Category Archives: Health

[On Reading]

This week, I’ve been reading Bee Wilson’s First Bite, which is the fairly masterful book everybody asks “have you read…?” when I say I’m writing a book about how we learn to eat. This is actually a reread and I am once again dazzled by how poetically Wilson writes about scientific findings. Anyone who has to read medical journals on a regular basis knows that scientific studies are mostly written in the least exciting language possible, but Wilson has a real talent for turning those dense nuggets of research into accessible stories. She also tracks down some of the most incredible early research, like a 1926 study by Dr. Clara Davis, a pediatrician from Chicago, who “borrowed a number of infants” (mostly orphans) and fed them in controlled laboratory conditions for six years, in order to understand how our appetites and food preferences develop.

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It Cost $2.5 Million to Keep My Child Alive (Slate.com)

I’ve got a new piece up on Slate on how repealing the Affordable Care Act could impact families like mine (yes, even with employer-sponsored insurance). And it will do even more damage to poor families relying on Medicaid to pay for their children’s complex healthcare needs. A little background there: As part of their ACA repeal goals, Republicans want to convert Medicaid and Medicare entitlement funds into block grants, which means that the amount of money a state receives will no longer depend on how many of its citizens need coverage. When that happened to welfare, we saw states tighten up eligibility requirements so much that 74 percent of American families with children living in poverty are now no longer able to get cash assistance when they need it.

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New year, not so new diet trends.

A Mighty Girl

Ah, the first week of January. When my inbox overflows with press releases from weight loss companies, fitness experts and diet gurus, and even sober and reputable media outlets, like the New York Times, propose we all go on crash diets. (This year it’s op-ed columnist David Leonhardt telling us to go cold turkey on sugar for 30 days). It always sounds so possible, and even downright sensible, after the weeks of holiday excess. I know at my house, we’ve had a constantly refilling tray of cookies and a bowl of candy on the kitchen counter for much of the past month, and it was with no small relief that I dumped the last six stale cookies in the trash yesterday, after realizing I wasn’t morally obligated to finish them just because they were there.

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On Carbs, Comfort and Kids

This week, I’ve been interviewing parents of picky eaters, as well as a few adults who are themselves intensely picky. And there’s been an interesting moment in every conversation when I ask, “so, what do they eat?” Because almost every human, as it turns out, eats carbohydrates: Toast, pancakes, waffles, pasta, mac and cheese, bagels, pizza, some cereals, French fries, and maybe a heavily breaded chicken nugget. The most selective eaters may not be able to handle that whole list (one mother told me that the smell of pasta being dropped into a pot of boiling water can make her daughter gag). But they all eat at least a few foods on it, and often, very little else.

This makes a lot of sense. Every cell in our body requires glucose as its primary source of energy, and our brains, especially, depend upon it. (A child’s growing brain, even more.) Plus, carbohydrates, especially the processed kind, are predictable. “Bagels are always round, always the same color, and I know they’re filling,” one adult selective eater told me. “They feel very safe.” No other food group is as reassuringly uniform. The texture of a hamburger is entirely different from a steak or a chicken breast. Fruits and vegetables offer even more variety, as the flavor, color and smell of a single banana can transform completely from the day I bring it home, slightly green, from the store, to when I offer it for breakfast three days later, now covered in alarming black spots. Is it still the same food? Is it still safe to eat? My three-year-old doesn’t have the life experience to navigate these questions and she is understandably suspicious.

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On Sugar Fixes (and Fixer Upper)

Ice cream

This week, I’m thinking a lot about sugar. It’s almost Halloween, which means all of the (mostly) moms in the online parenting groups I follow have been despairing about how to manage the coming candy deluge. There’s a lot of pressure to make elaborately healthy treats from scratch, or at least buy organic lollipops in order to tempt kids away from the Mini Snickers. Meanwhile, the American Heart Association recently updated their guidelines to say that children under the age of 2 should consume no added sugar, while kids between the ages of 2 and 18 should consume no more than six teaspoons per day.

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The story of Violet’s heart. #CHDAwarenessWeek

The story of Violet's heart. #CHDAwarenessWeek

I’ve written about writing this piece before, so I won’t go into all that back story again. But I wanted to share the essay once again, since it’s the last day of Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Week. Already, since I first published this piece last August, several more states have passed laws requiring the pulse oximetry screening — which is truly terrific news. But it’s still not required in all 50 states. And even states that have the law on the books may be slow to enforce it — as was the case for us. So if you’re a new or expecting parent, it’s worth asking (and then double-checking) to be sure this life-saving test is performed.

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We often heard “no baby will starve herself!” But it’s not that simple. #FeedingTubeAwarenessWeek

We often heard "no baby will starve herself!" But it's not that simple. #FeedingTubeAwarenessWeek

In fact, some babies and young children will starve themselves — because eating is too difficult, painful, or traumatizing. And too often, parents face judgment instead of support. For a full list of conditions that can necessitate tube-feeding, check out the Feeding Tube Awareness Association’s list. (So many other good resources there!)

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The Legacy of Campus Rape [More, February 2015]

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming (aka, the things you’d expect me to write about): Campus rape!

I’ve been following the current campaign to address this issue for quite awhile now. Emma Sulkowicz, Ariel Koren and the other women leading the fight on this are doing such brave, important work. They’re dealing with the immediate aftermath: What to do about frat parties, and less-than-proactive university administrators and all of the other factors that contribute to rape culture on our college campuses, right now. But I’ve also wondered: What about the (far too many) women who were raped in college a decade ago? Or four decades ago? What are the ripple effects of this experience on their adult lives, especially since these attacks happened long before colleges were prepared to protect and empower victims?

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The Energizer Body [Real Simple, February 2015]

The Energizer Body Real Simple February 2015 Cover Virginia Sole-Smith

Initially, I was a bit trepidatious about taking on the February cover story for Real Simple (even though they are one of my most favorite clients!). They wanted 2000 words on the science of metabolism; I couldn’t quite figure out how that wouldn’t end up being yet another New Year, New You weight loss story. Which — not that I never write those (plumber writer, remember?) — are not my favorite. All that obsessing we do over metabolisms and how to boost them or torch them or otherwise set ourselves on fire in some way seems to me to be entirely at odds with Health At Every Size.

(Refresher: HAES is a school of thought developed by a subset of obesity and health experts, which says it makes more sense to prioritize healthy lifestyle choices than weight loss at any cost. It doesn’t say that everyone can be healthy at every size — but rather, acknowledges that healthy people come in a range of shapes and sizes. So if you make healthy choices, you will be healthier, even if you don’t lose a ton of weight in the process.)

The Energizer Body Real Simple February 2015 Virginia Sole-Smith First Spread

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The $15 Test That Could Save Your Baby [YAHOO Parenting]

After my article about Violet was published in Parade this summer, I received so many amazing letters from parents of CCHD children and from several adult CCHD survivors. I read and saved every email (yes, even if I didn’t have time to respond to you personally) because it meant so much to have these total strangers reaching out to say “I’ve been where you are.”

Then I got an email from Annie Kersch, who was writing to say “I’m there, right now.” And also: “How can we make sure this stops happening?” Because her daughter Ari also did not receive a pulse ox test at birth — which meant she became dangerously and horrifically ill before her heart defect was discovered. Annie is committed to raising awareness about the importance of pulse oximetry screening (as well as improving prenatal detection of congenital heart defects), so I knew I had to tell her story. I’m so pleased that this piece is now live on the new (and very cool!) Yahoo Parenting.

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