Monday, February 2, 2009

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired? Take charge

This write-up is a review of an article that appeared on the Ithaca College Website today about Robin Sidman, an Ithaca College Alum, and her quest to create environmental awareness and change in schools and homes on a community level. Robin’s story is important because it demonstrates the power of one person to facilitate large-scale awareness and change for our children and our communities.

Through her efforts, many educational institutions have now established Greenschools, a program directed toward environmental wellness through education, awareness, and action.


In June of 2002, Boston, MA resident Robin Sidman and her family began to get sick, but instead of a normal cold or virus that runs it’s course and moves on, Robin, her husband, and her two young daughters seemed to be constantly ill from seemingly mysterious causes.

Baffled and frustrated, Robin schlepped her brood from doctor to doctor in hopes to discover both cause and cure. After exhaustive poking and prodding that involved everything from skin scratch allergy tests to comprehensive blood analysis, Robin and her family eventually found the culprit: their indoor and outdoor environment, including dust, mold, pets, household chemicals, and the air in their house. They were not even safe in their own beds. Since moving into a plastic bubble was hardly a viable option, Robin took alternative action.

Like most mothers, Robin addressed her children first, and she soon discovered a major culprit, her children’s school, since it was where her kid’s children spent most of their time. Robin researched possible culprits: indoor air quality, drinking water, school-provided lunches, exercise facilities, and two biggies- cleaning items and waste disposal. As mandated by the state to be “healthy”, most schools use heavy-duty cleaning agents created to eradicate the millions of germs and other ickyness that children are exposed to on a daily basis. These agents are invisible, and while most reasonably intelligent children would probably stay clear of a seething pool of evil-looking cleaning fluid, they generally do not give thought to the slight residual scent of harsh chemical cleansers on desks, pencil sharpeners, bathroom sinks, and school cafeterias tables. Used by hundreds of kids of all ages on a daily basis, surfaces retain these agents that cling to on hands that eventually travel to mouths, noses, skin, ears, and clothing. Combine that with a child who has asthma or a compromised immune system, and the well-intentioned actions of our public schools to keep children safe can actually make some children very, very sick.

So, what’s a mother to do? Robin, acted, and started Greenschools, a program designed to create personal health through environmental health. Using an integrative approach, Robin examined all of the aspects that impact both children and adults in public schools; indoor air quality, cleaning, eliminating waste, and drinking water. Next, she advocated combining recycling and proper waste disposal with environmental health by providing services such as staff and student education on healthier cleaning products, waste-free lunches, PTA topics about creating and maintaining healthy homes.

Robin maintains that the Greenschools program is a culmination of education, seeking cures for sickness, and parenting of two young children who suffer with chronic illness. And, it would seem that her efforts are successful. Any parent with a sick child understands the domino effect of a sick day. No child care center will take a sick child, and a child generally has to be enrolled in such a program anyway. Relatives might possibly offer support, but family is not always close by or able to help. Stay-at-home Mamas who love to have regular play dates will not care for a sick young one as they understandably want to protect their own kids from exposure. Most schools have policies that any child with a temperature over 100 must stay at home for at least 24 hours until the fever subsides, and combined with a lack of care, that usually means a “sick” day for the parent as well. And while FMLA protects employees who have at least one year of service and at least 1250 hours within that year (roughly 33 hours per week of uninterrupted service), other parents don’t enjoy that protection and may find them out of a job if they have a chronically sick child at home. Recognizing this web of predicaments, Robin took her Greenschools program beyond the local, and more programs are currently in the process of establishing similar initiatives that are addressing environmental issues and education for both school and home.

Robin Sidman’s story is a powerful example of how a mother took responsibility to ensure better health for her and her family by looking at both medical and environmental solutions and then developing means by which to first solve the problem and create ways by which others could benefit from her experience. Management for one’s self and family demonstrates personal responsibility and commitment. Working for change from medical, political, structural, and environmental perspectives is no easy task as it addresses an entangled labyrinth of poverty, sub-standard policies, and funding issues. Robin Sidman is a powerful and inspiring example of power of one person who took on all of these challenges to create a healthier environment for her family and her community.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Y I Love the Y

Y the Y? I'll tell you Y- it's AWESOME

Picture this- a room full of kids from ages 5 to 9ish, pounding on big exercise balls with drumsticks to a fun beat. The class, Drums Alive, meets every Tuesday evening from 4:30 to 5:15 and offers a fantastic opportunity for medium to high intensity exercise for that is geared specifically for the younger set.

