Friday Five: National Immunization Awareness Month

national immun awareness monthThis week’s Friday Five focuses on five important or interesting facts about vaccines in honor of National Immunization Awareness Month. Most of the sections are adapted just slightly from other sources. You can find the original source material by clicking the link next to each subheading.  

How do vaccines work? (History of Vaccines)

Vaccines work to prime your immune system against future “attacks” by a particular disease. When a pathogen enters your body, your immune system generates antibodies to try to fight it off…Vaccines work because of this function of the immune system. They’re made from a killed, weakened, or partial version of a pathogen. When you get a vaccine, whatever version of the pathogen it contains isn’t strong or plentiful enough to make you sick, but it’s enough for your immune system to generate antibodies against it. As a result, you gain future immunity against the disease without having gotten sick: if you’re exposed to the pathogen again, your immune system will recognize it and be able to fight it off.

 

What is herd immunity? (Vaccines Today)

Herd immunity is a form of immunity that occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of a population (or herd) provides a measure of protection for individuals who have not developed immunity. It arises when a high percentage of the population is protected through vaccination against a virus or bacteria, making it difficult for a disease to spread because there are so few susceptible people left to infect…These include children who are too young to be vaccinated, people with immune system problems, and those who are too ill to receive vaccines (such as some cancer patients)…The proportion of the population which must be immunized in order to achieve herd immunity varies for each disease but the underlying idea is simple: once enough people are protected, they help to protect vulnerable members of their communities by reducing the spread of the disease. However, when immunization rates fall, herd immunity can break down leading to an increase in the number of new cases.

 

Do children get too many shots? (from CHOP Vaccine Education Center)

Newborns commonly manage many challenges to their immune systems at the same time. Because some children could receive as many as 25 shots by the time they are 2 years old and as many as five shots in a single visit to the doctor, many parents wonder whether it is safe to give children so many vaccines…From the moment of birth, thousands of different bacteria start to live on the surface of the skin and intestines. By quickly making immune responses to these bacteria, babies keep them from invading the bloodstream and causing serious diseases. In fact, babies are capable of responding to millions of different viruses and bacteria because they have billions of immunologic cells circulating in the bodies. Therefore, vaccines given in the first two years of life are a raindrop in the ocean of what an infant’s immune system successfully encounters and manages every day.

 

What do vaccine preventable illnesses look like? (Immunization Action Coalition)

Most people in the US have never seen a case of polio or diphtheria. This photo gallery may help remind us why immunizing against these diseases is so important.

 

How can we lessen the pain of getting shots? (CHOP Vaccine Education Center)

(This is important for scaredy-cats like me.)

For most children, getting vaccines simply means the pain of getting a shot. Although pain is to some extent unavoidable, there are a few things worth trying in older children.

Blowing away the pain

One technique is called "blowing away the pain." Just before the shot, take out a feather, tell the child to take a deep breath, closing his eyes if he wants, and then to blow out...blow, and blow on the feather until you or the nurse tells them to stop. The distraction of blowing on the feather has been shown in one study to lessen the amount of pain perceived by the child.

Cold versus pain

Another idea is to swab a small amount of alcohol on the forearm of the opposite arm that will receive the vaccine. The child then blows on the alcohol before and during the shot. Our bodies don't feel cold and pain in the same place at the same time. Rather, when confronted with the choice of cold or pain, the body picks cold. So the feeling of pain from the shot will be reduced.

EMLA cream

For older children with severe phobias to needles, you might consider the use of an EMLA patch applied to the skin. The limitation of this technique is that the patch (which helps to numb the area) must be applied at least one hour before the injection. Also, EMLA cream works to decrease pain caused by injections under the skin (called subcutaneous injections), but doesn't lessen the pain of vaccines given in the muscles.

