To Veg Or Not To Veg

22 09 2009

If my teenager told me, her pork-lovin’ mama, that she was a vegan, I’d slam my sausage down and tell her to glue her fanny to a chair until I got a dictionary.

Turns out vegans don’t consume animal food – not even dairy products.  They don’t even wear leather shoes.

OK, first thing any involved parent will think about is: How is this going to affect my life?  Will I have to cook two meals, one vegan and one for regular people?  Just how much of a pain is this going to be and when is she moving out?

Oh, and how healthy is this lifestyle choice anyway?  (Yes, I eventually got there.)

If your teen is exploring vegetarianism or even veganism, here’s some animal-free food for thought.

The American Dietetic Association says that vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy for people of any age, even for children. These diets are generally low in saturated fats, lower in cholesterol, and higher in fiber. These factors put vegetarians and vegans at much lower risk of obesity, heart disease, and type II diabetes than most meat lovers.

Vegetarians usually omit meat, poultry, and seafood from their diets, while vegans eliminate all animal products, including eggs and dairy, although there are vegetarians who eat fish and poultry and vegans who love their egg whites.  Apparently there’s room for personal choice.

Teens, whether meat-eating or not, are infamous for poor eating habits. Vegetarian and vegan teens, like all teens, need parental support in making healthy food choices. The key to a healthy vegetarian diet, like any diet, is variety. Parents should be aware of the vitamins and minerals that may be lacking in a vegetarian diet, particularly if variety is sparse.

Vitamin B12 is important in the formation of red blood cells and maintaining a healthy nervous system, and it’s essential for proper growth. A B12 deficiency can cause irreversible nervous system damage. Naturally, this vitamin is only found in meat, eggs, and dairy products, so look for fortified soymilk, cereals, or nutritional yeast if your child is vegan. Many meat-substitute products also contain B12.

Calcium is an essential mineral for many body functions. Blood clotting, muscle function, and the nervous system require calcium. When the body lacks calcium for these functions, it draws on calcium stored in the bones, leading to decreased bone density and possible fractures. Besides dairy sources, calcium is found in soymilk, calcium-fortified juice, soybeans, tofu, broccoli, and many other vegetables.

Vitamin D plays a vital role in regulating many organ systems and endocrine functions, as well as maintaining bone structure. Fish, eggs, and milk are great sources of vitamin D. As little as fifteen minutes of sun a day on the skin can provide some vitamin D. Fortified soymilk, juices, and cereals provide vitamin D, but a supplement for vegans is probably a good idea, especially in the winter months.

Iron is essential for oxygen transport in the body, as well as for the production and survival of all cells in the body. Green leafy vegetables, tofu, beans, fortified cereals, and meat-substitutes contain iron. The problem is that the body does not absorb iron from these sources as readily as it does from animal sources. Menstruating females and other teens may benefit from an iron supplement.

Zinc has numerous functions in the body and plays a role in nervous system function and reproductive organ growth. Red meats contain a lot of zinc, but it’s also found in wheat, beans and many seeds. Too much zinc can be harmful, so use care when considering a zinc supplement.

Proteins are made of amino acids that are essential for almost every body function. Surprisingly, nearly all vegetarians get enough protein. A vegetarian or vegan teen should eat a balance of legumes, nuts and seeds, vegetables, and whole grains every day. Eggs and dairy provide plenty of protein, if that’s part of their food plan.

If your teen announces he’s become a vegan, then yes, it’s going to mean more work for you.  But, with a little help from you, his doting parent, he’ll be eating foods that are good for him and, bonus, you don’t have to fork out the bucks for leather anything anymore!


Hepatitis A. Are you (and yours) protected?

21 09 2009

Some parents feel the hepatitis A vaccine is one their child can skip.  Children infected with the hepatitis A virus (HAV) often have symptoms so mild they aren’t even noticeable.  Do they really need the shot?

We think so, and here’s why.

Let’s say Macey is a second-grader who’s not immunized against HAV.  Consequently, she gets infected from tainted salad at a local restaurant.

Having no symptoms, Macey goes to school and exposes classmates to HAV through lack of proper handwashing in the restroom.  (Those who do experience symptoms may get a fever, nausea, diarrhea, and severe stomach pains for up to a month.)

If anyone in her life has chronic hepatitis B or C, and is not immunized against HAV, they’re at risk of fatal consequences.  People with compromised immune systems and other liver diseases are also at risk.

If Macey doesn’t get the hepatitis A vaccine and does not get the disease as a child, she’s at risk of contracting the disease later.  Adults infected with HAV generally experience more severe symptoms.  One in five people infected with hepatitis A require hospitalization, and some are sick for up to six months.

