Browsing Tag

What’s Up With That?

Failure to Plan Parenthood in Texas

By March 1, 2016 2 Comments
Share:

 The other day, I had a craving for coconut ice cream.

Stick with me here (and no, I’m not pregnant–this was just a garden variety gluttony)

I was dying for it, and in a stroke of luck I didn’t have to rush home to my kids that day, I had the chance to fully indulge myself. Of course, now that I had the opportunity to indulge, I went to four different stores looking for some and then I finally gave up. I had the motivation to drive all over creation to find it, the time and the ability to seek it out, and the money to pay for it once I found it but I STILL couldn’t get what I wanted when I wanted it.

That’s just life sometimes, and as a mother I’ve realized that’s life more often than not. But my great unfulfilled quest to find coconut ice cream made me think of a study I’d just read in the New England Journal of Medicine. Yes, I know. When you work in public health your brain never shuts off about this stuff.

Heading home without my ice cream was no big deal, but what if I’d been looking for something else instead. The only impact of me not getting my ice cream was that I was disappointed and Haagen-Dazs lost a sale. But what if I’d been looking for something of life-changing importance and I wasn’t able to get it? Let’s imagine we’re talking about birth control.

I know this seems like a stretch, but like I said, stick with me here.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Categories: Policy, Politics, + Pop Health, Pregnancy, Birth + Family Planning

Ladies, Don’t Drink and Don’t Have Babies: When Public Health Messaging Fails

By and February 8, 2016 1 Comment
Share:

 

We strive to be evidence-based communicators here at The Scientific Parent, and sometimes we collectively wring our hands at public health messaging by our counterparts at other organizations. After all, the public health nerd core tends to be made up of nerds, and while we love nerds (seeing as how we consider ourselves members of that tribe), sometimes nerds can get lost in health data and forget that it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Data may be objective in the eyes of researchers and statisticians, but in the real world and life, those numbers have context.

That’s why over the last two weeks we’ve found ourselves squirming over recent public health campaigns. For example: common sense would suggest that telling women in Texas to simply not get pregnant due to the threat of catching the Zika virus is utterly unhelpful. First, because of the lack of universal access to free contraceptives for both sexes, and also because the messaging places an undue burden on women with no equivalent advisory (i.e.: ‘don’t get anyone pregnant’) for men. Also, family planning and expansion usually doesn’t stop because viral outbreaks, as public health officials in every other country on the planet can tell you (including those in Brazil who are seeing women avoid mosquitos that carry Zika, not pregnancy).

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Categories: Policy, Politics, + Pop Health, Pregnancy, Birth + Family Planning

“My Kids Aren’t Guinea Pigs,” Says Parent Affected By Porter Ranch Gas Leak

By January 4, 2016 4 Comments
Share:

A brave parent stepped forward to talk to The Scientific Parent about the Porter Ranch gas leak, and asked that he remain anonymous, for fear of retaliation against his family. Here is his story.

I am part of one of the 3,000 families displaced by the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) leak in Porter Ranch, but I consider my family lucky, because we’re finally safe. The latest reports say that an additional 3,000 more families are waiting to leave the area, and are still living in a zone that’s being called the biggest environmental disaster since the BP oil spill. Notice I say leave, not evacuate. I’ll get back to that.

On Oct 23, 2015, SoCalGas announced that their Aliso Canyon Storage Facility was leaking a combination of methane and mercaptan gases into my community, which is in Los Angeles, California. Methane is a natural gas. Mercaptan is the chemical the gas companies add to make it smell so people are warned when there’s a gas leak in their home.

At the time, they said the leak shouldn’t affect us, and at that point we didn’t know that symptoms of exposure to those gases are headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and loss of coordination. If we had, we would have realized that my family had been experiencing these symptoms for some time.

For weeks, our 3-and-a-half-year-old son, was lethargic and didn’t have his usual energy to do things. What normal three year old isn’t constantly running around and into things? My wife was complaining about nausea, and that her breathing was short and challenging. I had headaches every day when I came home from work. We never thought any of those things were related.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Categories: Accidents, Injuries, + Abuse, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health

Keep Your Sick Kid Home and Away From Mine!

By December 8, 2015 1 Comment
Share:

We all know that dreaded feeling when you’re meeting with someone and their children, and you can immediately tell that they or their children are ill.

