Friday, March 21st, 2014
Parents who are “authoritarian,” very strict and unyielding when it comes to rules and boundaries, are more likely to have children who struggle with weight issues than parents who are “authoritative,” meaning that rules and boundaries are clear, but more open to discussion and explanation. Time.com has more on a new study, which was conducted by Canadian researchers:
Until now, there hadn’t been a close look at how overall parenting style—how permissively or authoritatively parents interact with their kids on everything from homework to chores and getting along with their siblings—might affect children’s weight. “We looked at the general way that parents can affect their child’s obesity even if they are not trying to control specific health-related behaviors,” says the study’s lead author, Lisa Kakinami, a postdoctoral fellow at McGill University.
She and her colleagues followed a group of more than 37,000 children in Canada aged zero to 11 years, and asked parents about their interactions with their youngsters. The team queried parents about things like how they responded when their child did something they shouldn’t, and how much they praised their kids when they did something positive.
Based on their responses, Kakinami and her colleagues focused on two of the four well-established groups of parenting styles: authoritative, in which parents set rules and boundaries but explain their reasoning and show understanding when the rules are broken; and authoritarian, in which parents set strict rules but aren’t as open to discussing and explaining them to their children. (The others, at the opposite end of the spectrum, are uninvolved, in which parents communicate very little with their children and are virtually absent as authority figures; and permissive, in which parents make few demands and expect little self-control from their kids.)
Kakinami found that children of authoritarian parents were 30% more likely to be obese at 2 to 5 years old, and 37% more likely to be obese if they were 6 to 11 years old compared with children of authoritative parents.
While the study wasn’t designed to tease apart what might be contributing to the higher body mass indices (BMI) in the authoritarian households, pediatricians have some theories. “When a parent says absolutely ‘no,’ that becomes forbidden fruit, and kids may then value that more,” says Dr. Stephen Daniels, chair of pediatrics at the University of Colorado, who was not involved in the study, about certain kid-favorite foods such as sweets, soda and fast food that are high in calories.
Kakinami says there were hints that other factors may be at work as well. Authoritarian parents were less likely than authoritative moms and dads to praise their children or give them positive feedback for good behavior, regardless of whether it was related to their health. “The main difference in authoritative vs. authoritarian styles is the warmth expressed between the parent and child,” she says. “Authoritative parents ranked higher on praise than authoritarian parents.” And when their children misbehaved, authoritarian parents were “most likely to respond emotionally and punish the child but not tell them what they had done wrong.”
Image: Strict parent, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, March 18th, 2014
A study published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which claimed a 43 percent drop in the number of preschool-aged American kids who have a weight problem, is being questioned as a possible statistical anomaly, and not an indication that the childhood obesity epidemic is on its way out. Reuters reports on the challenge, which is coming from obesity experts from Massachusetts General Hospital and other places:
In fact, based on the researchers’ own data, the obesity rate may have even risen rather than declined.
“You need to have a healthy degree of skepticism about the validity of this finding,” said Dr. Lee Kaplan, director of the weight center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
No evidence of the kinds of major shifts in the behavior among preschoolers aged 2 to 5 exists which would explain a 43 percent drop in their obesity rates, he said.
The latest study is based a well-respected data set taken from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES, which has been conducted annually since the 1960s and involves in-person interviews and physical exams.
The CDC defines obesity in adults as having a body mass index – a ratio of weight to height – above 30, but in children it is defined by where the individual falls on age- and sex-specific growth charts.
The 2011-2012 version of the survey included 9,120 people; 871 of them were 2 to 5 years old.
In some research 871 would be considered a large number. But when the obesity rate is fairly low, having a sample of a few hundred makes it easier for errors to creep in through random chance.
“In small samples like this, you are going to have chance fluctuations,” said epidemiologist Geoffrey Kabat of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
To be sure, the CDC scientists were aware of the statistical limitations of their data, and their paper clearly stated that the findings were imprecise.
The 43 percent headline figure refers to the drop from the 13.9 percent rate in 2003-04 to the 8.4 percent rate in 2011-2012. The change of 5.5 points represents a decline of 40 percent from the original 13.9 percent. (The 43 percent trumpeted by a CDC press release comes from rounding those numbers to 14 and 8, respectively.)