Friday Five: withdrawal, Amanda Bynes, gluten-free labels, vaccine rates, urgentrx

Each Friday, I use five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week. Pulling out is surprisingly popular

A study that will be published in the September issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology shows that 31% of women aged 15-24 used withdrawal as the primary form of contraceptive at least once. The study also found that 21% of those women became pregnant, compared to 13% of women who used other methods. I was pretty outraged to learn that so many young women rely on their partners to pull out, so I consulted the Kinsey Institute site Kinsey Confidential to compare different forms of contraceptives:

Method Typical Effectiveness Theoretical Effectiveness
Withdrawal 81% 94%
Male condoms 85% 98%
Oral contraceptives 92% 99.9%
Intrauterine Device (IUD) 99% 99%
Implant 99.01% 99.01%

Whelp, turns out the much-touted condoms don’t fare much better in preventing pregnancy than withdrawal, but IUDs and implants are far better. Advocating for more extensive use of IUDs and implants would help more women learn about their effectiveness and safety, and could play a major role in reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies. (FYI: condoms protect against some STIs, so keep using them, okay?)

Now we know what’s ailing Amanda Bynes

After publicly unraveling, actress Amanda Bynes has been placed on psychiatric hold and reportedly diagnosed with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a debilitating yet treatable disease that can lead to delusions, hallucinations (including hearing voices and smelling odors that don’t exist), and cognitive issues, among other symptoms. I sincerely hope that her family and doctors help her find the right treatment so she can find relief from her suffering. This story is playing out all over the gossip mills, and we can learn from this: erratic behavior requires intervention. In an open letter, her former co-star Nick Cannon also taught us an important lesson about how provide compassion:

So I say to my sister Amanda Bynes you’re not alone. I’m here for you. I understand. I care and I appreciate you, because that’s what family does and that’s what family is for. I also extend this to anyone else in my life, past or present that may find themselves in hard times. I’m here! Call me! Because I truly believe, the hand you’re helping up today may be the one you’re reaching for tomorrow.

Side note: take a look at this fantastic Atlantic article with Dr. Christine Montross titled “How well do we really understand mental illness?” for more insight into the hows and whys of treating severe mental illness.

Gluten-free labels, now with accuracy!

People with celiac disease, those with gluten sensitivity/intolerance, and dieters can all rejoice because this week, the FDA standardized the label “gluten-free.” The limit is 20 ppm, the lowest amount of gluten detectable in a food product. Foods such as fresh fruit and eggs can carry the label “gluten free” because they naturally contain no gluten. Regulations like this help consumers make informed choices. Considering more than two million Americans cannot digest gluten, having consistent, effective labels is the right thing to do for their health.

State-by-state vaccine rates tell us about exemptions

Each year, the CDC analyzes vaccine rates among the 50 states, Washington DC, five cities, and eight other US jurisdictions that receive federal funding for immunizations. This year, Mississippi topped the list, with 99.9% of kindergarteners receiving full doses of MMR, DTaP, and varicella (chicken pox). Overall, median exemption rate for the country was 1.8%; Oregon had the highest, with 6.5% of kindergarteners not meeting the vaccine standards. Interestingly, Mississippi does not allow religious or philosophical exemptions for immunizations. Removing religious and philosophical exemptions altogether wouldn’t be appropriate, but perhaps the success Mississippi has with getting children vaccinated will spark a conversation about strengthening the requirements for getting an exemption.

UrgentRx: alleviating upset stomachs, potentially saving lives

Forbes just published its list of what it deems the 25 most innovative consumer and retail brands of the year. An over-the-counter medication company, UrgentRx, made the cut. The company produces powders of common treatments for headaches, allergies, and digestive issues, along with plain aspirin intended for use during a heart attack. UrgentRx powders can be taken without water, meaning that you can give yourself a hit of heartburn medicines whenever you need it. The implication for potentially life-saving doses of aspirin are immense: a study in the American Journal of Cardiology, as reported by Harvard Medical School, showed that chewed aspirin worked faster against heart attacks than swallowing it whole or taking a liquid version. For a person with heart disease, carrying around a powdered dose eliminates the need to chew and provides the benefits of aspirin as quickly as possible.

