the school has to do it. 

Second, it is reinforcing in these kids’ heads the belief that healthy food tastes bad. School food is institutionalized, mass-prepared, and uses the lowest-cost ingredients available. It’s bound to taste nasty, especially to little kids. If you give them this food and preach that this is “healthy” food, then the children are going to associate healthy food with gross food. I could be mistaken, but I don’t think that is the goal. The schools should look into what places like The Dell Center for Healthy Living are doing (full disclosure – the Dell Center is our neighbor at The University of Texas School of Public Health). They do a great job teaching children how to make their own choices about what they put into their bodies.

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If Kids Eat Candy, Do the Terrorists Win?

by Shannon Rasp December 17, 2010 01:44 PM

Michelle Obama, who has embraced child obesity as her “cause” while her husband is president, recently stated that one in four young adults is “too fat” for military service. This, she claims, is a “threat to national security.”


This incident popped into my head while I was reading Nick’s blog on Wednesday about how politicians would benefit from some knowledge translation training. Childhood (and adult) obesity is a national health crisis. It costs billions of dollars a year, causes a variety of co-morbidities, and is largely avoidable. As a chubster, I know I would feel a heck of a lot better if I could lose the excess weight I’m hauling around. While it is a major problem, it is not a threat to national security.


Why? Simple math. There are fewer than one and a half million Americans on active military duty at any given time. Meanwhile, there are over 75 million children in this country. Now, my math skills are beyond atrocious, but even I know that if you subtract a quarter of all children from this total, that still leaves over 56 million kids for 1.4 million places.  That seems like a pretty big pool to choose from. 


Obama should be commended for her willingness to tackle a difficult subject. But she needs to learn that scare tactics and melodramatic statements do not help her cause. Knowledge translation is just that – the sharing of knowledge, not hyperbole. Bill Novelli addressed this issue in KT Exchange podcast #4, which members can listen to on the site. What do you think?  Do you have any favorite hysterical statements by politicians? Or do you disagree with me? Let me know in the comments!

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When Ritalin, Not Discipline, Is Prescribed

by Shannon Rasp October 1, 2010 10:45 AM

The Independent newspaper in London recently ran an article about a Cardiff University study linking ADD and hyperactivity to genetics. In the article, the inability to concentrate, fidgeting, and acting impulsively were all described as ADD symptoms. Do you know what I think they are symptoms of? Being a kid.


Granted, I am childfree by choice. I’ll state that up front. But, just like you, I was a kid at one time. I babysat a lot. Most of my friends have kids. I have a brother who is six and a half years younger than me. I have dated many emotionally immature men. Suffice it to say I have spent my fair share of time with children. What do most kids have in common? They are spazzes. They run around everywhere, have zero patience, get bored easily, and have no idea that one day they will want nothing more than to take a nap. This doesn’t mean they are hyperactive.


Notice I used the phrase “most kids.” This behavior describes most children. Some kids are naturally quieter and calmer than others. And some others go beyond the normal kid behavior and become destructive or a danger to themselves or others, These are the kids who need therapy and, possibly, medication. Just because a child doesn’t want to go to bed or watch a PBS documentary doesn’t mean he or she should be on Ritalin.


Researchers are quoted in the article as saying that this genetic link should help alleviate the idea that “bad” behavior is the result of poor parenting or too much sugar. I see it a different way – it will allow parents to dismiss the behavior of their out-of-control children as “genetics,” therefore absolving themselves and their children of any responsibility. My kid threw food at you? It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s his genes. Little Jeffrey kicked in your television screen? He inherited that mischievous behavior from his dad. Sally’s throwing a huge tantrum in the middle of the store? Must be time for another pill!


I'm not saying there is no such thing as ADD or hyperactivity; I’m merely stating that, at least in my opinion, it’s not nearly as prevalent as the media and some pediatricians and child development “experts” would have people believe. We have tens of thousands of children who are taking unnecessary drugs to control annoying but normal behavior their parents don’t want to deal with. Do we really think this is the right thing to do?

Some have begun to float the idea that there has been a vast over-diagnosis of ADD and hyperactivity in children over the last 10 or 15 years.  What was once considered a normal part of learning acceptable behavior is now deemed a genetic disease. My favorite commentary on this came via South Park in the episode Timmy 2000 (handily proving my assertion that every conversation I have can be linked to an episode of South Park).  What do you think?  Do you agree with me, or do you think I’m missing the mark? Do some parents prefer to medicate their children rather than teach them what is and isn’t appropriate behavior? And what about the media – do they play a part in this fixation with ADD? Or are they performing a public service by dedicating lots of time and space to the issue? 

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Jenny McCarthy, Pediatrician? I Don't Think So

by Shannon Rasp September 8, 2010 09:55 AM

It recently made the news that media queen Oprah Winfrey has thrown her support behind former Playboy Bunny and virulent vaccination opponent Jenny McCarthy by offering her a column on Winfrey’s highly-trafficked Web site and an eventual talk show.


McCarthy, whose child was diagnosed with autism (which might actually be Landau-Kleffner syndrome) in 2005, has become a prominent mouthpiece of the anti-vaccination movement, saying that thimerosal in vaccines caused her son to be autistic.  There is no scientific proof of this, and in any case, thimerosal hasn’t been used in vaccines since 1999 (with the exception of some HIB and flu vaccines).  But that hasn’t stopped McCarthy from going on television and leading marches, calling for parents to stop vaccinating their children until the pharmaceutical industry develops “safe” vaccines.


Unfortunately, a sizeable minority of parents have chosen to take McCarthy’s advice instead of that of every credible medical organization in the world.  Parents all over the United States are refusing to vaccinate their children, and as a result, children are now contracting (and sometimes dying from) preventable diseases like rubella and tetanus.  California is currently experiencing an outbreak of whooping cough that has already killed at least five infants.  Who is responsible?  Uninformed parents and their patron saint of pseudoscience, Jenny McCarthy.


David Tayloe, president of the American Academy of Pediatricians, told Slate, “If you give her a bully pulpit, McCarthy is going to make people hesitate to vaccinate their children. She has no scientific or medical credentials … but she’s given all these opportunities to make her pitch about vaccines.”


Luckily, McCarthy isn't the only celebrity who has weighed in on the debate.  Penn & Teller, the edgy illusionists, pop culture commentators and comedians, shared their take on the vaccination debate on their Showtime series.  You can see it here - but take care, as the language is definitely NSFW.


Winfrey’s backing will give McCarthy credibility she doesn’t deserve.  It will also allow her to spread her propaganda to a much larger audience, which could have increasingly tragic consequences.  There is a macabre site online that purports to keep track of the number of deaths McCarthy’s reign of terror has caused.  As of July 16, 2010, that number stood at 521 (it began tracking the number in June 2007).  If McCarthy’s dream of her own talk show is realized, look for that number to rise – quickly.

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