Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bureaucrats and Birthday Cakes: How germs keep us healthy.

Last week it seemed to me that the fun police at the helm of our nanny state had gone into overdrive when I heard a news story about banning birthday cake candle blowing at childcare centres. Who were the mental giants behind this and were my taxes funding them? I wondered. After some brief research I discovered the original news story had been somewhat sensationalised. (Who’d have thought?!)

It turns out, Australia’s peak body for supporting health and medical research and developing health advice for the Australian community, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) have released some new guidelines. (Bear in mind the NHMRC’s mission statement is: Working to build a healthy Australia…)

Their new guidelines, titled “Staying Healthy”, are aimed at preventing the spread of viruses and diseases among children in early childhood education and childcare services. One of the guidelines (see below) suggests to avoid spreading germs, children should not blow out candles on a birthday cake to be shared with friends.

1.2.2            Celebration cakes and blowing out candles
Many children like to bring a cake to share with their friends on their birthday. Children love to blow out their candles while their friends are singing ‘happy birthday’. Cakes and candles may also be brought into the education and care service for other special occasions. To prevent the spread of germs when the child blows out the candles, parents should either:
            provide a separate cupcake (with a candle if they wish) for the birthday child and enough cupcakes for all the other children
            provide a separate cupcake (with a candle if they wish) for the birthday child and a large cake that can be cut and shared.

It was at about this point I ran screaming from the room and wondered how the human race was going to survive for another generation.

No parent likes it when their child is ill. Not only is it upsetting and worrying to see your child unwell, it causes considerable inconvenience to the working parent. However, childhood illnesses are a fact of life and I believe, play an important role in a person’s long-term health.

From the moment we are born we are exposed to disease causing viruses and bacteria. Our immune systems are constantly put to work identifying the various strains of diseases and then working out how best to overcome any current illness (if we have one) and protect our bodies from future attack. Once children start attending childcare or school, their exposure to illnesses increases and quite naturally, in the early years, they often have increased periods of being sick.

While it is frustrating and upsetting for parents, not to mention miserable for the child, these periods of relatively minor illnesses are strengthening the child’s developing immune system.

I suspect our immune system operates under a “use it or lose it” arrangement. If we are over-protected against minor germs (like those that might lurk in the icing of a delicious chocolate birthday cake that’s just had the candles blown out by some random three year old), we will have little or no defense against more serious germs.

If the NHMRC is serious about working to build a healthy Australia, then I would hope their focus would be on building strong immune systems as well as minimising infectious diseases.

- Annie Barr
I don't know about you but there's a risk I'm willing to take!

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