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Health-Conscious Bay Staters Ready to Embrace “Hug Your Kids” Movement?

PHOTO: Hugs may be a form of affordable health care
PHOTO: Hugs may be a form of affordable health care
July 16, 2012

BOSTON - Today is Global Hug Your Kids Day, an observance started in 2008 by Michelle Nichols on the 10th anniversary of the death of her 8-year-old son, Mark. He died 11 days after being diagnosed with brain cancer. She doesn't want anyone faced with a similar loss to regret not hugging their child enough.

With the promotional savvy earned as a former columnist for BusinessWeek, she's pointing out this year - the movement's fifth - that hugs can be just what the doctor ordered, in terms of "affordable health care."

"Yes, we have big health-care issues, and we need to use other kinds of medicine as well, but hugs can be a part of a health routine that can help our economy and help families individually as well."

Research suggests hugging can reduce a person's blood pressure, heart rate and tension level, she says, as well as the body's level of cortisol, a stress hormone. It also can affect conditions from loneliness and depression to obesity and insomnia.

Hugs are great, agrees Stacey Scarpone, executive director of the Women's Fund of Long Island, but how about some more love for children from policymakers?

"Hugging a child is a wonderful way to allow a child to feel secure and loved, but as a community we need to provide policies and programs that ensure that young people are protected, educated and economically stable."

Claire Lerner, director of parenting resources at Zero To Three, a national advocacy group for infants, toddlers and families, says a hug is a natural part of an overall warm, nurturing relationship between parent and child. She believes it can have a healthy effect.

"There is research that does show warm, supportive, nurturing physical touch impacts a child's growing brain, which is obviously very significant, because the brain controls so much of a person's functioning."

Nichols believes hugging should even be part of the current debate about affordable health care.

"There's so much talk these days about the cost of health care and the delivery of health care. And yet we wanted to look at a whole different, other aspect of health care - which is hugs - because there are many health aspects, ways that it can improve the good things and decrease the bad things."

There's no health-care billing code for a hug, Nichols says, and no one's getting paid, so "Global Hug Your Kids Day" is a grassroots movement - one she says will be "an overnight sensation ... in about 10 years."

More information is online at hugyourkidstoday.com/Health_Care.html.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA