Archive for the ‘ Trends ’ Category

What the Annual ‘Kids Count’ Report Discovered About U.S. Kids

Friday, July 25th, 2014

The annual “Kids Count” report that measures the well-being of American children based on 16 indicators of economic, educational, health, and family welfare, has found encouraging improvements in several areas nationwide, chiefly a rising number of children who are attending preschool, and a steady decline in the number of kids who lag behind in reading and math. Also, national declines in the teen pregnancy, birth, and death rates suggest a brightening future for U.S. youth.

But the news from the report, which is published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and is now in its 25th year, is not all good. It also found a concerning rise in the number of children growing up in poor communities, and an increasing percentage of kids who are growing up in single-parent households.

“We should all be encouraged by the improvements in many well-being indicators in the health, education and safety areas,” said Patrick McCarthy, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s president and CEO said in a news release. “But we must do much more. All of us, in every sector — business, government, nonprofits, faith-based groups, families — need to continue to work together to ensure that all children have the chance to succeed.”

The foundation published the list of state-by-state rankings, which listed Massachusetts as the top-ranked state in education and overall, and Mississippi as the lowest-ranking state overall as well as in the economic well-being and family and community categories.  Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Minnesota rounded out the top 5 states, and New Mexico, Nevada, Louisiana, and Arizona joined Mississippi in the bottom 5.

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Pro-Marijuana Tweets Connecting with Kids Multiple Times Daily

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

As a growing number of states are legalizing marijuana or considering legislation to do so, pot’s public profile is on the rise–and so is its presence on Twitter and other social media sites.  A new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research has found that a number of those tweets are reaching young people each day, with hundreds of thousands of American youth getting pro-pot messages through their Twitter feeds multiple times a day.

The study, which was conducted at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, followed a Twitter account, Weed Tweets@stillblazintho, which has 1 million followers.  Analyzing data over an 8-month period, during which time the group posted an average of 11 tweets a day, the study reported that 73 percent of the group’s followers were under age 19.

ScienceDaily has more:

“These are risky ages when young people often begin experimentation with drugs,” explained [principal investigator Patricia A.] Cavazos-Rehg, an assistant professor of psychiatry. “It’s an age when people are impressionable and when substance-use behaviors can transition into addiction. In other words, it’s a very risky time of life for people to be receiving messages like these.”

Cavazos-Rehg said it isn’t possible from this study to “connect the dots” between positive marijuana tweets and actual drug use, but she cites previous research linking substance use to messages from television and billboards. She suggested this also may apply to social media.

“Studies looking at media messages on traditional outlets like television, radio, billboards and magazines have shown that media messages can influence substance use and attitudes about substance use,” she said. “It’s likely a young person’s attitudes and behaviors may be influenced when he or she is receiving daily, ongoing messages of this sort.”

The researchers also learned that the Twitter account they tracked reached a high number of African-Americans and Hispanics compared with Caucasians. Almost 43 percent were African-American, and nearly 12 percent were Hispanic. In fact, among Hispanics, Weed Tweets ranked in the top 30 percent of all Twitter accounts followed.

“It was surprising to see that members of these minority groups were so much more likely than Caucasians to be receiving these messages,” Cavazos-Rehg said, adding that there is particular concern about African-Americans because their rates of marijuana abuse and dependence are about twice as high as the rate in Caucasians and Hispanics.

The findings point to the need for a discussion about the pro-drug messages young people receive, Cavazos-Rehg said.

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Childhood Obesity Rate May Be Undercounted

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

The obesity rate among American kids may actually be higher than the 18 percent of children the Centers for Disease Control currently classifies as obese, according to an analysis published in the journal Pediatric Obesity.  As many as 25 percent of obese or overweight kids may not be counted because the tally is based on the body mass index (BMI), a calculation that researchers say is flawed because children’s height and weight change rapidly as they grow–and not always in proportion with each other.

More from The Wall Street Journal:

“BMI is not capturing everybody who needs to be labeled as obese,” said Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, director of preventive cardiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who headed the study with Asma Javed, a pediatric endocrinology fellow.

