BODY WATCH : No Avoiding Some of Life's Growing Pains


It was the kind of health information you never questioned. After all, it came from an authority--not your doctor, but from your mom, your grandpa or maybe even your pal who once dated a med student.

From time to time, we'll look at these long-held health "facts" and answer the question--sorry, Mom--"True or false?"

MYTH: Growing pains are normal in kids.

True. "Growing pains are not at all uncommon," says Dr. L. Philippe Theriot, pediatrician at Memorial Miller Children's Hospital, Long Beach. About 7% or more of children are affected, says Theriot, a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at USC and UC Irvine.

Growing pains are more of a nuisance than a medical problem, he says. The name is a bit of a misnomer, he says, because they don't normally occur during the fastest period of growth (from birth to age 1) but rather from ages 3-12.

The pains often strike in the legs, usually the back of the thighs and knees and the calves. "They typically occur in the evening and often after a very busy day," Theriot says. "No one knows what causes them."

In some children they are infrequent. Other children may experience them for a month or longer. By morning the pain is usually gone. If pain is severe, Theriot tells parents to give acetaminophen (Tylenol) or other pain relievers as recommended by their pediatricians. If pain does not subside or if the parents are concerned, see a physician to rule out other problems, Theriot advises.

MYTH: Athlete's foot is contagious.

True . . . and false. Athlete's foot is caused by a fungus and can spread from one area of the foot to other areas, says Dr. Jim Allen, a Malibu family practice physician. Its spread from one person to another is less likely.

"You are more likely to get athlete's foot from a locker room floor than from another person," Allen says.

"Suppose you have a bunch of athletes tromping barefoot through a locker room," Allen says. "There is a likelihood of getting athlete's foot, especially if someone has broken skin."

Athlete's foot is also more likely, he says, if you "foster the conditions that promote fungus growth." For instance? "Wearing the same socks for three or four days."

MYTH: Non-dairy coffee creamers are healthier alternatives to cream.

No way, says Elizabeth Somer, an Oregon dietitian. Non-dairy creamers are low in cholesterol, says Somer, author of "Nutrition for Women: The Complete Guide" (Henry Holt & Co, 1993). But that about sums up the nutritional good news about creamers.

"Often the fat in creamers is coconut or palm oil, which is more saturated than lard," Somer says. Depending on the brand of non-dairy creamer, about 45%-90% of its calories come from fat, she says. About 77% of the calories in half and half come from fat. Either way, she says, it's a load of fat.

If you can't tolerate black coffee? "Use evaporated nonfat milk or 1% milk," Somer suggests.

MYTH: Sitting too close to the television, and reading in dim light, will cause vision problems.

True . . . and false.

"Neither activity will cause loss of visual acuity (sharpness or clarity of vision)," says Julie Ryan, an Irvine optometrist and associate professor of optometry at the Southern California College of Optometry, Fullerton. "But both can cause stress and fatigue of the eyes. Our advice is to keep kids back from the television--the optimal distance is seven feet," Ryan says. Parents might buy young children a special chair and place it seven feet away from the set, she suggests.

"The best way to read is with the help of a good incandescent light over the shoulder illuminating the pages equally. It doesn't matter which shoulder (the light falls over). Most adults should hold a book about 12 to 16 inches away from the eyes. Kids usually hold (reading material) a shorter distance away because their arms are shorter."

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