As we do every year, the doctors and editors of KidsHealth have
sifted through scores of health issues affecting children and
families to choose 10 important trends to keep tabs on in 2009.
There are significant trends, but there was one common thread that
factored into nearly every aspect of families' lives and so
became our focus of attention: The economy.
The financial crunch, here and around the world, will
undoubtedly affect the physical and mental health of parents and
kids throughout 2009 - and beyond. The basics that families may
have taken for granted just a year ago are becoming a real struggle
for many. Each of us is feeling the pinch in some way.
So, we've pinpointed a collection of the biggest challenges
â€• and opportunities â€• that lie head. Of course, these aren't
the only important issues affecting kids' health â€• far from it.
But we hope we can offer some insights into what to expect and how
to make it all work, despite the setbacks of 2008 and others that
might loom ahead.
Dealing With Financial Turmoil
The tanking economy, credit crunch, housing crisis, and
rising unemployment rate of 2008 have put money (or, rather, the
lack of it) at the very top of parents' minds, especially as
we enter a new year, a new recession, and a new
In 2008 an already slow economy practically came to a screeching
halt. Seemingly reliable corporate giants and age-old banks
collapsed or asked for government rescues to the tune of hundreds
of billions of dollars. As the stock market struggled to stay
afloat, one major company after another begged for lifelines.
Automakers teetered as banks and credit card companies cut back on
credit lines, making it tough even for people with good credit to
get a car. Companies doled out pink slips in droves, and the worst
unemployment rate in decades showed no signs of letting up. House
prices plunged and more families faced foreclosure on their
No doubt, the economy will continue to take center stage
throughout 2009, as families tighten their purse strings further
and brace themselves for even more economic setbacks. Even the
basics - rent/mortgage, gas, groceries, heating oil, child care,
health care - may become a difficult burden for usually financially
What to Watch:
As countries continue to reel from a global recession, more and
more children here and abroad will go hungry or face homelessness.
Many families on the brink will resort to buying unhealthy, cheaper
foods and put once-routine checkups, medications, and immunizations
on the backburner. And less money for charitable giving could mean
scarcer resources for those newly in distress. There may be fewer
dollars for scientific research and the fight against threats such
as measles, tuberculosis, malaria, hunger, and AIDS worldwide.
The fragile economy may get worse before it gets better. Now,
it's essential for many (if not most) households to learn how
to live with less - and do it within their means, instead of
falling back on credit or loans.
Parents have an additional challenge: helping their children
through these difficult times. Even if they don't always say
so, kids are very aware of the tension felt by their parents. As
with many things, the best approach is for parents to talk to kids
about what's going on and how their family will cope. Kids may
not be interested in the global economy, but they are interested in
what is happening to them and their family.
It's OK to say "no," set limits, and tell them
that there's a limited amount of money in the family budget.
Honesty is key but too many details might be too upsetting,
especially for younger children. If nothing else, our collective
money crunch is a prime opportunity to teach kids of all ages
important lessons about separating "wants" from
"needs," delaying gratification, and earning the things
they truly want. After all, food, heat, and a roof over their heads
come before toys, "in" clothes, or a teen's new
Family Money Troubles
Financial Management During Crisis
Financial Woes? How to Talk to Kids When Money's Tight
The Impact of Keeping in Constant Technological Touch
From a suicide conviction tied to MySpace to a dramatic rise
in texting-related injuries, communication technologies (and
their hazards) spent time under the microscope in 2008.
Technology continues to change the face of social dynamics -
especially how kids keep in touch with each other. And moms and
dads are becoming just as addicted to all things technological as
their offspring - with super-short notes tapped out in a flash
through email, instant messages, text messages, blogs, message
boards, and personal pages.
But news about communication technologies wasn't all rosy in
2008. The country saw its very first cyberbullying conviction. A
federal jury found a mother guilty of three counts of computer
fraud after she and her young daughter created a fake MySpace page,
pretending to be a boy and allegedly contributing to a depressed
teen girl's suicide.
