Tuesday, April 8th, 2014
Despite a spate of recent studies claiming a drop in the childhood obesity rate–especially one study that claimed a 43 percent drop in preschoolers with weight problems–new research published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics has found a sharp rise in the number of U.S. kids who are severely obese. More from CNN:
The researchers looked at data from more than 26,000 children age 2 to 19 in the United States who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They found that rates of overweight and obese children have been trending upward since 1999, with significant increases seen recently in the number of severely obese children.
Severe childhood obesity rates have more than doubled since 1999, according to the study. In 1999-2000, less than 1% of children fell into the Class 3 obesity category – meaning they had a body mass index 140% higher than their peers. In 2011-2012, 2.1% of children were in the same category. An additional 5.9% met the criteria for Class 2 obesity.
“I think there’s certain kids who are at greatest risk for obesity,” said lead study author Asheley Skinner, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “When you put them in an environment like this one… they’re more likely to gain a whole lot of weight. That’s part of what’s going on.”
The risks associated with that extra weight are scary.
Obese children are more likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes later in life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They’re also at risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and psychological problems due to poor self-esteem. Studies show that obese children and adolescents are likely to remain obese as adults.
A separate study published in the journal Pediatrics this week estimates an obese child will incur anywhere from $12,000 to $19,000 in additional medical costs throughout his or her lifetime compared to a normal weight child.
Image: Blocks spelling “Obese,” via Shutterstock
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Friday, April 4th, 2014
Significant amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are toxic chemicals often found in household cleansers and paints, have been found in the polyurethane foam and polyester foam padding materials found in many crib mattresses. More on the new study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin:
The researchers studied samples of polyurethane foam and polyester foam padding from 20 new and old crib mattresses. Graduate student Brandon Boor, in the Cockrell School’s Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, conducted the study under the supervision of assistant professor Ying Xu and associate professor Atila Novoselac. Boor also worked with senior researcher Helena Järnström from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. They reported their findings in the February issue of Environmental Science & Technology.
The researchers found:
- New crib mattresses release about four times as many VOCs as old crib mattresses.
- Body heat increases emissions.
- Chemical emissions are strongest in the sleeping infant’s immediate breathing zone.
The researchers concluded that, on average, mattresses emitted VOCs at a rate of 87.1 micrograms per square meter per hour, while older mattresses emitted VOCs at a rate of 22.1 micrograms per square meter per hour. Overall, Boor said crib mattresses release VOCs at rates comparable to other consumer products and indoor materials, including laminate flooring (20 to 35 micrograms per square meter per hour) and wall covering (51 micrograms per square meter per hour).
Boor became motivated to conduct the study after finding out that infants spend 50 to 60 percent of their day sleeping. Infants are considered highly susceptible to the adverse health effects of exposure to indoor air pollutants.
“I wanted to know more about the chemicals they may inhale as they sleep during their early stages of development,” he said. “This research also helps to raise awareness about the various chemicals that may be found in crib mattresses, which are not typically listed by manufacturers.”
The 20 mattress samples are from 10 manufacturers. The researchers chose not to disclose the names of the manufacturers studied so that their results could draw general attention to the product segment without focusing on specific brands.
At present, not much is known about the health effects that occur from the levels of VOCs found in homes, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Researchers advised parents to allow new mattresses to air out in a garage or protected porch for as long a period as possible before placing it in a child’s crib.
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Image: Baby in crib, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
A decade-long education program aimed at teaching children self-regulation and other healthy cognitive techniques is showing results in reducing aggressive behavior when the schoolchildren become adults, according to new research published in the journal Psychological Science. More from the journal:
The research, led by psychological scientist Justin Carré of Nipissing University in Ontario, Canada, indicates that dampened testosterone levels in response to social threats may account for the intervention’s success in reducing aggression.
The Fast Track intervention program teaches children social cognitive skills, such as emotional regulation and social problem solving, and previous research suggests that the program may lead to decreased antisocial behavior and aggression in childhood and adolescence.
But it wasn’t clear whether the skills that children learned in the program would have impacts that carried over into adulthood.
Carré and colleagues suspected that the program would have long-term effects, and that those effects would be linked to a specific biological mechanism: alterations in testosterone reactivity to social provocation.
To test these hypotheses, the researchers recruited 63 participants from Fast Track schools in Durham, North Carolina. To ensure the participants in the sample were similar demographically, all of the participants were African American men who were about 26 years old.
Half of those participants were involved in the Fast Track program from ages 5 to 17, consisting of tutoring, peer coaching, home and family visits, and social-emotional learning lessons with friends. The rest of the participants attended the same schools but weren’t involved in the Fast Track program.