Friday Five: sterilization, pain robot, brains, surgeons, Sharknado

Each Friday, I use five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week. Rural women are more likely to be sterilized

Tubal ligation, also known as sterilization or “getting your tubes tied,” is far more common among rural women as compared to urban women. Of rural women, 23% said they had been sterilized; urban women, 13%. There is only speculation about why this difference exists. Some of the theories floating around are: less access to other forms of birth control; piggybacking tubal ligation onto post-partum Medicaid coverage; lower educational level. Importantly, 39% of those rural women regret their decision. We should be asking why they didn’t choose a long-term, reversible birth control such as an IUD or an implant (like Implanon) instead.

Somewhat cute robot helps reduce kids’ pain and suffering during injections

As a needle phobic myself, I was very excited to learn that there’s an innovation in helping kids’ distress during shots. The robot not only talks to the child in order to distract him or her from the scary needle, but encourages exhalation during the injection to help with muscle relaxation (video here). There are two reasons why reducing pain and anxiety for children receiving immunizations is important: excessive worry can make other parts of the exam difficult, and in the future, an adult who had a bad medical experience as a child may be more likely to avoid care. These both have significant health implications. If this robot can help, I say let’s get one in every pediatrician’s office—and maybe in internist’s offices too, for ‘fraidy cats like me.

Brain pathways involved with learning and changing behavior charted

This week the NIH published a study identifying neural pathways associated with learning and changing behavior in mice. The nerves associated with the switch from moderate to compulsive drinking were found to also have a role in learning and decision making. Researchers hope that their insights will be helpful in understanding alcoholism and addiction. Learning more about why some people can use substances in moderation while others become addicted is crucial to improving mental and physical health. Hopefully, these findings will also apply for humans.

Surgery residents operate less often under new rules

Medical residents (doctors who are done with medical school and are completing their practical training) work notoriously long shifts and even longer workweeks. Restrictions created in 2011 limited shifts to 16 hours for first-year residents and 28 hours for the more advanced doctors and everyone’s week is limited to 80 hours. Surgical residents have in turn participated in fewer hours of surgery because of the limits on working hours. Many doctors are concerned that this will put the budding surgeons at risk for not gaining enough experience. There has to be a balance between allowing doctors to get enough rest while also learning enough to practice on one’s own—the question is, how

Kathleen Sebelius may in fact have a sense of humor

Twitter blew up last night with references to Sharknado, a horribly wonderful movie about a tornado that blew sharks into a city. (I don’t know how that works, I didn’t watch it!) Buzzfeed immediately wrote an article claiming “There is no Obamacare coverage for pre-existing Sharknado injuries.” Kathleen Sebelius replied: https://twitter.com/Sebelius/status/355766513334108160 Hey, an ACA joke!

I leave you this weekend with an excellent infographic explaining pretty much everything you need to know about gender, sexual orientation, and the like…The Genderbread Person!

Genderbread-Person

Why we can't let Jenny McCarthy join The View

Jenny McCarthy’s dangerous vaccines-cause-autism message has been well catalogued and critiqued by writers across the Internet (you can start here, here, and here). But I hadn’t ventured far into her world until hearing the news that she was “in serious talks” to join the popular daytime talk show The View. Vaguely knowing that she advocates for some batty autism cures, I stuck my toe into the world that literally made her its president, Generation Rescue. My conclusion? If ABC makes the mistake of hiring her, and she brings her anti-doctor, anti-science rhetoric to The View, all of us concerned with spreading evidence-based information better be ready every day to combat her misinformation. McCarthy's book chronicling how she "cured" her son of autism.

A note about sources: finding balanced sources on vaccine safety is a tough task, and I found myself questioning both the Generation Rescue folks and the people criticizing them. Many of the sources I found are very biased and a link to them does not mean I endorse their message. As you find yourself going down the rabbit hole, remember to read everything skeptically. However, the best resource I found for anyone interested in the actual science regarding this issue is the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Vaccine Education Center.