Also in '08: A group of ER doctors - the American College of
Emergency Physicians (ACEP) - warned students to stop texting while
in motion (when driving, walking, biking) since reports of
texting-related injuries (and even deaths) are on the rise
What to Watch:
Modern communication technologies will continue to grow and
diversify. But all of this constant keeping in touch begs the
question, "Do we need more virtual boundaries?" Now, the
legal precedent has been set for putting an end to cyberbullying.
And maybe texters of all ages will be more aware of the dangers of
typing away while on the go (especially as more and more states
crack down on texting while driving).
But we also need to ask ourselves, "Is our ever-growing
reliance on (and obsession with) communication technology changing
how we communicate with each other, especially with our kids?"
Are quickly typed messages cutting off meaningful, deeper
communications? Are moms and dads less in tune with their kids
because everyone in the family is plugged in too often (even at the
dinner table)? We aren't getting any less busy and being able
to zip a quick message off to say who's going to be where and
when is priceless. Not to mention, a lot of these widgets are
pretty cool. But helping kids and teens develop well-rounded social
skills and learn how to have positive personal interactions with
others may boil down to just
to each other more often.
Safe Cyberspace Surfing
When Can I Get a Cell Phone?
How Technology Helps You Stay Connected
Protecting Your Online Identity and Reputation
Safe Surfing Tips for Teens
Texting on the Move
ER Docs Urge Kids to Skip Texting While in Motion
Keeping the Sex Talks Going
When the pregnancies of a popular teen TV star and a vice
presidential candidate's daughter took center stage,
premarital sex became an even more pressing topic for
It was practically impossible to avoid all the press about teen
pregnancy and premarital sex in 2008. And no doubt many preteens
and teens caught wind of a lot of it, too. On the heels of a late
2007 government report showing the first rise in teen pregnancies
in 15 years, Jamie Lynn Spears (teen TV star and sister of pop diva
Britney) gave birth in '08. Then came the news about Bristol
Palin, the pregnant adolescent daughter of Republican VP nominee
Sarah Palin. Amidst it all, this jaw-dropping headline: "1 in
4 Girls Has a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)." A 2008
study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found
that a staggering 3.2 million teen girls could potentially have at
least one of four common STDs (with human papillomavirus, or HPV,
at the very top of the list).
The vaccine against HPV (called Gardasil) also drew attention.
More than half of sexually active people get HPV at some point in
their lives (about 6.2 million people each year, in fact, and about
half of those infected are just 14 to 24 years old). Yet, the CDC
also reported in 2008 that just a quarter of preteen and teen girls
are getting the recommended HPV immunization - it's pricey and
many parents are still worried about its possible impact on
teens' sexual behavior.
What to Watch:
Somewhere between dealing with two wars and a tanking economy,
preventing teen pregnancies could become a top priority for the new
administration (fewer teen pregnancies means fewer abortions). One
major way to help reduce unplanned pregnancies: Teach kids about
more than just
from sex. On the cusp of 2008, a government study from the outgoing
administration found that abstinence-only education might not be
the most effective way to go. Federal researchers discovered that
it has little to no impact on whether teens have sex or how many
sexual partners they have. Though it's a heated debate that
shows no signs of ending, sex-ed classes may get a major makeover,
with an emphasis on not just abstinence but also birth control and
On the homefront, parents can keep unplanned pregnancies and
STDs at bay by finding out about their kids' sex-ed classes -
asking teachers what's in their lesson plans, coordinating
discussions with kids around class topics, and filling in any gaps.
