Keep Your Family Healthy

Help your family instill better daily habits with our expert advice.
Keep Your Family Healthy
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4. Old habit: Your family uses household cleaners that trigger allergies.
New habit: Make your own nontoxic cleaning products or use products that don't have artificial scents or added fragrances, says Tom Natan Ph.D., research director of the National Environmental Trust in Washington D.C. Natan cleans virtually everything in his house using white vinegar, citrus oil, borax, salt, and hot water. For more information on how to use these basics, go to
Why it matters: Poor air quality in your home can lead to or worsen respiratory problems like asthma and emphysema in some people, and can cause chronic headaches in others, says Natan, adding that any cleaning or personal care product that is not completely natural may include toxins, and can have health effects. As one example, a toxic ingredient called cresol was found in Lysol disinfectant in a study conducted by Natan and other researchers at the National Environmental Trust in 2004. Anything with a scent may also carry other toxic chemicals, like phthalates, which have been associated with developmental and reproductive damage (sexual development in boys, shortened pregnancy, and premature breast development in young girls), he warns.

5. Old habit: Your family doesn't talk about family issues together.
New habit: Create and honor family rituals and encourage family members to talk openly about health or emotional concerns. For example, try to serve at least one regular mealtime during the week, even when the schedule is challenging, says Lisa Lavelle, a licensed certified social worker and assistant director of the Center for Families and Health at the Ackerman Institute for the Family in New York City. "When someone falls ill, whether suddenly because of an accident or through chronic problems, families tend to not talk about it for fear of making the sick person feel worse. Or if they do talk, it's not collectively as a family," she says.
Why it matters: Poor family communication often leads to weak family bonds and reduced emotional support. That puts everyone at risk for illnesses during family emergencies or unexpected traumas. Sharing regular family meals reaffirms connectedness, encourages healthy food choices, and shores up family bonds needed to weather unexpected traumas or crises, she adds. Creating a regular, positive mealtime environment also helps overweight adolescents improve psychological health and reduces unhealthy dieting, according to research published this year at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing.