Family and Relationships


With So Many Confusing Studies, Who Can Parents Trust?

March 18, 2009 03:14 PM
by Cara McDonough
Parents are faced with contradictory—and often scary—studies, on things as varied as autism and bath products. Is there common sense advice?

So Much to Worry About

Every week, it seems a new study emerges leaving parents worried about the products and procedures their children are exposed to on a regular basis.

Perhaps the most hotly debated current issue is the vaccine question; while medical experts continue to assert that vaccines do not cause autism, as some parents believe, a vocal minority continues to press the issue.

Recently a U.S. court ruled against three families who believe a vaccine caused their children’s autism, yet many parents still believe there is a connection and lobby for more research.
Vaccines are not the only issue surrounded by conflicting information in the media. 

A study released this month found that more than half of the infant care products analyzed by a health advocacy group contained trace amounts of chemicals believed to cause cancer. The list includes major names in the baby business, such as Johnson’s Baby Shampoo.
A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson has told the media that the products are safe, and meet or exceed government regulations. The findings have shocked the public, however, and officials are already taking action. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) says she plans to introduce legislation for greater oversight of the cosmetics industry.

Plastic baby bottles were at the center of confusing studies released last year. Research released in April 2008 stated that bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in hard plastic food and beverage containers—including many baby bottles—could cause developmental problems in infants and children.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said there was not enough BPA in the products to harm infants.

But after months of conflicting advice, companies have opted to eliminate BPA from baby products. Congress has introduced legislation to prohibit it as well.

In the wake of such studies, parents are left with a multitude of questions. Is a trace amount of a dangerous chemical really safe? Are studies always a reliable source of information? 

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Opinion & Analysis: A closer look at chemicals and vaccines

Parents don’t need to over worry, says Dr. Manny Alvarez, managing editor of health news at, zeroing in on the latest study on baby bath products. It’s “bad stuff,” he says about the chemicals, but “everywhere you look we have a little bit of bad stuff.” He urges parents not to use “excessive amounts” of the products on the list, and “go natural whenever possible.”

Barbara Kessler, who writes a green living column for KABC-TV in Los Angeles, examined the issue of chemicals found everywhere in modern society, including those in child and infant products. “There are so many chemical agents acting in our lives that researchers often can’t nail down the links or the danger thresholds,” Kessler wrote. “Which can cause us to worry about what we should be worried about.”

The upside, she writes, is that many green nonprofits and companies are seeking to learn more about the potential dangers of these chemicals and that information will, one day, make everyone much more aware.

Regarding the vaccine question, the medical community assures that there is no link between autism and vaccines, and that there is a wide body of studies prove the point.

But for parents who are “more worried about vaccines than the average person”—particularly about the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, which has caused the most concern—, based on the Sears series of parenting books, offers information for parents interested in other options.

Robert Sears, author of the “The Vaccine Book,” writes on the site that he is pro-vaccine, but that “It all comes down to what you as a parent and individual believe about the safety of the MMR and the risks of the three diseases.”

Reference: Parenting information


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