I participated in one of these classes with my son, and it was FUN. We drummed, danced to music and shuffled from ball to ball while developing fine/gross motor skills, coordination, rhythm, and group activity participation. In 45 minutes, I got my heart rate up and played with my kid in a highly enjoyable and healthy activity. It was bonding, cool, and it made me feel like a good mommy.

The Y is expanding, and it will be offering more such programs in time. With the long winters and short days in Upstate, the temptation to chill in front of the TV with cookies rather than get out and move is a bit too enticing. With programs such as Drums Alive, however, taking the kid directly from after school and going directly to the gym is easy, and totally worth the effort.

I love the Ithaca YMCA; it's affordable, family-oriented, and offers a variety of programs for both adults and children. So what if you can't work out with a view of the Cayuga Inlet; but you can participate in great adult fitness such as Yoga for all levels, cardio fitness, weights, spin, pilates, body toning, racquetball, squash, free weights, machines, and a variety of youth classes such as the above mentioned Drums Alive, Youth Soccer, basketball, T-ball, and indoor swimming lessons for birth on up.

Another cool thing about the Y is that because it is a Tompkins County program, income-eligible folks may qualify for scholarships that can take up to 75% or more off the already low cost of membership. While great for budget-challenged families, but I also see my son's pediatricians there all the time as well as my own doctors, so even though the facilities are relatively basic in comparison to some of the fancier gyms in town, the programs are excellent.

I would like to call the Ithaca YMCA a best kept secret or some such other silly thing, but it is not a secret. It is a nice little niche that serves the ever- growing need for fun, affordable, and well-organized family-oriented fitness in Tompkins county. Besides exercise programs for kids, the Y offers information on health eating, flyers and pamphlets on nutrition, packing heatlhy lunches, and fruit/juice/and milk snacks on open house family days.

A word about the use of the term "family" in this article - SO not value-laden. In YMCA, the "c" word is not emphasized as all religious affliations are membership eligible. Common decency and respect are naturally expected (no swearing, no fighting, good sportsmanship), but discrimination is not a part of the program.

As I am absolutely against any facility that would try to push a religious agenda on me or my son, I would not participate in the Y programs if such a thing occurred. What the Y does offer is the opportunity for families of all income levels to come and enjoy a remarkably diverse experience while getting a great workout and excellent child care.

Need some time to take Yoga, Spin, or do some free weights? Plop your kid in one of the 3 child care options that come FREE with a family membership- rock-a-bye for the babies, toddler care, and stay and play (my personal favorite) that offers a HUGE indoor play structure similar to one you might find at a McDonalds playland without all the tempting trans-fat. Kids aged 3 on up enjoy up to 2 hours of crazy fun in the structure, creative play with a variety of little plastic figures, crafts, puzzles, and even a place for healthy snack time (you provide). One of my favorite ways to end my busy week is to put John Ross in Stay and Play on Sundays at 4:30, head up to yoga, do a bit of lift and tone, and end my workout with a short sauna while my kid wears himself out before we head home to get ready for the busy week ahead.

Need credits toward teaching certification? The Y also has lots of volunteer opportunities where aspiring Phys Ed teachers may be able to earn those precious teaching hours toward certification. I'm going to check out being a Drums Alive teacher-it's wicked fun and certainly something I would incorporate into a school PE program.

I could write more, but I encourage you to check the website-

Y the Y? It's fine fun!

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Yoga fit and Yoga for kids is awesome- I just wish they'd call it something else as the discursive connotations of Yoga are, well, a little bit flaky (yes, I'm using a Foucault reference. The man did make some sense.)

Whatever it is called, the benefits of children's yoga are numerous, even if your goal is not world peace and harmony. My agenda is not so much political as mind/body wellness. Yoga is good for you, and children are natural yogis.

In addition to giving small ones the opportunity to have incredible strength and endurance, yoga teaches patience, focus, stress reduction, anger management, determination, balance, and gives children a wonderful sense of body connectedness and awareness.

The practice of yoga also prepares potential athletes for a life of training and respect for themselves and others, but it gets a bad rap as the practice of chanting and meditation done by liberal hippie weirdos.

