Wednesday, June 27th, 2012
A new study published in the journal Child Development has found that obese children may persistently perform less well in school as non-obese children. From CNN.com:
[The study] followed 6,250 children from kindergarten through fifth grade and found that those who were obese throughout that period scored lower on math tests than non-obese children.
What’s more, this pattern held even after the researchers took into account extenuating factors that can influence both body size and test scores, such as family income, race, the mother’s education level and job status, and both parents’ expectations for the child’s performance in school.
“In boys and girls alike who entered kindergarten with weight problems, we saw these differences in math performances emerge at first grade, and the poor performance persisted through fifth grade,” says lead researcher Sara Gable, Ph.D., an associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Image: Heavyset boy in school, via Shutterstock.
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Monday, April 16th, 2012
The Blue School, a private school in Manhattan, is leading the way toward shaping educational curricula around what scientists have discovered about a growing child’s brain development. Lessons at the school, which started out as a neighborhood play group, focus on building emotional literacy as well as the typical academic skills that are introduced in elementary school. The New York Times reports:
Having rapidly grown to more than 200 students in preschool through third grade, the school has become a kind of national laboratory for integrating cognitive neuroscience and cutting-edge educational theory into curriculum, professional development and school design.
“Schools were not applying this new neurological science out there to how we teach children,” said Lindsey Russo, whose unusual title, director of curriculum documentation and research, hints at how seriously the Blue School takes this mission. “Our aim is to take those research tools and adapt them to what we do in the school.”
So young children at the Blue School learn about what has been called “the amygdala hijack” — what happens to their brains when they flip out. Teachers try to get children into a “toward state,” in which they are open to new ideas. Periods of reflection are built into the day for students and teachers alike, because reflection helps executive function — the ability to process information in an orderly way, focus on tasks and exhibit self-control. Last year, the curriculum guide was amended to include the term “meta-cognition”: the ability to think about thinking.
“Having language for these mental experiences gives children more chances to regulate their emotions,” said David Rock, who is a member of the Blue School’s board and a founder of NeuroLeadership Institute, a global research group dedicated to understanding the brain science of leadership.
Image: Happy children, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, March 14th, 2012
A parent’s demonstration of love, shown through nurturing behavior and comforting children at times of stress, actually has an impact on brain development, a new study finds. CNN.com’s medical blog reports on the research, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
Here’s how the study was done. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis recruited 92 children between the ages of 3 and 6. Rather than asking parents about how they treated their children, the researchers brought the kids and parents into a lab and videotaped them as the parents, almost always mothers, tried to help their children cope with a mildly stressful task that was designed to approximate the stress of daily parenting.
Ratings of parental ability to nurture their children were done by study personnel who watched the videos while knowing nothing about either children or parents. Several years later, on average, the children had the size of a brain area called the hippocampus measured using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). After taking into account a whole range of factors that can affect hippocampal size, the researchers found that children with especially nurturing, caring mothers, based on their behavior during the laboratory stressor, had significantly larger hippocampi (plural of hippocampus – you’ve got one on each side of the brain) than kids with mothers who were average or poor nurturers.
Why is this finding important? Because more than any place else in the brain, when it comes to the hippocampus, size matters. Other things being equal, having small hippocampi increases your risk for all sorts of troubles, from depression and post traumatic stress disorder to Alzheimer’s disease. If you’ve got depression, having small hippocampi predicts that you won’t respond as well to antidepressants as well as depressed people with larger hippocampi to antidepressants.
Image: Boy cuddling with his mother, via Shutterstock.
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Friday, February 3rd, 2012
ΩUnder the inspiring headline “Nicer Moms Have Smarter Kids,” CafeMom.com reports on a new research study that finds showing affection to children actually helps develop the part of their brain that is involved with stress, learning, and memory:
This research came from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. It says that school-age children whose mothers, fathers, and caretakers “nurtured them early in life have brains with a larger hippocampus,” which is the part of the brain that aids in learning, memory, and your response to stress.
The author of the study, Joan L. Luby, M.D., says it best:
I think the public health implications suggest that we should pay more attention to parents’ nurturing, and we should do what we can as a society to foster these skills because clearly nurturing has a very, very big impact on later development.
Image: Mother holding baby, via Shutterstock.
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Monday, January 23rd, 2012
Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and child development are the subjects of two small studies published in the journal Pediatrics this week. CNN.com reports on the findings:
The first study compared the social, intellectual, and behavioral functions of 53 children who had experienced a traumatic brain injury before the age of three, most of which were the result of falls, with 27 children of the same age who had never sustained a TBI.
The authors write that while a severe TBI was associated with lowered intellectual function, the socioeconomic status of the child’s family may be a more powerful predictor of the child’s intellectual development. They cannot fully explain why, but they suggest lower socioeconomic status, high parental stress and low parental involvement has an effect on a child’s recovery.
The study also found that mild, less traumatic injuries, similar to those commonly sustained from short falls, had no negative effect on any of the child’s functions.
The second prospective study, which was conducted at the same children’s hospital in Australia, looked at 40 children who had sustained a TBI at some point between the ages of two and seven.
More of the injuries were sustained from motor vehicle or pedestrian accidents than were in the first study and therefore the children had more severe TBIs in this study. The researchers examined the children immediately after the injury, and then again 12 months, 30 months, and ten years later.
Children in this study who suffered a mild traumatic injury recovered well and didn’t face a dramatic deficit in their intellectual abilities, similar to what was seen in the first study. Researchers also found children with severe TBI had problems with their intellectual, behavioral, and social development. More specifically, children with severe traumatic brain injuries seemed to lag behind their peers in intellectual development for upwards of three years after their injury.
Image: Young boy in a hospital bed, via Shutterstock.
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