Also key: Having ongoing, age- and developmentally appropriate
discussions as kids grow (instead of in one big awkward
"talk"). Another simple way to keep early sex from
seeming so appealing: Turn off that TV! A 2008 study suggested that
watching racy shows might play a role in upping teen pregnancy
rates. Although a cause-and-effect relationship isn't clear,
teens who see lots of lewd TV are actually
as likely to become (or get someone) pregnant before age 20 than
those who view very little sexually explicit content on the
All About Menstruation
All About Puberty
About Birth Control: What You Need to Know
About Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
Birth Control Methods: How Well Do They Work?
Talking to Your Partner About Condoms
About Birth Control: What Parents Need to Know
Abstinence-Only Education Inadequate, Says Study
News - A Quarter of Teen Girls in the U.S. Have an STD
Answers About Sex
News - Teen Birth Rate Sees First Rise Since 1990s
News - Teens Who Watch Lots of Sexually Explicit Shows Have Twice
the Risk of Getting Pregnant
When Your Teen Is Having a Baby
The New Challenges of Immunization
As measles cases skyrocketed in 2008 because more parents
opted not to immunize, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
unleashed a major push to promote complete and timely vaccination
of kids of all ages. But when the economy took a steep dive as
new and costly vaccines have continued to be added to the
recommended list, doctors, health plans and parents are now
struggling to overcome barriers to immunization.
Though the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2008 that
global measles deaths declined nearly 75%, the United States saw
the highest rate of the potentially fatal disease in more than a
decade (since 1996). And the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) said it was likely tied to the refusal of some
parents to immunize their kids (particularly with the measles,
mumps, rubella [or MMR] vaccine) because of unfounded fears of a
link to the development of autism - often perpetuated by misleading
media reports, TV shows, and websites. Study after study has found
no link between autism and any single immunization, combination
vaccination (like MMR), single vaccinations given at the same time,
or the mercury-containing vaccine preservative thimerosal.
And for parents who think their personal choice not to vaccinate
couldn't really affect anyone else (particularly babies, the
elderly, and kids with compromised immune systems), it can.
Consider this: In 2008 federal health officials were able to trace
a wave of measles cases among unimmunized US children back to just
one 12-year-old boy from Japan who traveled to the United States
for the Little League World Series, unaware that he had the highly
contagious disease. Yet the current economic downturn is making it
harder for such an important public health initiative to stay on
course. A late 2008 study found that many doctors are feeling the
financial strain of purchasing, storing, and administering vaccines
to the point that some are even opting to stop offering them
altogether in their offices.
What to Watch:
Immunizations remain a crucial tool for keeping kids - and
grown-ups - healthy and free from some historically devastating
diseases, like measles, whooping cough, and the flu. That's why
in 2008 federal health officials started urging flu vaccinations
for all kids 6 months of age and older. And the AAP will likely
continue its massive mission encouraging moms and dads to make sure
kids are immunized on schedule from infancy through
But continuation of the economic downturn in 2009 may have a
negative effect on immunization efforts. For example, some vaccines
(like Gardisil, which protects against human papillomavirus, or
HPV) don't come cheap, which means more and more doctors may
find it no longer financially feasible to offer some vaccines in
their practices. Plus, as more parents lose their jobs (and their
health coverage) it could be even tougher to find the out-of-pocket
expenses of having their children immunized.
But, as countless studies show, when fewer people immunize their
kids, diseases (like measles) that were practically gone start to
gain traction again. That why it's only safe to stop
vaccinations for a particular disease once that disease has been
totally wiped out worldwide, as in the case of smallpox. So, before
deciding to skip or delay any vaccine (for whatever reason)
it's wise for parents to give their doctor and health insurance
provider a call before every routine check-up - to find out which
vaccines are routinely recommended and which will actually be
available and covered.
A Kid's Guide to Shots
Who Needs a Flu Shot?
The Flu Vaccine
Vaccine Against Genital Warts and Cervical Cancer
News - CDC: Flu Vaccine Now Recommended for School-Age Kids and
News - CDC: Measles Outbreaks May Be Tied to Parents' Choice
Not to Vaccinate
News - CDC Warns of Measles Outbreaks in the U.S.
Frequently Asked Questions About Immunizations
Is the Flu Vaccine a Good Idea for Your Family?
News - Meningitis Vaccine Can Save Kids' Lives
Your Child's Immunizations
A Mobilized Youth Movement
The 2008 presidential race drummed up enthusiasm and
involvement among people - young and old - more than any other
election in modern history. And President-elect Obama is calling
on today's youth to keep the public service movement
Kids of all ages have seen what working together for a cause can
accomplish - and they want more. Now, preschoolers to teens feel
more empowered than ever to do their part. The
president-elect's public service plan calls for a required 50
hours of community service each year for all middle- and
high-school students. Plus, new and expanded programs could offer
many volunteer opportunities for adolescents. A new Green Job Corps
aims to put disadvantaged teens to work weatherizing homes and a
YouthBuild Program could get kids busy helping to construct
affordable housing. And for the college set: A proposed hefty
$4,000 tax credit for students logging 100 hours of community
service per year.
What to Watch:
As new in-school programs reach out to young kids and time-honored
organizations like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps likely to garner more
funding and start drawing more eager applicants, we could see a
public service ripple effect that lasts for years. More and more
kids may start thinking about their post-graduation time in
different, more socially aware ways, too. Of course, when the new
administration's proposed goals might go into effect remains to
be seen. But one thing's for sure: As kids and teens continue
to give their time for worthy causes, these young humanitarians
will grow up understanding the power of helping out and knowing
that they can make a big difference.
Be a Volunteer
Why I Give: Freddi's Story
Community Service: A Family's Guide to Getting Involved
Getting Kids to Give: Lynda's Story
Eye on Obesity, and the Health Problems That Come With It
Government health officials said in 2008 that the childhood
obesity rate had actually plateaued instead of continuing to
shoot up. But this major public health problem certainly
isn't going away, either. And now, more and more kids are
developing other risky related conditions, too.
Although the obesity epidemic shows signs of leveling off,
it's still a problem of epic proportions that isn't
at all. In fact, about 32% of kids and teens are considered
overweight or obese - an astounding and alarming statistic that
should give every parent pause. And with many kids now tipping the
scales, obesity ranked as the No. 1 children's health concern
for most households in 2008, according to the "C.S. Mott
Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health for
Yet, a 2008 study found that many parents had no idea - or
weren't at all worried - that their kids were considered obese.
And that's despite the fact that new research shows kids are
also increasingly getting all kinds of typically adult
obesity-linked conditions, like type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high
blood pressure), unhealthy cholesterol levels, and metabolic
syndrome (a combination of obesity-related conditions that lead to
the early onset of heart and blood vessel diseases).
More than half of the kids (some as young as 10) in a late 2008
study had cardiovascular systems that looked more like those of
middle-aged adults - a major red flag for heart disease, the No. 1
killer of men and women. Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics
(AAP) says tracking youngsters' cholesterol levels at an early
age - and treating those that are unhealthy - may help fend off
future heart disease. In 2008, the group changed its 10-year-old
policy on cholesterol, recommending cholesterol-fighting drugs
(called statins) for some kids as young as 8 with unhealthy
What to Watch:
As the economy keeps spiraling downward and stocking up at the
supermarket seems pricier with each trip, parents will need to try
even harder to keep kids' diets nutritious. After all, some
junk food is cheaper than wholesome fare. But having less money to
spend doesn't have to mean buying less healthy foods:
- Opt for canned and frozen fruits and veggies.
- Double recipes and freeze some for later.
- Don't let food go to waste. Plan a full week of meals
before grocery shopping - only buy what you need. Make soup from
leftovers. Use up veggies, lunchmeat, and cheese before they go
bad by making salad or dinner casseroles. Wash and cut up fruits
and veggies right away and store them in small containers or bags
in the front of the fridge for quick and wholesome snacks.