In addition to the small sample size and a lack of supporting evidence from other recent surveys of childhood weight, experts cite a dearth of signs of behavioral changes that would contribute to improving obesity numbers. More from Reuters:
For obesity rates to drop, researchers reckon, young children have to eat differently and become more active. But research shows little sign of such changes among 2-to-5-year olds, casting more doubt on the 43 percent claim.
Such a decline would require changes in exercise, food consumption and sleep patterns, said Mass General’s Kaplan “There is no evidence of that,” he said.
In 2010 [WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program researcher Shannon] Whaley and her colleagues examined the effectiveness of WIC classes and counseling to encourage healthy eating and activities for women and children in the program.
Their findings were discouraging: Television watching and consumption of sweet or salty snacks actually rose, while fruit and vegetable consumption fell – changes that could lead to weight gain. One positive was a rise in physical activity.
Apart from the WIC program, few anti-obesity efforts target preschoolers, Kaplan pointed out. That makes a precipitous decline in obesity in that group highly unlikely.
Image: Brown bag lunch, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, March 4th, 2014
Many parents breathed a sigh of relief when the FDA banned the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) from plastics that are used in infant feeding vessels including bottles and sippy cups in 2012. Studies have linked the chemical, which is known to disrupt the endocrine system by mimicking the hormone estrogen, to health problems including miscarriage risk, and childhood obesity, asthma, and behavioral issues. Many parents were disappointed, though, when the FDA, shortly before making its BPA ban in infant materials, stopped short of banning it from all food containers, especially canned foods and even infant formula packages.
But the debate over the safety of plastics is far from over–and it is larger than the BPA question–according to a new report from Mother Jones magazine that chronicles the work of research organizations that claims that even “safe” plastics leach estrogenic, hormone-disrupting compounds. More from the Mother Jones article:
Each night at dinnertime, a familiar ritual played out in Michael Green’s home: He’d slide a stainless steel sippy cup across the table to his two-year-old daughter, Juliette, and she’d howl for the pink plastic one. Often, Green gave in. But he had a nagging feeling. As an environmental-health advocate, he had fought to rid sippy cups and baby bottles of the common plastic additive bisphenol A (BPA), which mimics the hormone estrogen and has been linked to a long list of serious health problems. Juliette’s sippy cup was made from a new generation of BPA-free plastics, but Green, who runs the Oakland, California-based Center for Environmental Health, had come across research suggesting some of these contained synthetic estrogens, too.
He pondered these findings as the center prepared for its anniversary celebration in October 2011. That evening, Green, a slight man with scruffy blond hair and pale-blue eyes, took the stage and set Juliette’s sippy cups on the podium. He recounted their nightly standoffs. “When she wins…every time I worry about what are the health impacts of the chemicals leaching out of that sippy cup,” he said, before listing some of the problems linked to those chemicals—cancer, diabetes, obesity. To help solve the riddle, he said, his organization planned to test BPA-free sippy cups for estrogenlike chemicals.
The center shipped Juliette’s plastic cup, along with 17 others purchased from Target, Walmart, and Babies R Us, to CertiChem, a lab in Austin, Texas. More than a quarter—including Juliette’s—came back positive for estrogenic activity. These results mirrored the lab’s findings in its broader National Institutes of Health-funded research on BPA-free plastics. CertiChem and its founder, George Bittner, who is also a professor of neurobiology at the University of Texas-Austin, had recently coauthored a paper in the NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives. It reported that “almost all” commercially available plastics that were tested leached synthetic estrogens—even when they weren’t exposed to conditions known to unlock potentially harmful chemicals, such as the heat of a microwave, the steam of a dishwasher, or the sun’s ultraviolet rays. According to Bittner’s research, some BPA-free products actually released synthetic estrogens that were more potent than BPA.
Estrogen plays a key role in everything from bone growth to ovulation to heart function. Too much or too little, particularly in utero or during early childhood, can alter brain and organ development, leading to disease later in life. Elevated estrogen levels generally increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer….
Today many plastic products, from sippy cups and blenders to Tupperware containers, are marketed as BPA-free. But Bittner’s findings—some of which have been confirmed by other scientists—suggest that many of these alternatives share the qualities that make BPA so potentially harmful.
