Wednesday, April 30th, 2014
Calling a girl “fat” may result in a greater chance she’ll become obese later in childhood or life, according to new research published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. More from Reuters:
The early stigma of being labeled that way may worsen the problem rather than encouraging girls to become healthier, but more research is needed to be sure, the study authors say.
“This study is one step closer to being able to draw that conclusion, but of course we can’t definitively say that calling a girl “too fat” will make her obese,” said senior author A. Janet Tomiyama of the University of California, Los Angeles.
“This study recruited girls when they were age 10 and followed them over nine years, so we know it’s more than just a one-time connection, which makes me believe that it’s an important question to continue researching,” Tomiyama told Reuters Health in an email.
She and her coauthor examined data from an existing study that followed girls through their teen years. At age 10, the girls answered the question, “have any of these people told you that you were too fat: father, mother, brother, sister, best girlfriend, boy you like best, any other girl, any other boy, or teacher?”
Out of just over 2,000 girls, a total of 1,188 answered “yes” to any of the choices.
Those girls were more likely to have a body mass index (BMI) – a measure of weight relative to height – in the obese range ten years later than girls who answered “no,” according to the results in JAMA Pediatrics.
“We know from considerable evidence that youth who feel stigmatized or shamed about their weight are vulnerable to a range of negative psychological and physical health consequences,” said Rebecca Puhl, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
“This study suggests that negative weight labels may contribute to these experiences and have a lasting and potentially damaging impact for girls,” said Puhl, who was not part of the study.
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Thursday, March 6th, 2014
Girls who play with Barbie dolls–as opposed to Mrs. Potato Head doll–may see fewer career options for themselves in the future, according to an experiment that has been published in the journal Sex Roles.
Thirty-seven girls from the US Pacific Northwest, aged between four to seven years old, were randomly assigned to play for five minutes with either a sexualized Doctor Barbie or Fashion Barbie doll, or with more a more neutral Mrs. Potato Head doll, according to a statement describing the study. The girls were then shown photographs of ten occupations and asked how many they themselves or boys could do in the future.
The girls who played with a Barbie doll – irrespective of whether it was dressed as a fashion model or a doctor – saw themselves in fewer occupations than are possible for boys. Those girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported nearly as many career options available for themselves as for boys.
“Perhaps Barbie can ‘Be Anything’ as the advertising for this doll suggests, but girls who play with her may not apply these possibilities to themselves,” said researcher Aurora Sherman of Oregon State University, who suggests that Barbie and similar dolls are part of the burden of early and inappropriate sexuality placed on girls. “Something about the type of doll, not characteristics of the participants, causes the difference in career aspirations.”
Image: Girl, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013
As the holiday shopping season heats up, so does the debate over GoldieBlox, the toy marketed to girls and promising to encourage them to develop “STEM,” or “science, technology, engineering, math” interests in girls. The public conversation about the toy, which some parents love but others say are neither gender neutral nor imagination-inspiring, is bringing to center stage a decades-old debate over how girls learn, play–and are marketed to. Time.com has more:
This earnest educational toy might have gone unnoticed amidst the babies and Barbies if it weren’t for a hit viral video ad campaign showing little girls getting bored with a princess show and leaping up to create a giant Rube Goldberg machine out of toys.
The ad — which earned over eight million views on YouTube before a new version was posted due to a legal dispute over music use — has reignited a simmering debate: are playthings that encourage girls to become moms and beauty queens to blame for the dearth of women in the sciences? And if that’s true, what’s the best way to create toys that encourage girls to develop engineering and science skills? Some think building toys appealing directly to girls like GoldieBlox is the answer, while others want a more gender-neutral approach. And there are those who want to blow up the current pink-and-blue aisle segregation of toys altogether.
Most experts agree that the pink aisle does have a negative impact on girls’ interest in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects. “Wanting to be a doctor or architect or cook, that really begins when you’re young and walking around with a stethoscope or playing with an Easy Bake oven,” says Richard Gottlieb, CEO of toy industry consulting firm Global Toy Experts.
