The End of Free Range Childhoods?

A few years ago, Tytia Habing moved back to the stretch of land where she grew up in rural Illinois, just a half-mile from her parents.  “I’m right back where I started,” she said, among the same fields of beans and corn, among the same people.  Except one, in particular.

Now there’s Tharin, her son. He was born overseas, and he was 4 when they moved to Illinois. He’s 8 now, and he has bruised knees, dirty nails and an endless well of energy. His parents wanted him to be outside in a safe, wide-open place where he has freedom to roam, and that meant coming home.

Habing, a photographer, began to shoot images of Tharin as he first explored this land that was so familiar to her. Only once she looked more closely did she realize she had more than family snapshots. It was black-and-white memories of childhoods past.

“He was getting to do the things that I got to do when I grew up,” Habing said.

Of course, she and her son are different. She was a quiet and content girl, she said. She spent hours playing with her siblings.  Tharin is an only child, and he is nonstop motion. He will get up the morning and head outside to check on the plants or hunt the bugs around the farm. Cats love him, and new ones seem to emerge all the time, seeking affection from him.

He’s obsessed with his four-wheeler and will venture all over the farm, exploring new territory and getting stuck in mud puddles.  “His grandpa has one, his uncle has one, he thinks he needs a bigger and better one,” Habing said. “He will literally ride that four-wheeler all day long, till he runs out of gas.”

Habing shoots in black and white just because it’s how she feels most comfortable. Still, to capture an image is a pleasant coincidence. There’s no hovering over Tharin.  “You still can’t plan it,” Habing said. “I just let him do his own thing.”

She gets a lot of email from older people, she said — people who happen upon her photos and see a childhood that looks like their own, one that seems almost impossible for a kid to have now.

“You can’t just let your kid run anymore. You get arrested, basically,” she said. “I want him outside and to learn things on (his) own.”

Not all the photos inspire warm nostalgia. Habing often captures Tharin with toy guns, and she’s noticed that the images raise eyebrows. To Tharin, anything can be a weapon, whether is a water gun, a stick or a piece of cardboard.

They are not “gun people,” she said, but there are actual guns around the farm. More likely, he learned it from TV or video games, she said — he certainly plays more of those than she did.

Or maybe it’s just Tharin. Or just age 8. Or just boyhood.

Children, Habing believes, need to connect with nature, make mistakes and get themselves out of jams.

“I hope people will look at them,” she said of her photos, “and remember that kids need to be outside.”


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OnMay 16, 2016, posted in: Latest News by

Redefining What is Healthy

Ever find yourself zipping through the aisles of a grocery store, crunched for time, and grabbing whatever highlights itself as “healthy,” “nutritious” or “wholesome”? Your strategy could be flawed.

Experts warn that these labels do not really mean very much and can even be misleading in some cases. But changes could be in motion to make things better.

Several weeks ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration started discussing plans “to amend its ‘healthy’ nutrient content claim regulation,” a change that would be based upon significant scientific agreement among experts in the field.

What is ‘healthy’?

The FDA’s current criteria, created in 1994, specify that levels of total and saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol within foods need to be below a certain cutoff in order to be marketed as healthy. They must also have at least 10% of the daily requirements for vitamins, fiber and other nutrients.


“The science [for these criteria] is decades old. Now we have new science to suggest that it is not just low fat, it is the type of fat,” said Joan Salge Blake, clinical associate professor in Boston University’s nutrition program. “We want less of the saturated fat and more of the heart-healthy unsaturated fat, such as nuts, salmon, avocado and olive oil.”

Based on the current FDA guidelines, none of these foods would qualify as “healthy,” because they would exceed the limit for total fat.

The other flaw is that many cereals, snacks and juice drinks — often full of added sugar — still fit the criteria, as long they meet the other requirements.

“It’s great to look now and say you should have added sugars [to the criteria], but there weren’t that many products [in the 1990s],” Blake said. At the time, food companies began producing low-fat cookies and baked goods in response to concerns over high-fat diets, and to make their products palatable, they replaced the fat with sugar, she explained.