I learned about the “Biomedical” approach to “curing” autism through a video McCarthy made a few years ago. Generation Rescue no longer has on its site, but YouTube squirreled it away for our viewing pleasure—Part 1 Part 2.  She goes into detail about how and why “Biomedical” is the only thing that makes sense for healing children with autism. I suggest you carve out fifteen minutes to watch it so you know what’s coming if she makes it onto The View.  Warning: the video may cause bouts of rage.

The two most important parts of the video are direct quotations from McCarthy that summarize the danger she poses to public health:

  1. After listing brand name supplements and referring viewers to Kirkman Laboratories to purchase them, McCarthy encourages parents to give supplements to children in order to “detox” them from yeast and toxins, and says, “If you’re unsure about dosage, ask your pediatrician.” Then she rolls her eyes. “Or, most of the time, they don’t know anything. So I would say, um, ask someone at Kirkman Laboratories.”

So here we have McCarthy herself telling us not to trust pediatricians. Rather, we should call up a company that sells allergen free supplements and ask them how much to give to children. She encourages us to trust salespeople over trained professionals, simply because she believes in what they’re selling. In her view, doctors are useless and possibly malicious.

2. Attesting to the power of positive thoughts, she invokes the book “The Secret” and says, “Whatever you think becomes your reality.”

This is some serious magical thinking. McCarthy believes that her wishes will come true. She imagined her own son being healed of autism, and lo and behold, he was! When all a person has to do is believe something is true, she has no need for scientific facts. Give that person a microphone, and she may be able to convince others that whatever they believe is the truth, too.

By lending her face and considerable charisma to the cause, McCarthy has already done serious damage to immunization levels across the country by raising the profile of misguided vaccine fears. Many states are below the necessary vaccination level to maintain herd immunity for pertussis, measles, and diphtheria. Herd immunity means that there is a certain percentage of the population that needs to be vaccinated against a disease in order to keep the unvaccinated safe. Vaccination keeps infectious diseases from spreading by containing the possibility of an outbreak. For example, in order to protect those who cannot be vaccinated—infants, pregnant women, etc. from measles, 92-94% of the population needs to be vaccinated against it. When immunization levels drop below 92%, the population is at risk for an outbreak and the same people who could not get the vaccine are now at risk for the disease.

The View is a daily show. If she’s hired, I’m sure McCarthy will talk about anything from insomnia to hair color to shoe insoles, if her Twitter feed is any indication. But it will only be a matter of time until the issue for which she is best known becomes part of the conversation. When it does, we must be ready to talk openly about the results of research and the reliability of doctors to give sound, proven advice. Though talking about it over and over may seem redundant or boring, the truth is that vaccine levels are declining and we must speak on behalf of public health.

In the meantime, tell ABC what you think about McCarthy joining The View. Phil Plait at Slate has an excellent example of the polite note he wrote and inspired me to write to them and make my note public. Here is what I wrote to them. Feel free to use some version of my letter if you’d like:

I strongly urge you not to hire Jenny McCarthy as a new co-host. She is the president of the group Operation Rescue, which advocates for practices that harm the public's health, especially avoiding vaccines. If she is hired by The View, she will have a daily opportunity to influence the health decisions of viewers. Please do not add to the ease with which bad and potentially dangerous health information is spread.

For more information, please see http://bit.ly/12pTOyW  

Sincerely,

Teagan Keating

Please take the time to write to ABC before they hire her. Because if she does make it onto the show, we’ll have to do a lot more than that.

Friday Five: Chicago, ACA, firefighters, prescription drugs, vaccine recall

Each Friday, I use five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week.  

Fourth of July shootings in Chicago

This Fourth of July weekend is proving to be deadly for Chicago. Yesterday, eight people were killed and more than 30 were hurt in shootings across the city. The youngest victim is just five years old, and was shot while attending a party in a park with his family. These shootings are a disgrace, as is the lack of national coverage of the violence permeating Chicago. Victims’ stories should be plastered across every news station and website, and the nation should be reviving the post-Sandy Hook gun conversation in light of this inexcusable violence.