In 2003, an outbreak at a restaurant in Pennsylvania sickened 660 people and killed four. The disease may be mild, but it’s no party.

Parents should check with their providers to see if vaccination is right for their family.


Antibacterial soap – yes or no?

10 09 2009

You gotta love handwashing.  Water, soap, rub, and rinse.  Too easy and gets rid of lots of germs.

The question seems to be: do we need to use antibacterial soap?

Natural soap contains fatty acids that allow oil and water to come together more easily, which in turn allows the water we’re using to carry away the germ-infested oil and grease on our hands.

In the 1990s, antibacterial soaps came on the market for home use.  It seems like using them would be a no-brainer, but experts can’t agree on this.

One concern is whether long-term and widespread use of antimicrobials is contributing to the creation of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.”

Environmental experts are voicing concern about the long-term effects of triclosan and other chemicals used in these antibacterial products, which are building up in our waste water system, and ultimately being dumped into the environment where they disturb the natural ecosystem by killing desirable and important microbes.

In addition to questions about the environmental impact, the actual effectiveness of these ingredients in household soaps is now in doubt.  Most experts agree that antibacterial soaps are unnecessary in a healthy home setting, and may actually do more harm than good.

A 2004 report in Annals of Internal Medicine found that in a 48-week randomized double-blind study, there was no statistical difference in illness symptoms between the families that used exclusively antibacterial products, and the families that used exclusively non-antibacterial cleaning products.


H1N1 Vaccine Questions? Ask Dr. Anne

4 09 2009

Chief Science Officer Dr. Anne Schuchat answers parents questions about the 2009 H1N1 flu and the vaccine to protect against it. Children aged six months through 24 years are recommended to receive H1N1 flu vaccine. Learn more about it, and how you can protect your family with this vaccine.

This video can also be viewed at or on the CDC podcast page.

Babies, Kids, and H1N1

3 09 2009

Delivery/Post-Partum and H1N1 – what do I do?

Breastfeeding may help protect newborns against influenza, but mom’s good handwashing habits before and after breastfeeding are just as important. If you are on medication for flu, you can still breastfeed. Your provider may suggest that you wear a mask when near your baby. If you have symptoms, you can still breastfeed; the milk is not contagious. But stay away from your baby if you are feverish.

Mothers who are infected with H1N1 when they deliver do not necessarily have to be separated from their newborn. A mother on medication should be able to breastfeed; separating her from her infant would not be advantageous. A mother who is actively sick with symptoms will not be very capable of caring for an infant and will need help, which will also help minimize contact and transmission. All caregivers should be vaccinated, and should also get a Tdap vaccination (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis).

Do I need to worry about outbreaks in schools?

Because of the H1N1 outbreaks in community settings (camps, e.g.) this summer, experts do expect schools to be breeding grounds for H1N1.

School closure is an option, but is not expected to be necessary. Students (or anyone) with flu symptoms should stay home.

Other Concerns

Getting the pneumococcal vaccine can help reduce your risk of developing pneumonia as a complication of influenza infection.

For mothers infected with H1N1, masks are recommended in certain circumstances. Talk with your provider if you’re concerned. You should not need to wear a mask or gloves at home.

Do NOT attend a “flu party.” You should NOT purposefully infect yourself, or your children, with H1N1.


  • Fever and respiratory symptoms need to be taken seriously. Call your provider if you have any symptoms or concerns. Ask them for specific instructions; for example, they may want you to put on a mask before entering their office to help prevent infecting pregnant women.
  • Get vaccinated for both seasonal and H1N1 flu viruses. The seasonal vaccine will not protect you against H1N1.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Maintaining good nutrition and getting plenty of rest will also help prevent illness.
  • Continue to receive prenatal care from your provider.
  • Everyone who is sick should stay home.

To get vaccinated, talk with your provider. OB/GYNs are supposed to receive vaccine to have on hand, in addition to clinics, pharmacies, and other typical venues for flu vaccine administration. If you have any concerns, about anything, at any time, talk with your provider – that’s what they’re there for!

To explore this issue further, visit:

Check with your provider to see if immunization is right for you and your family.


Pregnancy and H1N1 Vaccine

2 09 2009

So you’re pregnant, and you don’t want to get flu, but you also want to know that whatever goes into your body isn’t going to hurt your baby. Here’s info on H1N1 and the vaccine to help you make the best decision for you and your baby.

Is vaccination safe for pregnant women and their unborn babies?

Killed virus vaccines, such as the flu vaccines in shot form, are so safe that any risk to the unborn baby is nearly unmeasurable. FluMist, however, is live and cannot be given to pregnant women. (It can be given to other members of the family who are eligible to receive it.)

What about thimerosol?

