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FDA cracks down on essential oils distributors and other “natural health” peddlers

written by Tara Haelle

If you can think of a disease or medical condition, somebody somewhere out there will declare it can be treated or cured with an essential oil. Athlete’s foot, candida, gastrointestinal problems, Alzheimer’s, depression, cystic fibrosis, cancer, MRSA, ringwork, staph, anxiety, tuberculosis, sinusitis, shingles, pertussis, flu, lupus, ADHD, pneumonia, herpes, high cholesterol, measles, arthritis, bronchitis, inflammation, diabetes, insomnia, Hashimoto’s disease, gum disease, thyroid problems, ulcers, autism, Crohn’s disease, asthma irritable bowel syndrome, kidney stones, joint pain, Bell’s palsy…the list never ends. Even Ebola can supposedly be cured by cinnamon bark and some other combination of oregano, lavender, tea tree, clove, eucalyptus, frankincense, lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary… Again, the list goes on.

The way some essential oils are peddled to cure any disease is reminiscent of the snake oil claims of the past. Photo by Jeremy Weate from Abuja, Nigeria, courtesy Wikimedia

The way some essential oils are peddled to cure any disease is reminiscent of the snake oil claims of the past. Photo by Jeremy Weate from Abuja, Nigeria, courtesy Wikimedia

But hopefully, this nonsense all over the web will soon stop, or at least slow down considerably. The FDA issued Warning Letters last week to three individuals regarding their health claims for essential oils and related “natural healing” products. The letters – sent to Young Living, who manufacture and distribute Young Living Essential Oil products; dōTERRA International, another essential oils distributor; and the Natural Solutions Foundation, who sell “nano silver,” hemp oil and other products – were all pretty similar to one another.

The letters warn that the way the products are being marketed on websites and on social media means those products are “drugs” under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Therefore, “The therapeutic claims on your websites establish that the products are drugs because they are intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease. As explained further below, introducing or delivering these products for introduction into interstate commerce for such uses violates the Act,” as the one to Rima Laibow and Ralph Fucetola at Natural Solutions Foundation states. Each letter is worth reading in full simply to see how extensively the FDA documents the ridiculous claims made by these businesses.

It’s about time. It’s not as though essential oils or the bogus health claims associated with them are new. Indeed, the claims are not much different than the snake oil claims of bygone eras. But the Internet has made distribution even easier, the claims more widespread, and regulation much tougher. Both Young Living and doTerra are multi-level marketing companies, AKA pyramid schemes, and those tend to grow quickly before (eventually, usually) crashing and burning. The FDA already has a massive job, so it can’t be easy or even possible to go after every person making such claims, but the essential oils industry has exploded in recent years, exceeding $1 billion in annual revenue. And alongside that growth, claims of what these oils can cure has gotten out of control.

Certainly essential oils can be used for a variety of things, ranging from aromatherapy for headaches to skin allergic reactions from bug bites. But they can’t cure cancer. Or Ebola. Nor can nano silver cure “every pathogen against which it has been tested, worldwide, without exception,” as the Natural Solutions Foundation claims. Or perhaps that much is true if we consider that nano silver has not been tested for too many things in randomized, controlled trials, though apparently it may be helpful in fluoride for fighting tooth caries. Such a thought must make pseudoscience believers’ heads explode considering those who promote essential oils’ use for treating conditions such as cancer are in the same communities who believe fluoride is a dangerous neurotoxin. And while nano silver does have antibacterial properties, it cannot cure Ebola. (If only it were so easy.)

I suspect it’s the Ebola claims that eventually pushed the FDA over the edge in issuing these letters. (I don’t know that for a fact; it’s just a hunch since claims about Ebola proliferated on these websites as the public health crisis in west Africa grew.) Whatever it was, I’m glad to see the agency finally addressing these claims. Essential oils in and of themselves are not harmful, but the way they can be used – especially when administered to children undiluted or if ingested – can certainly cause harms, including death, as pediatrician Roy Benaroch describes here. There are many responsible manufacturers or distributors of essential oils that issue appropriate guidelines and warnings, such as not ingesting them and using them on babies, children or pets. Let’s hope that the FDA is successful in shutting down these harmful claims and that they can keep up with the others that will inevitably pop up.


