Our children under siege

by Dan Kingsbury & Stan Hirst

Joel Bakan’s recent book Childhood Under Siege describes how big businesses target and exploit children in myriad subtle and underhand ways, and labels the behaviour of large corporations in the U.S. towards children in the marketplace as “psychopathic”.

The main battle zones that Bakan identifies are children’s exposure to violent images via gaming, early sexualisation through various media, over-medication, child labour, the corruption of the education system, and environmental health issues. Bakan is most powerful when writing about the sinister relationship between multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical companies and the medical profession. Citing numbers and figures, Bakan makes a convincing case that doctors and other healthcare professionals are in bed with pharmaceutical companies. They have created an environment in which children are over-medicated, mainly for psychiatric conditions. By controlling so-called “independent” drug tests and treating doctors to perks, companies have bought into the medical profession in an effective and insidious way. The corporate marketing budget for pharmaceuticals in the U.S. currently weighs in at $20 billion per year.

The specifics are disturbing. For example –

  • Bayer supports young environmentalists while manufacturing pesticides, Bisphenol A, phosgene, and other toxic chemicals.
  • In 2009 Pfizer and its subsidiaries Pharmacia & Upjohn were fined $1.3 billion, the then-largest criminal fine in history, for the illegal marketing of the arthritis drug Bextra for uses unapproved by the FDA.
  • In the same year Eli Lilly was caught for promoting Zyorexa beyond its recommended use, specifically targeting children. The fine was $615 million and proved that crime pays because, despite the fine, it became a top seller bringing in 25% of the company’s revenues of $1.5 billion each year.
  • In 2007 Bristol-Myers Squibb agreed to pay $515 million to settle civil claims for wrongful drug marketing and pricing practices, including promoting its drug Abilify  for “off-label” treatment of children and the elderly.
  • Purdue agreed to pay $600 million to settle criminal and civil claims for fraudulently marketing and promoting its drug OxyContin as less addictive and less subject to abuse and diversion than it actually is. The “moral hazard” is that today in the U.S. 1 out of every 5 teens abuses prescription drugs, sometimes with devastating effects; Oxycontin is their drug of choice.
  • In 2000, LifeScan (Johnson & Johnson) agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges for misbranding a home glucose monitor and submitting false reports to the FDA and pay $29.4 million in criminal fines as well as $30.6 million in civil penalties, etc.

It’s hard to understand the dollar amount of these fines in terms of human pain and suffering. The pharmaceutical corporate industry does not know compassion.

What our medical colleagues know comes not just from their training but also from company reps and sponsored trainings. The latter leave a lot to be desired when it comes to information on treating children for emotional and behavioural problems.  Pharmaceutical corporations are concerned mainly about creating markets for their products and influencing quarterly profits, and not necessarily about discovering scientific truths or promoting children’s health.

We are now beginning to see the future, and corporations have a lot of “moral hazard” to reckon with as we foolishly march toward a non-sustainable world armed with our deep commitments to cheap energy and a growth economy. Children’s chronic health issues have risen steadily as increasing amounts of chemicals are infused into their environments.

Over the past 30 years the rates of asthma have risen 50%, childhood leukemia and brain cancer 40%, autism 1,000%, premature births 30%, girls reaching puberty earlier 100%, boys with genital abnormalities 100%. Concomitantly, the use of industrial chemicals has increased by 7,500%, the use of BPA has increased 15,000%, and 26,000 new chemicals have been created since the U.S. 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act.  Sadly, only 200 of the 86,000 chemicals available today for commercial use have been studied for toxicity. The U.S. Safe Chemical Act of 2010  didn’t pass!

Soft rubber toys, screen prints on t-shirts, kitchen floors made from PVC tiles, school back packs, pencil cases, lunch boxes, children’s shoes (flip flops, crocs), electronic equipment, shower curtains, plastic window frames, doors and blinds, personal care products, soaps, shampoo, deodorant, cosmetics, lotions – all potentially contain PFCs, PBDE and/or phthalates, all are known hormone disruptors.

Each generation has higher levels of exposure than the previous one. Think about that!

This isn’t about Oz any more. There is no yellow brick road.

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