As a pregnant woman, you can ask for a thimerosol-free vaccine, because providers are being directed to reserve thimerosol-free doses for pregnant women (and younger children) who are concerned about thimerosol. It should be noted that many studies conducted by independent bodies have shown that thimerosol does not pose any danger.

Should I get both the H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines?

Pregnant women can get both vaccines. It’s recommended that you get each vaccine when it becomes available. The seasonal flu vaccine will be available sooner than the H1N1 vaccine, which should come out mid-October.

Should I wait until later my pregnancy to get vaccinated?

Pregnant women can receive the flu vaccines at any time during pregnancy, including the first trimester. In fact, it’s recommended that pregnant women receive the vaccine early on, since respiratory issues later in pregnancy can be more serious.

You can start the 2-dose H1N1 vaccination series during pregnancy and finish it after your baby is born. Babies ages 0-6 months cannot get the flu vaccine, so if the mother gets the vaccine during pregnancy, it can help protect her baby.

Other concerns…

The vaccine is safe for women planning on natural childbirth. Disease is a natural process, but so is building immunity.
Alternative/online education could be an option for pregnant teens enrolled in schools experiencing outbreaks (because teens are generally considered higher risk for H1N1 as it is). If you are a pregnant young adult attending college, you can continue attending even if cases of H1N1 are reported. You should definitely get vaccinated and wash your hands – a lot.

Patients receiving treatment for infertility can get the flu vaccines. There is zero evidence that flu vaccine harms development of the unborn baby’s brain.

Pregnant healthcare workers need the H1N1 vaccine. If the flu is very active around them, their job description may need to be adjusted.

What should I do if I’m pregnant and get exposed to H1N1?

If you are exposed to a KNOWN case of H1N1, tell your provider; you may need medication. If 5 kids in your child’s school have it, this is not the same as being directly exposed.

Check with your provider to see if immunization is right for you and your family.


H1N1 – early September

1 09 2009

Flus Gonna Lose logo

What’s H1N1 doing right now?

The flu virus has been circulating in the southern hemisphere, which is winding down its winter flu season. The good news is that it hasn’t mutated. In the U.S., we can expect to see H1N1 cases along with the regular seasonal flu.

Is there a vaccine?

This year, people ages 6 months or older will be able to get an H1N1 vaccine in addition to the regular seasonal flu vaccine. The H1N1 vaccine has gone through trials to determine safety and appropriate dosage. The testing process involves administering the vaccine, waiting 3 weeks, then taking a blood sample to measure antibodies to see if the dosage of vaccine was adequate.

You will probably need 2 doses of H1N1 vaccine for it to be effective. The H1N1 vaccine will have multiple formulations, as does the seasonal flu vaccine:
•    10-dose vial (which contains thimerosol)
•    Single-dose vials (thimerosol-free)
•    Preloaded syringes (thimerosol-free)

Some people are saying the H1N1 vaccine was developed too quickly. Is that true?

People who are concerned that the H1N1 vaccine was developed too quickly can take comfort in knowing the H1N1 vaccine preparation process is the same as it is for the seasonal flu vaccine and it is made by the same manufacturers. So far, any reactions in the trials for H1N1 vaccine have been the same as for the regular seasonal flu vaccine (soreness, redness). Any serious events that might occur may not appear during the vaccine trial time period because they are so rare.

Who should get the H1N1 vaccine?

People who should get the H1N1 vaccine are:
•    Pregnant women
•    Household contacts and caregivers for babies 0-6 months
•    Healthcare and emergency medical services personnel
•    People ages 6 months through 24 years
•    People ages 25-64 years of age who have health conditions putting them at higher risk of complications from influenza

As with the seasonal flu vaccine, people with egg allergies cannot get the H1N1 vaccine.  Check with your provider to see if immunization is right for you and your family.


Handwashing Poster/Video Contest

1 09 2009


Global Handwashing Day will be here in a few weeks. We’re sponsoring a poster and video contest! (cheers in the background)

Poster Submissions: Email your original artwork to by 15 September. The winner will get a $200USD gift certificate.

Video Submissions: Upload your video to YouTube and follow the submission guidelines below by 15 September. Videos should be short in length, like that of a commercial or PSA. The winner will get a $500USD gift certificate.


We want the poster and video to remind people that handwashing is an important method of disease prevention (get rid of germs before they get you), and with luck, the memory of the poster/video will stick with them next time they start to prepare food, leave the bathroom, finish playing outside, or do whatever it is they do to get germs on their hands. We want to stop disease transmission so people of all ages stay healthy.

Whatever your vision is of soap and water and clean hands, that’s what we want to see. Be funny, be serious, be esoteric, but most of all, be creative and original!

For the complete rules and guidelines, visit our contest page.