Cyberbullying Guest Post: Know the statistics and how to help your children

written by Tara Haelle

Today’s post is from guest contributor Amy Williams, a writer and former social worker in Southern California. She previously specialized in teen behavioral issues and has created an infographic (sourced with secondary sources) below with statistics on cyberbullying. She has two children of her own and can be found at her website here or on Twitter.

Our son was cyberbullied in middle school. The worse the problem got, the more he became more reclusive and anxiety ridden. We had no idea what was happening and had come up with a few different theories as to what could have caused his change in behavior. Never did we imagine that distant acquaintances he met at a school football game had been berating him daily.KeepingChildSafefromCyberBullyingPARTIAL

Opened Eyes

Once we realized what was happening, we began our research. The numbers surprised us (sources in infographic):

  • 25% of pre-teens and teenagers are cyberbullied daily. This number is growing every year.
  • 62% have observed a friend being cyberbullied or cyberbullying others.
  • 90% will not confide in their parents or another adult when victimized.

This last number really hit us hard. It was a real eye opener and a teachable moment. Rather than look outside ourselves for answers we first looked within to see what we could change in our household to make sure this never happened again.

The Re-Connect

We were not too happy about the fact that our son had not spoken to us about this, so we eventually sought outside help. It took some work, but has ultimately created what I feel is a stronger relationship between us and our son. Here are a few tips that may help you re-connect with your child so they come to you first when threatened: Read the rest of this entry »


Quick update: Reporting on vaccines from Mozambique and my writing process

written by Tara Haelle

I mentioned my blog posts would be more sporadic as I finish up the book, and some, like this one, will be just brief updates to let folks know what I’m up to as it relates to the topics on this blog.

Image courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

Image courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

The first part of my update is the most exciting: I applied for an International Reporting Project fellowship and was selected as one of ten journalists to travel to Mozambique for two weeks to report on immunizations and child health. One of the expectations of my going is that I will be regularly posting updates about what I learn, so expect to read about that experience between October 24 and November 6, while I’m in Africa. I will be in the company of a diverse, accomplished group of other journalists you can read about here.

The other update is for those who are interested in how I work as a journalist and writer. I was featured as a “Rebel Woman” on the Creative Revolution website, where I wrote about why I write and my process as a writer. So, if you’re interested in what makes me tick as a wrangler of words, check it out!


Red wine and… exercise, or how to deconstruct the hype of a health news story

written by Tara Haelle

I ran across one of those health stories recently that made me want to cheer, laugh and cry all at the same time. Really, the headline says it all: “Is Drinking Wine Better Than Going to the Gym? According to Scientists, Yes!” And of course, because of both the subject matter (red wine!) and the way it was handled in the story, I felt I absolutely had to look at the study and write about it. (I did wait a few hours before looking up the study so that I could briefly revel in the idea that red wine cures all ills and is superior to exercise.)

glass of red wine being poured

Health news reader beware… as most people (hopefully!) no, it’s not true just because you read it on the Internet. Photo by Trish Hughes.

First, of course, the headline is so absurd that I still smile when I read it. IS drinking wine better than going to the gym? Well, heck, it sure is to me on many days. Would I rather sit and have a glass of Shiraz while winding down at the end of the day or head out to the gym for the workout I skipped earlier that day? Drinking certainly sounds better on most nights! (Better for *what*, however, is a different question, of course.)

The caption on the enticing photo offers a little more specificity: “A glass of red wine per day is as beneficial as going to the gym.” Again, beneficial in what sense? Mental health? That’s a claim actually worth exploring, but alas, that’s not what they meant. (It’s also different from the headline: is it BETTER than going to the gym, or just AS beneficial? It can’t be equal and better at the same time.)

