The YWCA of Duluth’s health education department is addressing kids preventive health by doing the following:
Introducing yoga-play to the Early Childcare Center.
Embracing Circle of Security principals and applying it with the families.
Reducing exposure to 3rd hand smoke risks.
Provide more infant health and preconception health information.
Collaborating with The College of St. Scholastica’s Occupational Therapy.
Connecting kids health and sensory processing issues with environmental pollutants and toxins.
Early puberty in girls and boys
American girls exposed to high levels of common household chemicals had their first period 7 months earlier than those with lower exposures, according to a 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis. Early puberty is not just for girls, either. In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that American boys are reaching puberty 6 months to 2 years earlier than just a few decades ago (boys who are African-American started the earliest, at around age 9, while other boys start at around age 10).
The 2013 Pesticide Action Network Executive Summary reports how pesticides are undermining our children’s health and intelligence. Pesticides are being linked to compromised intelligence, childhood cancers, birth defects, obesity, diabetes, asthma, and early puberty. This report also reflects on how the next generation of babies is being put in jeopardy because of potential lifelong effects of synthetic chemicals in fetal and early-childhood exposures.
Some harmful chemicals in our surroundings
BPA (bisphenol A) can be found in some food cans, plastic food containers, and drink containers. Minuscule exposure to this synthetic chemical (used in an epoxy resin) can increase our kids’ risks of early puberty and cancers, including prostate cancer and breast cancer in later life.
We are exposed to multiple toxins from our air, water, food, homes, and workplaces, and yet some good news is that some of these exposures can be limited by our choice of household cleaners, air fresheners, beauty products, and food. Remember though, that the majority of multiple toxin exposures are something we cannot directly control.
Persistent organic pollutants, including xeno-estrogens that mimic estrogen and have been shown to increase women’s risk of breast cancer, are found in many places in our environment: personal care products and cosmetics (eg, parabens), weed killers that we and our pets track into our homes and drink through the water supply (eg, atrazine), food preservatives (eg, BHA), plastic bottles in the insides of food cans (eg, BPA), and plastic objects, toys, and containers (eg, phthalates).
And regarding breast cancer…
A retired Army nurse recently expressed concern about how much breast cancer is related to pollutants and chemicals invading our environment and our bodies. She stated, “Women’s breasts are the canaries in the coal mine.” A very appropriate statement from someone from the Greatest Generation, considering that at least 90% of all breast cancers cannot be linked to heredity. For the other 10%, it is important to not just accept that because “it’s in the genes” that there is nothing we can do. We need to discover and eliminate what factors are contributing to ALL breast cancers.
What can we do to reduce our kids’ toxic burden?
We can take care of ourselves at home and work and be healthy for our kids. We can lessen our dependence on canned foods, plastics, non-natural room fresheners, toilet bowl in room deodorizers, aerosolized sprays, perfumes, colognes, beauty products, and toiletries. We can look towards eating more fresh foods, using more scent-free products, and purchasing more local and organic foods (especially if its dairy).
Shop wisely and compare products and prices. Prices are coming down on eco-friendly products and foods as manufacturers and grocers see the increased demand. Even a drugstore chain here in town has its own line of reasonably-priced, eco-friendly products.
At home and work we can focus on the littler things. Consider using more environmentally friendly products such as dye-free and scent-free cleaning solutions and toiletries, buying more eco-friendly products, and researching before we buy. Most importantly, though, before we buy we can ask if we really need it and what impact it will have on ours and our kids’ lives.
What else is there to think about for our children’s future?
We can read up more on the influences of synthetic chemicals, xenoestrogens, and any of those strange-sounding chemicals listed in the ingredients. Facilities can create more environmentally-friendly schools and playgrounds for children and adults (the Eco-Healthy Child Care Program has more information on this to help us along).
The “precautionary approach” is a principle that states that if something has a suspected risk of causing harm, then the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on what’s creating it. We can apply this precautionary principle by prioritizing our children’s health, asking for real change, and looking for ways that provide protection for our children. All in all, working together to clean up our home and work environment a small amount at a time will make a big difference for our future generations.
Written by: Caroline Woods
Health Education Director, YWCA of Duluth
1. Environmental Health Perspectives journal. 2012 Nov;120(11):1613-8. Epub 2012 Aug Exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals and age of menarche in adolescent girls in NHANES (2003-2008). By Buttke DE, Sircar K, Martin C. Used data from CDC, see 2.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
3. Breast Cancer Action2012/2013 Think Before You Pink Toolkit
5. Pesticide Action Network North America: A Generation in Jeopardy, 2013 Executive Summary