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An Inconvenient Truth Regarding Children’s Health

By Maureen McDonnell, BS, RN

As a holistic, pediatric registered nurse for more than 35 years, I feel the crisis we now face regarding our children’s health is no longer just a medical one to be kept from the public, but rather it is a moral challenge facing our society that we all must become aware of. My intention is not to cause anguish and despair, but rather to spur awareness and action (especially by moms) to bring about positive change. The emphasis of this article, is on hope with a focus on effective solutions.

Ready or not, here are the current stats:

  • There has been a 300% increase in Asthma in the last 30 years (6.7 million kids are affected)
  • 12 million of our kids have Type 2 Diabetes (this is a lifestyle and diet related illness, not genetic)
  • Obesity rates have tripled in children in the last 30 years (17% of children between ages 2 and 19 are either very overweight or obese)
  • 3 million kids suffer from allergies
  • The CDC reports: 1 in 6 children have either a neurological, developmental or behavioral disorder
  • 1 in 6 children in public schools now receive special education
  • ADHD affects 5 million children
  • The Autism rate which was 1 in 5,000 30 years ago, is now according to recently released numbers from the CDC,1 in 45… and yes, you read that number correctly…1 in 45!
  • And finally, the Infant Mortality rate of a country is one of the most important indicators of its health as a nation. It is the number of deaths of infants under the age of one year old per 1000 live births. Currently, according to the CDC, the US has a higher infant mortality rate than 27 other countries. Despite the fact that we spend more on healthcare by far than any other country in the world, a baby born in the US today is less likely to see his first birthday than one born in Hungary, Poland or Slovakia

This “new normal” is not normal!

Frankly, I’m embarrassed! As you can see, kids today have more chronic illnesses than ever before, and as a society we should refuse to accept those statistics as normal! Thankfully, children are no longer dying at a young age from infections (as they did prior to our collective understanding that contaminated water supplies, exposure to sewage, malnourishment and poor hygiene practices made them more susceptible to infections.) Additionally, the advent of antibiotics in the 1950s and the introduction of vaccines (which, at least in theory, help them resist infection) all contributed to longer survival rates and healthier children.

But now, it seems we have traded one problem for another and currently we have a different breed of children’s health problems to contend with. Having this many children affected by asthma, allergies, Autism, ADHD, Type 2 Diabetes, autoimmune illnesses, and learning and behavior problems is not normal, and it is not acceptable! The argument that all these conditions were always there in the numbers we are seeing today and that we just became better at recognizing and diagnosing them is a fallacy. Ask any well-trained pediatrician or school nurse or teacher who was working 30 years ago how many kids were unable to focus or required special education or stood outside the nurse’s office at lunch to receive their medication for hyperactivity or bi-polar disorder. Our schools and our society at large are struggling to deal with all the children who are handicapped by these physical, behavioral and developmental issues and require special services.

Why moms? Why Now?

Across the country and across the globe, mothers are beginning to speak out and share their concerns about how sick their kids are. These conversations combined with the natural wisdom mothers possess as to what is best for their children has led to an unearthing of solutions, very smart solutions!

Mothers—not medically trained nurses, doctors or researchers—hold the key to unlocking the answers as to why this tsunami of sick kids has hit. And more importantly, since mothers carry, care for (and most often are the ones to shop and cook for) their kids, they hold the power for preventing and treating these conditions.  

Here are a few solutions as to What Moms Can Do Now

  • Become informed. Although your pediatrician is an important member of your child’s health team, don’t abdicate total responsibility for the health of your child. Do your research and find effective, safe and natural ways to prevent and treat various conditions and then discuss them with your child’s medical doctor, chiropractic physician, nutritionist, and other integrative practitioners.
  • It was no slouch or ill-informed, self-proclaimed healer who said “Let food by thy medicine”. That came from Hippocrates, the father of medicine and one of the wisest men who ever lived. So take the Hippocratic Oath as a mom…When your child is showing early signs of a cold or infection, before heading to the pharmacy, make a pot of homemade soup with tons of organic vegetables, an organic protein source, parsley, garlic and other herbs. Get that juicer out from the back kitchen cabinet or head on out and buy yourself an affordable Nutri-bullet and start whizzing up some organic vegetable juice (carrot, green apple, spinach with a touch of fresh lemon is a good place to start). Familiarize yourself with healing herbs such as Echinacea and Astragalis. These and many other natural remedies will support the body’s immune system and its innate ability to heal. Medical treatment of course may be necessary, but continue to support the body nutritionally.
  • And speaking of your child’s immune system… try not to reduce the very complex subject of vaccines to a simplistic “for or against” opinion. Trust me, after 38 years as a pediatric registered nurse, I can tell you there are many ways to enhance your child’s immunity (that do not get the same well-funded air time) including whole, organic, non GMO food, herbs, nutrients, probiotics, juicing etc. Do your research into this topic. Although the concept of vaccinating makes sense (who wouldn’t want to protect their children against infections?), the effectiveness of many vaccines is questionable. Add to that issue the toxic ingredients they contain such as formaldehyde, propylene glycol, aluminum, aborted fetal tissue, mercury, polysorbate 80 etc. which are injected directly into your child’s blood during the most vulnerable stages of their development. Any thinking person would have to agree, this is a practice that is outdated, outmoded and needs (at the very least) to be reexamined and revamped. The National Vaccine Information Center ( or both will provide you with eye opening material to help you make informed decisions regarding the 36-45 vaccines that are currently being recommended for our children before the age of 5.
  • If your child is super picky (and most kids are), the pickiness can be a sign of nutrient deficiencies (especially in the all-important mineral Zinc). Start with a good comprehensive multi vitamin designed for kids, but if after a few weeks, their repertoire of foods does not expand (and they have white horizontal lines on their fingernails, indicating a Zinc deficiency), consider adding additional Zinc. Start with 5mg and gradually increase to 20 or 30mg per day. Stay within the recommended dosage parameters unless you consult a nutritionally savvy practitioner.
  • Replace soda and juice with lots of pure water or water with a splash of juice. Add a little seltzer or Perrier for fizz. Keep your kids hydrated throughout the day by giving them at least 6-8 glasses of filtered water.
  • Balance their blood sugar levels. If a child has difficulty focusing, their moods are unstable, they get irritable or anxious, or they have periods when they feel weak and tired, try giving them a protein source every 3-4 hours. Don’t overdo it, but hardboiled eggs, rolled up turkey slices, a handful of organic nuts, a protein based smoothie or a protein pop will do wonders for stabilizing their mood, energy, focus and overall health.   For snacks: instead of sweets or fruit, try some organic humus, organic almond butter (if your kids don’t have a nut allergy) and chop up some veggies for dipping. Make some fresh organic chicken, turkey, beef and veggie based stews and soups and freeze them for meals during the week.
  • Gut health: Improve the health of the gut by reducing sugar and by giving your kids (and yourself) a high quality probiotic. Additionally, Google “fermented foods” and start making your own homemade sauerkraut (which is teaming with good “friendly” probiotic bacteria that bumps out the bad organisms which in turn strengthens the immune system.) Remember 80% of the immune system is headquartered in the gut. So if your child is dealing with an immune dysfunction (recurrent infections, autoimmune illness like rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, allergies, etc.), start by healing the gut. Oh and by the way, the brain neurotransmitter that is responsible for keeping us in a good mood, reducing anxiety and depression and helping us focus (called Serotonin) is also manufactured in the gut. So, if you or your child has any of these conditions, working on healing the gut with a healthy, organic, non-inflammatory diet, probiotics and vegetable juicing is a very wise strategy indeed. It is often said in the holistic, integrative world of medicine “heal the gut, heal the child!” If your child does have to take an antibiotic, be sure to give a probiotic (not at the exact time of the antibiotic, but throughout the course of treatment and well afterwards) and continue to support the body nutritionally.

Give it time mom…

Transformation does not happen overnight. Unlike medications that tend to mask symptoms and generate more immediate results, dietary changes, supplements, herbs, juicing etc. can take some time to produce results. However, from my experience with my own children, as well as having guided and advised many moms over the past 4 decades who deal with underlying causes, these time-tested natural approaches are effective in bringing about long-lasting improvements and often resolution of the various conditions plaguing our children today.

Our country has been heavily influenced by the quick fix, magic bullet approach to health and has only recently awakened or rediscovered many of these natural healing approaches. So, reversing the illness trends in our kids is going to take some time. Give yourself that time to learn, and hang out with like-minded moms who also want to investigate the underlying causes of these disorders and not just treat the symptoms. Research, read, and watch enlightening documentaries such as “Bought”, “Trace Amounts”, “Forks over Knives”, “Cowspiracy”, “The Autism Summit” and “Supersize Me”. Google the GAPS Diet, vegetable juicing, etc.

Just as the movie “The Inconvenient Truth” spurred a revolution in thoughts and actions about our environment, I am seeing a movement develop of moms reconnected to their own instinctive wisdom and empowered with the knowledge of natural healing. Not surprisingly, this movement is leading to the restoration of health and well being in many of our children!

DSC09638Maureen McDonnell has been a holistic, nutritionally-oriented RN for 38 years. She is the health editor of WNC Woman Magazine, the former national coordinator of the Defeat Autism Now! Conferences and the co-founder of Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet ( Maureen lectures widely on the role the environment and nutrition play in women and children’s health. She has 8 grandkids, is an Executive Area Manager with Arbonne International and lives in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina.