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halloweenAs part of the healthystuff.org project, researchers from The Ecology Center recently tested more than 100 Halloween-themed items including costumes, treat bags and decorations available from well-known retailers. The scary part? Those products contained an alarming number of hidden toxins, including brominated flame retardants, lead, phthalates and tin compounds—all of which have been linked to developmental and behavioral problems in children. Click here to read more.

5 Quick Tips for a Safe and Healthy Halloween:

  1. Decorate Naturally. Use pumpkins, gourds and hay bales to create a haunting scene, and try to reuse holiday decorations from year to year. Choose fragrance-free candles made from bee, palm or soy wax to avoid petroleum byproducts.
  2. Create Low-impact Costumes for Kids. Rather than choosing a store-bought costume, get creative with items you already own or can get used from a local resale shop or from friends. Consider organizing a costume swap at your child’s school.
  3. Choose Play Makeup Carefully. Children love to wear colorful cosmetics as part of their costumes. If they do, make sure they use safe, non-toxic products and apply them as directed.
  4. Skip the Hairspray. Kids can easily breathe in sprays, many of which contain toxic chemicals, colors and fragrances. Find a great hat or wig instead, or create a fun hair-do with ribbons, barrettes and safer, non-spray hair products.
  5. Avoid Synthetic Facemasks and Teeth. Masks and fake teeth are made from a variety of synthetic materials that aren’t always labeled. Plastics may be softened with endocrine-disrupting phthalates. Make your own mask instead from simple materials; masquerade-style masks are fun to create with kids.

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children-runningWith the rise of electronic media, U.S. kids are spending more time glued to a screen and less time engaged in physical activity—a trend that could have far-reaching implications when it comes to their overall health. But adding just an hour of exercise each day can make a big difference, and not just for a healthy body but for a healthy mind.

In a recent study funded in part by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, researchers from the University of Illinois followed more than 220 schoolchildren between the ages of 7 and 9, half of whom were enrolled in an after-school program with a high level of physical activity while the others remained on a wait list. The 2-hour program included about 70 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity, which researchers say resulted in big “brain gains” for those enrolled.

The kids who attended the weekday program showed significant improvement in a range of cognitive skills: memory, concentration, the ability to focus and ignore distractions, and multi-tasking (being able to switch back and forth from one task to the next). These so-called “executive functions” have been linked to fewer conduct problems and less risky behavior in the adolescent and teenage years.

“I think these are the hardest evidence we have available that time spent in physical activities, which would include physical education and recess, not only doesn’t detract from academic goals, but it might enhance academic performance,” said lead researcher Charles Hillman. He and his colleagues encourage schools to consider providing more opportunities for physical activity and parents to encourage regular exercise. According to the study results, the children in the after-school program also had smaller gains in body mass index (BMI).

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