 

Another ACA delay

The Obama administration added to the confusion surrounding the Affordable Care Act by pushing the employer mandate deadline back one year to January 1, 2015. Another instance of caving to private sector demands means increased misunderstanding for the public. The law was incredibly complicated as written, and the administrative tweaks, House repeals, and flat-out lies disseminated by the media ensure that nobody has any idea what’s going on. The ACA is the single most important change to health care the US has seen since 1965, and its frustrating to watch it falter. Hopefully, the exchanges will still open as scheduled on October 1.

 

Firefighters killed in Arizona fires

Nineteen elite firefighters were killed on Sunday battling a blaze that is still only 45% contained. Their deaths have reminded us that the people suffering from these fires are not only those who lose their homes, but the people who are willing run into the flames to try to protect those homes. We’re learning about the hotshot teams specially trained to fight wildfires, an aspect of firefighting that was unknown to many people. I’ve been trying to imagine what it’s like to do what these teams do: go out to the fire, live near it for days, battling it while awake and smelling it while you sleep. I am in awe and very grateful.

 

More ‘scripts, more problems

This was a big week for news about prescription drugs. A brief rundown:

  • 70% of Americans take at least one prescription a day, mostly antibiotics, antidepressants, or painkillers
  • The number of fatal overdoses in women quadrupled between 1999 and 2010, and approximately 42 women die daily from overdoses
  • The FDA busted 1600 illegal online pharmacies

 

Hepatitis B Vaccine recall

Merck issued a recall this week for one lot of the Hepatitis B vaccine Recombivax. The issue is not with the vaccine itself, but with the glass vials that may easily crack. Merck is concerned about the sterility of the vaccine, and the FDA assures consumers there’s no need to be revaccinated if a doctor administered one of the recalled lot. The anti-vaccine websites I visited seem to have not picked this up yet, so maybe this vaccine news won’t be misconstrued. We can only hope.

In honor of yesterday's Fourth of July holiday, here's a little Katy Perry to get you dancing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGJuMBdaqIw

Friday Five: Sarah Murnaghan, Plan B, Arizona, wildfires, mindfulness

Each Friday, I use five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week. The triumph of Sarah Murnaghan

Follow up from two weeks ago: Sarah Murnaghan got new lungs! After a judge ruled that she must be added to the top of the adult transplant list, Sarah was matched with organs within days. The Murnaghan family will now step out of the public eye and, as Sarah’s mother says, they will be “focusing all of [their] attention on Sarah” as she recovers from surgery. Sarah is not the only one to benefit from her family’s perseverance—11 year old Javier Acosta was also added to the list. This judicial intervention will certainly inspire ethical debate about who can get which organs, and hopefully children’s lives will be valued as much as adults’.

 

Judge Korman: New hero of reproductive rights?

After the Obama administration finally dropped its appeal of Judge Edward Korman’s ruling that all products containing levonorgestrel be made available over the counter, the administration decided to make available only Plan B One Step (containing just one pill rather than two). Korman is not happy about this. Plan B One Step is manufactured by Teva, and if it is the only emergency contraceptive authorized to be sold over the counter, Teva will be able to set its price and have no competition. Korman argues this unduly burdens low-income women and that “it is the plaintiffs, rather than Teva, who are responsible for the outcome of this case, and it is they, and the women who benefited from their efforts, who deserve to be rewarded.” Korman also makes it clear that if the FDA or Teva drag their feet on getting Plan B One Step to the drugstore shelves, they should expect to be sued again.

 

Arizona finally decides to expand Medicaid

Despite her deep opposition to the Affordable Care Act, Governor Jan Brewer now accepts that the ACA is here to stay and that Arizona should get in on the billions of dollars available to the state. Her website even touts the Medicaid expansion as “the conservative choice for Arizona.” Imagine that: after realizing that “uninsured Arizonans get sick just like the rest of us” (because uninsured people are markedly different from the insured, of course) providing them with Medicaid would help reduce the rates paid by the insured! Brewer even denies the state is participating in “ObamaCare” by crediting former (Republican) Governor Fife Symington with coming up with the idea of the expansion in the 1990s. I’m pleased that 57,000 additional Arizonans will have access to Medicaid, but Brewer can obviously see the advantages of the expansion and yet spent months rabidly fighting the ACA…what a hypocrite.