Gender identification begins around preschool, when children’s brains are most susceptible to definitions of gender according to Lise Eliot, a neuroscientist and the author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain. And when youngsters enter the aisle labeled for girls, the only STEM options they’re really offered are chemistry sets that help create makeup or building blocks to construct pet grooming shops. (By contrast, boys’ chemistry kits usually allow them to create anything from icky goo to things that blow up to food.)
By the time kids reach third grade, there’s a real divide between boys and girls when it comes to STEM-related ambitions. A 2009 poll by the American Society for Quality of children 8 to 17, 24 percent of boys said they were interested in a career engineering, but only five percent of girls said the same. And that gap continues with adults: Just 11% of engineers are women—a fact that GoldieBlox’s creators note prominently on their site—and only about a quarter of STEM degrees go to women and it’s not about aptitude. Several international studies have shown that the gender difference in math and science are a by-product of culture, not biology. But quantifying cultural influences is complicated. The United States has one of the biggest gender gaps in math and science scores, but it’s impossible to know how much of an effect changing the toy aisles would have. In parts of Asia for example, there are plenty of dolls in the stores, but there’s a much smaller math gender gap for a host of other cultural reasons, like a better gender balance of teachers in schools.
We do know however that in the U.S. the pink aisle has gotten much more pink over the years. Global Toy Experts conducted a survey of 1,700 American moms three years ago asking them to compare the toys they played with growing up to those that their daughters were playing with today. They found a 25 percent drop across the board in girls playing with toys that would be considered gender-neutral or male (like construction or science kit toys).
True, as toy stores have gotten pinker, women have made more progress in the workplace. All those cute little vacuum cleaners and mini baby bottles haven’t discouraged girls from going to college or excelling in academic fields other than science. Women make up the majority of undergrads and are entering law school in equal numbers to men. So it’s clear that gendered toys aren’t entirely to blame for the dearth of female engineers—a myriad of reasons from lack or mentors to childhood development contribute as well.
But the lack of STEM role models for young girls in popular culture is something that experts say is an issue when it comes to changing girls’ attitudes toward math and science careers in the first place.
“There’s Bob the Builder, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Jimmy Neutron—they’re all boys with IQs off the chart. That’s intimidating for all kids, but particularly for girls who suffer from this thing called math anxiety where they have really, really high standards for themselves when it comes to math,” says Debbie Sterling, creator of GoldieBlox who thought of the toy after graduating from Stanford, frustrated with how few women there were in her chemical engineering program there. “If they don’t get an A+ on something, then they think they’re just naturally not inclined or born with it.”
Sterling’s solution to this problem was to create a toy designed for the way girls think. Goldie is a female role model who neither fit the born-genius trope (Goldie makes mistakes and learns from them) nor the nerdy anti-social brunette girl with glasses—a stereotypical character found in many kids’ shows. (Think Velma from Scooby Doo or Gretchen from Recess.) Another set of Stanford grads has also gone that route. Their invention, Roominate, offers girls the experience of building a working circuited dollhouse in pastel colors.
But why make science and engineering toys girly at all? Why not just make all of them gender neutral? “I love the GolideBlox toys. I think they’re really smart,” says Elizabeth Sweet, a doctoral candidate at the University of California Davis, who has studied gender coding in toys. “But I think that by sort of highlighting and simplifying the differences between boys and girls, these things may have the unintended effect of further reinforcing the stereotypes that girls are inherently less capable and need extra stimulation.”
Image: Girl, via Shutterstock
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Monday, November 18th, 2013
Boys are slightly more likely than girls to be born prematurely, a new international study on newborn health has found. Additionally, boys don’t tend to fare as well as girls world-wide. More from The Associated Press:
“This is a double whammy for boys,” said Dr. Joy Lawn of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who led the team of researchers. “It’s a pattern that happens all over the world.”
The gender difference isn’t large: About 55 percent of preterm births in 2010 were male, the report found. Nor is it clear exactly why it happens.