What they mean, however, is that it’s better for heart health (I think — they also mention diabetes). And once you start reading the first paragraph, the caveats to the headline start popping up: First, it’s not red wine, per se, that has been tested in this study, but resveratrol, an antioxidant that has been studied for years as a compound that may “prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and prevents blood clots,” the Mayo Clinic puts it. So right off, this study isn’t “news.” And it’s not just wine either since the article notes that resveratrol is in nuts and grapes (from which wine is made, obviously).

Second, as with nearly all resveratrol studies, the researchers tested the compound on rats. Last time I checked, humans are no furry creatures with tails scavenging trash for food, and our physiology does, in fact, differ. What happens to a rat does not necessarily happen to a human, and until effects are seen in humans, any research, while valuable, cannot conclude anything about humans.

The opening to their second paragraph made me laugh again: “While scientists and wine lovers are rejoicing over this news…” I have this image of scientists in white coats in the lab dancing with pompous wine tasters from Napa Valley, clinking their glasses of red wine and laughing as it splashes out on them. At least I’ll give them credit for saying that doctors aren’t going to start recommend their patients start drinking and that alcohol can negatively affects the body.

There isn’t much of substance beyond this… except a throw-away mention that red wine (in moderation) promotes longevity, cuts risk of cataracts and colon cancer, reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes and slows down brain decline. WooBoy! That’s quite a list! I would ask for evidence, but their link does indeed take us to a list of evidence. The problem is that we know virtually nothing about these studies, how they were conducted, whether they controlled for confounders, whether they were replicated, etc. So it’s probably best that we just ignore this last paragraph altogether (lest we end up down a rabbit hole) and focus on the study they are writing about.

I looked up studies on resveratrol by Jason Dyck on PubMed and found the one I think they’re referring to since it was published in August: “Systemic and renal oxidative stress in the pathogenesis of hypertension: modulation of long-term control of arterial blood pressure by resveratrol.” And so I read the abstract. I would read the whole paper, but really, the abstract alone provides plenty of information to show how bunk the news article is. Read the rest of this entry »


How to help your children recover from a burglary

written by Tara Haelle

Today’s post is a guest post from Elli Bishop, an expert on home security who works in outreach at SafeWise. Further information on SafeWise is below.

Being the victim of any crime is a disheartening and stressful experience, but a burglary is an especially traumatic one. In addition to the financial impact of property damage and stolen items, victims often suffer emotional trauma due to the fact that a stranger violated their personal property. Sadly, psychological damage is a particular concern for children who aren’t able to fully understand what happened and haven’t developed the coping skills of an adult.

Thankfully, a number of well respected professionals have researched the impact of a burglary on a child’s emotional well being. We’ve coupled their research with our own tips to provide you this useful guide to helping your child recover from a break-in.

Coping with Trauma
When dealing with the fallout of a burglary, it’s important to realize everyone in your home will cope with the aftermath of a burglary in their own way.

More than anything, children need to feel safe and secure after a break-in has occurred. photo by Ben Earwicker of Garrison Photography, Boise, ID

More than anything, children need to feel safe and secure after a break-in has occurred. photo by Ben Earwicker of Garrison Photography, Boise, ID,

If you’re a parent of a young child, you might be tempted to dismiss your child’s fears in an effort to help him or her feel safe and recover sooner. Instead, listen to your young child’s concerns (even if they are fantastical) to try and understand what they are feeling. This will help you be better prepared to help him or her cope. In fact, psychologists who specialize in children and trauma say it’s imperative that parents not only understand their child’s need to talk, they must listen to them patiently.

While younger children may cry, wet their bed, or have scary dreams as a result of a traumatic situation such as a break-in, anxiety problems (PDF) can develop in older children because they have developed the ability to think about future possibilities and to consider multiple threatening outcomes. Even though your teen says he’s coping fine, you’ll want to keep a look out for signs of trouble, including insomnia, excessive sleep, withdrawing from friends and activities, and a down-turn in academic performance.

Be aware that although each of your children has a developed a different set of coping skills and a distinct personality, girls generally tend to display higher levels of anxiety symptoms than boys.