- Buy only in-season fresh fruits and vegetables. Or go in on a
community farm co-op membership with friends. (Farmer's
markets usually cost less than grocery store chains, but some may
feel the brunt of the economy and either fall by the wayside or
start raising prices, too.)
- Stock up on cheaper protein sources like eggs, canned and
dried beans, peanut butter, canned chicken and light tuna, frozen
shrimp, lean ground beef, chicken thighs or legs (instead of
While it's not always easy, with a little creativity and
planning, parents of all budget levels can do many things to keep
nourishing meals from breaking the bank.
Is Dieting OK for Kids?
How Can I Feel Better About My Body?
Type 2 Diabetes: What Is It?
Weight and Diabetes
What "Being Overweight" Means
What's the Right Weight for Me?
Dealing With Feelings When You're Overweight
How Much Food Should I Eat?
Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
Smart Supermarket Shopping
Type 2 Diabetes: What Is It?
What Is Cholesterol?
What's the Right Weight for My
When Being Overweight Is a Health Problem
News - AAP Takes Aim at Cholesterol in Kids
News - Childhood Obesity Rates High, But Not Rising
Cholesterol and Your Child
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
Overweight and Obesity
News - Parents' Perceptions About Kids' Weight Often
Poll: Kids' Obesity Tops List of Concerns for 2008
Type 2 Diabetes: What Is It?
Safer Kids' Stuff on the Horizon
Thanks to a groundbreaking new law passed in the summer of
2008, playthings and other kids' products must be deemed safe
before they actually make it to the store shelves and,
ultimately, children's hands. What's more, lead is being
officially phased out of kids' merchandise, once and for
Still reeling from millions of unsettling recalls in 2007, many
moms and dads spent 2008 wondering what's really safe - and
with good reason. But now change
coming, courtesy of the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement
Act. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) will be
able to: enforce and oversee mandatory testing of products
they ever leave the manufacturing room floor, remove unsafe
merchandise from shelves faster, and give hefty fines to companies
that don't follow the letter of the law. Plus, companies
won't be able to make, import, or sell toys or items for kids
under age 12 beyond a new lead limit
phthalates (chemicals used to soften plastics and rubber) in toys
and childcare items (like teethers and pacifiers) will be
But government agencies couldn't come to an agreement in
2008 about another worrisome chemical - bisphenol A (BPA), found in
polycarbonate plastics (usually clear, hard items like baby and
water bottles) and epoxy resins (used in bottle tops, water pipes,
and the linings of food and infant formula cans). The U.S. Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) said trace amounts migrating into food
containers containing BPA
hazardous for babies
grown-ups. But the National Toxicology Program (NTP) looked at
animal studies and expressed concern that BPA exposure during
development could cause changes in behavior and the brain,
prostate, mammary gland, and timing of puberty in females.
In other less-than-reassuring news: 2008 brought more questions
about China-made products, this time, from items using milk
contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine. The FDA did
find some melamine in a few select chocolates and coffees sold
here. But the bulk of the concern was in China itself, where
melamine-contaminated infant formula killed some infants and made
tens of thousands of babies and young kids sick with urinary and
kidney problems. Luckily, the U.S. supply of formula wasn't
What to Watch:
Although we're making major headway in preventing unsafe
kids' items here at home, global oversight of products, in
general, still leaves a lot to be desired. The U.S. government will
need to garner more worldwide cooperation in demanding much higher
standards for the $2 trillion worth of merchandise that comes from
beyond our borders. But, much like the recalls of 2007 put the toy
industry under the microscope and forced companies to be more
careful and step up testing, the world is watching China. The
exporting powerhouse country will have to do what it claims
it's trying to do - inspecting manufacturers and enforcing
major changes in how it makes and regulates products.
