Raising Happy, Healthy Kids in a Toxic World

I don’t usually pull the “age card” (especially in our youth-oriented society), but I’m going to just put it out there and tell you that I am a grandmother of 7 kids (2 are in the photo) and I have been a pediatric registered nurse for 36 years!   Now, neither of these admissions alone, or in combination, makes me a wise old sage who has all the answers.  However, the fact that I was working as a pediatric nurse in the 1970s when the autism rate was 2 per 10,000 (and it is now: 1 in 50), and over that same period of time I witnessed a 300% increase in childhood asthma and a tripling of childhood obesity, makes me someone who should be asking “What the heck is going on?” 

So I did ask, and this is what I found out:   Currently, 54% of US children suffer from one or more chronic illnesses, 7.3 million kids have allergies and 1 in 7 school age children are receiving prescriptive psychoactive drugs.    Should I continue with the obesity and diabetes statistics or do you get the picture?   I know I’m being bold, brazen and brash, but I don’t think these dire circumstances allow for much tact or diplomacy.  Our kids are waiting for us to wake up and change some things around!  

You might be thinking “how could our children, who live in the greatest, most medically-advanced country in the world, be experiencing these types of health problems?“  But the truth is, even our   Infant mortality rate (the number of deaths of infants under one year old per 1000 live births), in 2011, is ranked 34th in the world (meaning 33 other countries including Poland and Slovakia had a better rating than us.)(1)  The most important indicator of the health of a nation, as it is associated with maternal health, quality and access to medical care, socioeconomic conditions, and public health practices is embarrassing.  

But, let’s not dwell on the negatives.  I am a firm believer in the idea that once a problem is clearly identified, the focus should be on solutions.  As the author Jim Rohn wrote:  “Life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.”  It is only when parents, grandparents, pediatricians, teachers (and all  who care about children) collectively take action to bring about the necessary changes, will our kids have the best chance at living healthier, happier lives  unencumbered by illness.       

The Role Environmental Toxins, Poor Nutrition and Vaccines Play in Our Children’s Health:

The authors of a 2006 study that appeared in JAMA suggested that the answers to our children’s health crisis is to have better health insurance coverage and more specialists (2).  Although access to health care and having additional doctors are both important, I believe there are more effective ways to approach the problem of the escalating number of sick children.  For one thing, we need to look at the underlying causes of their illnesses.  Although genetics play a role in most illnesses, we can no longer deny the fact that having 87,000 man-made, chemicals (with only 413 of them ever tested for safety) is wreaking havoc on our own, and our children’s health.  Additionally, the nutritional status of our kids has greatly deteriorated, and finally since the early 1990s, there has been an insane increase in the number of vaccines (36-45) that our kids receive before the age of 5.  To me these facts are striking and I believe in combination they have set the stage for the disastrous health consequences our children are now experiencing.   

Connecting the dots between environmental toxins and the deterioration of our children’s health is no longer a pie-in-the-sky hypothesis. Many published studies indicate a very clear association (3).  According to renowned physician and author of Our Toxic World, a Wake Up Call, Doris Rapp, MD:  A range of developmental and learning disabilities, ADHD, developmental delays, behavioral disorders and autism appear to be linked to pesticides” (4)   Dr. Rapp also tells us that 60,000,000 lbs. of pesticides are applied to 30,000,000 acres of lawns yearly and that 30 to 90% of fungicides, herbicides  or pesticides cause cancer,  30% cause reproductive problems and 25% of them may cause genetic/birth defects.  According to Dr. Rapp “ Our bodies and our children’s bodies are becoming toxic dump sites.”

 Poor Nutrition

Since the 1970s, obesity rates (which were 5%) have tripled among children ages 6-19,   17% of kids are now obese and 35% are overweight.  When seeking answers as to why this has occurred, it’s not difficult to figure out that one reason is our kids have been seduced by the fast food industry.   But I was a bit surprised to also learn that 75-90% of a US family’s food budget is spent on processed food.   The result is many children now experience suboptimal levels of important nutrients needed for proper brain development, focus and attention, a healthy immune system and overall vitality.     

Vaccines: Although almost every article you read on this subject in the mainstream media claims that all the studies have shown there is absolutely no link between vaccines and children’s health problems — especially autism – that is simply not true. There is good science pointing to a connection (some studies listed below) and more importantly there are hundreds, if not thousands of parents of sick children who can tell you they had a normal child up until he or she received several vaccines in one day (5).  Another scenario that is often recounted by parents is that their child was showing signs of illness and received their vaccines in spite of the fact that they were sick.   To read more about health problems caused by vaccines read this article .

