Thursday, November 14th, 2013
Children who experience traumatic events including health problems in the family, family structure like divorce or inconsistent caregiving, or physical or emotional abuse are more likely to struggle with their weight when they become teenagers, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics. More from Reuters:
“I felt like I was seeing a lot of children who had experienced stress early in their lives later gain weight pretty rapidly” Dr. Julie Lumeng at the University of Michigan Medical School told Reuters Health.
“There has been quite a bit of research looking at stress in the lives of adults leading to weight gain, but it has not been studied as much in children,” said Lumeng, who led the new study.
“We did this particular study because it looked at simply ‘events’ that had occurred in children’s lives and then asked mothers to rate the events in terms of how much of an impact they had,” Lumeng said.
The researchers used data from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.
The mothers of 848 children enrolled in the study completed surveys when their children were 4, 9 and 11 years old. They were asked if any of 71 different life events had occurred during the previous year, and they rated the impact of the event on a scale from -3 (extremely negative) to zero (no effect) to +3 (extremely positive).
Four categories of negative life events were studied: health problems in the family; work, school or financial stability; emotional aspects of family relationships; and family structure, routine and caregiving.
The kids’ height and weight were measured at age 15. Teens with a BMI above the 85th percentile for age and gender based on CDC growth charts were defined as being overweight.
Of the 848 children, 260 were considered overweight and 488 were not. Thirty percent of the overweight children had experienced a significant number of negative life events, compared to 22 percent of the non-overweight children.
Experiencing many negative life events was tied to a nearly 50 percent higher risk of being overweight, versus no negative events.
The associations were strongest for negative events related to family physical or mental health, among children of obese mothers and among children who waited longer for food, the researchers report in the journal Pediatrics.
Image: Overweight teen, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
Parents whose children face serious or life-threatening illnesses are likely to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress, including anxiety and depression. These symptoms may, in effect, extend the traumatic effect the illness has on the whole family because it affects how parents treat siblings, their spouses, and other relatives. More on a new study about post-traumatic stress in kids and adults after a child’s injury from The New York Times:
Researchers who study parental stress tend to reach for the oxygen-mask metaphor: if you don’t breathe yourself, you aren’t going to be able to take care of your child.
“Parents need to feel well enough that they can then be there for their child, their other children,” said Nancy Kassam-Adams, a psychologist who is the director of the Center for Pediatric Traumatic Stress at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “The hardest thing is self-care.”
Dr. Kassam-Adams is the lead author of a new review of post-traumatic stress in both children and parents after the children were injured, which concludes that about one in every six children, and a similar percentage of parents, experience significant, persistent symptoms. They may have intrusive and distressing memories and dreams, or continue to avoid people or places that evoke the circumstances of the injury, or struggle with mood problems, including depression. If untreated, this can damage the child’s emotional and physical recovery.
Research into the effects of parental stress developed as pediatric cancer treatment claimed more and more success stories, medical victories that gave children their lives back. Clinicians and social workers — and parents themselves — began asking questions about how to help families continue on with those triumphantly recovered childhoods.
It helped, in part, to tell parents that they’d been enlisted in a war, said Anne E. Kazak, a pediatric psychologist and co-director of the Center for Healthcare Delivery Science at Nemours Pediatric Health System in Wilmington, Del. Parents connected to this metaphor: “You’ve been part of the war on cancer, the battle fighting it,” she said.
Some of the strategies and insights gained from this body of research are already visible in most children’s hospitals: a place for parents to sleep, even in the intensive care unit; including parents in so-called family-centered rounds; a staff attuned to interpret a parent’s extreme behavior as a cry for help, rather than a source of irritation and extra work.
But what happens after children are out of the medical danger zone? Many parents continue to experience the physical symptoms of stress — the racing pulse, the dry mouth. They continue to flash back to the moment of the cancer diagnosis, the moment of the very premature birth, the moment of the accident.
“It’s my belief a parent who’s traumatized is always expecting the other shoe to drop, will always be scanning the horizon,” said Dr. Richard J. Shaw, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford.
Image: Mother holding infant’s hand, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, February 12th, 2013
Far more data is needed on how best to help children cope with traumatic events–ranging from natural disasters to school shootings to death or family illness–researchers argue in an article published in the journal Pediatrics. From NBC News:
Grief counselors, therapists and social workers have no body of scientific data to draw from when they seek to help traumatized kids, a team of experts reports in Monday’s issue of the journal Pediatrics.
“People come to me and say ‘What works?’ and I answer, ‘We don’t really know,’” says Valerie Forman-Hoffman of RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C., who led the study.
“I don’t think that what this study is saying is that no treatment works,” Forman-Hoffman said in a telephone interview. ”I think that what our review shows is that we don’t have a good evidence base to make good recommendations.”
The need is clear, Forman-Hoffman and her colleagues say.
“Approximately two-thirds of children and adolescents younger than age 18 years will experience at least one traumatic event, creating a critical need to identify effective child trauma interventions,” they wrote. Traumatic events in this study included the death of a parent, a violent incident at school, wars, or natural disasters. They did not include personal events such as abuse by a parent or sexual abuse.
“Although some children exposed to trauma do not experience long-term negative consequences in terms of psychological and social functioning, many later develop traumatic stress syndromes, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” they added. PTSD in turn can cause depression, and lead to substance abuse, suicide and behavior disorders.
Image: Girl with grief counselor, via Shutterstock
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