Thursday, January 16th, 2014
A study of the factors that contribute to obesity among preschool-aged children has identified these three as the most predictive of whether a child will be overweight: inadequate sleep, parents whose body mass index (BMI) numbers classify them as overweight or obese, and parent-imposed restrictions on food that are intended to help them manage weight. Interestingly, the study, which was published in the journal “Childhood Obesity,” found that restrictions on both healthy and unhealthy foods were equal predictors of weight problems in kids. Researchers from the University of Illinois had examined 22 possible risk factors before making their conclusions. More from a press release from the university:
“What’s exciting here is that these risk factors are malleable and provide a road map for developing interventions that can lead to a possible reduction in children’s weight status. We should focus on convincing parents to improve their own health status, to change the food environment of the home so that healthy foods are readily available and unhealthy foods are not, and to encourage an early bedtime,” said Brent McBride, a U of I professor of human development and director of the university’s Child Development Laboratory.
The researchers reached their conclusions after compiling the results from an extensive survey distributed to 329 parent-child dyads recruited from child-care programs in east-central Illinois as part of the U of I’s STRONG (Synergistic Theory and Research on Obesity and Nutrition Group) Kids Program. The current research is based on the first wave of data generated in this longitudinal study, taken when the children were two years old.
The survey yielded wide-ranging information on demographics, health histories of both child and parent, and pertinent feeding practices. Research assistants also did home visits with each participant, checking height and weight and taking further information about the parents’ history. The data was then subjected to statistical analysis.
As a result of that analysis, McBride and U of I nutritional sciences graduate student Dipti A. Dev offer some recommendations for families.
Parents should recognize that their food preferences are being passed along to their children and that these tastes are established in the preschool years, Dev said.
“If you, as an adult, live in a food environment that allows you to maintain an elevated weight, remember that your child lives in that environment too. Similarly, if you are a sedentary adult, you may be passing on a preference for television watching and computer games instead of playing chasing games with your preschooler or playing in the park,” she added.
Consider too that restricting your children’s access to certain foods will only make them want those foods more, she said.
“If kids have never had a chance to eat potato chips regularly, they may overeat them when the food appears at a friend’s picnic,” McBride said.
Instead, work on changing the food environment in your home so that a wide variety of healthy choices such as fruits and vegetables are available while unhealthy options are not, he added.
“And remember that it takes a certain number of exposures to a food before a child will try it, let alone like it, so you have to offer it to them over and over and over again. And they have to see you eat it over and over,” McBride noted.
Don’t use food to comfort your children when they are hurt or disappointed, do allow your preschoolers to select their foods as bowls are passed at family-style meals (no pre-plating at the counter—it discourages self-regulation), and encourage all your children to be thoughtful about what they are eating, the researcher said.
Need some ideas to make school lunches or dinner healthier? Download our free chart to easily help substitute healthier foods into your family’s meals.
Image: Child eating, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
Holding babies, particularly those who are born prematurely, directly against a mother’s body in a technique called “skin-to-skin contact” or “kangaroo care” may have benefits for babies that last years into their development. More from LiveScience:
In the study, the researchers asked 73 mothers to give their babies skin-to-skin contact for one hour per day for two weeks. For comparison, the researchers also looked at 73 premature infants who only spent time in an incubator — the standard form of care for premature infants.
At age 10, the children who had received maternal contact as infants slept better, showed better hormonal response to stress, had a more mature functioning of their nervous system and displayed better thinking skills.
The results show that adding “maternal-infant contact in the neonatal period has a favorable impact on stress physiology and behavioral control across long developmental epochs in humans,” Ruth Feldman, a professor of psychology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and her colleagues wrote in their study, published Jan. 1 in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
About 12 percent of infants in the United States and other industrialized societies are born prematurely, which is defined as at least three weeks before their due date. Rates of preterm birth are significantly higher in developing countries. Premature babies face a higher risk of lifelong problems such as intellectual disabilities, breathing problems, hearing loss and digestive problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Image: Mom holding infant, via Shutterstock
What is written in the stars for you and your baby? Check out our Mom and Baby Horoscope Finder.
