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Summer Camp KidsLine Up for Meds

Posted Sep 13 2008 3:04pm

When I went to summer day camp a long, long time ago, I vaguely remember sports, mean kids and lots of water. Despite my foggy memory, I recall that most of my peers were quite healthy.

My how things have changed. About one-quarter of three million American Camp Association members need daily medication, reports The New York Times.

Here’s the picture:

The breakfast buffet at Camp Echo starts at a picnic table covered in gingham-patterned oil cloth. Here, children jostle for their morning medications: Zoloft for depression, Abilify for bipolar disorder, Guanfacine for twitchy eyes and a host of medications for attention deficit disorder. … The medication lines like the one at Camp Echo were unheard of a generation ago but have become fixtures at residential camps across the country.

How can this be? How can so many of America’s kids need heavy-duty medical treatment? Are drugs, many of which have nasty side effects or haven’t even been studied in children, the only option?

I’ve talked repeatedly about the obesity epidemic, but the number of kids on meds leads me to believe that our children are in even worse health than I previously imagined. Genetics simply cannot explain the number of kids falling victim to such a wide variety of ills.

While I’m sure there are other culprits out there, I most suspect nutrition and synthetic chemicals in our environment. There are enough books on the topic: What to Eat by Marion Nestle and The Hundred-Year Lie, by Randall Fitzgerald come to mind.

Nestle, who is perhaps the foremost nutritionist in the nation, has been telling Americans for years that our food essentially sucks.

Fitzgerald, who seems to be making an industry out of his book, takes a broader view. He believes that synthetic chemicals entering our bodies – processed food to drugs to contaminated drinking water – are teaming up to damage cells in our bodies.

Unfortunately, it’s darn near impossible to prove that chemicals in junk food and fire retardants are in part responsible for making everyone sick. It’s even tougher to create a public campaign to demand change. A photograph of a hyperactive kid doesn’t exactly wrench someone’s heart. Heck, the kid would look pretty much normal. That’s why obesity makes a much better poster child.

So how can this battle be fought, much less won? We all know how politics and money usually win the day. How do we stop the advance of science? How do we battle the food, drug and chemical industries at the same time? How do we, as parents, keep our children from becoming part of this 25 percent statistic?

I’m trying my best to navigate the obstacle course of good health in this whacky society of ours, but I worry it’s not good enough.

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