How Children Process a Break-in
You’re justifiably disturbed by the fact that your home was ransacked by a stranger and your property was stolen. But your child is likely to be even more troubled. Children often view the incident as a “failure in the security system of their world,” according to psychologist Gwen Randall-Young. Randall-Young notes that between the ages of five to seven, children typically go through a stage where they are afraid of “robbers.” A break-in at this point is particularly damaging because it confirms their worst fears.

5 Ways to Help Children Recover
Healing takes time, but there are a few things you can do to help minimize the impact of a burglary and get your family back on track. Read the rest of this entry »


Recommended PBS NOVA documentary focuses on vaccines

written by Tara Haelle

There have been some really poor documentaries related to vaccines in recent years – ones I won’t name them because of the misinformation they spread – so it’s been a breath of fresh air to see two documentaries this year that actually provide factual information about vaccines. The first is a high school student film, Invisible Threat, which did such a good job of providing accurate information that it aroused the ire of anti-vaccine advocates.

Screenshot captured from the preview for "Vaccines – Calling the Shots."

Screenshot captured from the preview for “Vaccines – Calling the Shots.”

And now PBS NOVA has aired a new documentary called “Vaccines – Calling the Shots,” which really dives headfirst into what the supposed “controversy” over vaccines has wrought. As the preview (which you can also view below) notes, the film “examines the science behind vaccinations, the return of preventable diseases, and the risks of opting out.”

Some of these same themes are present in the piece I wrote, “Two Countries, One Deadly Disease,” for NOVANext to accompany the documentary. I basically tell the story of the U.S. and the U.K. in terms of MMR vaccination rates and measles outbreaks since Wakefield published his fraudulent study in 1998, as well as the lessons both nations can learn from one another. The piece was challenging to pull together, but I’m pleased with it, so I hope you’ll check it out.

Also part of the package accompanying the film are a series of explainers written by my book co-author, Emily Willingham. Each one does a great job of discussing various concepts or issues related to vaccination, including topics I’m regularly asked about, so I’m including them below for easy reference. Check them out over the next couple of weeks as you have time, and I’ll bet you find yourself bookmarking them and sharing them with others.

The Autism-Vaccine Myth

What is Herd Immunity?

Why is Whooping Cough Back?

Preventing HPV-Caused Cancers

What Drives Vaccination Rates?

Tracking Disease Outbreaks

If you want to join in on the Twitter discussion about the film and ideas it covers, the hashtag is #vaccinesNOVA. I spent some time tweeting out links with accurate vaccination information last night since a lot of misinformation was being tweeted with the hashtag. Hopefully as the conversation continues, that will change.

See the film trailer here:


The new Scooby Doo movie really steps in it

written by Tara Haelle

For those of you in the same age demographic as me, you probably grew up hearing this tune on Saturday mornings:

“Scooby Dooby Doo,Where are you? We got some work to do now.

Scooby Dooby Doo,Where are you? We need some help from you now.”

And oh boy, oh boy do we need some help. Really, we could use Scooby Doo and the gang just going away at this point. Others have already lamented how the recent reincarnation of the show abandoned its roots of revealing all things supernatural to really be just real-life losers in masks. But now a new Scooby Doo movie has offers up a storyline that conveys some very unhealthy and potentially damaging messaging to children.

Apparently, this is Warner Brothers' idea of a "size 8" on Daphne. Screenshot from the Warner Brothers YouTube clip linked below.

Apparently, this is Warner Brothers’ idea of a “size 8″ on Daphne. Screenshot from the Warner Brothers YouTube clip linked below.

It was while I was working on the HealthDay story that I blogged about Monday that I read two pieces about the plot of the new Scooby Doo movie, “Frankencreepy,” released August 19, that utterly enraged me. I have not seen the complete film, but I have watched one relevant clip provided with the Huffington Post story, which, along with the Yahoo! News story, was inspired by a post at the Good Men Project by dad Tom Burns. (Time covered it too.) I have also read the statement Warner Brothers released in response to the criticism, and these sources combined are sufficient for my concerns. The plot involves each of the characters’ being cursed with losing that which is “most dear” to them. The superficial Daphne prizes her looks most, and so she is cursed with… becoming a size 8.

