Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Where did all this come from?

A story on the AP wire today says that food allergies in American children appear to be rising, with about 3 million kids now affected. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points to a doubling of peanut allergies as one factor and says children seem to be taking longer to outgrow allergies to milk and eggs. I don't quibble with the findings, but what I want to know is, what's the source of all these food allergies? I don't know about you, but when I was a youngster, food allergies were exceedingly rare. Growing up, I knew one guy who was allergic to tuna. That's it. I went to the Army, went through college, etc., and still I wasn't running into people who were allergic to food. It's been just in the last 10 or 15 years that it seems every third person is allergic to something they eat. I'm sure doctors are doing a better job of recognizing food allergies, but that, alone, can't explain the huge increase in cases. I'll offer my theory, and you can shoot it down, support it or offer one of your own. I think parents are being too careful about what they feed their little ones. When I was tiny (which I realize is hard to visualize if you know me now), I'm sure I wasn't more than a few months old when family members started giving me mashed potatoes, ice cream, etc., and there was never a thought that some foods should be withheld from small children. Today, parents are almost freaky when it comes to controlling their children's food intake. I have a sister-in-law who nearly wet herself when I gave her 1-year-old daughter a deviled egg. The kid's still alive, by the way. Please share your thoughts.



Blogger PRIguy said...

It's true that doctors are identifying allergies better than in the past. And you're dead on when you say that the parents are contributing immensely to this phenomenon by feeding their little ones only the most perfect foods. But let me take it a step further...

Have you noticed how many products are anti-bacterial now? Hand soaps, dish detergent, laundry detergent, hand wipes, butt wipes - all of them are anti-bacterial. I order the office supplies where I work and now there are anti-microbial computer keyboards, adding machines, and even pens!

Television commercials are the worst perpetrators in instilling this unfounded fear of germs and dirt in consumers, particularly in young parents who want only the very best of everything for their precious little darlings, and want to feel like they're doing everything possible to make the world safe for their kids. One commercial shows computer-generated germs crawling all over a doorknob. There's one that shows a toy being passed from child to child, and it seems that every child who touches it is stricken with some sort of contagious malady from a runny nose to, I don't know, typhoid fever if we're to believe the commercial, and each child contaminates the toy a little bit more. One shows a woman tossing something in the kitchen trash can and a little girl immediately goes to the can (which is conveniently at mouth-height for her), and she looks inside while pawing the trash can liner. Mommy sprays Lysol or Clorox or PhisoHex or Betadine or something on it to protect the little dear. Hey about smacking her fingers and telling her to stay the hell out of the trash can?

Our food is full of preservatives and added nutrients. We wash with medicated soap, don clothes washed in anti-bacterial detergent, spray everything we touch with a germ-killer, then go to sleep on hypo-allergenic sheets. The immune systems of a generation have gotten weaker - they never have to fight off any bacteria because they've never been challenged to. Then the body is exposed to some bacteria or allergen, and WHAM!

I'm of the same generation as Brant, and my parents were the same way. My mother used to say, "You have to eat a peck of dirt before you die." For the younger set, a peck is a unit of measure consisting of about 8 quarts. We're purifying everything and upcoming generations' immune systems are getting weaker, and thus, there will be more medical problems arising from it.

October 22, 2008 at 2:38 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

My mom told me the same thing about the peck of dirt. I think I'm on my fifth bushel. If I drop a piece of food on the ground, I pick it up and eat it. My dogs do the same thing, and they're never sick. If I drop my cigarette on the ground, I pick it up and smoke it. The cigarettes, themselves, are a lot more likely to kill me than a few germs from the ground. Now people use anti-bacterial wipes provided by the store to scrub down the buggies at Giant Eagle before shopping. In a million years, that never would have occurred to me. It's just not something I would waste my time worrying about. If I see an obvious leper licking the cart handle, I might pick another, but jeez, there aren't that many lepers in Washington. We've just become germaphobic, and people are making a crapload of money off of those fears.

October 22, 2008 at 3:29 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

Let's not forget that Darwin's "Survival of the Fittest" thing works in the germ world too... You see those ads for antibacterial this or that where they say they kill 99% of germs... guess what happens to that last 1%? They have free reign (no competition from the other 99%) to multiply and thrive... Oh, and since bacteria perform asexual reproduction... splitting into two genetically identical replica's of the parent, their offspring carry the same resistance to the antibacterial agent that was initially used... The next superbug may not originate in the Congo... It may originate on little Hunter or Cooper's overly disinfected high chair...


October 22, 2008 at 6:53 PM  
Blogger Roger said...

Brant, I would agree that all this stuff seems to be recent. But, there are many other medical issues that seem to be recent as well. Perhaps one could almost conclude that a conspiracy is underway.