The decision to consider updating the FDA’s criteria comes in the wake of a warning the agency sent to food company Kind to remove the word “healthy” from the packaging of its snack bars because of the high levels of unsaturated fat they contain. These fats come from the nuts they contain.

In response, the company removed the term from its packaging but petitioned for the agency “to better align its nutrition labeling regulations with the latest science and current dietary guidance, particularly when it comes to using the word healthy,” Kind CEO and founder Daniel Lubetzky said in a statement.

The petition is supported by nutrition and public health experts at Harvard, Tufts and the Cleveland Clinic, Lubetzky said.

The FDA affirmed this week that Kind can use the word “healthy” on its wrappers in the context of the company’s philosophy, rather than a nutritional claim.

The FDA is planning to ask experts and the public for input on what should be considered healthy and will then undergo a public comment period to receive feedback on any changes it make. Any changes to the criteria could therefore be years in the making, but the agency said it does have a timeline regarding these reviews or comment periods.

“Nothing happens overnight with any of that,” said Sara Haas, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “That’s why dietary guidelines are updated, too: There’s always new information out there, and it makes sense to re-evaluate all that stuff every once in a while.”

The latest version of the U.S. dietary guidelines put a limit on added sugar, advising consumers to limit their intake to 10% of their total calories. The update kept previous recommendations to consume no more than 10% of total calories from fat but expanded on the concept of heart-healthy “good fat” found in oils and some fish.

“I think it is wise to update [the criteria] to show what research shows,” Haas said. “If I was a less knowledgeable person in the food world, that would make me feel better as a parent to know this was more tightly regulated.”

In reality, if the criteria were revised and foods, such as nuts, started to feature the term “healthy” on their packaging, it would be unlikely to change consumer behavior. “Certain foods they innately know are healthy, like nuts, fruits and veggies,” Blake said.

Where better label regulations will be useful is in assuring consumers that products based on foods they know are healthy, such as frozen salmon steaks, are good for them as the level of healthy fats within them hold them back from being labeled “healthy.” Such labeling could also keep shoppers from reaching for “healthy” cereals and snacks that are, in fact, high in added sugar, added Blake.

One change that could prove to be more important than redefining what it means to be “healthy” is forcing food companies to list the amount of added sugar in the nutrition facts panel of a product instead of just total sugar, according to Blake.

“I think that is the biggest thing that would wake up consumers,” she said.


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OnMay 16, 2016, posted in: Latest News by

Family sues after boy is kicked out of school over his DNA

When Colman Chadam was born in 2000, he underwent extra medical tests after a congenital heart issue was discovered. Doctors learned that the infant carried genetic markers associated with cystic fibrosis, but he never went on to develop the disease.

In fact that test was the boy’s only interaction with it—until 2012, when he was kicked out of middle school. His parents had offered up the information when they enrolled him at a school in Palo Alto, Calif., and somehow teachers found out, reports Wired.

Those teachers allegedly told parents of two kids with cystic fibrosis during a parent-teacher conference, and suddenly those parents were demanding Colman’s removal because their own kids would be more vulnerable to infection.

(Per the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, people with CF are known to be able to spread “certain germs among others with the disease.”) It all played out a bit like the medical version of thought crime—where potential (or in this case predisposition) is punished—but within a few weeks the school let Colman return (thanks to the family obtaining an injunctive relief); now the Chadams have relocated altogether.

Still, their lawsuit accusing the district of violating both the Americans With Disabilities Act and privacy rights is still making its way through the courts, as they appealed to the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last month and got some support from the Department of Justice and Education, per this amicus curiae brief.

“The family would like a definitive and unequivocal statement from the Ninth Circuit that you can’t just do this to people based on genetic markers alone,” their attorney tells BuzzFeed.

The implications could be broad, not only regarding how genetic information can be used, but who gets to make decisions based on the resulting “real or imagined” safety concerns, he adds.

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OnFebruary 9, 2016, posted in: Latest News by

Cancer Rates Continue to Decline

How often do we get to report good news in the war on cancer? Not often, but today, there’s cause for celebration.

There has been a 23% drop in the cancer death rate since its peak in 1991, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society. That drop translates into more than 1.7 million cancer deaths averted through 2012, the latest year for which comprehensive data is available.

Smoking rate continue to decline among U.S. adults

“Part of the decline in cancer mortality rates is because of smoking cessation and some of our successes in battling tobacco,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. “Part of the decline is because of improvements in our ability to treat many of these cancers. And part of the decline is from the success of what I’ll call ‘wise screening.'”

Overall, cancer incidence is stable in women and declining by 3.1% per year in men (from 2009 to 2012). The report attributes the significant drop in men to recent rapid declines in prostate cancer diagnoses, as prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, testing decreases. PSA testing is no longer recommended due to concerns of over-diagnosis. Cancer mortality rates have declined steadily over the last decade in both sexes. On average, the rate dropped by 1.8% per year in men and 1.4% per year in women.

According to the American Cancer Society, the decline is driven by continued decreases in death rates for the four major cancer sites: lung, breast, prostate and colon/rectum. Death rates for female breast cancer have declined 36% from peak rates in 1989, while deaths from prostate and colorectal cancers have each dropped about 50% from their peak, a result of improvements in early detection and treatment. Lung cancer death rates declined 38% between 1990 and 2012 among males and 13% between 2002 and 2012 among females, due to reduced tobacco use.

“We have a large number of people who, even though they get health care, they get inadequate health care — or, less than high quality health care,” said Brawley. “If we could improve those logistics, we could decrease the death rate from cancer even more.”

New breast cancer screening guidelines

“We need to also focus on the fact that there are some good screening tests that actually clearly save lives, that we are not using enough,” Brawley said. “I would point out that 55% to 60% of Americans over the age of 50 are up do date on colorectal cancer screening. We could save a lot of lives if we could just get to 80% by 2018. We could help to decrease the cancer death rate that way. I would point out that there is no debate that mammography saves lives — and if you look at women over the age of 45, about a third to 40% are not up to date on mammography. Many have never actually even had a mammogram, and we need to work on that.”

Even as cancer remains the second leading cause of death nationwide, steep drops in deaths from heart disease have made cancer the leading cause of death in 21 states. Additionally, cancer is the leading cause of death among adults ages 40 to 79, and among both Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islanders, who together make up one-quarter of the U.S. population. Heart disease remains the top cause of death overall in the United States. In 2012, there were 599,711 (24%) deaths from heart disease, compared to 582,623 (23%) of deaths from cancer, according to the report.

“I don’t think the two diseases ought to be competing against each other,” said Brawley. “I think we need to realize that some of the causes of heart diseases are major causes of cancer. We talk a lot about high caloric intake, obesity and lack of physical activity. Those are risk factors for heart disease, as well as cancer. We talk a great deal about tobacco use. That’s a risk factor for heart disease as well as cancer. We need to double down and work on all of those things.”

The report estimates there will be 1,685,210 new cancer cases and 595,690 cancer deaths in the United States in 2016.

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OnJanuary 14, 2016, posted in: Latest News by

People Faking Disabilities to Ride With Their Pets

Travel blogger Alyssa Ramos, 27, is preparing for a holiday trip to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and she has her system down. In addition to one wheelie, she has a carrying bag for her 7-pound Pomeranian — Oscar de la Ramos — and a knapsack filled with toys and treats to keep his ears from popping. Unlike other dogs that are only allowed to travel zipped in bags and stowed under a seat, Oscar is Ramos’ emotional support animal, which allows him to cuddle with her during takeoff.

Ramos is among the growing number of travelers who have had pets — dogs, pigs and even miniature horses — deemed “necessary” to their emotional well-being, a classification that falls under the Air Carrier Access Act. Originally meant for those who could barely function without the support of an animal, it is now broadly used by people who enjoy the comfort of their pets.

