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Why Do 32 Million U.S. Children Have Some Form of Chronic Illness


A new study begs us to ask this question because the statistics reported are not only startling, they are completely unacceptable! 

“Was this always the case?” you might ask.  The answer is an emphatic no!   Better diagnosis can certainly account for some of the increase, and we know genetics plays a role.  However, as a 34 year veteran of the nursing profession,  I believe a good deal of blame should be placed on the increase in the production and use of chemicals (87, 000 in our air, water and food) , poor nutrition (Americans spend 90% of their food budget on processed foods) and an outlandish number of vaccines  (36-45 now given before the age of  five).  As Kenneth Bock, MD, discusses in his book Healing the New Childhood Epidemics, these three major changes combined to create the perfect storm  allowing 54% of our children to develop one form or another of chronic illness including developmental and behavioral disorders. 

Since I was in nursing school in the late 70’s, there has been a 300% increase in asthma  (6.7 million  children  presently have a diagnosis of asthma (1)and 7.3 million have allergies) (2)


  • The CDC tell us 1 in 6 children have either a neurological, developmental or behavioral disorder (1 in 6 children in public schools today receive special education)
  • The Autism rate in this country is 1 in 110 and the incidence in North Carolina where I reside is 1 in 94.
  • 1 in 4 American are diagnosed with Diabetes or Pre-Diabetes
  • 9 million have obesity-(rate has tripled since 1980)
  • The Infant Mortality is one of the most important indicators of the health of a nation, as it is associated with a variety of factors such as maternal health, quality and access to medical care, socioeconomic conditions, and public health practices.  In 2004 (the latest year that data are available for all countries), the United States ranked 29th in the world in infant mortality, tied with Poland and Slovakia (6).  From CDC website:
  • Consider the economics: According to author and environmental activist  Deirdre Imus “the health care costs associated with all these preventable illnesses are enormous. It is estimated that childhood cancer, asthma, neurodevelopmental disorders and lead poisoning alone cost American taxpayers nearly $55 billion annually.”

You might be thinking:  ”enough already!.  I get the picture.”  But I’m uncertain if any of us really get the picture?  If we did, wouldn’t there be more effective  solutions being offered ?  The study that was referred to early in this article suggests the answer to our children’s health crisis is to have better health insurance coverage and more specialists.  Although access to health insurance and having more doctors are important, I believe there are more effective ways to approach the problem of the escalating number of sick children.  What if we began looking at the underlying causes of these illnesses?.  What if we made the logical assumption that by exposing our children to 87,000 chemicals (with only 413 of them ever tested for safety) we may be setting the stage for disastrous consequences (3)

Here are a few reasons why we need to connect the dots between environmental toxins and the deterioration of our children’s health:  

  • According to Doris Rapp, MD author of Our Toxic World, a Wake Up Call
  • A range of developmental and learning disabilities, ADHD, developmental delays, behavioral disorders and autism appear to be linked to pesticides (4) 
  • 60,000,000 lbs of pesticides applied to 30,000,000 acres of lawns yearly
  • 30 to 90% fungicides, herbicides  or pesticides cause cancer
  • 30% cause reproductive problems.
  • 25% may cause genetic/birth defects
  • There are few to no checks for safety or effects on unborn, children, pregnant women, elderly even though these are most vulnerable
  • Few are checked for their effect on a child’s ability to learn, behavior, activity, endocrine or immune factors
  • Few studies are done looking at the combined effect of chemicals yet most of us are  exposed to multiple chemicals on a daily basis.
  • Kidney cancer in children is linked to paternal pesticide exposure (5)
  • One half of the 5000 chemicals and preservatives in our foods cause cancer
  • Americans eat 20 plus pesticide- like chemicals each day. Our bodies and our children’s bodies are becoming toxic dump sites.

What Can We Do?:

Many parents are becoming quite savvy when it comes to reducing the number of chemicals they and their children are exposed to.  Some are beginning to eat locally grown organic food and purchase green cleaning and personal care products etc.    In addition to making these wise choices, Dr. Stephanie Cave, MD (author, environmental expert and presenter at the recent Autism Healing Retreat had this list of suggestions to share with the  parents and clinicians who were in attendance:

