As Easy as One, Two, Three: Simple Rules to Help Make Choices that are Great for Families and the Environment

You may be surprised to know that, pound for pound, kids eat more food, drink more liquids and inhale more fumes than adults. That’s why, according to the EPA, carcinogens in our environment are on average 10 times more potent for your kids than for you… in some cases 65 times more potent.

But it’s easy for parents to get overwhelmed with all the recommendations and products to keep toxins and harmful chemicals out of their families’ lives. My job as a pediatrician is to condense the research and the facts into a few simple rules that any family can follow to make sure they’re making choices that are great for their children, themselves and our environment.

Harmful chemicals in our environment get into our bodies in three ways: what we put into our mouths, what we put on our skin and what we inhale through the air. The following recommendations are easy to implement and simple to start today by opening a window or taking a trip to the store.

Eliminating Chemicals from the Food We Eat

The simple rule for eliminating chemicals from our food and drink is to avoid products with added chemicals you really don’t need. Watch for preservatives, added colors and flavors, and avoid products with artificial sweeteners. Instead, you can make a positive impact on your health and the environment when you choose real fruits, fresh vegetables, wholesome seeds and nuts, and, the most natural of all healthful foods, breast milk for babies.

Cutting Down on Chemicals on Our Skin

The one best thing we can do for our kids when it comes to limiting chemicals on the skin is to make the right choices about sunscreen. Our bodies love the benefit provided by a little bit of sunlight. Sunshine helps us produce vitamin D, and a little sun can promote health throughout the body. But we’ve learned that the sun’s rays can be harmful, and doctors recommend we protect our kids from exposure.

Some sunscreens have chemicals that absorb the sun’s harmful UV rays; other types have ingredients that block the rays. The types that absorb rays tend to mimic hormones, and I’d rather see parents choosing sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients. These ingredients stop the harmful rays from reaching the skin without harmful chemicals.

Clearing the Air in Our Homes

Believe it or not, the air in our homes can be 2-5 times more polluted than air outside. Studies have found an average of 900 chemicals in the air and on surfaces in our homes. You can significantly reduce the amount of indoor airborne toxins with my four simple steps:

  1. Do not let anyone smoke in your house at any time.
  2. Choose household cleaners with nontoxic ingredients to eliminate unnecessary artificial fragrances, harsh chemicals and toxic fumes.
  3. Open the windows to let the good air in and the bad fumes out.
  4. Green your home and clean your air with houseplants, which can remove up to 90 percent of the indoor air pollutants in your home.

If you follow the simple recommendations in each area, you can reduce exposure to the toxins that could harm your family and our environment. Your changes today can result in a better life for your family tomorrow and beyond.

Published on: May 24, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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