Organic: A Choice For Our Children
By Dr. Alan Greene
As parents, we want to feed our children healthy food. What parent would turn down the chance to give a child delicious, healthy food that is convenient, a good money value and that the child loves – and have the child respond with a “Thank you, Mommy, that was great! May I help clean up?”
In practice, though, many powerful forces determine our food choices. Our children have tasted artificially flavored, partially hydrogenated, day-glow snack foods and clamor for more. Our kids tell us that their friends’ parents let them eat the latest processed food fashion. Huge sums of money pay for artists, musicians, toy manufacturers, psychologists and marketers to work together to carefully manipulate your child’s food preferences.
We’re busy and want something simple, quick and preferably inexpensive. We return to the ruts of the unhealthy foods we ate ourselves as kids or that we know our own kids will like. We feel guilty because of our busy lifestyles and don’t want to say “no” to our kids – especially if it means yet another battle.
And the last straw – we hear conflicting information about what is healthy. High-carb or low-carb? Low-fat is good for kids. Low-fat is bad for kids. Our kids need more milk for more calcium. Dairy is dangerous. Sugar doesn’t affect behavior. Sugar causes ADHD. Aspartame is totally safe. Airplane pilots aren’t allowed to eat foods containing aspartame because it affects their judgment.
Phew! What’s a parent to do?
Thankfully, making healthier food choices is simple and clear. Increasing fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the diet makes the diet healthier. Especially in our antibiotic-flooded age, eating foods that contain live active cultures of beneficial bacteria makes our diet healthier. Decreasing artificial chemicals in the diet and the environment makes us all healthier.
Nutrition is not an all-or-none activity. The goal is to keep making choices that make the diet a little better.
A stitch in time
DDT used in the United States before 1966 may have caused an epidemic of premature births that has only now been detected. According to a fascinating study published in the July 14, 2001, issue of The Lancet, scientists who studied stored cord blood samples from mothers who had delivered at that time found elevated levels of DDT breakdown products among the group who had premature deliveries or low birth weight infants. This would make DDT responsible for a host of medical problems and the deaths of many children – but the link wasn’t proven until more than 30 years later!
DDT use in the United States was stopped in 1972 because it caused reproductive damage to birds (the bald eagle and brown pelican were nearly extinct), but DDT is still widely used in 25 countries for insect control. I’m certain that the dangers of some chemicals in common use in the United States today will be proven in the future. I believe that toxic chemicals are one of the biggest health threats to our children. We may not prove the links until they are grown, but we must not wait until then to provide them with safe food, water, air, homes and schools.
On a personal note, my wife has now recovered from a very malignant form of breast cancer. She has no family history of the disease, but toxic chemicals were used on her farm when she was a child.
What we now call “conventional farming” is actually something very new. In the 20th century, our naïve optimism about science led to the overexuberant use of antibiotics, infant formulas, surgery, pesticides, hormones and fossil fuels. It’s time to bring this back into balance.
Organic food has long been the standard for human nutrition. In contrast, many chemicals and hormones introduced after World War II do not have proven long-term safety. Some of them may be fine. Time will tell. I prefer organic for children where there is a good choice.
With the dramatic increase in organic farming in recent years, the new generation of organic farmers is developing innovative and earth-friendly ways to increase yields and improve flavor.
The organic experts at Stonyfield Farm yogurt explain what organic is and why it’s so important for children:
Organic refers to the way agricultural products -- food and fiber -- are grown and processed. It is an ecological system that relies on healthy, rich soil to produce plants that resist pests and diseases. Organic farming prohibits the use of toxic and persistent chemicals in favor of innovative practices that work with nature instead of against it, such as crop rotation, cover crop planting, beneficial insect release and composting. In the case of livestock, no antibiotics or synthetic hormones are permitted. Organic production also prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Organic practices mean:
No pesticides to contaminate our soil and water or injure farm workers
No fertilizers to runoff and contaminate rivers, lakes and oceans
A healthier and more sustainable environment for us all
Pesticides in our food and environment
Chemicals used in conventional farming pose many risks to human health. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with evaluating pesticides and setting “acceptable risk” levels of exposure. The EPA’s tests have largely been conducted on fully grown adult men or non-human animal species, exposing them to one chemical at a time. Evidence now shows that chemicals in combination -- the way we are usually exposed to them in everyday life — may exponentially increase health risk.
Additionally, many EPA-approved pesticides were registered long before extensive research linked these chemicals to cancer and other diseases. Now the EPA considers 60% of all herbicides, 90% of all fungicides and 30% of all insecticides as potentially cancer-causing.
Why organic -- especially for children?
Children are developing organs to last a lifetime. Due to their smaller size, fast-growing speedy metabolisms and less varied diets, infants and children are more vulnerable to health and developmental damage. In 1993, a congressionally mandated study by the National Academy of Sciences expressed concern that existing methods of risk evaluation for pesticide exposure were failing children. More recently, the Consumers Union and Environmental Working Group have released studies confirming that children are overexposed even if their exposure is within legal limits.
The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 mandated a review of agricultural chemicals in light of this new information about risk assessment. But the process is slow. While advocates fight to change the system, buying organic products, if they are available and you can afford them, and supporting organic agriculture may be your best protection.
Why does organic cost more?
Organic products do tend to cost more than their conventional counterparts. To some extent, this is changing as production capacity and demand for organic products increase, improving production efficiencies and lowering prices at the checkout. In addition, many involved in organic are striving for a sustainable agricultural system, one that is ecologically sound as well as economically viable. Paying farmers a fair price for their products is an important tenet for many involved in organic agriculture.
Raising a family on a budget can pose challenges at times. Watching pennies and doing “the right thing” for our families can sometime seem in conflict. For example, in the case of organic foods and fibers, it’s understandable to question if the benefits are really worth the extra cost. Looking beyond the price of an organic product and considering the true value may shed light on the subject. When considering products for your children, organic may indeed be a far better value.
Support a healthier tomorrow
Our children are our most treasured resources, and we have the opportunity to protect them. By reducing toxic exposure, organic products can help us raise healthy, strong children. Through nurturing the soil and keeping toxic and persistent chemicals out of the environment, organic agriculture is one thing we can support to help us pass along a healthy and safe planet for future generations. The cost may be a little more, but the value for you and your family may be far greater.
© Alan Greene
Dr. Greene is the chief medical officer of A.D.A.M., the founder and CEO of DrGreene.com and the pediatric expert for AmericanBaby.com. He is on the clinical faculty at Stanford University School of Medicine, where he sees patients and teaches residents, and he is the president of Hi-Ethics (Health Internet Ethics). Dr. Greene is also an author, medical expert and media personality. In 1995, he launched Dr. Greene's HouseCalls, cited by the AMA as the first physician web site on the internet.