Measuring body-mass index is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to screen for obesity among large groups of people, such as children in a school setting. A problem is that BMI, a calculation based on a person’s height and weight, isn’t well suited to children because their height and weight don’t proportionally increase as they grow, said Ruth Loos, a professor of preventive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, who wasn’t involved with the Mayo study.

“It doesn’t mean that we cannot use BMI in childhood but it requires extra caution,” she said.

Other recent research has linked everything from sleep deprivation to weight-based name calling with an elevated risk of childhood obesity.  Research released earlier this year had claimed a significant drop in the childhood obesity rate in the U.S., but subsequent research actually showed a sharp increase in the number of severely obese kids.

Kids and Chronic Health Concerns
Kids and Chronic Health Concerns
Kids and Chronic Health Concerns

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Swedish Town Considers Homework Ban, Longer School Day

Friday, June 20th, 2014

The Swedish town of Hallstahammars is reportedly considering a school-sanctioned ban on homework, in an attempt to encourage students to learn efficiently, which means minimizing the stress that can come with an unmanageable homework load.  More from ABC News:

Leena Millberg, the head of schools in Hallstahammars, said officials for the municipal government are still investigating if the proposal to ban homework makes sense. However, the students of Hallstahammars shouldn’t jump for joy just yet. Millberg said if the proposal does go through it’s likely that the school day would be lengthened.

“When children learn to read, for example … we often give them homework to train,” Millberg told ABC News. “If we want to do that in the school day, we may need to make the school day a bit longer.”

The debate is not unique to the town hall of Hallstahammars, according to education experts.

Arguments for and against homework have raged on and off for decades according to Harris Cooper, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, who has researched how homework impacts families.

“It comes in waves,” said Cooper. “Generally it comes into public consciousness, giving kids too much or too little, depending on broader societal [news].”

Cooper said when a country’s reading or math comprehension is ranked lower than expected it can lead officials to want to ramp up homework. However, when studies show children are overworked or stressed, Cooper said officials will look at pulling back on assignments. In 2012, French President Francoise Hollande proposed banning homework in the country, though that proposal did not go through.

Cooper said he did not know of a country or region that has fully banned homework from schools. “Homework has been with us for a century,” said Cooper.

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CDC: 1 in 10 Pregnant Women Develop Gestational Diabetes

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that 1 in 10 American pregnant women develop  diabetes during pregnancy, with obesity standing out as the major risk factor for the disease.  More from HealthDay:

Gestational diabetes develops in women who have never had diabetes before but who have high blood sugar during pregnancy. As with type 2 diabetes, obesity is a significant risk factor for gestational diabetes. The increased prevalence of gestational diabetes has closely paralleled the rise in obesity, according to background information in the study.Gestational diabetes can have short- and long-term effects for both mother and baby.

Dr. Alessandro Acosta, a neonatologist at Miami Children’s Hospital, noted that the condition can cause the baby to be abnormally large, which may result in damage to the baby’s shoulders during birth. Many of these babies are so large they need to be delivered by cesarean section, he said.

The problems caused by gestational diabetes don’t end at delivery. “The bad news is that down the road these women are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes,” he said.

DeSisto added: “Women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes have more than a seven-fold increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the five to 10 years after delivery. Children born to mothers with gestational diabetes are also more likely to develop pre-diabetes.”

Although the exact causes of gestational diabetes aren’t known, one explanation is that hormones from the placenta block the action of insulin in the mother’s body, according to the American Diabetes Association. This makes it hard for the mother to use insulin, so she may need up to three times as much insulin to properly use the sugar in her body.

Obesity is another possibility, DeSisto said. “Other researchers have reported that gestational diabetes has been steadily increasing consistent with the rise of obesity,” she said.

Obesity has also been linked to insulin resistance, which blunts the effect of insulin and allows blood sugar levels to rise, according to the American Diabetes Association.

“Preventing obesity is a key component of well woman care and diabetes prevention. Furthermore, maintaining a healthy weight throughout the reproductive years benefits women and improves the health of any future pregnancies,” DeSisto said.

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