Yes, a size 8, otherwise known as several sizes *smaller* than the average American woman. Further, the film show a Daphne who looks more like a size 22. I’m a far cry from size 8 (at least since high school), and Daphne looks much bigger than me. According to a statement from Warner Brothers (which I’ll get to in a moment) and comments from an Amazon reviewer, the film’s message is supposed to be that Daphne’s concern about her appearance is superficial and not even what actually matters most to her. However, there are dozens of other ways the filmmakers could have changed her appearance to convey this message. Fat-shaming is not the way to do it, and there is no way I can be convinced that it’s not fat-shaming when the first words Daphne speaks after seeing her enlarged reflection are “Is that why I’ve lost my looks?” Warner Brothers is sending a clear message right there that “fat” girls (or size 8 girls!) can’t be good-looking.

Consider some of the research on children who might watch Scooby Doo: a study from 1991 found that 42% of first- through third-graders wanted to be thinner than they were. Another found that up to four out of every five 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat. These concepts form early in children’s heads.

Way to play on your target demographic’s fears, Warner Brothers.

Just as frustrating is the hole the studio kept digging with their statement: Read the rest of this entry »


Watching for the warning signs of an eating disorder

written by Tara Haelle

Consider the following scenario: you have a preteen or teen who is a little plump. Perhaps they are just a little overweight, or they need to do some growing up to account for what’s grown out, or perhaps they are actually obese and at risk for various health conditions associated with obesity, such as type 2 diabetes. You try to provide healthy, home-cooked meals, you don’t buy lots of sweet or salty snacks or sodas and juices from the grocery store, and you encourage all of your kids to spend less time in front of screens, but you have not mentioned your son’s or daughter’s weight or suggested they drop a few pounds.

Disordered eating can lead to life-threatening illnesses, even in overweight children or teens. Photo by Christy Thompson.

Disordered eating can lead to life-threatening illnesses, even in overweight children or teens. Photo by Christy Thompson.

Maybe the pediatrician has mentioned it, noting the BMI percentile for your child’s age while giving you a concerned look at your child’s annual physical. Or maybe they asked your child about exercise and diet. Maybe they lectured. Maybe they did not do any of this, simply noting your child’s height and weight in their charts and moving on to the next item.

Soon, though, your son or daughter starts dropping pounds. You don’t notice at first. Then one day, you see it. You realize they dropped a size during back-to-school shopping, or you see it in their face when you sneak into their bedroom to see them sleeping, just as you did when they were 3. Maybe you hear someone else – a coach? your partner? your child’s friend? the pediatrician? – mention it and then notice it yourself.

Great! you think. You were worried, even though you tried not to show it or say anything. Perhaps the pediatrician sees it and compliments your child on moving from a higher BMI percentile to a lower one. Maybe you say something encouraging: “I’m so glad to see you exercising more.” “You’ve lost weight! You look good!” “That smaller size dress looks gorgeous on you.”

And then one day, you realize something’s not right. It’s at a picnic or a school event, or maybe it’s your child’s birthday, and the girl who never turned down a piece of chocolate suddenly cannot lift a single forkful of chocolate birthday cake to her mouth. Read the rest of this entry »


Everything I needed to learn about life I learned from Robin Williams

written by Tara Haelle

They say everyone grieves differently. I have never – never – cried for a celebrity’s death. I feel shock, sorrow and sadness. I feel sympathy for the family. But I did not know that person. I only knew a tiny slice of them, of who they were, of what they let us see. They were only a persona to me.

And then Robin Williams died. But I didn’t cry. I was shocked. I was sorry. I was sad. I felt more deeply touched than any other famous-person-I-didn’t-know’s death. I kept trying to come to terms with it. I never met the man, for goodness sakes. I cannot possibly lay claim to 1% of the grief his family feels. And yet, he kept haunting me. A week went by. I thought of him every day. Several times a day. Randomly. I thought of him in the way you think of your ex-boyfriend every day for weeks after you break up. He invades your thoughts when you least expect it. You see things he would have loved and wonder if he’s seen whatever it was. You see a bird and realize he won’t see another bird. And then you imagine how he would impersonate a bird and you laugh.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Robin Williams was different. We did know more of him than that tiny slice because he let us. He gave himself to us in so many ways. He gave of himself in the way a mother gives of herself for her child: because she cannot do anything else and it’s what she’s compelled to do. No, we did not know his inner, private life, but we knew so much more of him than we know of most celebrities because that was how he survived himself – to keep giving and giving.