The finding comes from a series of international studies being published Friday that examine newborn health and prematurity. About 15 million babies worldwide are born too soon, most of them in Africa and parts of Asia where survival is difficult for fragile newborns. Globally, about 1 million babies die as a direct result of preterm birth and another million die of conditions for which prematurity is an added risk, the researchers calculated.
Friday’s report offers some of the first estimates of how many preemie survivors go on to suffer certain disabilities, and found that where these babies are born, and how early, determines their risk.
Overall, Lawn said about 7 percent of survivors have two of the most burdensome disabilities: neurologic-developmental impairment ranging from learning disabilities to cerebral palsy, and vision loss.
But the biggest risk is to the youngest preemies, those born before 28 weeks gestation. Worldwide, 52 percent of them are estimated to have some degree of neurodevelopmental impairment, the report found.
Moreover, the risk of impairment in middle-income countries is double that of wealthy countries like the U.S.
For example, China is saving more preemies’ lives but at the cost of their vision, Lawn said.
Middle-income countries are missing out on a lesson the U.S. learned the hard way several decades ago, that giving these tiny babies too much oxygen can trigger a potentially blinding condition called retinopathy of prematurity.
“Disability is not something that’s inevitable. It’s preventable,” she said, calling for improved quality of care including eye checks to prevent or reduce vision loss.
The March of Dimes reported this month that 11.5 percent of U.S. births now are preterm. That rate is inching down, thanks mostly to fewer babies being born just a few weeks early as standards for elective deliveries have tightened, but it still is higher than in similar countries.
Image: Newborn baby, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, November 5th, 2013
A new study has confirmed what many have observed–that American girls are hitting puberty and younger and younger ages. Reuters has more on new research that attributes the drop in the puberty age to a rise in childhood obesity, among other factors:
Researchers found African American girls started getting breasts just before they turned nine, on average. Among white girls the average age was about nine and a half – a few months earlier than in the 1990s.
The findings “confirm an ongoing downward trend in pubertal timing among U.S. girls,” said Dr. Anders Juul.
“It’s been worrying for the U.S. as well as the rest of the world,” Juul said. He heads the Department of Growth and Reproduction at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark, and wasn’t involved in the new report.
The data come from a long-term study of more than 1,200 girls in and around San Francisco, Cincinnati and New York City. Girls were enrolled in the study between ages six and eight and followed with annual or semi-annual visits.
At each visit, staff assessed breast development using Tanner stages, which measure how far along a young person is in puberty.
African American girls first showed signs of breast development at eight years, 10 months, on average. That compared to nine years, four months among Hispanic girls and nine years, eight months among white and Asian girls.
For white girls, puberty hit about four months earlier than in a 1997 study that also measured breast development. That study concluded girls were entering puberty earlier than in the past.
Heavier girls tended to start developing at younger ages. Rising obesity rates seem to be a “prime driver” behind breast development starting earlier, Dr. Frank Biro and his colleagues wrote Monday in Pediatrics.
Still, Juul’s own work has suggested obesity isn’t behind earlier breast development among Danish girls.
Researchers said how much exercise girls get, diabetes precursors and chemicals in the environment that can mimic hormones may all play a role in pushing up the onset of puberty.
“One of our challenges is going to be, there are literally hundreds of chemicals that could be candidates,” Biro said. He works in the adolescent medicine division at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio.
Where girls live, meat and dairy in their diets and family stress have also been tied to earlier development, Marcia Herman-Giddens wrote in a commentary on the report. She studies maternal and child health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The study didn’t look at when girls started getting their periods, or at other measures of puberty.
The researchers said maturing at a younger age could come with long-term risks for some girls.
For instance, those who hit puberty earlier could be at higher risk of breast and other cancers because their bodies spend more years making and being exposed to estrogen.
They also tend to start having sex or using drugs and alcohol at younger ages and are more likely to become depressed or develop low self-esteem.
“You’ve got a 10-year-old who looks like a 14-year-old. We interact with kids based on the way that they look,” Biro said. “Kids interact with each other that way also.”
Is your child bound to be a doctor or a fashion designer? Take this quick quiz and find out. Plus, do you know which sick kid symptoms you should never ignore?
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