Health & Wellness

Nutritionally Speaking:

During the month of August, our attention turns toward family time and those final summer outings – but getting ready for school is also a familiar August ritual.
Purchasing the long list of supplies can be a daunting task, and the information below should help parents choose products that will not jeopardize their children’s and their classmates’ health.
With many of the manufactured items we use produced abroad, there have been increased problems with quality. Some school supplies contain materials that are toxic for kids and harmful to the environment. Learn which to avoid and how to pick safer alternatives. Think green when you stock up on school supplies.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit organization that reviews products and their ingredients for safety and offers helpful suggestions regarding our purchases. I check their website whenever I need to purchase any personal care products. Following are their suggestions for healthy choices when purchasing your children’s school supplies:

EWG’s Green Back-to-School Guide for K-12:

Art supplies:
Many contain toxic chemicals that are not suitable for children, especially younger ones. Pay special attention to these:
Paints should be water-based to avoid solvents and colored with natural, non-metal pigments.
Don’t buy polymer clays that stay soft at room temperature or can be hardened in a home oven – they’re made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and often contain phthalates. Consider making your own “clay” out of common baking ingredients instead. Note: A label that says: “Conforms to ASTM D-4236,” simply means that the product is labeled as required, and is not necessarily safe.

Hand washing:
Choose sanitizers with ethanol (ethyl alcohol) but no fragrance and liquid hand soaps without triclosan, triclocarban or fragrance. And remember: Plain soap and water is often just as effective! More information available at www.cosmeticsdatabase.com.

Backpacks:
If it’s time for a new one, choose natural fibers and skip those made with PVC. If natural fibers aren’t an option, polyester and nylon are better than PVC.
Check the label for #3, the symbol for PVC, or look for “No PVC” on the label. Labels don’t always list the material, so you may need to contact manufacturers or visit their websites.

Lunch boxes:
Because they hold food, it’s especially important that lunch boxes be made from non-toxic materials with no lead paint, PVC, BPA or antimicrobial chemicals.
Some healthier options include cotton lunch bags, BPA-free plastic or unpainted stainless steel. Reuse utensils from home and pack food in reusable, rather than disposable, containers (such as lightweight stainless steel or #1, 2, 4 or 5 plastics)

Beverage bottles:
Skip commercial bottled water – it’s expensive, wastes resources and the water quality isn’t necessarily better than tap. Instead, send your child to school with filtered water and other beverages in a reusable bottle made from stainless steel, BPA-free plastic or BPA-free aluminum.

Markers:
Common crayons often contain paraffin wax, which is made from crude oil. Look for alternatives such as soy or beeswax. Don’t buy dry-erase and permanent markers, which contain solvents.
Be wary of plastic-encased crayons or scented markers – scents encourage kids to sniff them and the chemicals used in the fragrances are not listed on the label. Try a pencil highlighter instead of the familiar plastic ones.

Pencils and pens:
Pick plain wooden pencils (no paint or glossy coating) made from sustainable wood or recycled newspaper. Skip the scented ones. Find recycled plastic ballpoint pens.

Notebooks and binders:
Avoid plastic covers on binder and spiral notebooks; they’re usually made from PVC (#3 plastic). Opt for recycled cardboard or natural fibers instead, or look for “No PVC” on the label.

Paper products:
Look for recycled paper made from at least 30% post-consumer waste (PCW) that isn’t whitened with chlorine bleach, or consider virgin paper made from alternative fibers or sustainably managed forests.
Choose 100% recycled tissues and paper towels made with PCW and without chlorine bleach. Avoid added lotion, fragrance and dyes.

Safe practices for kids’ arts and crafts:
* Supervise young children
* Choose products that list all ingredients
* Read warnings and follow product directions
* Ventilate the room
* Don’t eat or drink
* Keep lids closed and caps on
* Wash hands when finished
* Sniffing products is dangerous

Glue:
Try to minimize kids’ exposure to extra-strong or instant adhesives such as epoxies, model and “super” glues; they contain toxic solvents. Water-based glues are safer bets, although most are made from petrochemicals.
Some better options include glue sticks and white/yellow/clear “school” glue. Children should not use rubber cement.

Cell phones:
Teach your child that when he or she is not using the phone, it should be turned off, stored in his or her backpack or somewhere else away from the body. Texting involves less radiation than talking. More tips at ewg.org/cellphone-radiation.

Following these suggestions can help reduce incidences of illness in the short term, and help prevent more serious disease in children’s lives in the future.
For additional information about healthy choices of consumer products and foods, go to ewg.org. Salud!

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