And then I had an idea. I wanted to write a sort of tribute after the famous poem, “All I Really Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten,” because I realized, all the years I was growing up, I had learned so much from the roles Williams played.

When I taught English, I cannot deny I emulated his character in Dead Poets Society. I learned my first Latin words – Carpe diem – from him. The Fisher King, which I have not seen in more than a decade, has randomly visited me over that decade. Few films have meant as much to me personally as that one. And I remember watching Hook – I cried eight times. Eight. I counted. I don’t know why, maybe because I realized how foolish it felt to be crying in a friggin’ movie about Peter Pan. “There you are, Peter.” That line killed me. I had to pause the tape because I was bawling so hard. And that’s what I’m doing now. I gathered all the things I wanted to say for the tribute. I looked through his quotes. I read through his filmography, scrolling up and down the Wikipedia entry. I thought about his films. I watched some clips on YouTube. I thought about how deeply so many of them touched me. I thought about how I had grown up with him, how my childhood and adolescence and young adulthood would have all been just a little different, and a little less bright, without him. And then I finally pulled the piece together.

And then I lost it. I woke up my son a little bit ago with my heaves and sobs. I am a weird griever. It takes a long time for things to hit me, and they come unexpectedly. I repress a lot. I intellectualize. I rationalize. I push aside. I bury. I don’t do any of this on purpose. And then, at some point, it just forces its way out, and I realize how much pain and sorrow I’ve been feeling. And I can’t stop sobbing.

I refuse to speculate on why Robin Williams died the way he did. But as everyone knows, he suffered from addiction and depression. I, too, have a diagnosed mental illness that I’m getting better about gradually talking about, despite my fear that it will scare off editors and other potential clients and employers, regardless of my track record as a journalist. I know what that pain can be. And so I think my grieving is mostly about me and what I lost, and what I have gained, and all the things I could never put into words as eloquently as his brilliant mind could.

And so here, I’ve tried to distill into the simplest statements possible what I learned from Robin Williams in my 36 years.


Everything I needed to learn about life I learned from Robin Williams

All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned from Robin Williams. Wisdom was found within his comedy and compassion and within the roles he chose. Not all the words he spoke in his roles were his at first, but they became his when they left his mouth, when they became part of his legacy.

These are the things I learned:

Life is better when shared.  [Good Will Hunting]

Life isn’t fair.  [Good Morning, Vietnam]

Believe in miracles.  [Awakenings]

Family is important.  [Mrs. Doubtfire, The Birdcage]

Confront your demons. [The Fisher King]

Be brave.  [The Fisher King, Hook, Good Will Hunting]

Be true to yourself.  [The Birdcage, Happy Feet]

War is hell.  [Good Morning Vietnam]

Never grow up, no matter what.  [Hook, Jack]

Believe in wonder, in imagination.  [Hook]

Always hold on to hope.  [Jakob the Liar]

Laughter is essential medicine.  [Patch Adams]

Take risks.  [Awakenings, The Fisher King]

Never give up.  [Flubber, What Dreams May Come]

Follow your dreams.   [Dead Poets Society]

Pay attention, don’t move too fast.  [Being Human]

You do not deserve to be hurt.  [Good Will Hunting]

Believe in love.  [What Dreams May Come, Good Will Hunting]

Love means loving something more than yourself.  [Good Will Hunting]

Read poetry.  [Dead Poets Society]

Everyone is a little mad. Treasure it.  [Good Will Hunting, The Fisher King]

There is a place for you on this earth.  [The World According to Garp]

Having the world at your fingertips means nothing if you are not free.  [Aladdin]

Carpe diem. Seize the day.  [Dead Poets Society]

When in doubt, laugh… and laugh and laugh and laugh.