“A guy had a miniature horse, which didn’t fit comfortably in the back, so he was put in first class,” says Eric Lipp, executive director of Open Doors Organization, an advocacy group for people traveling with disabilities. “The airline made the horse wear these little shoes so it didn’t scuff the plane, but it pooped all over and the other first-class travelers weren’t happy.”

Travelers with actual disabilities and those who feel inconvenienced by the voyaging creatures seated among plane passengers are increasingly angry that the system is being gamed and that doctor’s letters can be purchased on the Internet.

“The people who really need support animals despise people who fake it,’’ says Lipp. “I call it ‘the Paris Hilton effect,’ where people want to take their cute little dogs everywhere.”

Some pet owners feel that high prices and a stressful travel environment justify bending the rules a bit.

“I first applied for support papers online to avoid the airline pet fee,” Ramos, who lives in Los Angeles, admits. “But I had just gotten into a motorcycle accident and had emotional stress, so my regular doctor wound up writing me a letter.”

For a pet to be classified as an emotional support animal, an owner needs a note from a licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker. Entrepreneurial types have caught on to the business opportunity of providing such notes; countless sites now provide emotional support vests and necessary letters for fees ranging from $59 to $200. Airlines are usually very compliant, because fines for refusing legitimate support animals can run as high as $150,000.

“The more people are learning about this, the more they are trying to take advantage of the system. We are helping the ones we think need it,’’ says Steven Laroid, 27, who lives in Midtown and founded the website

His site has seven licensed psychologists who evaluate applicants via Skype and, for $179, provide letters for those they deem in need of support animals. Laroid says he gets about 200 requests per month, an increase of 25 percent since he founded the site in 2013, and that doctors approve about 45 percent of requests.

Behavioral psychologist Dr. Steve Josephson is all for emotional support animals: “This is a safe, side effect-free way to get people to overcome their anxiety.’’

But the wildlife can get wild. Last December, a woman had to deplane a US Airways flight when her potbellied pig became disruptive.

“A man once insisted that his emotional support monkey needed an emotional support bird,’’ says Lipp. “We have seen multiple people want bunny rabbits. One woman said she needed five of them, and the airline finally let her keep one in the cabin and waived the fee for the others, but made them ride in cargo.”

Before arachnids and reptiles were outlawed as emotional support animals in 2008, Lipp says, “We had a woman who had an emotional support tarantula, and I actually believed her. She had a lot of anxiety over takeoffs and landings, and tarantulas require a lot of focus, which took her mind off the problem, but it terrified passengers.”

Jason Clampet, co-founder of the travel site Skift, says pretending to be emotionally disabled is selfish. “This is a work-around for people who are self-centered and don’t want to pay a fee and are willing to lie.’’

Travel site Inspired Citizen founder Anthony Berklich believes that travelers who bend the rules a bit feel justified.

“[Emotional service animals] are a wonderful service that airlines allow,” he says, “and consumers who are being nickeled and dimed for every little thing don’t feel badly about getting through the system.”

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OnDecember 7, 2015, posted in: Latest News by

Teens spend “mind boggling” number of hours connected.

(CNN)You probably won’t be surprised to hear that a new report found that teens and tweens spend a lot of time watching TV, videos and movies, playing video games, reading, listening to music and checking social media, but you might be somewhat shocked (I was!) by just how much time.

On any given day, teens in the United States spend about nine hours using media for their enjoyment, according to the report by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit focused on helping children, parents and educators navigate the world of media and technology.

Let’s just put nine hours in context for a second. That’s more time than teens typically spend sleeping, and more time than they spend with their parents and teachers. And the nine hours does not include time spent using media at school or for their homework.

Tweens, identified as children 8 to 12, spend about six hours, on average, consuming media, the report found.

“I think the sheer volume of media technology that kids are exposed to on a daily basis is mind-boggling,” said James Steyer, chief executive officer and founder of Common Sense Media, in an interview.

“It just shows you that these kids live in this massive 24/7 digital media technology world, and it’s shaping every aspect of their life. They spend far more time with media technology than any other thing in their life. This is the dominant intermediary in their life.”

