Thursday, July 3rd, 2014
Thousands of children are conceived each year through assisted reproductive technologies, treatments meant to help couples who have fertility problems. But a new study of Danish children is linking fertility treatments with an increased risk that the children will develop a mental health problem later in life. Researchers described the increased risk as “modest,” but identifiable nonetheless when they compared children born to parents who underwent fertility treatments with children who were conceived without intervention.
The study looked at nearly 2.5 million children born between the years 1969 and 2006, most of whose parents who had no known fertility problems. Five percent of the parents had “registered fertility problems.” The children’s medical histories were followed until 2009, with researchers looking for any psychiatric disorders that required hospitalization. The children born to women with fertility problems were 33 percent more likely to have a psychiatric disorder, as ScienceDaily reports:
When separate analyses were performed for psychiatric disorders diagnosed during childhood (0-19 years) and in young adulthood (≥20 years), the investigators found that the risk estimates were not markedly changed, indicating that the increased risks persist into adulthood.
Commenting on the results, Dr. [Allan] Jensen said that professionals involved in the diagnosis and treatment of women with fertility problems should be aware of “the small, but potentially increased risk of psychiatric disorders among the children born to women with fertility problems.” However, this knowledge, he added, “should always be balanced against the physical and psychological benefits of a pregnancy.”
Only a few studies have investigated the risk of psychiatric disorders among children born after fertility treatment. Although results from most of these studies do not find an increased risk, the results do show substantial variation, said Dr Jensen; this may be because of the limited size and follow-up time in most of them. This study is the first with sufficient numbers and an adequately long follow-up period to enable a realistic assessment of risk patterns into young adulthood.
Jensen added that the study did not make a conclusion on whether it was fertility treatments or the underlying cause of the infertility–possibly genetic–that was responsible for the increased mental health risk.
Image: Fertility lab, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, June 25th, 2014
Children who are short but otherwise healthy, and who are treated with growth hormone (GH) do in fact become taller, but they also are at increased risk of suffering from depression as they grow older, according to new research presented to the a joint meeting of the International Society of Endocrinology and the Endocrine Society. The findings compared kids who received GH treatment to kids who were of similar height and age but did not receive treatment. Kids who received treatment had more psychological and psychosocial issues than those who did not–although the researchers urged more research on whether it’s the treatment itself or the culture around receiving treatment that had the greatest impact on mental health. More from ScienceDaily:
“Daily injections, frequent clinic visits and repeated discussions about height might exacerbate instead of improve psychosocial concerns in children with idiopathic short stature (ISS) who are otherwise healthy, and give them no cognitive improvements,” said lead author Emily C. Walvoord, MD, associate professor of clinical pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.
While the link between using GH to increase height and improved psychological adaptation is being debated, early data suggest that the subtle cognitive problems seen in adults with growth hormone deficiency (GHD) might also occur in children with GHD and might improve with treatment.
Dr. Walvoord and her colleagues evaluated the cognitive and behavioral status of children with GHD and ISS after they received either GH therapy or observation alone, and their preliminary results presented here challenge the idea that improvements in height also result in improvements in psychological functioning. Their findings also raise the concern that GH treatment of these otherwise healthy children might even worsen their emotional symptoms.
Image: Short child, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, March 20th, 2014
Kids who get a large amount of screen time–that is, time in front of television, video game, tablet, or other portable electronic devices–may be more likely to report poorer levels of overall well-being, and higher levels of family dysfunction than kids who get less screen time, according to a new study conducted by Australian researchers. Reuters reports:
Based on data for more than 3600 children in eight European countries, researchers found that family functioning and emotional wellbeing were especially linked to changes in the amount of time kids spent in front of screens.
The study’s lead author said they can’t say what factors may be behind the associations. “We really need to do a little bit more digging in this area before we can answer some of the basic questions,” Trina Hinkley told Reuters Health.
Hinkley is a research fellow at the Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research at Deakin University in Melbourne….
….For the new study, researchers from the Identification and Prevention of Dietary- and Lifestyle-Induced Health Effects in Children and Infants Consortium analyzed data on kids who were between two and six years of age when they entered the study between September 2007 and June 2008.
At that time, the parents completed questionnaires about their children’s media use and wellbeing – including the child’s emotional and peer problems, self-esteem and family and social functioning. Parents answered another questionnaire two years later.
Overall, the researchers found that for social and peer-related measures, screen time had no effect. But for each additional hour or so of screen time parents reported, a child’s risk of emotional and family problems rose up to two-fold.
“We found that family functioning and emotional problems did seem to have some association with electronic media, but the others didn’t show any association at all,” Hinkley said.
Linda Pagani, who was not involved in the new study but has researched screen time among children, cautioned that there may be other explanations behind some of the results. “It could be that families who used screen time more were families who weren’t functioning that well to begin with,” she said.
Recent research has also linked screen time with childhood weight gain, and suggested that screen usage during meals may have negative effects on family relationships.
Image: Girl in front of a laptop, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
Both physical and emotional effects of being bullied–including issues with walking or lifting heavy objects, plus anger, sadness, and fear–may accumulate over a period of years, leading to lower quality of life for people who suffer from bullies’ negative behavior. These are the findings of a new study by researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital. Reuters reports:
In the past, when researchers have surveyed students at one point in time, children and teens who were being bullied tended to score lower on measures of physical and mental health.
But few studies have examined whether the possible effects of bullying accumulate over the years, the researchers write in the journal Pediatrics.
They analyzed data from the Healthy Passages study, which surveyed students in Alabama, California and Texas about how much bullying they experienced and evaluated their physical and mental health.
Overall, 4,297 students completed the surveys in fifth, seventh and 10th grades.
The researchers found that about a third of the students had been regularly bullied at some point during the course of the study.
Generally, those who had been bullied in the past scored better on measures of physical and mental health, compared to those who were currently being bullied. Teens who were bullied throughout their school career scored the worst.
For example, about seven percent of 10th grade students who had never been bullied scored low on mental health measures. That compared to 12 percent who had been bullied in the past, 31 percent who were currently being bullied and almost 45 percent of those who underwent persistent bullying.
About eight percent of 10th grade students who were never bullied had poor physical health, compared to 12 percent of those who were bullied in the past, 26 percent who were currently being bullied and 22 percent who were continuously bullied.
Poor mental health included traits such as being sad, afraid and angry, according to Bogart. Poor physical health included limitations like not being able to walk far and not being able to pick up heavy objects.
“I think one key thing to take from this is that any adult that has any contact with children . . . (should) know what the signs of bullying might be,” Bogart said. “This study tells us some of them, but not all of them.”
“There are physical signs, but they’re not always physical,” she said.
For example, one non-physical sign that a young person is being bullied is that the child doesn’t want to go to school.
Bogart also said it’s important for parents to know if their child falls into one of the groups at high risk for bullying. Those groups include children with physical disabilities, those who are overweight and obese and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning.
“I think this says – especially for parents – to be really attuned to what’s going on in their kids’ lives by paying attention, knowing what’s going on during the school day and being aware so they’ll notice changes like these,” she said.
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Image: Bullied girl, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, February 5th, 2014
Infants, who are far from having the ability to express their emotions, nonetheless are able to sense–and feel–when their mothers are experiencing stress, according to a new study conducted by researchers in New York and California. More from The Huffington Post:
“Your infant may not be able to tell you that you seem stressed or ask you what is wrong, but our work shows that, as soon as she is in your arms, she is picking up on the bodily responses accompanying your emotional state and immediately begins to feel in her own body your own negative emotion,” study researcher Sara Waters, of New York University, said in a statement. Waters worked with researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, on the Psychological Science study.
For the study, researchers examined emotion and heart rate in babies whose mothers were put through a stressful task. The study included 69 mothers and their 12- to 14-month-old babies, all of whom had cardiovascular sensors attached to them to record heart rate.
The researchers separated the mothers and babies so that the mothers could give a five-minute speech and go through a five-minute Q & A session. Evaluators were assigned to review each mother’s speech and Q & A session, giving either positive, negative or no feedback. The mothers who received the negative feedback had more negative emotions and fewer positive emotions, as well as increased cardiac stress, after undergoing this experience.
Then, the researchers reunited the mothers with their babies. Within minutes of going back to their mothers, the babies seemed to “track” their mother’s stress response, in the effort of an increased heart rate. And the greater the other’s stress response, the greater the baby’s response seemed to be.
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Image: Stressed out mom, via Shutterstock
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