Seattle Mama Doc

A blog by Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson.

A mom, a pediatrician, and her insights about keeping your kids healthy.

The Power Of A Sugar Cube

There’s no question the challenge of unhealthy weight and rising obesity rates in America present a complex problem for children, their parents, and their doctors. No wonder I cycled through so many emotions while watching the new movie Fed Up. As Fed Up premiers all over the United States today it’s provoking a fiery, national conversation about the threats of obesity on our nation’s children. I loved the power behind the film.

Instead of pointing the finger at children for poor choices or limited activity, filmmakers Katie Couric and Laurie David take a deep dive into the mechanics of how food is being made in America, how food companies have contaminated our culture, and how with a changing food source we’re obligated to return to a menu of primarily fresh foods to heal our children.

This movie is guaranteed to cause you to re-evaluate the number of processed foods you bring into your home.

Fed Up is constructed out of powerful interviews and activist-like thinking as national experts illuminate the fallacy that eating less and exercising more will singularly improve the health of our nation and curb the obesity epidemic. It feels a little like a get-out-the-vote campaign blended with a whole new kind of math. In fact there’s lots of new thinking challenging the simplicity of previously held beliefs about energy gap. With overweight and obesity threatening our longevity and our national bank account, Fed Up assures us that we’ll have to take on one big sugar cube, the food industry, to lean-up our nation. Read full post »

Perhaps The World’s Most Perfect Sport?

world's greatest sportEvery runner who’s ever had a runner’s high knows it is one of the best sports in the world. It can be grueling and painful, yes, but the rewards we reap from running– especially once we’re in shape — pay big dividends. For those of us aging, ahem 40’s coming quick, and those of us trying to find ways to live longer, exercise is still likely the most influential thing we can do to promote the quality of our life and extend the years we get to witness our children grow. Nothing is a guarantee, of course, and I loved an article I read on Five Thirty Eight about the value of eating nuts for health and longevity that mentioned, “no matter how many nuts you eat, you’ll eventually die.” Yipes! Exercise is the good stuff, though. If you need pushing, be informed that recent data out of Canada shows that exercise may even improve the appearance of our skin and decrease wrinkling. Tah dah! It may be vanity that gets us out to pound the pavement.

But finding time and keeping healthy enough to keep up a rigorous running schedule amidst the whirls of child rearing and work? I have found it an exceedingly large challenge. When I was in medical school, I ran over 4-5 miles every day. Now a 4-5 mile run would be a freaking miracle day. Things are just busy.

Thankfully a cure-all has arrived… Read full post »

What’s Your Strategy?

cocktail“What’s Your Strategy?” she asked. And although she wasn’t asking me directly, I must admit I was a bit startled by the question. What really is my strategy for keeping my kids alive in the car? Although I’m strict about boosters, about buckling, about ensuring the booster seats travel with my kids, and I repel when I hear parents joke about not using car seats perfectly, I’m unsure I’ve ironed out the strategy to ensure my kids never die at the hands of a drunk driver. I mean we make smart choices, but smart enough? “What’s Your Strategy?”

Dr Beth Ebel, Director of the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center, is a pediatrician and researcher who spends her days working to improve safety for children in the car. She studies the use of car seats, the effects of distraction on driving, and health disparities. In my experience, she’s an optimist. During our conversation she stated a couple of times that the last decade housed great success: there has been a 41% reduction in child passengers deaths involving alcohol-impaired drivers and a 44% reduction in death in child passenger deaths over all. In addition she reminds me that 97% of drivers and passengers wear their seat belts! Even though she’s proud of the declines in death and the huge number of seat-belt-wearers, she does account for the ongoing deaths and how that 3% of the population who is unrestrained account for a huge proportion of the near-fatal and fatal injuries in car accidents.

New numbers out today provide a chilling lens into the realities of how young children in the US die in the car. Car accidents remain the number one killer of children over age 4. Today’s report focuses on children under age 15 who died in the last decade as a result of a car accident. I’d suggest this is uncomfortable data and somewhat uninteresting to most people. It does seem like this is just going to happen to someone else’s kid, right? My concern is some of us may be wrong and while looking around we better look closely at those we know well who drive our children around. Read full post »

What’s Your Best Part Of Day?