 

Wildfires? Denver Post has us covered

Multiple wildfires in Colorado are causing serious problems for the state, and the Denver Post is taking care of business when it comes to covering the fires. It’s providing maps of the perimeters of each fire, the properties damaged, and a map of all fires across the country. There are chilling before-and-after photos of neighborhoods turned to ashes. The Denver Post is doing an excellent job of keeping people informed, spotlighting the firefighters, and reminding residents of preparedness procedures without being alarmist. With two people killed and hundreds of homes burned down, the fires are a significant natural disaster, and the Denver Post will keep us all informed.

 

Mindfulness classes in high school

Central Bucks High School East will add a new subject to its curriculum: mindfulness. Using techniques from Learning to BREATHE, the school hopes to teach students to regulate their emotions, manage stress, and strengthen their ability to focus. Central Bucks East hopes the mindfulness training will help high-achieving students feel less stressed about AP classes, applying for college, and taking the SAT while the training will also be taught in a program designed for students to learn how to live independently. Acknowledging that stress hurts students (whether they are in classes about healthy interpersonal relationships or European History) shows that Central Bucks East is trying to see its students as whole people. I’m eager to see this program evaluated—will mindfulness change test scores or graduation rates?

 

Start the weekend off right with the evolution of Daft Punk and Pharrell's new song Get Lucky as it would have sounded if it was made in the past.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3r3BOZ6QQtU

 

Friday Five: Oklahoma tornado, MERS, 3D printing, polio, live-tweeting surgery

Each Friday, I use  five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week.  

Tornado in Moore, OK is the latest national disaster

On Monday, a mile wide tornado with 200+ mph winds decimated Moore, OK. Approximately 10,000 people were directly affected, 240 injured, and 24 killed, including nine children. Reports of heroism abound, as do shocking photos. Coming just months after the shooting at Sandy Hook and weeks after the Boston Marathon bombing, the Moore tornado victims may find themselves on the losing end of American disaster fatigue. Hopefully Moore will stay in the forefront of American’s minds and not blend in with other communities rebuilding from natural and human-made tragedies.

 

MERS is on the move

After a slow march toward notoriety, MERS is becoming a real threat. This novel coronavirus dubbed Middle East Respiratory Syndrome has been confirmed in 44 people across multiple countries and caused 22 deaths. In this month alone, two new outbreak clusters surfaced—one in Saudi Arabia infected 22 people and killed 10, the other in France infected two, one of whom contracted MERS from a hospital roommate. However, the exact mode of transmission, incubation period, and reservoir (meaning whether or not the virus lives someplace outside of humans) are unknown and research is stymied due to restrictions placed on the virus by Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands. For a virus with a 50% mortality rate so far, this is an egregious example of the problems with commercializing organisms needed for public health research. How many others will fall ill and die because of Erasmus’s patent?

 

Child’s life is saved by 3D printed trachea splint

In a groundbreaking and heartwarming use of the new technology of 3D printing, University of Michigan researchers created and implanted a trachea splint in a young child. Kaiba Gionnfrido, who had spent nearly all of his 20-month long life in a hospital on a respirator due to his trachobrochomalacia, or the softening and subsequent collapse of the windpipe. The splint, made to fit Kaiba perfectly, will give structure to his trachea to allow it to grow and is composed of a biopolymer that will be absorbed by his body in about three years. After years of requiring daily resuscitation, the splint allowed Kaiba to come off the respirator three weeks later. We can look forward to the emerging practice of saving lives using 3D printing to create custom-made medical devices.