 Positive Solutions:  

Many savvy individuals have already reduced the number of chemicals they and their children are exposed to.  Smart parents are also having discussions with their pediatricians regarding postponing and minimizing vaccines.  Many families are eating locally- grown or organic food and purchasing green cleaning and personal care products. In addition to making these wise choices, I have compiled a list of tips for parents and parents-to-be to refer to prior to conceiving, during pregnancy and to use as a reference during their child’s formative years.  Hopefully these tips will contribute toward the goal of having our kids live robust, happy and healthy lives!   

Tips for Raising Healthy Kids in a Toxic World:

·         Prior to Conceiving

Getting Healthy before Getting Pregnant:  If a woman minimizes her exposure to toxins and maximizes her nutrition before and during her pregnancy, she will greatly decrease the chances that her offspring will develop health, behavioral and or developmental problems in infancy, toddlerhood or at any time during the child’s formative years.  Since we now know that many children with medical conditions improve when their toxic load is reduced, they are given a whole-food, organic diet rich in nutrients , allergenic foods are removed and measures are taken to support their GI system and improve their liver’s ability to detoxify, doesn’t it make sense to address these aspects of parental health prior to conceiving? Read my post on “One of the Greatest Gifts You Can Give Your Child (and Yourself)” for more details on this subject and an extensive list of ways to “Get Healthy Before Getting Pregnant”.  

·         Decisions During Pregnancy:

Although obstetricians, midwives and pediatricians are part of our health care team, as a former childbirth instructor and labor and delivery nurse, I encourage parents to never abdicate total responsibility for the health of their children to these professionals.  Become informed, research these topics and play a very active role in the various decisions that impact your child’s health.

v  Choose your birth care provider wisely by interviewing obstetricians and/or midwives until you find one that respects your desire to minimize invasive procedures during pregnancy, labor and birth including: labor induction with Pitocin, forceps, early cord clamping, etc.

v  Continue a healthy, non-GMO, mostly organic diet that limits processed foods & sugar and contains at least 80 gms of high quality protein per day.  Eat every few hours to avoid blood sugar dips.

v  Include organic nuts and seeds for calcium and fiber, avoiding allergenic foods as necessary.

v  Talk to your healthcare provider about taking high quality supplements including a comprehensive natural and absorbable prenatal multi vitamin with at least 800mcg of folic acid, 50mg of the B vitamins, 1800mg of calcium, and mercury free fish oil (source of Omega 3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA), Vitamin D, & probiotics .

v  Avoid dental work that inserts or removes amalgam (mercury) fillings.

v  Avoid antibiotics and other over-the-counter medications as much as possible.

v  If feeling sick, first try increasing Vitamin C, drinking hot water with lemon, herbal teas and rest.

v  Avoid the flu vaccine (which contains mercury) and other vaccines. Go to NVIC.org.

v  Continue exercising and increase fiber to maintain daily bowel movements.

v  If RH negative, ask for Rhogam without mercury (Thimerosal).

v  Avoid unnecessary ultrasounds (See Pathways magazine Issue # 22).

v  Interview pediatricians and make sure you find one that respects your opinions regarding postponing and/or minimizing vaccines and minimizing the use of antibiotics.  

v   Start natural childbirth education classes earlier.  Go to www.BradleyBirth.com.

·         Once the Baby is Born:

v  Insist on bonding immediately after birth.

v  Unless you test positive for Hepatitis B, do not allow the administration of any vaccines to your newborn.

v  Breastfeeding ensures optimal nutrition and closeness but it’s not always the easiest task.  Surround yourself with supportive women who have successfully nursed to provide guidance.

v  While nursing, continue pregnancy supplement regimen, a high quality diet with at least 80-100gms of protein, extra fiber and lots of pure water and other healthy fluids.

v  Especially if there is a family history of allergies, eczema etc., postpone the introduction of solid foods to at least 6 months.

v  Hold off on any grains until baby teeth begin to come in.

v  Vaccines:   Research this topic and discuss with your child’s pediatrician the idea of delaying and or reducing the number of vaccines your child receives.  Always ask for Thimerosal- free versions.  For more facts read Safer Ways to Vaccinate.

Maximizing Your Child’s Nutrition to Minimize Health Problems: 

v  Breast feed for at least one year.

v  Introduce foods one at a time leaving 3-4 days in between each new food to assess immediate and or delayed reactions.  Start with organic, homemade (when possible), vegetable and fruits. Once your child has shown tolerance to most foods, provide a wide variety of nutrient-rich, organic foods including: vegetables and fruits and quality sources of protein etc.  After one year of age add gluten free whole grains (millet, brown rice, quinoa etc.), organic eggs, grass-fed beef, chicken, turkey, etc.  Children are much less likely to develop food allergies, when the introduction of food is postponed and especially if grains, nuts, eggs are delayed until after one year.  

v  Avoid sugar- laden processed foods. 

v  If a child is showing signs of irritability, aggression or attention issues, stabilize his/her blood sugar levels by offering protein rich snacks and meals every 3-4 hours.

v  Instead or resorting to prescription drugs for behavioral problems, read The Over-Drugging of a Nation ( WNCWoman.com Feb 2013 issue).  

v  Encourage your kids to play outside for exercise and vitamin D.

v  Consider adding appropriate  supplements such as a comprehensive multi, Omega 3 fatty acids, probiotics, Vitamin D.

