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Did You Know? Healthier Back-to-School Shopping

Girl_School_ShoppingAs parents across the country send their kids back to school, the isles of big-box stores become crowded with shoppers picking up everything from file folders to snacks. While price may be an issue, considering what products are healthiest for our children may be critical in the long run. With so many choices available, what do parents choose? There are plenty of greener, affordable choices at major retailers and specialty websites that are better for human health and the environment.


As you pack you child’s lunch box, opt for a re-usable hard plastic or metal lunch box, or a reusable cloth bag instead of paper sacks. Some insulated bags have been found to have lead in the vinyl, so if you have an older bag, check it with a home lead test kit available at hardware stores and home centers. Newly-purchased bags should be labeled “lead safe,” but this does not necessarily mean lead-free. Avoid clear or tinted hard-plastic water bottles (made from #7 plastic, which contains the hormone-disruptor bisphenol-A, or BPA). Stainless-steel bottles are increasingly available, from companies such as Thermos, which retails at Target, and on websites such as Amazon.com. Klean Kanteen, Sigg and New Wave Enviro are other popular manufacturers of stainless steel water bottles on Amazon.com.

When food shopping for lunch items, avoid over-packaged pre-made lunches and opt for fresh, convenient foods such as sandwiches made with whole grain bread, which can be filled with hummus and veggies, or more traditional options from the deli counter, where hormone and antibiotic-free, or organic meat and cheese options are standard in many mainstream supermarkets. Fresh produce such as apples, raisins, bananas, mini-carrots and grapes are also easy and quick to pack on busy mornings. Yogurts in soy or dairy versions make great snacks as well. All of these come in organic versions available in supermarkets nationwide. Keep in mind that organic foods have been shown to protect children from several harmful pesticides. View a landmark study at: www.ehponline.org/press/92605.html.

While shopping for stationery supplies, look for re-usable items such as refillable pens and well-made items that will last. For paper, cut down on what you need to buy by setting your printer at home, school or work to print on both sides. Look for the recycled-content and chlorine-free symbols when buying any paper products. Aim for the highest recycled-content available. Plastic items such as rulers may be available in recycled versions as well. Remember to buy products with little or no packaging to reduce waste. Many of these options are available at larger retailers such as Staples and Office Max. Also shop smaller, community stores to support local business and ask for any items you want to see. If computer equipment is on your list, see the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT at www.epeat.net). This site rates electronics according to environmental criteria. Choosing a product without lead, mercury, cadmium or certain flame retardants is better for human health in reducing immediate and long-term exposures to these potent toxins.

 
Article By Erin S. Ihde, MA, CCRP: 
Erin S. Ihde, MA, CCRP is Research/Project Manager at The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center at Hackensack University Medical Center.  She specializes in children's environmental health research and education, particularly on eliminating exposures to everyday toxins.  Research concentrations include environmental factors associated with autism spectrum disorders, a pediatric school-based clinical trial, and a study measuring children's exposures to environmental toxins linked to cancer and endocrine disruption.  She serves on the hospital's Wellness Advisory Committee, and enjoys presenting on healthy, sustainable living.  Erin Ihde has an MA in Environmental Education from New York University, where she received a fellowship from the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, and a BA in English from the Honors Program at The College of New Jersey. She is a Certified Clinical Research Professional through SoCRA.  


 
 

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