The report, the first large-scale study to explore tweens and teens’ use of the full range of media, according to Common Sense Media, is based on a national sample of more than 2,600 young people ages 8 to 18.

When it comes to consuming media on screens, including laptops. smartphones and tablets, teens, on average, spend more than six and a half hours on screens and tweens more than four and a half hours, the report found.

“I just think that it should be a complete wake-up call to every parent, educator, policymaker, business person (and) tech industry person that the reshaping of our media tech landscape is first and foremost affecting young people’s lives and reshaping childhood and adolescence,” said Steyer, who’s most recent book is “Talking Back to Facebook: The Common Sense Guide to Raising Kids in the Digital Age.”

Here are a few more eye-opening highlights about the media habits of Generation Z, according to the report:

No. 1: What’s wrong with multitasking?

If teens are, on average, spending nine hours a day consuming media, it’s not such a surprise they’re often doing it while doing their homework. Half of teens say they “often” or “sometimes” use social media or watch TV while doing their homework. Some 60% say they text and more than 75% say they listen to music while working on schoolwork at home.

And of the kids who multitask, most don’t think it effects the quality of their work. Nearly two-thirds say watching TV or texting makes no difference and more than 50% feel the same way when it comes to social media.

“Teenagers think that multitasking during homework doesn’t affect their ability to learn and … we know it does,” said Steyer, citing studies such as one at Stanford,which found dramatic differences in cognitive control and the ability to process information between heavy media multitaskers and light media multitaskers.

“It’s completely obvious that you can’t multitask and be as effective and competent.”

No. 2: Boys choose Xbox, Girls Instagram

There are definite gender differences when it comes to media habits of teens and tweens.

Some 62% of teen boys say they enjoy playing video games “a lot” versus 20% of girls. When it comes to using social media, 44% of teen girls say they enjoy it “a lot” versus 29% for boys. Girls, on average, spend about 40 minutes more on social networks than boys, with girls spending about an hour and a half a day on social media and boys a little under an hour.

“I definitely think it shows that girls use media and technology today for more social interaction and boys are much more likely to be gamers, including addicted gamers,” said Steyer of Common Sense Media. “There are real differences between boys and girls so that’s a message to parents and educators, you have to be aware of the differences.”

No. 3: The digital equality gap is real

While ours kids are growing up in a 24/7 digital world, children in lower income households have less access to technology than kids from wealthier families. Only 54% of teens in households making less than $35,000 a year have a laptop in their home versus 92% of teens in households making $100,000 a year or more.

“There’s an access gap that whether you like the impact of media or technology on our kids’ lives and there are pros and cons, the truth is poor kids have far less access than wealthy kids do and that’s just wrong especially when Internet platforms and digital platforms are so key to everything from school to getting a job to connecting with other people,” said Steyer. “So closing the digital inequality gap is a huge public-policy issue.”

No. 4: Guess what? TV and music still tops

Despite all the new media tweens and teens have at their disposal — everything from Instagram to YouTube to Xbox, tweens and teens still rank watching TV and listening to music as the activities they enjoy “a lot” and do every day, ahead of playing video games and mobile games, watching online videos and using social media. In fact, only 10% of teens ranked social media as their favorite activity.

“I think the bottom line there is it’s a utility now,” said Steyer referring to social media. “Increasingly kids are realizing that Facebook and Instagram and SnapChat, they go there and … they feel they have to go there but they don’t love it and that’s good. In my opinion, that’s good.”

No. 5: ‘It’s a mobile world’

Consider these stats: 53% of tweens — kids 8 to 12 — have their own tablet (my kids will try to use this as ammunition to get a tablet of their own!), and 67% of teens have their own smartphones. Mobile devices account for 41% of all screen time for tweens and 46% for teens.

“It’s a mobile world so these kids live on mobile platforms,” said Steyer. “I mean if you look at the numbers, it’s clear that you have this clear transformation of teens and tweens’ lives through digital and mobile platforms.”