Those startling results set off a bitter fight with the $375-billion-a-year plastics industry. The American Chemistry Council, which lobbies for plastics makers and has sought to refute the science linking BPA to health problems, has teamed up with Tennessee-based Eastman Chemical—the maker of Tritan, a widely used plastic marketed as being free of estrogenic activity—in a campaign to discredit Bittner and his research. The company has gone so far as to tell corporate customers that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejected Bittner’s testing methods. (It hasn’t.) Eastman also sued CertiChem and its sister company, PlastiPure, to prevent them from publicizing their findings that Tritan is estrogenic, convincing a jury that its product displayed no estrogenic activity. And it launched a PR blitz touting Tritan’s safety, targeting the group most vulnerable to synthetic estrogens: families with young children. “It can be difficult for consumers to tell what is really safe,” the vice president of Eastman’s specialty plastics division, Lucian Boldea, said in one web video, before an image of a pregnant woman flickered across the screen. With Tritan, he added, “consumers can feel confident that the material used in their products is free of estrogenic activity.”
Eastman’s offensive is just the latest in a wide-ranging industry campaign to cast doubt on the potential dangers of plastics in food containers, packaging, and toys—a campaign that closely resembles the methods Big Tobacco used to stifle scientific evidence about the dangers of smoking.
The article goes on to report that CertiChem and PlastiPure are appealing the 2013 court ruling that alleged the companies were trying to discredit Eastman in order to market their own “safe” plastics, and the groups are working on new research.
Mother Jones also published a timeline that shows the history of the fight against BPA, and how the industry and even government regulators have apparently ignored concerning research about the safety of BPA-free plastics.
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Image: Child with plastic sippy cup, via Shutterstock
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BPA, childhood asthma, childhood obesity, endocrine disruptors, estrogen, fertility, hormones, miscarriage, Mother Jones, plastics | Categories:
Child Health, Must Read, New Research, Parenting News, Safety
Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
A woman’s diet during pregnancy may directly affect her child’s brain in a way that determines the baby’s risk of becoming obese or overweight during childhood, new research has found. More from The Atlantic:
The article, published in the journal Cell in January, looks at the impact a mother’s diet has on her offspring’s health. This line of research isn’t new—otherstudies have shown links between a woman’s health during pregnancy and her child’s weight later in life—but this is one of the first to provide a potential explanation for this phenomenon.
To explore this, researchers first fed pregnant mice a diet high in fat at varying stages during their pregnancy to figure out when the most critical period was.
It turns out that mother mice that were fed a high-fat diet while they were nursing had significantly heavier male offspring with a higher percentage of body fat than moms fed a normal diet during this time. These males also had higher insulin resistance and glucose intolerance, precursors for type-2 diabetes, even if they themselves consumed a normal diet. Interestingly, these poor health effects were only present in the female offspring if they ate a high-fat diet, but not if they ate normally.
Following this discovery, the researchers looked at what was going on in the brains of these mice that might be linked to their increase in body fat, particularly focusing on the hypothalamus, a major hormonal relay station in the brain that helps to regulate our metabolism. Two chemicals that are maintained through the hypothalamus and are key players in controlling our hunger and satiety are aGRP/Neuropeptide Y, which are released when we’re hungry, stimulating our appetites, and POMC, which is involved in triggering satiety once we’ve eaten.
In baby mice, neurons continue to develop after they’re born, but in humans, neural development is more established at birth. Therefore, the nursing stage in mice actually corresponds to the third trimester of pregnancy in humans, meaning that the most critical period for people is during the last trimester.
In the case of POMC and aGRP, the researchers discovered that there was a lower density of axon fibers—the part of the cell that connects neurons in one area of the hypothalamus to another—in mice with mothers that were fed a high-fat diet. This may then have had an effect on the processing of insulin and glucose in these mice, potentially leading to the glucose intolerance and elevated insulin levels that the scientists witnessed.
Moreover, it appears that a target of these neurons that is involved in suppressing appetite and stimulating the metabolism was also significantly affected. Specifically, the genetic expression of the thyroid-stimulating hormone TRH was significantly lower in the offspring of the high-fat mother mice. This means that there was a reduced potential for the release of this hormone, which is involved in weight-regulation.
Finally, the researchers also found evidence of abnormalities in pancreatic cells, again suggesting an impairment in the processing of glucose and insulin release.
Image: Pregnant woman eating, 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.”