 

Polio in Kenya and Somalia threatens eradication effort

A four-month old girl developed symptoms of paralysis and two other children tested positive for polio in a Kenyan refugee camp. Just a few weeks ago, Somalia reported its first wild case in five years. Vaccination rates in these areas are low, and nearly 500,000 people travel to and from the Kenyan refugee camp annually, increasing risk for an epidemic. This development complicates the newly adopted six year plan for polio eradication, and mass vaccination campaigns in the area are underway in hopes of containing the virus. Maintaining vaccination in vulnerable areas, even after years pass with no new infections, is crucial to destroying polio forever.

 

Brain surgery documented on Twitter and Vine

In this week’s example of how social media is revolutionizing health care and medicine, UCLA Hospital live tweeted Vine videos of brain surgery. Brad Carter, an actor and musician, underwent awake brain surgery to implant a pacemaker to calm his essential tremors. The Vine videos show distinct improvement in Carter’s guitar playing once the pacemaker was in place. By using Twitter and Vine to document the surgery, UCLA surgeons and Carter do the public a great service—showing exactly how incredible medicine can be. The videos inspire awe while simultaneously taking some of the mystery out of surgery.

 

This week's song to celebrate the end of the week: The Cure's "Friday I'm in Love"

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b69XWDUtMew]

Baby junk food

Because I don’t have children of my own and don’t personally know any babies, I rarely spend time looking at kid-specific food. However, the frozen section of my grocery store shares an aisle with baby food. And that’s where I found this:

Cheese doodles for little kids. Really little kids. Kids who are still learning how to pick things up and shove them in their mouths. This is baby junk food, pure and simple.

I didn’t want to believe parents would actually feed these to their kids, so I checked the source of the most candid reviews I know—Amazon. Turns out mild cheddar isn’t the only flavor. There’s also vegetable dip, ranch, and cinnamon maple, among others. The 88 reviewers love them all. 70% of reviewers gave them five out of five stars. I’ve chosen a few of my favorite remarks:

They are nutritious, and there may be better snacks out there, but for right now these are awesome.

It’s hard to keep him off of these—I have to literally hide the canister to control his intake LOL.

If I would let him, he’d probably eat the whole container! He whines and complains until he gets another one.

I call them baby Cheetos.

In the words of my Yiddish-speaking forbears: Oy vey.

I’m not a dietitian so I can’t make pronouncements about the relative healthiness of these snacks over others. But I did snap a photo of the nutrition label and ingredients list. The nutrient content seems fairly inoffensive, though light on vitamins and minerals. And get a load of that list!

crunchies2

Cheese seasoning is not an important part of your growing child’s diet, that’s for sure. Even those of us without an RD know that.

More troubling to me is that some of the parents who purchased Lil Crunchies chose the snack because it reminded them of Cheetos. Americans consume an alarming amount of junk food, and we have the obesity rates to prove it. In turn, as parents decide what to feed their children, Gerber is there with a can of cheesy snacks formulated just for baby.

I don’t blame parents for choosing this or any other snack food. Parents feed their children the best way they know how. They peruse the aisles, picking out the foods they think will be best for their child, nutritionally or just because it tastes good.

The real problem is that these products exist at all. Gerber’s website shows a seven page list of crackers and dips, cookies, fruit snacks, and freeze-dried yogurt. (To their credit, Gerber includes two lightly processed vegetable snacks called “Veggie Pick-ups” made of carrots and green beans.) These sweet and salty snacks set today’s kids up for a lifetime of choosing the adult versions of these foods. The snacks teach children that they should choose only foods that provide a kick of salt or sugar with every bite.

Illustration by Nathan Kuruna nathankuruna.com

So what should we do? I’m actually hopeful about this. We are working hard to fight obesity by encouraging Americans to make healthy choices. As more people start making changes, they will teach their children good habits. Letting go of the bag of chips takes time, though, and there’s a lot more work to be done. But I’m optimistic that if we continue to invest resources in nutrition education, we will see the benefits for generations.

 

Also, check me out today over at #PubHT talking about organ donation!