The irony of this matter is that fewer and fewer families know how to feed their children. Yes, know how to feed their children - that is what I said. When I was young, mothers were at home, keeping the house for the family, and preparing meals three times per day. These women may have not had degrees in dietary science, but they did well to prepare well-balance meals for the family. As we migrated through the 70s and 80s, more and more women began to work outside the home, and fast food restaurants became popular. Families spent less time at home around the dinner table. As these families became more mobile, relying more on junk food, diets took a nosedive. The next generation knew this lifestyle, and it is now being passed to another generation. Consider the obesity problem in young folks. As a whole, they aren't eating right, and it shows around the waistlines.

So, while some parents are getting picky about withholding some foods from their children for fear of allergies, the same ones are not teaching their children how to eat right in the first place. The parents themselves don't know how to eat right, let alone prepare well-balanced meals for their children at home.

Another offshoot of this problem is unrelated to diet. Children don't even learn table manners any more. Watching children at family events or public settings, it is clear they have little clue how to behave at a dinner table.

October 22, 2008 at 8:51 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

I think you make a valid point, Roger, but I still think that there is this unfounded fear of germs that is being created by Madison Avenue, and naive, paranoid parents who are riddled with guilt because they don't have enough time to be adequate parents to their children buy into it, thinking, "Well, at least I can keep germs away from my child by using..."

It's the same sort of marketing, branding and selling of a lifestyle that was so successful for SUV sales. Those ads show average families trekking off to some unknown area that mysteriously includes all of these: mountains, rivers, wilderness hiking and biking trails, and a beach...all within driving range of a half-tank's worth of gas. In the back of the SUV is the mountain of equipment the family needs to enjoy all these activities.

Now, the anti-bacterial products ads are telling us that germs are everywhere - as if we didn't know it. But the germs in TV Land are evil, cunning, and have all sorts of peculiar things growing off of their heads...and that can only mean that these germs are even more dangerous than some of the others.

I'm with Brant. If I drop it on the floor, I pick it up and eat it. If it doesn't crunch, I'm good to go. Same goes for grilling: I pick off the grass and throw it back on the grill.

What it comes down to is that our nation is becoming a bunch of candyasses. Vigils, support groups and counseling follow the slightest misfortunes. Kids aren't allowed to lose at games or fail in school because parents think that it damages them. And now we're running away from every little thing that might bring a speck of dirt into our bodies and people are becoming ever weaker because of it.

Years ago, my then 4-year-old son was acting like a maniac in a store. I grabbed his arm and whacked him on the ass. A guy approached me and I was expecting some namby-pamby comment about me spanking him. I was surprised when he said, "If you don't spank them, society will." Very profound, very true, and it applies to this germ discussion as well as the other things I mentioned above.

Thank you for mentioning the appalling lack of table manners in children. They don't know how to hold a fork, cut meat properly, drink without slurping...and watch how they sit in a restaurant booth. They sit like they're on the couch at home in front of the TV, munching popcorn. When I was a kid, going out to eat was a big deal. You wore nice clothes, used your best manners...but then that's another sign of the devolution of family dining. If eating in a restaurant took the place of eating at home, then I guess one's "going out" manners wouldn't matter anymore - but that's another topic.

October 23, 2008 at 7:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree that the sanitation mania has hit epic proportions. It seems like these days, if we don't have something to obsess about, we aren't happy. What happened to the concept of building immunity? I think it's rather silly to worry about wiping down the handle of every shopping cart we use and for mothers to subject their every belonging to infrared tests to see how many viruses are lurking.

Anyone else her grow up in the 1950s? How many times did you and your friends share a bottle of pop, the only sanitary measure taken being wiping off the top of the bottle with a grimy paw? Or on your sweaty shirt. How many unwashed vegetables have you eaten in your lifetime? How many people have sneezed and coughed on you? Did you ever eat boogers? Ever have a dog kiss you? Pick up someone in a bar and swap spit? Are you alive? I rest my case.

October 23, 2008 at 11:18 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

I'm not going to admit to eating boogers, but the other stuff, yep.

October 23, 2008 at 11:40 AM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

Boogers are good food.

October 23, 2008 at 11:47 AM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

I ate a booger once, but I was in college and it was a crazy time and I was experimenting, testing my boundaries, trying to

October 23, 2008 at 12:56 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

Did the booger help?

October 23, 2008 at 12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tried snot, but I didn't inhale.

October 23, 2008 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

It did help...I found out I'm a heterosexual male who likes red wine but hates boogers. I think I've achieved self-actualization.

October 23, 2008 at 6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know that stuff at the bottom of the wine bottle? Boogers.

October 24, 2008 at 8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, blame it on the mother -- that's really helpful, Roger. How about some dads getting into the kitchen?

I work full time, many nights and weekends, and eating out is a treat for my children.