When that happens to me, I mentally start preparing myself for the impending sickness that is almost certain to be passed along to my family, and then I try to manage the disappointment and fleeting rage that momentarily crosses my mind. Sure enough, later that evening I’m usually woken up in the middle of the night by a crying child, and I can tell that something is amiss based on the pathetic-sounding cry and whine. I sleepily fumble my way into to their room only to find a shaky, feverish kiddo that’s miserable and immediately my mind flashes back when I had that sick visitor or play date.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a germaphobe, and some exposure to viruses is a good thing. Exposure to some germs is a necessary evil that helps beef up the body’s immunity, allowing our bodies to more effectively fight future illnesses.  One study showcased in Science Magazine has even shown that mice exposed to millions of bacteria and organisms fared better than those mice that essentially were raised in a sterile “bubble,” because their bodies were able to more efficiently fight against illness.

Tags: , , ,
Categories: Ages + Stages, Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Newborns + Infants, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health, School-Aged Children, Toddlers + Preschoolers, Tweens + Teens

What’s Up With Kids and Allergies?

By November 9, 2015 1 Comment
Share:

This post was written in response to a question from TheScientificParent.org reader Salima, who received confusing information from her doctor and pharmacist about kids and allergies.

 

As a pediatric allergist, I see children of all ages presenting with a range of different symptoms, especially runny noses, cough, and rashes. As a parent, I see my children exhibit these same symptoms pretty much all the time. These are very common symptoms in children of all ages and often occur when allergies are present. However, they don’t always mean that allergies are present. Confused? Don’t worry – you’re not alone.

Parents often tell me they were also told that even though “it must be allergies” that allergy testing could not be performed until children are two, or three, even five years old. This is a common misperception and it’s never made any sense to me. Why can you diagnose a child with allergies but then tell parents that testing is not reliable until they are a certain age? Not only is this frustrating to parents, but it’s also incorrect. Hopefully this article will clarify many of the common misconceptions regarding allergy diagnosis and testing.

Tags: ,
Categories: Ages + Stages, Chronic Illnesses + Conditions, School-Aged Children, Toddlers + Preschoolers, Tweens + Teens

Child-Free By Choice: How Old Is Too Young for A Vasectomy?

By August 20, 2015 5 Comments
Share:

Since I was a teen I was not interested in having children. I’m not a kid hater or parent hater, but that lifestyle was never something that appealed to me.  I like kids, I also like to hand them back to their parents at the end of the day.  The decision to be child-free is not something I grew out of as I aged, if anything I became more steadfast in my decision to not have children. As a result, I had decided around age 20 to pursue sterilization. I wanted a vasectomy.

That vasectomy took me 15 years.

Not for lack of trying.

Understand that I have always taken my sexual health very seriously and was not after a vasectomy as an easy way to get away from condom use. A vasectomy won’t prevent certain STDs the way a condom will.  My decision to have one was purely for birth control.  While I understand that sterilization has a permanence to it that other forms of birth control don’t, in my 15 year quest to have a vasectomy it seemed strange to me that I didn’t have the right to control my own reproductive health.  As a man, the only form of birth control outside of a vasectomy that I had at my disposal were condoms, and condoms are all well and good, but they aren’t as effective as a vasectomy.

Before I approached my doctor at age 20 to talk about a vasectomy, I did my research.  I had asked him about it previously in passing and I’d also made a purely informational appointment with a urologist to better understand the procedure.  I understood the effectiveness, side effects, consequences and permanence of my decision.

So, at 20 when I sat down with my doctor to talk about actually going through with the procedure, I made sure I was clear.  I explained myself, my wish never to have children, my research and my understanding of the permanence of my request.

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 9.29.18 PM

A comparison of the efficacy of birth control methods, c/o CDC.gov

My doctor countered immediately with the argument that I was too young, and “What if you meet someone who wants to start a family,” and something about how this is usually done when you are married and wish to have no more children.

Bottom line: “No. Come back later when you are older”. No defined time frame, just “older”.

At age 20, although I was headstrong, I never thought to argue or advocate for myself. I mean, you just don’t argue with your doctor right?

Life moves along. I was age 25 and had moved to another city. When I was settled in I found a GP and had a physical done, and again asked about a vasectomy.

Same response. “You’re not old enough, you’re not married with kids, come back when you are 30”. I also got a lecture on the use of condoms. I think my new GP thought I was trying to find a way to forgo condom use, which again, I was not.

When I was around 31 I had a new GP and was in a long term relationship. My then girlfriend also didn’t want to have kids so I thought that for sure I would have success this time around!

Denied. At least he was the nicest out of my doctors. He said that this was a permanent procedure and that most men requesting it were married and already had kids. I did argue a little bit, explaining my firm decision to remain child-free and that I’d asked for the procedure several times since age 20.  He asked me to wait a year, he’d put a note in my file and we’d talk. That seemed fair. Mostly, I just wanted to satisfy whatever arbitrary conditions there were.