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Monday, November 11th, 2013
Children who don’t get an adequate amount of sleep each night may be at higher risk of obesity, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics. More from The New York Times:
Researchers randomly divided 37 children aged 8 to 11 into two groups. Each group increased their habitual time in bed by an hour and a half per night for one week, then decreased their time by the same amount the next week. They wore electronic devices to measure sleep time, were assessed for daily food intake three times a week, and had blood tests to measure leptin, a hormone that affects hunger, and high levels of which correlate with fat tissue accumulations.
Children consumed 134 calories fewer each day during the increased sleep week than the during the week with less sleep. Fasting leptin levels were lower when the children slept more and, over all, the children’s weight averaged about a half pound less at the end of long sleep weeks than short ones.
Image: Child eating, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, September 25th, 2013
Children who take naps are better able to process and retain new information in the classroom, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. More from The Boston Globe:
In a study of 40 preschoolers, napping aided children’s ability to recall information they had been taught earlier that day. Children recalled 75 percent of the matches accurately after a nap, versus 65 percent when they skipped a nap.
“There was very little telling us about naps, the physiology of them— nothing to say they really had a function,” said Rebecca Spencer, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at UMass Amherst. “I think policy-wise, teachers, in order to make the most of the research, need to know more about how to promote napping in the classroom.”
In the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, researchers taught children a game that resembled the popular game Memory, in which children have to match images with cards laid out in a grid pattern. They chose the memory task because it requires many of the basic skills preschoolers utilize when attempting other types of learning, such as learning the alphabet.
After playing the game, the children either napped or stayed awake. Later that afternoon, they were tested again, to see how much they remembered from the morning session.
A week later, the experiment was flipped. The children who had napped in the first experiment were kept awake, and those who had not slept.
The difference was clear, Spencer said, with those who napped recalling 10 percent more of the locations of the cards than when they did not nap. The researchers even checked the children the next day to see if overnight sleep had an effect, and found no difference in performance.
Spencer then brought some of the children into the laboratory and measured their brain activity while they slept. To her surprise, she found that the kids were not experiencing REM sleep associated with dreaming. She did, however, detect bursts of brain activity called sleep spindles that were associated with the most productive naps—the ones that helped children retain memory. In other studies, that type of brain activity had been associated with moments when the brain was most plastic and adaptable.
The study clearly suggests that napping may be a potent part of the learning process, but there was an interesting anomaly. Among children who were not habitual nappers, sleeping did not have an effect. That suggests to Spencer that as the children’s brains mature, perhaps they do not depend on the nap to consolidate their memories.
Image: Napping preschooler, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, July 9th, 2013
Children who go to bed at the same time every night–even if that time is a little later than parents think they need–may get a boost in school performance and brain development, according to a new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. More from CNN:
“If the child prefers to go to sleep a little bit later, but it’s done regularly, that’s still OK for them, according to the evidence,” said Amanda Sacker, professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London.
Researchers looked at information about bedtimes and standardized test scores for more than 11,000 children who were part of the UK Millennium Cohort Study, a nationally representative study of children in the United Kingdom.
The Millennium Cohort Study followed children when they were aged 3, 5 and 7, and included regular surveys and home visits. Researchers asked parents about family routines such as bedtimes.
Children also took standardized tests in math, reading and spatial abilities when they were 7 years old.
Researchers controlled for socioeconomic status in addition to other factors such as discipline strategies, reading to children and breakfast routines.
The study found that, in general, consistent bedtimes were linked to better performance across all subject areas. This was especially true for 7-year-old girls, regardless of socioeconomic background – they tended to do worse on all three intellect measurements if they had irregular bedtimes. Boys in this age group did not show the effect.
In both girls and boys, non-regular bedtimes at age 3 were linked with lower test scores, but not at age 5.
Bedtimes that had never been consistent for girls at ages 3, 5, and 7 were associated with lower scores than regular bedtimes. For any two of these ages, boys also tended to do worse on the tests if they didn’t go to sleep at a routine time.
These results “showed that it wasn’t going to bed late that was affecting child’s development, it was the irregular bedtimes that were linked to poorer developmental scores,” Sacker said.
Image: Boy at bedtime with clock, via Shutterstock
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