The implications of this digital transformation are huge for tweens and teens, educators, policymakers and parents. For one, living and communicating via mobile devices gets in the way of empathy, said Steyer.

Texting is so much less empathetic than having a conversation in person and looking somebody in the eye and having physical or at least a verbal presence with them, he said.

Add in the issues of digital addiction and the attention and distraction implications that come with mobile devices, and “empathy is really, really under siege,” he said.

“That’s a huge issue in terms of society and human relationships and how young people are evolving in a social, emotional context.” he added, saying more research is needed.

Common Sense Media’s next study, due out next year, is about the impact of digital addiction and distraction.


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OnNovember 3, 2015, posted in: Latest News by

Some Foods May Actually Be Addicting.

Pizza, French fries and ice cream may be the kinds of foods many of us love to indulge in after a night of drinking. But research earlier this year suggests we can actually have benders on these foods all by themselves, and it may even be a sign of an addiction.

Researchers have wondered whether we can become addicted to food for more than a century. There have been reports of people losing control over how much they eat, and experiencing withdrawal when they are cut off, just like with drug and alcohol addiction. By now, many agree that food addiction can be a real problem for at least some types of foods.

For the first time, a team of researchers looked at exactly which types of foods could be the most addictive. They asked a group of 120 undergraduates at the University of Michigan, and another group of nearly 400 adults, about 35 different types of food — from pizza to broccoli — and whether they think they could have problems controlling how much they ate of each one. Eighteen of the items were processed foods, meaning they contained added sugars and fats.

Topping the list were pizza, chocolate, chips, cookies, ice cream, French fries, cake and soda, all considered processed foods. They were followed by cheese and bacon — both unprocessed foods, but high in fat and salt.

Fruits and vegetables (strawberries, carrots and broccoli, for example) were at the bottom of the list.

“In a similar manner that drugs are processed to increase their addictive potential, this study provides insight that highly processed foods may be intentionally manufactured to be particularly rewarding through the addition of fat and refined carbohydrates, like white flour and sugar,” said Erica Schulte, graduate student of psychology at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study, which was published in February in PLOS One.

The researchers found that the most problematic foods tended to be those with a high glycemic load, meaning they contained a lot of sugar and caused a spike in blood sugar. The authors wrote that these qualities could make foods more difficult to stop eating in a similar way as drugs that are highly concentrated and rapidly absorbed into the body are more addictive.

The researchers also found that, among the adults in their study, those with a high BMI and those who were at risk of having any kind of food addiction were most likely to have difficulty controlling themselves around a particular food item.

The researchers assessed food addiction risk using the Yale Food Addiction Scale, which was developed by the study’s lead author, Ashley N. Gearhardt. (You can test your risk of having a food addiction by taking a short version of this survey.)

Although not all foods have the potential to be addictive, “it is critical to understand which ones do,” said Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and behavior at Wesleyan University, who was not involved in the current study.


“We are all pressed for time, and food is becoming more and more available,” but we need to think about what we are grabbing on the go, Robinson said. Although a handful of almonds and a milkshake might have the same number of calories, they will have a different effects on your brain and your reward system, and you will be much more likely to go back to get more of the milkshake, he added.

Many of the symptoms of food addiction look like drug addiction, including that people need more and more of the food item to get the same effect. They also accept negative consequences to obtain it and feel the anxiety or agitation of withdrawal when they can’t have it. Although food withdrawal is not as intense as heroin withdrawal, neither is cocaine withdrawal. “It varies by the drug,” Robinson said.

Just like any addiction, the first step to recovery is to acknowledge there is a problem, Robinson said. “I think in the majority of cases when we have a problem with a substance, whether it’s a food or drug…we will ignore it,” he said.

Robinson suggests avoiding foods if you have trouble controlling how much of them you eat. “We are not in a situation where we will have dietary deficiencies (and) whenever possible we should be aiming to cook foods for ourselves,” he said.

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OnOctober 27, 2015, posted in: Latest News by