Thanks for these clips (see above)! Practicing gratitude remains a highlight around here. Although ritualizing the sharing of the great parts of our family’s day bring us together at meals, helps us connect, and assists us in talking about our time apart at school or work, it also may be boosting our health.

Practicing gratitude has been found to improve overall wellbeing, assist in sleep, and help decrease anxiety and depression. People who practice gratitude also report better long-term satisfaction with life and demonstrate kinder behavior to others. Who wouldn’t want this for their kids?

Best Part of Day (BPOD) is a big deal in our house. Consider it for yours?

Thanks for answering our call for sharing BPODs from your life (captured in the video). Clearly we didn’t get to include everyone’s BPOD here. We’re hoping to have another composite video to share in a few months! Feel free to send in any more BPODs you’re excited to share.

Tips For Inspiring Gratitude

  • strawberry lemonade bpodBuild rituals into your day to share what you are thankful for every day, even the hard ones.
  • Write thank you notes to people for non-material things (i.e. a thank you  to a teacher for remembering something special or a thank you to a friend for showing up).
  • End the day at bedtime talking about what you’re looking forward to. Remember that some research finds we may get more enjoying/happiness planning a vacation than actually experiencing it! You have a summer camping trip planned? Involve your children in the planning, prep, and enthusiasm that goes into pulling it off — boost their happiness juice.
  • If it seems overwhelming, start with “gratitude light” –doing a BPOD every day (takes less than a minute) or incorporate tips here in New York Times summary of the research on gratitude.

The Link Between Vaccines And Optimism

Yesterday morning there was a public Freudian slip. It was perfect. During an interview on the Today Show about “hot button” health issues the team addressed concerns about myths related to the causes of autism. Autism spectrum disorder, now estimated in 1 of 68 children, is a brain condition causing challenges with how children communicate, behave and relate with others. Autism spectrum disorder is thought to be caused by a mix of genetic risk, potentially starting inutero, and potentially influenced by environmental factors. There is so much more research needed to understand causes (for cures). In the past some have pointed to vaccines as a cause of autism although that theory has been debunked, disproven, and refuted again and again. But here’s what happened on the show. The interviewer addressed the topic and said, “We hear a lot about it in the media, that is, vaccines causing optimism….”

Now it was a misspeak, which of course happens to us all, all the time. But it got me thinking, we need to share this real link  like wildfire — the link between vaccines and optimism. We moms, we dads, we pediatricians, we nurses, we family doctors, we community members, we must speak up. Share this incredible fortune, peer-to-peer, the reality that indeed living now in the 21st century that yes, vaccines are linked to optimism.

Read full post »

What To Do With That Old Bottle Of Meds?

Drug-Take-Back-InfographicRaise your hand if you have a cupboard full of partially used medications, expired acetaminophen, and old anti-histamines. We do! Conveniently, there is a way to safely get rid of the unused medications in your life. Don’t leave them around the house and don’t put them back into the water supply (via flushing them or putting them improperly in the garbage)….both carry risk.

April 26 is the DEA’s National Drug Take Back Day. Conveniently, this is the perfect time to quickly clear out some of that clutter. As we ready our lives and our homes for summer (yes, please!) it’s a perfect time to clean out the medicine cabinet. No question getting rid of medications isn’t as straight forward as we’d like (ie it’s not like getting rid of an old banana peel).  And we really don’t want Cousin Judy’s anti-depressive  in our drinking water nor do we want any antibiotics in our soil. And who really wants a guest rummaging through your medicine cabinet at next year’s holiday party looking for drugs!

When we buy over-the-counter (OTC) medications at the pharmacy using them safely for our family demands 3 skills:

  • Reading and following the labels, dosing them properly for our kids.
  • Figuring out what is actually in the bottles of meds! Knowing the active ingredients in OTC medicines really matters.
  • Safely disposing of expired or unwanted medicines when we’re done with them.

The FDA provides clear instructions on getting rid of your unwanted OTC meds:

  1. Mix unwanted over-the-counter meds with other substances like coffee grinds or kitty litter. The meds will bind up in the coffee and/or kitty litter and be less likely to disperse, leak, or get out of the garbage. In addition, kids, pets, and those in the garbage looking for meds will be less likely to get into them.
  2. Place them in a sealable bag (think Ziploc style) or an empty can before disposing of them.
  3. Throw your combination in the trash.

If you’re uncomfortable disposing of medications with the above instructions or have a large volume of OTC or any prescription meds to get rid of, this Saturday between 10am and 2pm April 26th there will be sites all over the US where you can just drop off unwanted meds in bottles or packets. Just click here and search for a drop-off site (by zip code) near you to find the National Take Back Collection Site. Show up between 10am and 2pm and they will take all of your unused OTC or prescription medications. Voila — you’ll be clutter free come Sunday morning!

This post was written in partnership with OTC In exchange for our ongoing partnership helping families understand how to use OTC (over-the-counter) meds safely they have made a contribution to Digital Health at Seattle Children’s for our work in innovation. I adore the OTC Safety tagline, “Treat yourself and your family with care all year long.” Follow @OTCSafety #OTCSafety for more info on health and wellness.

Earth Day: My Mom’s Great Lesson

purple skyMy parents were never hippies but when I detail what they’ve done with their lives most people eventually inquire if they were. This isn’t a post about how my family’s deep respect for the planet made me an awesome environmental steward. It’s Earth Day and I’m here to say I haven’t done enough. I feel I fail nearly every day in regards to my role in conserving renewable resources but I certainly didn’t lack great modeling. In fact, I’d suggest I work hard to do things on a daily basis that protect the planet and I do think I am above average in my efforts (here in Lake Wobegon) but I do know I can still do more. I’m fairly certain the actions of my mom are the primary reason I think about the earth when I do. Perhaps this is a nod to parents everywhere.

This is a post about choices, the extreme power of example, and the opportunity we all have to help our children protect planet Earth. Just this past week a lovely article, Raising Moral Children, begged us to remember that our actions scream out loudly during our children’s time growing up. Detailing research about generosity, responsibility, shame, guilt, and opportunity Professor Adam Grant reminds, “Children learn generosity not by listening to what their role models say, but by observing what they do.”

One thing I know for certain: I like being outside more than anywhere else. And I know this is because of how I lived as a child.

One thing every parent can do today for Earth Day is go outside and play with their children. Learning to love the planet will harness an inpatient need to protect it.

Be in a place with no ceiling today for as long as you  can.

My parents have spent the last 20+ years developing and sustaining a business committed to conservation, environmental sustainability, and purpose. Although it’s taken quite a bit away from them personally, it has gifted the world with a profound example: what we do with our time on earth really can change it.

But it may be what my mom did long before she made it to the tropical rainforest that causes me pause nearly every day. It happens anywhere — I think about reusing a bag, refolding a piece of tin foil, turning off the car while it idles in line. She never would buy a juice box (all because of the packaging) and it’s hard for me to do so now.

The reality and impetus for this post is that I remember not a single lecture (as a child) about sustainability, recycling, renewable resources, and “saving the rainforest.” But I really do remember all of this: Read full post »

Go, Dad, Go! Daniel Murphy’s Accidental Heroism

Not that I want these guys to get much more attention, but this is worthy of a mention and possibly a view (see video below). I mean it isn’t every day that we’re teed up to talk about fatherhood. Motherhood, sure, we’re constantly fed information about the elusive “balance” we all seek, but fatherhood and the incredible gifts/mentorship men bring to children’s lives, that seems only to be a sexy topic when it has to do with a sports star [read: I’m guilty of the bait here]. Or it’s Father’s Day.

Enter a new hero.

Earlier this week Daniel Murphy became an accidental hero for child and maternal health. His actions speak far louder than any words (or the words of others). His heroism and moment in time for children’s health is all thanks to these jokers on the radio. Now we get to make note of the incredible decisions parents make every day.

The story is this: a man with a career (he happens to play baseball) took time to support his family. He was at his partner’s side during the birth of his child and stayed there to bear witness, provide support, and be a father. He used time provided to him by his employer (that happens to be federally protected) for paternity leave.

But because Murphy is a real deal professional athlete with an opening season game to be played and because people like to talk on the radio there are numerous reminders for parents everywhere thanks to this story:

  • Paternity leave is a federally protected right. In California, Washington, and New Jersey, there are even laws for paid paternity leave.
  • Elective C-sections for convenience increase health risks to mom and baby. C-section deliveries require major surgery for mom and can put infants at risk for respiratory problems. A 2013 statement from ACOG (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) outlines the scientifically-backed opinion against these elective surgeries. The suggestion from the radio host is rubbish.
  • Paid parental leave is an area where Americans just don’t do so well; the below example a quirky reminder. Protected parental leave is clearly a place the US pales on the world’s stage (see this infographic on global parental leave).
  • Dads everywhere provide everyday, exceptional value for their children, Murphy’s decision is just one example. Parenting is hard work. The national focus on parenting centers on the work of mothers while fathers play roles of equal impact. All parents, of course, have vital roles in shaping earnest opportunity and health for children. Let it be clear that Murphy says it best, “that’s the awesome part about being blessed, about being a parent, is you get that choice. My wife and I discussed it, and we felt the best thing for our family was for me to try to stay.”

Something In The Air: It’s Measles

Something is in the air right now. There’s a strange mix of vaccine-preventable illness sweeping the country (measles) and a strange bump in media coverage for celebrities and vocal opponents to tested and recommended vaccine schedules. Part of me thought we might be done with that but pageviews, clicks, and views all sell.

My hope is the coincidence of coverage and outbreaks is just that, a coincidence. But as a mom, pediatrician, author and media reporter, the view from here is unsettling. We can’t prove that mishandled media coverage is changing the way we immunize our children (or at least I haven’t seen the data) and how parents protect them, but there are moments like this it feels it’s possible that trust is simply being eroded with this 24-hour online/TV/print news cycle. Parents might be vulnerable to bad medicine when gowned as good business. A couple of examples:

Two weeks ago Kristin Cavallari (a wife to an NFL player and reality TV star) went on Fox News to discuss her career (and parenting) and ended up discussing her theories on a group of vaccine refusers and autism. Perhaps talking about medical theories is a really good model for accelerating a career? Next up was Huffington Post where she dropped the bomb, “’I’ve read too many books’ to vaccinate my child.” I suspect she’s yet to read mine. Particularly chapter number 57 entitled Measles In America. Read full post »

New Autism Numbers, Ways To Advocate

1 in 68 from CDCHeadlines soared yesterday with the CDC report that the number of children with autism diagnoses had increased by 30% in the past 2 years. “Reality is there are many children who are having serious struggles because they can’t communicate well and have a hard time being with people,” Dr Chuck Cowan clearly stated to me this morning. Like a bell on a quiet night, I feel parents need to hear this most: we just want to connect children with the resources they need to thrive at home and at school and throughout their lives. Doesn’t matter what we call it, we want children of all backgrounds, of all resources, and all opportunity to be afforded the chance for a connected, lovely life. As a realist of course, I do know that numbers matter because it changes how we screen, how we advocate for children, how we move funds and resources, and how we ensure children get what we need. Numbers help activate.

The new numbers don’t mean anything is different today than it was 2 years ago really. Instead:

The “new” number published this week finds an estimated 1 out of every 68 children here in the US has an autism diagnosis at age 8. Like before, likelihood for autism is more common if you have a family history of autism and 5 times more common for boys compared to girls. Children who aren’t white don’t get identified as having autism as often and we know from numerous studies non-white children don’t get the resources they need like their caucasian counterparts. That’s not new, either. Also, there may be environmental factors at play although data on determining true environmental causes of autism, versus associations, is still unfolding. Researchers are trying to sort out the role for chemical exposures, e.g. how close you live to highways, and what your children eats in predisposing a child to challenges with communication.

Over the past few months I’d say we’ve been bombarded with unsettling news; we’ve heard that autism likely starts before birth, that children born to older fathers are more likely to get the diagnosis and we’ve even heard that taking Tylenol during pregnancy may increase the odds that our children can’t pay attention. I mean, YIPES! Before you entirely freak out, listen to this: Read full post »