Life only has meaning because we die.  [Bicentennial Man]

Really, Robin Williams taught me so much more than all these things, and probably things I don’t know about yet as I watch the films I had not yet seen, or as I rewatch his films and discover what I missed. At the least, however, perhaps his most important lesson is contained within one of his most-cited quotes: “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” I don’t have a choice with this one. I have more than a spark, and it’s not going anywhere. And so I will use it.


What to expect when you’re expecting a book…

written by Tara Haelle

The past several weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind for me. I’ve taken on a new semi-regular client, and I’ve written a number of exciting stories that pulled my time away from the blog (and which I’ll share below). But the next few months will be even more of a whirlwind as I try to wrap up the evidence-based parenting book I’ve been working on the past year with Emily Willingham.

You may have noticed that I’ve published a few more frequent guest posts, and there may be a few more coming. My goal is to keep the content on this blog fresh and helpful – and, of course, based always on the evidence – while taking care of my many other responsibilities, which are nearly always either a paid gig (unlike this blog) or my family. I will still try to post at least one post a week myself, though they may not be as thorough as the ones I prefer to write. Hopefully you’ll bear with me (and be rewarded with the extensive research in the book when it comes out next year!).

In addition to researching and writing the book and writing new articles, this little guy has been keeping me busy too!

In addition to researching and writing the book and writing new articles, this little guy has been keeping me busy too!

I have more than a dozen posts, perhaps two dozen, in my list to blog about, and I’ll do my best to work my way through them if you can forgive the fact that they will sometimes be based on studies a few weeks or months old. I also have a number of books I’m anxious to write about. I have been reading Emily Oster’s excellent evidence-based book on pregnancy, Expecting Better (now available in paperback), and I’ve been impressed with the depth and breadth of her research. Although I have not finished it – despite her sending me a review copy long ago – I can already say that I recommend it for those wanting to know more about what the evidence actually says for various pregnancy issues.

Another book I will be reading and blogging about (hopefully sooner rather than later) is Positively Negative: Love, Pregnancy, and Science’s Surprising Victory Over HIV. Journalist Heather Boerner has provided me a review copy of her book (though you can already buy the ebook on Amazon), and I’m looking forward to reading about a couple who conceived a baby naturally despite the father having HIV.

And what have I been doing lately? I’ve also written several pieces about marine science, starting with a run-down of everything that went wrong in the reporting of a 12-year-old girl’s science project on lionfish. I followed that with a fun piece at Slate on the ocean’s most amazing supermom, a deep-sea octopus who protected her eggs for four years.

And then, in the midst of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, I wrote for Science about a new way to reduce shark bites, and for Pacific Standard, I profiled David Shiffman, a shark scientist who blogs at Southern Fried Science and has made it his mission to correct all the myths and misinformation spewed by Discovery during its signature TV event. If you’re as much a shark lover as I am, you’ll want to check out the piece on him (as well as his many pieces).

After hearing about Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani’s Fields Medal win, I was also inspired to write about my own problematic past with math, a subject I loved until an unfortunate experience in junior high. And I’m writing a cool piece about the flu vaccine’s ingredients that will be in Wired Magazine in a few months.

I’m also writing for HealthDay now, and some of my recent stories there have looked at the link between fitness and depression in girls and how unhealthy packed lunches are for many elementary students – less healthy, in fact, than the hot school lunches. One of my most recent pieces was sad to write, however, because it dealt with the link between poor sleep and suicide risk and I was finishing it up at the same time that I was grieving for the loss of Robin Williams.

And of course, in the midst of all this, I’ve been taking care of my new baby, who is growing faster than I can keep up. He’s the happiest, most smiley baby I’ve ever seen, and lately he’s the fattest as well. One of my future posts actually discusses what I’ve learned in feeding him, but that’s just one of many I want to write, and there are only so many (so few!) hours in a day.

So, I hope you’ll bear with me over the next few months as my posts are fewer or perhaps more erratic while I race to finish the book. Rest assured I’ll return to the long, analytical pieces or the mythbusters before too long!


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