Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
American children are exposed to at least double the levels of chemicals that are known to affect the brain in ways that are linked with disorders including autism, ADHD, and dyslexia–all disorders that have been on the rise in recent years. Time.com reports on new research that has found radical changes in chemical exposure since 2006:
In 2006, scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai identified five industrial chemicals responsible for causing harm to the brain — lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (found in electric transformers, motors and capacitors), arsenic (found in soil and water as well as in wood preservatives and pesticides) and toluene (used in processing gasoline as well as in paint thinner, fingernail polish and leather tanning). Exposure to these neurotoxins was associated with changes in neuron development in the fetus as well as among infants, and with lower school performance, delinquent behavior, neurological abnormalities and reduced IQ in school-age children.
Now the same researchers have reviewed the literature and found six additional industrial chemicals that can hamper normal brain development. These are manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Manganese, they say, is found in drinking water and can contribute to lower math scores and heightened hyperactivity, while exposure to high levels of fluoride from drinking water can contribute to a seven-point drop in IQ on average. The remaining chemicals, which are found in solvents and pesticides, have been linked to deficits in social development and increased aggressive behaviors.
The research team acknowledges that there isn’t a causal connection between exposure to any single chemical and behavioral or neurological problems — it’s too challenging to isolate the effects of each chemical to come to such conclusions. But they say the growing body of research that is finding links between higher levels of these chemicals in expectant mothers’ blood and urine and brain disorders in their children should raise alarms about how damaging these chemicals can be. The developing brain in particular, they say, is vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals, and in many cases, the changes they trigger are permanent.
“The consequence of such brain damage is impaired [central nervous system] function that lasts a lifetime and might result in reduced intelligence, as expressed in terms of lost IQ points, or disruption in behavior,” they write in their report, which was published in the journal Lancet Neurology.
They point to two barriers to protecting children from such exposures — not enough testing of industrial chemicals and their potential effect on brain development before they are put into widespread use, and the enormous amount of proof that regulatory agencies require in order to put restrictions or limitations on chemicals.
Image: Chemical pesticides, via Shutterstock
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ADHD, Autism, brain chemistry, chemicals, dyslexia, fluoride, pesticides, toxic chemicals | Categories:
Child Health, Must Read, New Research, Trends
Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
Citing research on the health risks children face due to consistent exposure to second-hand smoke, British politicians have approved legislation that would prohibit adults from smoking in cars where children travel. More from Reuters:
The move comes after lobbying from health campaigners and the opposition Labour party, who cited research showing that smoking in cars exposed children to more concentrated smoke and caused health problems.
The government confirmed it would seek to implement a ban before an election in May next year, after lawmakers voted on Monday to give ministers the power to bring in the measure.
“The intention is for the secondary regulations to be in force ahead of May 2015,” Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman said on Tuesday. “There is a particular issue around vehicles being a particularly confined space and the associated public health concerns.”
The ban has been criticized by some parliamentarians and lobbyists as an intrusion on individual freedoms.
Last year, Massachusetts considered legislation to ban smoking in cars where children travel, and committees are still debating the measure.
Image: Adult smoking in a car, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
The good news for parents who are concerned that kids consume too much sugar in the form of soda is that kids are drinking less of those carbonated beverages. The bad news, though, is that coffee drinks and energy drinks–also packed with calories and caffeine–are replacing soda as the top choice for U.S. kids. More from Time.com on a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics:
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…[R]esearchers looked at trends in caffeine intake among people ages 2 to 22 between 1999 to 2010. They found that in 1999, 62 percent of kids and young adults got most of their caffeine from soda. But in 2010, that number dropped significantly to 38 percent.
Energy drinks were not a factor at the beginning of the study, but between 2009 to 2010, they rose to 6 percent of caffeine intake among young people. Coffee also made a jump, from 10 percent of caffeine intake in 1999-2000 to about 24 percent in 2009-2010.
Overall during the time period, researchers found that 73 percent of young people consumed some caffeine on a given day. Even more startling was the fact that 63 percent of kids aged between 2 and 5 consumed caffeine.
The researchers speculated that increased awareness over the link between soda and obesity could be one of the reasons fewer young people are guzzling sodas. But any increase in energy drink consumption among youth is concerning, given that high levels of caffeine can have a greater impact on smaller bodies. The American Academy of Pediatrics says energy drinks “should never be consumed by children or adolescents.”
Wednesday, February 5th, 2014
As growing numbers of politicians embrace the issue of enabling every child to have access to preschool education, the push is taking root in virtually every region of the country, even in states that had previously objected to the idea. The New York Times reports:
With a growing body of research pointing to the importance of early child development and its effect on later academic and social progress, enrollment in state-funded preschool has more than doubled since 2002, to about 30 percent of all 4-year-olds nationwide. In just the past year, Alabama, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and the city of San Antonio have enacted new or expanded programs, while in dozens of other places, mayors, governors and legislators are making a serious push for preschool.
In New York City, where the new mayor, Bill de Blasio, was elected on a promise of universal prekindergarten, the dispute between him and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is not over whether to expand the program, but how.
For generations, it was largely Democrats who called for government-funded preschool — and then only in fits and starts — and that remains the case in Congress, where proposals have yet to gain traction among Republicans. But outside Washington, it has become a bipartisan cause, uniting business groups and labor unions, with Republican governors like Rick Snyder of Michigan and Robert Bentley of Alabama pushing some of the biggest increases in preschool spending.
“It’s a human need and an economic need,” said Mr. Snyder, who raised preschool spending by $65 million last year and will propose a similar increase this year, doubling the size of the state program in two years. He called the spending an investment whose dividends “will show up for decades to come.”
Analysts also see politics behind the shift at the state level, with preschool appealing particularly to women and minorities, groups whose votes are needed by Republicans.
“If you cast it as an issue of inequality, Republicans get their back up right away, but there’s a sincere and growing concern on the part of a lot of Republicans about how to increase economic opportunity,” said Ron Haskins, co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution and a former policy adviser to President George W. Bush. “And politically, they also really want to change their image as the party that just says no, to find something with broad appeal that they can say yes to.”
Few government programs have broader appeal than preschool. A telephone poll conducted in July for the First Five Years Fund, a nonprofit group that advocates early education programs, found that 60 percent of registered Republicans and 84 percent of Democrats supported a proposal to expand public preschool by raising the federal tobacco tax.
Image: Preschool blocks, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, January 30th, 2014
Nearly half of children who are considered to be obese by eighth grade were already overweight when they first entered kindergarten, according to new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The findings may change how obesity prevention programs set their strategies, especially those programs that advocate focusing anti-obesity efforts on school-aged kids. More from The Associated Press:
The prevalence of weight problems has long been known — about a third of U.S. kids are overweight or obese. But surprisingly little is known about which kids will develop obesity, and at what age.
Researchers think there may be a window of opportunity to prevent it, and ‘‘we keep pushing our critical window earlier and earlier on,’’ said Solveig Cunningham, a scientist at Emory University. ‘‘A lot of the risk of obesity seems to be set, to some extent, really early in life.’’
She led the new study, which was published in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine and paid for by the federal government.
It tracked a nationwide sample of more than 7,700 children through grade school. When they started kindergarten, 12 percent were obese and 15 percent were overweight. By eighth grade, 21 percent were obese and 17 percent were overweight.
Besides how common obesity was at various ages, researchers focused on the 6,807 children who were not obese when the study started, at kindergarten entry. Here are some things they found:
WHO BECAME OBESE: Between ages 5 and 14, nearly 12 percent of children developed obesity — 10 percent of girls and nearly 14 percent of boys.
Nearly half of kids who started kindergarten overweight became obese teens. Overweight 5-year-olds were four times as likely as normal-weight children to become obese (32 percent versus 8 percent).
GRADE LEVELS: Most of the shift occurred in the younger grades. During the kindergarten year, about 5 percent of kids who had not been obese at the start became that way by the end. The greatest increase in the prevalence of obesity was between first and third grades; it changed little from ages 11 to 14.
RACE: From kindergarten through eighth grade, the prevalence of obesity increased by 65 percent among whites, 50 percent among Hispanics, almost 120 percent among blacks and more than 40 percent among others — Asians, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans and mixed-race children.
By eighth grade, 17 percent of black children had become obese, compared to 14 percent of Hispanics and 10 percent of whites and children of other races.
INCOME: Obesity was least common among children from the wealthiest families and most prevalent among kids in the next-to-lowest income category. The highest rate of children developing obesity during the study years was among middle-income families.
BIRTHWEIGHT: At all ages, obesity was more common among children who weighed a lot at birth — roughly 9 pounds or more. About 36 percent of kids who became obese during grade school had been large at birth.
Image: Girl eating apples, via Shutterstock
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