  • Work toward thimerosal (mercury) free, aluminum free vaccines
  • Use nickel free, stainless utensils
  • Avoid aluminum foil or plastic wrap around food
  • Do not microwave food
  • Use non-out-gassing materials in building
  • Use HEPA filters in houses
  • Avoid soft plastic water bottles
  • Choose wooden toys with eco-safe finishes
  • Eat fresh organic foods
  • Avoid dental metals
  • Use solid wood furniture that has no particle board
  • Do not use vinyl wallpaper that traps moisture
  • Do not put hot food on plastic plates or in plastic containers
  • Do not use pesticides around family
  • Discard scratched sippy cups or cups (source of BPA)
  • Use only fragrance free, color free detergents
  • Eliminate fragrances from living environment
  • Eliminate sources of mold in environment
  • Dr. Doris Rapp, MD also adds the following suggestions:
  • Since maternal stress has been shown to heighten the effect of toxins on the fetus, Dr. Rapp recommends moms reduce their stress levels  by learning techniques for relaxation such as yoga and meditation.
  • Keep the body  Slightly Alkaline (I’ll write another article on this in the future)
  • Familiarize yourself or consult with professionals who are trained in using more natural remedies such as those from Herbals and Homeopathics
  • Exercise More, Read and Study more
  • Avoid XS Electromagnetic Energy (don’t put your laptop on your lap, minimize cell phone use and or use a wire, turn off wireless at night etc)
  • Object if officials spray for mosquitoes with malathion or toxic chemicals
  • Use and tell neighbors about available safe lawn herbicides
  • Contact TV and radio with  info about chemicals in your area.
  • Keep children & pets off grass and inside homes when lawn spraying done

Should we live in a bubble?

Sometimes it seems like that might be the only solution. Yet, Dr. Nancy O’Hara, MD (a pediatrician and well known lecturer on children’s health who also spoke at the Autism healing Retreat) has another more practical idea. She suggested in her recent talk that in addition to minimizing our children’s exposure to chemicals, there are many lifestyle and nutritional factors that can improve their ability to detoxify which in turn lessens the risk of developing chronic illnesses.  

Dr. O’Hara’s suggestions are: 

  • Make sure your kids get adequate amounts of exercise 
  • Give what heals (nutrient dense foods and appropriate  supplements such as a comprehensive multi, Omega 3 fatty acids, probiotics etc) and avoid what harms: (toxic chemicals, mold, allergic foods etc)
  • Make some basic nutritional changes in their diets including: 
  • Use fresh, unprocessed, unrefined, unadulterated foods
  • Offer a variety of foods (don’t give them the exact same foods every day)
  • Stay away from allergenic foods (kids often crave that which they are most sensitive to)
  • Provide an organic or grass fed source of protein (every 4-5 hours) to stabilize their blood sugar levels which in turns helps improve their mood, temperament, attention and behavior.
  • The most important food items to buy organic are:  pears, apples, peppers, celery, strawberries, cherries, grapes, spinach, lettuce, potatoes, chicken, rice.
  • According the Environmental working group (, these items have a lower level of pesticide residue: Onion, Avocado, Corn, Pineapple, Mango, Asparagus, Peas, Kiwi and Cabbage.                      
  • Vegetable juicing.  A small amount of freshly made organic vegetable juice packs a big punch when it comes to supplying minerals, vitamins and important enzymes.         
  • Filter water (water in plastic bottles may be unsafe)
  • Do not microwave food—especially in plastic containers
  • Use non-toxic cleaners in the home
  • Do not send children out to play on the lawn if it is sprayed with pesticide or herbicide

It’s time for parents and all of us  who care about our children to stand up and reclaim our right to have and raise healthy children.  Quite simply, we need to stop being influenced by the slick propaganda created by companies and industries whose focus is on profit not people. and start trusting our own inner wisdom when it comes to what to feed and how to care for our children.  

Knowledge is power. So lets keep learning and improving our health and the health of our children so that the unacceptable statistics this recent study reports become a thing of the past!  

Books and videos for learning more: The Green This! Series of books by Deirdre Imus, Movies: Super Size Me, Food Inc, Food Matters, Fast Food Nation and, The World According to Monsanto

maureenmcdonnell_cropped-1Bio: Maureen McDonnell has been a registered nurse for 34 years (in the fields of: childbirth education, labor and delivery, clinical nutrition, and pediatrics.)  She provides private health consultations for children affected by  Autism and ADD and adults with chronic health conditions who are seeking a nutritional or integrative approach to wellness.  Her office is in Weaverville, North Carolina.  She can be reached via email or call 828-689-2200.  Maureen is the former national coordinator of the Defeat Autism Now! Conferences and is the co-founder of children’s green health expos: Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet.  Her published articles on autism and general health can be found at .  In addition to writing a monthly column Common Sense Approaches to Women’ Health. For WNC Woman Magazine, she is the owner of Nutritionist’s Choice multi vitamin:  www. 


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

2. Branum AM, Lukacs SL. Food Allergy among U.S. children: Trends in prevalence and hospitalizations. NCHS data brief, no 10. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 2008.

3. Environmental Working Group.  Houlihan J, Kropp T, Gray S, Campbell C. “Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns” July, 2005.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. CDC website

7. Effects of a restricted elimination diet on the behavior of children with attention deficit hypearactitiy disorder (INCA study) a randomized controlled study  Pelsser LM, Frankena K, Toorman J, Savelkoul HF, Dubois AE, Pereira RR, Haagen TA, Rommelse NN, Buitelaar JK.

                 Lancet. 2011 Feb 5;377(9764):494-503.


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