As a father myself, I was concerned by news of lead seeping into the water in Flint and its devastating health effects on children. Often, when people refer to Extension, they call us “boots on the ground,” and sure enough, our Michigan State University (MSU) Extension health and nutrition professionals have been working closely with the Genesee County health department, local agencies, hospitals and health professionals, and colleagues from MSU ever since the lead issue was uncovered.
In Flint last Thursday, the Pediatric Public Health Initiative was announced that will further focus attention and resources on Flint and children there who have been affected by toxic levels of lead in the water system. This collaboration brings together experts in pediatrics, child development, psychology, epidemiology, nutrition, toxicology, geography and education, and includes the Genesee County Health Department, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the MSU College of Human Medicine and MSU Extension.
What can MSU Extension do to help? We cannot reverse the damage, but we can use evidenced-based research to help Flint residents lessen the effects over time.
We can teach families how to prepare meals that help block the body’s ability to absorb lead. MSU Extension nutrition staff members have worked together with the Hurley Medical Center and the MSU College of Human Medicine to provide nutrition education. That includes developing and sharing recipes that are high in iron, calcium and Vitamin C. We’ve been sharing these recipes through our Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Education classes, as well as demonstrations at the Flint Farmers Market. MSU Extension is hiring additional staff to help childcare providers assess their facilities and improve practices related to nutrition, especially in those parts of the city where lead exposure is the highest.
We can also help families learn effective parenting strategies that promote social and emotional skills and early childhood literacy. MSU Extension’s early childhood education team will teach parents and caregivers about how to best protect their children from lead exposure in the home and how to combat the side effects through effective child development strategies. Research has long indicated that high-quality early childhood education and increased parenting capacity, is one of the best strategies to offset adverse childhood experiences and to promote school readiness. MSU Extension’s early childhood programs focus on school readiness for children from birth to age 8 by promoting social and emotional skills, early literacy, and science and math skills, and by teaching effective parenting strategies.
Research indicates that high-quality early childhood experiences, parenting education and good nutrition are critical measures we can implement today to offset damage and increase children’s likeliness of school success. Our MSU Extension colleagues are working to provide those educational experiences, and in the coming weeks and months, they will be doing even more alongside our partners in the initiative.
Want to know more about what’s going on in Flint and the Pediatric Public Health Initiative? Below are some articles that you might find interesting in learning more about the situation in Flint and our collaborative efforts surrounding it.