Also worth keeping an eye on: A final verdict from the FDA on
the chemical BPA. After a federal panel faulted the agency for
neglecting to take action, the FDA is taking a closer look at all
of the research to decide whether to make an official change. Also,
more companies may say "no" to making or selling
BPA-containing merchandise and more states may pass or consider
laws to ban or limit BPA in toys and kids' products.
News - Behind All the Buzz on the Chemical BPA
Choosing Safe Toys
News - Landmark Bill Signed, Helping Ensure Safety of Toys and
News - Putting Lead in Perspective This Holiday Season
News - Making Sense of the Latest News on the Chemical BPA
News - The Scoop on Baby Products and Possible Toxins
Reflecting on Race
Barack Obama's election as the first black president of
the United States emphasized the country's ability to
overcome deeply embedded racism ... but
also brought out the very worst in grown-ups and kids who
were outraged at the historic outcome.
Before the election and in the weeks after Nov. 4, hundreds of
hate crimes cropped up nationwide as racism reared its ugly head.
That the United States - the great "melting pot" of the
world - saw a racially motivated backlash wasn't necessarily a
surprise but it was often shocking. Obama likenesses hung by nooses
from trees. Spray-painted racial slurs surfaced near college
campuses. And Obama has the distinction of receiving more death
threats than any other president-elect in history (he gave his
acceptance speech and took the stage with his family standing
behind a wall of bulletproof glass).
The reality of a black president has riled white supremacists
and those who've been raised in generation after generation of
bigotry. As kids around the country keep a close eye on their
parents' attitudes about the election and our new president,
the stage is being delicately set for how children will view other
people who are different from them.
What to Watch:
Talking to kids about discrimination and the importance of
embracing diversity (in appearances, cultures, races, ethnicities,
opinions, etc.) is more important now than ever. Without the right
perspective, kids - especially the younger set - may distrust
someone based solely on how they look. Moms and dads must step up
and help their children value diversity, regardless of which
candidate they chose on Election Day. We need to provide guidance
and education about the wonderfully diverse world we live in,
especially for kids growing up in isolated communities with fewer
minorities, and emphasize that it's not only OK that we're
all different - but that acceptance of differences in beliefs and
cultural heritage is one of the principles on which this country
was founded. Parents should be mindful of cultural stereotypes they
may have learned and make an effort to correct them, and
demonstrate an attitude of respect for others. Remember, kids are
always listening, so it's important to be aware of how we speak
about people who are different from us.
This dawn of a new era can and should be an opportunity for
teaching kids, from toddlers to teens, how to respect and learn
from others, value differences, bridge cultural gaps, reject unfair
stereotypes, discover common ground, create new bonds, and accept
people for who they are and what they can offer.
How to Talk to Your Child About the News
Talking Politics: What to Say to Your Kids
Teaching Your Child Tolerance
Hoping for Health Care Reform (Finally!)
During the 2008 election the candidates, political pundits,
and voters debated the best ways to overhaul a failing health
care system that's leaving millions uninsured and countless
others being refused care or paying far too much for premiums and
As politicians continue to try come up with a compromise about
how much health care coverage is paid for by the government and how
much is private, one thing's for sure: If ever there was a time
to seriously rethink our health care system, it's now. Lapses
in coverage and out-of-pocket medical expenses could spell disaster
for families already on the brink of financial catastrophe. With
the highest unemployment rate in 15 years, more moms and dads lost
their health insurance in 2008, adding to the already astronomical
rising rates of uninsured.
Lack of insurance and gaps in coverage caused many families to
go completely without preventive health care or to hold off on
seeing a doctor until it became a must. That meant more people
(including kids) showed up for care when they were sicker and
needed pricier medical services. And emergency rooms, already
financially strained and experiencing major shortages in doctors
and nurses, are bearing the brunt of the burgeoning crowds. Even
some families with health insurance decided to skip routine
checkups, immunizations, and prescriptions as they tried to make
Now, the new administration looks to restructure our ailing
health care system as part of a financial stimulus package that
could provide affordable health care and make a real economic
difference for struggling families.
What to Watch:
The economy and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will still account for
much of the attention and spending in the new administration. But
lawmakers will have to move past their political differences to
figure out the best way to cover the millions of uninsured kids,
especially those of the working poor who don't qualify for
Medicaid or can't afford private insurance.
Past attempts at solutions to overhaul our health care system
haven't succeeded. But this time the new administration's
proposed plan just might get the support it needs. For one, it
wouldn't involve the whole-ball-of-wax universal coverage for
everyone (a big concern for those worried about too much government
control and skyrocketing costs for the taxpayer). However, the plan
include mandatory coverage for kids. Though the State
Children's Health Insurance Program (or SCHIP) encountered
opposition under President George Bush, the new administration will
support expansion of federal funding for the program. The new
administration's emphasis on preventing illnesses will be a key
feature for controlling costs over the long run - screening and
education about healthy lifestyle choices could result in fewer
kids getting sick and developing often-avoidable conditions (like
obesity and type 2 diabetes).
Whatever happens, kids don't vote and have no say in how or
whether they'll be able to get the care they need to stay
healthy now and as they grow. So parents - and politicians - must
be even more proactive than ever about advocating for kids'
Financial Management During Crisis
Finding Your Way in the Health Care System
Safer Water and Sanitation for the World
The United Nations General Assembly declared 2008 the
"International Year of Sanitation," highlighting the
crucial need for countries worldwide to have safe drinking water
and sanitary places to wash up and use the bathroom.
The initiative came during a year when Zimbabwe endured the
largest outbreak in its modern history of cholera, a serious
diarrhea-causing disease that's often spread through
contaminated food or water. The illness killed hundreds and
sickened tens of thousands. Most types of diarrheal infections
aren't serious and go away after a few days, but others can be
deadly when diarrhea leads to dehydration. According to the United
Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) 5,000-plus tots under age 5
die each day because of diarrheal diseases that many contract
because of contaminated drinking water or a lack of fundamental
sanitation facilities, like bathrooms with flushable toilets.
In the battle against diarrheal illnesses that are killing 1.5
million kids each year, more than 70 countries in five continents
participated in the first ever Global Handwashing Day during the
end of 2008. Efforts like these have helped to put the number of
people worldwide without improved drinking water below the 1
billion mark for the very first time (with more than half of the
people in the world getting piped water in their homes). But a 2008
report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF shows that
2.5 billion still don't have access to better sanitation - and
1.2 billion of those don't have any sanitation facilities at
What to Watch:
Global health officials still have a long way to go before most
countries are able to enjoy safe sanitation facilities and healthy
drinking water for all of its communities. But the simple act of
washing hands can cut deaths from diarrheal illnesses by as much as
50% (or almost 2 million people). In fact, hand washing is the most
effective -and cheapest - way to prevent diarrheal infections.
That's because dirty hands carry infectious germs into the body
when kids bite their nails, suck their thumbs, eat with their
fingers, or put any part of their hands into their mouths.
On the homefront, parents can help keep many infectious
illnesses at bay by making sure kids understand how to wash their
way. They need to learn how to use warm soap and water to scrub
(both sides of the hands, the wrists, between the fingers, and
around the nails), then wash for at least 10 to 15 seconds (about
as long as it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" nice and
kids wash is important, too. Kids should always lather up before
after using the bathroom, blowing their nose, coughing, touching
animals, and playing outside or with other kids. In a pinch, hand
sanitizers can help fend off most of these nasty germs, too.
What Are Germs?
What's the Big Sweat About Dehydration?
Why Do I Need to Wash My Hands?
Why Do I Need to Wash My Hands After Using
Gastrointestinal Infections and Diarrhea
How Can I Wash My Hands Without Spreading Germs?
Dehydration Instruction Sheet
What Are Germs?
Why Is Hand Washing So Important?
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: December 2008
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.