Life got in the way.  I married my long-term girlfriend and we moved clear across the country.

Again, I had a new GP and I expected the same kind of brush-off from her that I’d received from my previous GPs. My current GP is a no-nonsense, very clinical sort of doctor. Logical and to the point. I like her. When I told her “I am interested in getting a vasectomy” and said I’d already done my homework she simply gave me a referral.

Since she gave me the referral, I’ve occasion to chat with her and asked about the vasectomy referral. I was specifically curious if she would have referred 20 year old me to the urologist. Her answer was simple. “Yes, you are a well informed patient, and have obviously done your due diligence, so if you were that way at age 20, why not?”

The visit with the urologist was great. He was also very matter of fact, straight up. He asked 2 questions. One: Do you have kids? Two: Is your partner is aware of the procedure?

His response to my child-free status was “That’s OK, I’ve met plenty of men not interested in having children”. I also asked him a few questions. He would have performed the procedure on 20 year old me, if I was as confident and well informed as 35 year old me. This was bizarre.  After being told for 15 years that I was too young, that I needed to wait, I was suddenly being told by two health care providers that they would have performed the procedure on me when I was 20.

After 15 years I finally was able to have the procedure and am confident that my wife and I will be child-free.

But I’m left with some nagging doubts about the path it took me to get here.  Is relative youth reason enough to deny someone the right to control their reproductive health?  Only about 5% of men who have had a vasectomy will ever have it reversed.  I can see my previous providers’ concerns about my age, as a study found that the younger a patient is when they decide on sterilization the more likely they are to try to have it reversed, but that’s still a very small percentage.  I also can’t help but wonder how skewed the numbers are right now, as 90% of those who have had vasectomies are married or are in long-term relationships.  I know that my vasectomy now falls into that category, even though I’d been trying to obtain it since I was 20.  While I know I’m not in the majority, I have to wonder how many men like me are skewing the data, thus making it harder for men like me to obtain a vasectomy before marriage and reaching an arbitrary age.

So I’m left wondering, what was it that lead doctor after doctor to deny me a vasectomy over 15 years?  Was it age, gender or were they placing their own morality above my medical wishes?  I’m not sure, but looking back, it sure seems like it was all three.

In retrospect I would have told 20 year old me to go and find another GP and to agitate and advocate more. Lesson learned, I am now my own fiercest health advocate, as I should be. – Edited by Leslie Waghorn

Tags: , , , ,
Categories: Pregnancy, Birth + Family Planning

How Did E. coli Wind Up in Bottled Water? Spoiler Alert: Poop

By July 14, 2015 No Comments
Share:

Just as summer started in late June, officials from Niagara, LLC initiated a large recall of their bottled water due to evidence of E. coli at the company’s spring water source. This was cause for concern for many people, including parents, as summer is when bottled water is a regular go-to and most in demand, and of course because E. coli has earned a (rightfully) bad reputation.

It may make your skin crawl to think about it, but on and in just about every living thing, there’s a whole host of naturally occurring microbes. This includes humans. That’s right, naturally occurring microbes have taken up residence in your skin and gut and you need them to live.

Eschericia coli or more simply E. coli is a naturally occurring and very important microbial resident in the digestive tracts of cattle, ruminants (sheep, goats and deer), mammals and birds. People often think that E. coli is a single type of bacteria, but in fact it’s a large and diverse group of microbes.

In animals, E. coli is classified as a commensal microbe, which means that the bacteria lives within these animals without causing disease and helps the animal’s digestive tract extract important nutrients from food. These bacteria, like the ones that live in our guts, eventually they die and are shed when the animal defecates (see: poops).

So, if E. coli is a naturally occurring bacteria why is it a problem when it gets into the human food supply?

In 1982, a new subtype of E. coli was discovered in cattle that were very distinct from the standard E.coli shed by animals for the benefit of their health. This new subtype named 0157:H7 still lived in the animal’s gut and was shed through the same method (see: poop). In 1993 the new subtype was identified as the cause of a large outbreak of an illness that caused hemorrhagic diarrhea, kidney failure and even death. The common thread among all of the victims were that they’d consumed undercooked beef from a large fast food restaurant.

So if E. coli 0157:H7 lives in the guts of animals, how did it get into hamburger meat in 1993 and how did it get into the Niagara, LLC bottled water supply?

In 1993 the outbreak was traced to meat processing plants that lacked protocols to ensure that bacteria from the animal’s gut didn’t contaminate the meat used for human consumption. In terms of the issue with Niagara, LLC it comes down to how we handle poop: our own and that of animals.