More than 8 years after the intervention ended, the researchers brought the participants into the lab to play a game, the goal of which was to earn as much money as possible by pressing three buttons: one which accrued money, one which prevented money from being stolen, and another which stole money from an opponent. The participants believed they were playing against an actual opponent, but the game was actually determined by a computer program. The fictitious opponent provoked participants during the task by stealing their hard-earned money.
Overall, participants who completed the Fast Track program showed less aggression toward their opponent – that is, they opted to steal less money from their opponent than did participants who didn’t complete Fast Track.
Participants who hadn’t received the intervention showed an increase in testosterone levels after having their money stolen, but Fast Track participants didn’t, a finding that could explain their reduced aggression.
“Interestingly, there were no differences between intervention and control groups in baseline testosterone concentrations or aggressive behavior at the beginning of the experiment,” Carré explains. “Differences in aggressive behavior and testosterone concentrations emerged only later in the game.”
Ultimately, the findings suggest that Fast Track was successful in reducing participants’ aggression toward a hostile peer in part because it changed the way their neuroendocrine systems responded to social provocation.
Image: Angry boy, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, March 26th, 2014
What do The Bernstein Bears, Peter Rabbit, and The Cat in the Hat have in common? According to a new study, they are affecting the way children learn about animals. According to a University of Toronto study, children’s books featuring animals with human characteristics influence their conceptions about animals and lead to less factual learning. More from the University of Toronto:
A new study by University of Toronto researchers has found that kids’ books featuring animals with human characteristics not only lead to less factual learning but also influence children’s reasoning about animals.
Researchers also found that young readers are more likely to attribute human behaviors and emotions to animals when exposed to books with anthropomorphized animals than books depicting animals realistically.
“Books that portray animals realistically lead to more learning and more accurate biological understanding,” says lead author Patricia Ganea, Assistant Professor with the University of Toronto’s Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development. “We were surprised to find that even the older children in our study were sensitive to the anthropocentric portrayals of animals in the books and attributed more human characteristics to animals after being exposed to fantastical books than after being exposed to realistic books.”
This study has implications for the type of books adults use to teach children about the real world. The researchers advise parents and teachers to consider using a variety of informational and nonfiction books, and to use factual language when describing the biological world to young children.
The study was recently published in the online journal Frontiers in Psychology.
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Chimpanzee in coat and hat walking with a suitcase via Shutterstock.
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Monday, March 24th, 2014
Expectant moms can now listen to their baby’s heartbeat through an iPhone, thanks to an app called Bellabeat. With the device, moms can record and track the baby’s heartbeat per minute as well as the baby’s weight changes and number of kicks over time. In addition to keeping the baby’s stats, the app lets moms keep track on of their moods throughout the pregnancy in hopes that moms and doctors can catch early signs of depression. More from Mashable.com:
Bellabeat, the company behind the iPhone-enabled fetal heart-rate monitor, updated its iOS app on Thursday.
The latest version includes a new feature to help expectant mothers track changes in their mental health, in addition to the tools for keeping tabs on their own physical health and their baby’s development.
Bellabeat’s Connected System allows pregnant women to listen to their children’s heartbeats through a device that connects to a smartphone with an audio cable. It uses sound waves to find the baby’s heartbeat while the accompanying Bellabeat app records the audio.
The app tracks heartbeats per minute and gives users tools to track other important stats, like the number of times a baby kicks or how its weight changes over time.
The new mood-tracking feature is meant to help pregnant women recognize early symptoms of depression, said Bellabeat cofounder Urška Sršen.
“Depression disorders during pregnancy, which are very common, can lead to other health complications for the mother and the baby,” Sršen said in an interview with Mashable. “We decided to add this mood tracker to encourage women to keep notes on their mood day by day so they can recognize these symptoms quite early on.”
Users will be able to track changes in their moods and feelings throughout pregnancy by recording notes within the app. Additionally, once a month, users will be asked to answer two questions about their feelings and moods overall. If a pattern suggesting early signs of depression emerges, the app encourages users to seek help from their healthcare providers. The app also provides listings of nearby clinics to make it easier for women to find treatment.
Bellabeat, a Y Combinator-backed startup, first launched its $129 heart rate monitor in the United States in February after launching in Europe last fall.
Sršen said the company is in the process of developing more features and the app will eventually include blood pressure, nutrition and activity trackers.
The latest update is only available to the app’s iOS users. Sršen said a similar update would roll out to the Android version of the app, which is still in beta version, this summer.
Want to keep track of your baby’s progress the old-fashion way? Download our cheat sheet to keep track of all your pregnancy “firsts”.
Image: Young pregnant black woman showing an ultrasound picture of her belly via ShutterStock
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Child Health, Must Read, Pregnancy