My fishing/hunter buddy scoffed my Yoga practice until he saw me balance on the bow-tip of his small fishing boat, casting a nine-foot fly rod while moving with the motion of the giant waves created by the behemoth monster crafts that kept cruising by our spot. He sat down, fearing a toss and a wetting. I stayed on bow and kept throwing line. I wanted a trout. He didn't have much to say about yoga after that. Maybe I'll write a book someday called Tree pose in the tree-stand; staying put for the 12 Point. Until then, I'll just focus on kids.

So, here are just a few websites I found on yoga for kids and yoga kids teacher training. These sites focus on teaching yoga, yoga in P.E. programs, yoga for special needs kids, yoga for incarcerated children, and so forth.

Monday, January 19, 2009

What Moves U Challenge - NFL players are working with the AMA to increase kid's health- I love it!!!

This is soooo cool. Recognizing the current health issues in relationship to inactive children, the Amercian Heart Association and the NFL have created a partnership called What Moves U Challenge, which is a program that challenges children to be active for at least 60 minutes a day, regardless of the activity.

The link above is the entire website that details the plan, the challenge, suggested activities, and progress charts for kids.

This is an awesome program, but widely undermarketed. I had to go looking for it, and it this massive health-promotion effrot for children should be well known. Let's get the word out!!!

Pumpin' to Please

Now that I have your attention...

Whoever coined the phrase "don't cry over spilt milk" obviously never used a breast pump.

According to a recent New York Times article, a Minneapolis woman on a business trip diligently pumped her breast milk while she was away from her baby for 2 days. When she tried to take it home with her, however, a security guard at La Guardia poured the entire supply of white-liquid gold into the trash at the security checkpoint. The reason? 2007 Airline Regulations mandate that not more than three ounces of fluid could be carried on an aircraft, and that includes breast milk.

The report states that she wept profusely. Had I been that woman, I would have made sure that I was not the only one in tears, because I would have inflicted the maximum amount of pain on that insensitive*&#$%@ who dumped out my milk.

From personal experience, pumping is, at best, inconvenient, incredibly time consuming, physically taxing, and often painful. Combine that with constant sleep deprivation, the ceaseless requirements of baby-care, and the demands of a full-time job, you might fathom just what it may have been like for that woman to literally watch her hard-won efforts go down the drain.

Now for all of you guys (and some women, maybe) who may be thinking "icky poo", please consider the health advantages breastfeeding and the myriad conflicts of interest that make giving breast milk to infants untenable for mothers who work.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast milk as the exclusive food for the first six months of a baby’s life. Well-documented research links breast-feeding to the reduction and severity a variety of nasty diseases including: bacterial meningitis, diarrhea, respiratory-tract infections, ear infections, urinary-tract infections, sudden-infant-death syndrome, diabetes lymphoma, leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, obesity, and asthma.

The A.P.A also asserts that breast-feeding rates in the United States are low, and the primary reason for this is that many mothers return to work after giving birth. Aside from taking baby to work, the only other option for providing breast milk is the mechanical expression of milk- a.k.a- pumping, and that means a great deal of commitment from both mommy and employer.

Pumping one 4oz bottle of milk, which is usually sufficient for a single feeding, takes anywhere from 30 minutes to ½ hour. If you are lucky enough to have a double-barreled unit, which I had, you can manage twice that much, but here his the caveat: the amount of milk you use is directly proportionate to the amount you produce, so unless you want a good amount of discomfort and not just a few articles of ruined work-wear, when your breast are full of milk, as they certainly will be every 3 or 4 hours, you'd better be prepared to empty them out.

I'm not citing research here; I'm speaking from personal experience and I assure you that pumping is not fun, but I certainly felt it was my obligation to protect my son from the chronic allergies, asthma, chicken pox, and a host of other childhood diseases that I suffered through as a formula-fed infant.

I certainly don't fault my mother for this ommission; in 1967 the benefits of breastmilk were under-researched, and doctors actually discouraged the practice. And, to my mother's credit she actually did try, but breastfeeding can be hard for some women, and as she received very little support she quickly resorted to formula.

When I gave birth in 2002, however, the benefits of breastmilk were well-documented, so I chose breastmilk as the primary source of food for my baby, and because I also worked full-time, that meant pumping.

When I was at home, I regularly fed my baby every two hours, which is the general recommendation for infants in the first 3 to 4 months of life. But a pump is different, so instead of a 15 minute session with my lovely child, which is usually how long a normal infant-feeding lasted, I spent 30 minutes to 1 hour (including set-up time) every 2-3 hours with my very uncute breast pump which, I assure you, did not look up at me with adoring eyes and fill me with the unfathomable joy.

The reason for the increased time is caused primarily by the physiology of breast feeding. A baby sucks and suckles with it's tiny mouth opening and closing, which results in the lightening-fast expression of milk. A pump is more like a tiny vacuum; powerful, but without the open/close motion, which slows the flow considerably. The 10 to 15 minutes that it takes for a baby to suck out a solid feeding can be double or even tripled when using even the best of pumps because you also have to account for machine set up, proper germ control, and often tricky attachment.

Like many career-track working mothers, I returned to work 8 weeks post-partum. With my own office, a large, mother-friendly company, and the blessing of an uncanny dexterity that allowed me to pump and work on my computer at the same time, I could close my office door, hook myself up like a cow to a mechanical milker, and produce milk, email, and disposition reports. The nurses’ office down the hall allowed me to store my milk (usually about 8 to 12 oz per day) in a special refrigerator. I had it good; other women are not so lucky.

Without the relative luxury of an enclosed office and a comfortable chair, women will face 2-3 pumps during an 8 hour shift sitting on a hard plastic chair or worse, a toilet seat. Many companies now offer lactation rooms with more comfortable seating, but since breastfeeding is not considered a disability under ADA, workplaces are under no such obligation to provide such accommodations.

The companies that are pump-friendly are usually less motivated by altruiism than concern for their pocketbooks. After 15 years in HR, I know of whence I speak. The larger a company is (think Motorola, Boeing, US West, and Cornell, all of which I was lucky enough to have been employed) the more afraid they become of losing money from costly lawsuits and trouble from the various labor unions. Even in those companies, however, a woman who works in a manufacturing area is usually going to be stuck pumping her milk in the ladies room, and because it will take her longer than the standard 15 minute breaks that most companies allow as paid time, she will most likely be clocking out to pump.

A Breastfeeding Promotion Act is currently under that will provide certain legal protections for the lactating and allow a tax credit of up to ten thousand dollars per year to companies that provide their employees with pumps or pump rooms. Progress, to be sure, but certainly not protection for a woman who must pump while on travel and then carry the milk onto an aircraft.

So what is the point of all of this? Two things: my has had none of the childhood illnesses I previously mentioned. He is also asthma-free, which alone made my five month ordeal at The Pump totally worth the difficulty. I'm not a doctor, so I can't say for certain that it was the breastmilk, but he got the recommened protection, and today he is a healthy child.

The second point is this: a woman's our ability to provide breast milk for her child even when she is absent from her child is just another example of how child's health issues are central to public health concerns. The solutions? Some are included in this post, but law makers have a long way to go to truly realize the barriers faced by working women who want to provide the best nutrition for their babies. The American dream is costly, and families who want it must pay for it in more ways than one, and it is the youngest and most vulnerable who stand to lose the most.


Friday, January 9, 2009


Yummy links:

Social Bookmarking

As with all things new and technical (or just technical) I was leery of Social Bookmarking as just another e-tool invented by a bunch of overpaid hackers with too much time on their hands and way too much exposure to florescent lighting. (think Microsoft 07). BUT, there are some merits, mostly covered here, that benefit the world of Health and Health education, the most obvious being that it's informational one-stop shopping. Inconsistent tagging aside, how many hours have each of us spent punching in keyword after keyword in search of articles to fit our research topics? A person who is selectively discriminating about adding valuable content in a Social Bookmark, as opposed to the first potentially crap-filled link that pops up, can really put together a useful Social Bookmarking site. When most people (myself included) think if PE, we envision healthy, well-developed kids who are able to fully participate in a standard program. But, there are a lot of special needs kids out there who need PE as much as the next kid but whose parents or school don't have the necessary resources or information to create appropriate accommodations. After a bit of searching (it actually took me about 20 seconds) I found a Social bookmark on the Associated Sontent site on teaching Physical Education to children with disabilities. It describes why special needs children need PE and list some creative accommodations to help the children get the most benefit from the activities. Teachers and parents with special needs children will find wonderful info here about all kinds of activities for children with Downs Syndrome, CP, Autism, Paralysis, etc. The link is below. I think that SB is a a great tool for educators who want to keep themselves informed on the cutting edge of the new programs, information, and political themes that impact all K-12 kids. .