In General:

v  Minimize their exposure to toxins by using natural or green cleaning  and personal care products.

v  For budgetary reasons if all food cannot be organic, check out this list of foods that are most important to buy organic.

v  One of the best ways to give kids a “nutrition boost” is to give them homemade organic vegetable juice. Even a small amount packs a big punch as it supplies an assortment of easily absorbed vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Get kids involved by letting them select the veggies and fruit to be juiced.

v  Filtered water is important for our health and kids need at least 4-6, 8oz glasses per day. Use stainless steel bottles instead of plastic.

v  Avoid microwaving food especially in plastic containers.

v  Avoid using chemicals on the lawn and do not send the kids out if you live near a park or golf course when these toxic substances are used.

v  For cooking use: stainless steel or glass cookware and discard any Teflon or aluminum-based pots or pans.

v  Avoid scented candles, artificial room sprays and perfume.

v  When building or remodeling use materials that are “green” or have out-gassed.

v  Minimize exposure to mold & dust. Consider a HEPA filter for children’s bedroom.

v  Choose eco-safe toys.

v  Use a “green” dry cleaner.

v  Avoid having amalgam fillings placed in your child’s teeth, they are 50% mercury.

v  Use natural, safe and botanically-based skin lotions, shampoos, conditioner, etc..

v  Instead of giving your child the flu vaccine every year, familiarize yourself or consult health professionals who are well-versed in using natural remedies for health issues. Check out this article I wrote several years ago on “Natural Ways to Prevent a Cold or Flu”

v  Minimize exposure to Electromagnetic fields by not having kids put laptops or I pads on their lap. Have them use a wire or speaker option with cell phone and turn off all wireless devices at night. 

So there you have it. Advice from someone who surely does not have all the answers, but who does care deeply about children’s health, and who has a few decades of experience under her belt.  While reading through this long, laundry list of what to do, and what not to do, I encourage you to start from wherever you are and take small steps toward a greener life, using common sense as your guide. 

The solution to the current children’s health crisis is to recognize that although environmental toxins abound, children’s nutrition has steadily deteriorated and giving 36-45 vaccines before the age of 5 is wreaking havoc on their health, we do have options.  It is time for all of us who care about children to educate ourselves beyond what our doctors are telling us so we can develop better and safer strategies for raising healthy kids. Quite simply, we need to stop being influenced by the slick propaganda created by the food and pharmaceutical industries whose focus is on profit not our health. The goal is clear and the time is now…We need to do our homework  and trust our inner wisdom when it comes to minimizing toxins, maximizing nutrition and finding more natural, yet effective common sense approaches for protecting our kids against illnesses!    

Bio: Maureen McDonnell, RN is the health editor of WNC Woman Magazine.   She is also the cofounder of Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet (SOKHOP.com) and she serves as the Medical Coordinator of the Imus Ranch for Kids with Cancer.    



1.       United Nations: Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs: http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Excel-Data/mortality.htm

2.       Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Children: National Health Interview Survey, 2006 NHANES [2003-2004], NCHS; JAMA. 2006;295:1549-1555.

3.       Landrigan, PJ, Schecter CB, Lipton JM, Fahs MC, Schwartz J. Environmental Pollutants and Disease in American Children: Estimates of Morbidity, Mortality and Costs for Lead Poisoning, Asthma, Cancer and Developmental Disabilities.  Environ Health Perspect 2002; 110 (7):721-728.

4.       Fear, NT, Roman E, Reeves G, Pannett B.  Childhood Cancer and Paternal Employment in     Agriculture; the role of pesticides.  BR J Cancer 1998; 106 (6): 347-353.

5.       A. Hepatitis B triple series vaccine and developmental disability in US children aged 1-9 years
Gallagher C, Goodman M. Toxicol Environ Chem 2008 90(5):997-1008.

5. B. Aluminum hydroxide injections lead to motor deficits and motor neuron degenerationChristopher A. Shaw; Michael S. Petrik. Journ Inorganic Biochemistry (2009)


Maureen H. McDonnell, RN

I am a registered nurse with a strong interest in helping to reverse the escalating number of children affected by chronic illnesses. After coordinating the Defeat Autism Now! Conferences for 10 years, I joined forces with Jill Urwick to form Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet. This website and our conferences focus on the role nutrition and toxins in the environment are playing in Autism, ADHD, childhood cancers, etc. More importantly, our goal is to offer solution-based information that is both practical and affordable.

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