Rapid-Fire Science: When Research Confuses Rather Than Illuminates

questionmarkParents want to keep up with the latest science to help them stay informed about child development and health. But what do parents do when the rapid pace of research becomes confusing?

Recently, my fellow blogger Holly Lebowitz Rossi alerted us to two important studies. One scientific paper suggested that it isn’t necessary to delay introducing infants to solid foods: doing so would not lead to an increase in food allergies later in childhood. A second report emphasized how common food allergies have become: 1 in 13 children are affected. As Holly noted, our fellow blogger (and food editor) Heather Morgan Shott raised an interesting point: so what exactly is a parent to think and do when the collective results of scientific studies can appear contradictory?

I was captivated by the dialogue between Holly and Heather because I think they exemplified where we are all at as parents these days: part of our routine is to try to make sense of rapid-fire science . Holly’s coverage showed us how scientific studies don’t always coalesce easily — and indeed can bounce off of each other in real time. Science keeps defining itself monthly and weekly — and consensus often eludes us in terms of what parents need to know. Heather not only shared what it’s like to try to put the scientific pieces together as a parent (which she described, in this case, to be confusing, and she’s a food expert!), but also a strategy she uses — discussion with her pediatrician.

Putting all this together, their coverage of childhood food allergies reinforced what I believe as both a scientist and a dad: as parents, we have an opportunity to sort through the latest scientific studies and try to figure out the take-home message. What I like about this model of parenting is that it positions parents as experts on their own children. Parents are not passive recipients of “expert” advice — they can now follow the science and use it to evaluate issues for themselves. So if I happen to endorse a particular position on a topic that is being debated (as I did recently with respect to early screening for autism), my hope is that parents consider the information I presented but ultimately make up their own mind. I love the idea that parents have access to science these days, and especially that bloggers and parents can have ongoing discussions about how the science can be folded into the decisions that we make about our parenting.

Image by jscreationzs courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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