I prepare meals before I leave for work, and if I have to go to work before I can make dinner, my husband proves himself perfectly able to use a stove/oven.

Working mothers are not an excuse for increased allergies.

October 24, 2008 at 10:45 AM  
Blogger Roger said...

To Anon, 10:45 a.m. -- My post was directed toward diets, not allergies. Suggesting working mothers are the reason for allergies has stretched my statements.

Do you not agree that diets have changed, and for the worse, in the past few decades? You can target criticism for this change in many ways. But, the lack of attention by parents to their child's well-being with regard to diet is frightening. Far too many parents are more concerned about their child learning the latest dance steps, or learning to put the ball through a hoop, than teaching them about the basics of proper diet. How many parents are stopping at the fast food joints, getting some high-calorie, high-fat food, all in a hurry, to get the child to the sports practice? This is misplaced priorities.

October 25, 2008 at 9:40 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

Roger, what you say has validity, and it ties into one of my frequent complaints, that children today are overscheduled to the point that they no longer have time to be kids. They're shuttled from music lesson to sports practice to dance class to who knows what. In some cases, it seems that even schoolwork takes a back seat to these "extracurricular" pursuits. And as a result, as you say, sitting down to a well-prepared, well-balanced meal becomes a rarity.

October 25, 2008 at 10:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And you completely ignored my comment that it is NOT entirely moms' fault that kids are eating fast food. Dads can cook too.

Well, my children can read those handy nutritional informational labels and we have talked about the importance of eating healthy and what they should eat. There are plenty of things to eat "on the go," which aren't fast food and are good for you.

As for "overscheduling," I don't know any children among my children's peer group who are "overscheduled." Most of them have social activities -- dance, scouts, sports, etc. -- one to three times a week, for perhaps an hour to two hours at a time.

It's not about turning your child into a superstar, it's about having fun, making friends and participating in a physical activity instead of sitting on their butts in front of a television.

It's easy for the older generation to paint the younger with a broad brush and say what a terrible job we're doing with our kids, especially when you cherry-pick examples. How many parents of young children do you personally know who are doing this?

October 25, 2008 at 11:56 AM  
Blogger Roger said...

Anon said, "...How many parents of young children do you personally know who are doing this? ..."

Far too many to count! My daily travels requires I spend most of my day in residential neighborhoods. I see the kids being picked up from the bus stop, and taken to their next event, BEFORE they even get home. Later in the day, the car drive up with all the kids piling out, each with their bag and drinks from the local fast food joint.

Even in the Summer, I shudder on what I see. The family van/SUV comes home at noon, shortly before or after, all the kids pile out, each with their bag of junk food and a drink. The mother and kids spend the rest of the afternoon at home.

Watch the fast food joints after games in the evenings. They are packed with mom/dad/kids in uniforms -- all packing in the junk food.

To be sure, dads can cook too. Parenting is a mom/dad task that requires both to be involved. I'm not discounting dads being involved.

Speaking of dads, ... I have my beef with them too. When working in neighborhoods, I see a pattern in the evenings and on Saturday. Dad is out working in the yard, washing the car, or doing other weekly tasks that need to be done to maintain a household. Meanwhile, the kids are riding their bicycles, sitting in the house watching TV or playing video games, doing nothing to be part of dad's project. I've seen many dads putting down mulch in their beds, mowing the grass, cleaning out beds, or other simple tasks, when their children who are plenty old enough to help -- on the sidelines. I've approached these dads, "... Why isn't Johnny helping you with this work?" "... oh, it is just quicker and easier if I do it myself." If dad (or mom in other cases) isn't going to teach their child how to work, who will do that teaching? It is the parents job to teach their children how to work, the discipline of work, the pride in working at something to see it through to completion. Parents aren't teaching their kids how to work -- the task isn't important. There may be little value in learning how to weed a flower bed, or spread mulch. That isn't the point. The issue at hand is to learn the discipline of work.

When kids are getting to the teen years, some are good workers and stretch themselves to find jobs. Meanwhile, many others are just "hanging out." Then we hear from employers that "kids don't want to work," (personal experience on this one). Why is this so? The kids haven't been taught how to work.

The other issue with the kids working with dad (or mom as the case may be), is family unity, joint responsibility, and trust-building. Sending the kids off to other places, while the parents toil at home to maintain the household, or allowing the kids to be off someplace else, is ignoring a major parental responsibility. Later, when there is trouble with the family/child relationship, "... we just don't understand our child, we don't know what to do, we don't have any control." Duh? The relationship hasn't been fostered through simple tasks being done together. Much of this responsibility falls upon the dads. The excuse, "... it takes less time if I just do it myself," will ring hollow in following years when the dad is trying to sort through the generational gap.

Nobody is off the hook in the parental responsibility.

October 25, 2008 at 12:29 PM  

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