Tuesday, June 09, 2009

First Daughter Helps Shed Light on Asthma

(MS) -- Thanks in large part to Malia Obama, the condition of childhood asthma has received renewed attention since the youngster's father took office in January.

The number of people who suffer from asthma has more than doubled in a generation. Many people are aware of common asthma triggers, such as pets, pollen, and dust, and many understand that foods like milk can aggravate the condition. But while removing these things might help, it does not explain the drastic increase in asthma because none of these offenders are new. Our parents and grandparents were exposed to pets, pollen and dust, and they drank milk.

So what happened to cause such a dramatic rise in childhood asthma? We think of technological changes when we compare our era with those past, but there are countless other changes. One is the dramatic increase in our exposure to petroleum, which is the basis for an astonishing variety of things, including plastics, pesticides and food additives. Jane Hersey, director of the non-profit Feingold Association, notes, "Petroleum has also replaced rose petals in the creation of fragrances of all types, and it provides the scent in products from plug-ins to expensive perfumes. Exposure can bring on asthmatic attacks in sensitive people."

* A child born in 1948, 50 years before Malia's birth, woke up on sheets that were dried on a clothesline -- with no perfumes or chemical softeners.

* She brushed her teeth with white toothpaste, minty powder, or baking soda. There were no brightly colored toothpastes or red disclosure tablets.

* The bathroom had white soap and unscented tissues, and was cleaned with scouring powder, not miracle sprays.

* Breakfast might have included a glass of orange juice, not a sugary orange-colored beverage with Yellow dye no. 5 and fake flavor. Cereals were beige.

* The school of 1948 had windows that opened to let in fresh air, and blackboards that used chalk, not white boards and markers with toxic solvents.

* There were no vending machines in schools, and soft drinks were an occasional treat, not the beverage of choice. Class parties were rare, and teachers did not hand out candy.

* School cafeterias served lunches that were made from actual food, not imitation meats, fake cheese, high fructose corn syrup and MSG (monosodium glutamate).

* When a child got sick her medicine was not neon pink and bubble-gum flavored. But the child of 1948 was unlikely to suffer from chronic ear infections, eczema, or ADHD, and few people had ever heard the word "autism."

For decades, medical journals have published research linking petroleum-based food additives to asthma, hives, and headaches, as well as various learning and behavior problems. The Feingold Association shows families how to find the foods and other products they want, but in versions that are free of petro-chemicals. See http://www.feingold.org/.


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