Humans have built intricate sewage systems that handle our waste en mass, but the same cannot be said for animals such as cattle. During periods of heavy precipitation or snowfalls, E. coli can potentially be washed into bodies of water used for swimming and drinking. Another potential source for E. coli are from raising cattle. Human farming practices such as irrigation can carry animal waste from fields into close contact with crops and potentially into bodies of water used by humans.

E. coli infections with the serotype 0157:H7 are the most common cause of disease via the production of a shiga toxin. The toxin and the resulting disease can infect almost anyone but the very young and the elderly are most at risk. The primary symptoms are abdominal cramps, vomiting and bloody diarrhea. These populations can develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can lead to kidney failure and death.

Niagara LLC acted very responsibly after learning that the potential for infection was present and began the recall. Their products reach a very wide customer base in multiple states through a number of retail outlets. Prevention is typically the best method of reducing chances of infection and these preventative methods are usually very simple.

  1. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom, prior to and after preparing food and after changing diapers.
  2. Avoid swallowing water when swimming in lakes, rivers and kiddie pools.
  3. Properly handle and cook meats.
  4. Do not consume raw milk or unpasteurized juices.
  5. If you suspect that you or your child is sick, consult with your health care provider immediately.

These outbreaks do not occur as often but when they do, the effects have a major impact on the population at large. As consumers, we have to be very prudent in the choices we make and using the prevention methods at hand to keep our families safe. – Edited by Leslie Waghorn

 

Tags: , , , , ,
Categories: Food, Nutrition, + Infant Feeding, Infectious Disease + Vaccines

Since When is Same-Sex Marriage a Pediatric Health Issue?

By June 29, 2015 No Comments
Share:

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a brief statement applauding the decision. It didn’t take long after that for my friends to start weighing in on the statement on Facebook.

Part of me was super psyched because I had so many friends talking about the AAP on social media (hooray for informed parents!) and the other part of me wanted to slam my head on the desk as I realized how misunderstood the statement had been. Even the friends who were happy about the SCOTUS decision seemed wary about what they viewed as a neutral health care organization venturing into a divisive political issue.

I can totally understand my friends’ confusion. We’re used to the AAP talking to us about ear infections and car seats, not so much about two adults of the same sex being able to marry or not. The AAP’s release didn’t exactly clarify matters as it was extremely short and without any background to explain why the organization viewed this decision as having an impact on child health.

For starters, the AAP is an organization that focuses on all factors that impact a child’s physical and mental health. This includes things such as family structure and a child’s home environment, which are part of what public health nerds call the psychosocial determinants of health. In short, psychosocial factors are generally created by other people in a child’s life and are things in which the child has little control. Things like home environment, family structure and stability all have massive impacts on a child’s physical and mental health, which is why organizations like the AAP, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the CDC study them.

For decades social scientists have studied children of same-sex couples and for just as long those on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate have used those studies to support their side. In 2013 the AAP reviewed the existing meta analyses of these studies and came to the same conclusion that the SCOTUS did after reviewing the same studies: A child’s well being depends much more on their relationship with their parents than it does on their parents’ gender or sexual orientation.

After reviewing the studies in 2006 and 2013 the AAP found that children of same-sex parents do not disproportionately suffer negative outcomes as a result of their parents sexuality. What the AAP did find was that the lack of uniform same-sex marriage rights across all 50 states does put children of same-sex couples at a disadvantage. This may seem bizarre as there are many children being raised by unmarried opposite-sex parents, or by single parents or by divorced parents. But the difference here is that the children of those relationships are legally recognized as being the children of those parents, which matters significantly in terms of custody and visitation rights, as well as access to medical benefits through the parents’ employers. It’s those disparities that negatively effect the physical and mental health of the children of same-sex couples, and why the AAP supports the same-sex marriage movement.

 


Resources:
The American Academy of Pediatrics Applauds Supreme Court Decision to Recognize Same-Gender Marriage in All 50 States. American Academy of Pediatrics. Published online 06/26/15. Accessed 06/28/15
The Social Determinants of Health FAQ. The Centers for Disease Control. Accessed 06/28/15

Collection: The Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health.  Pediatrics -Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed 06/28/15

Definition: Social Determinants of Health Policy.  American Academy of Family Physicians. Accessed 06/28/15

Perrin, E.C., Siegel, B.S., et al. Technical Report: Promoting the Well-Being of Children Whose Parents are Gay or Lesbian. Pediatrics – Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. March 30, 2013. doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-0377. Accessed 06/28/15.

Tags: , , ,
Categories: Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health