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Similac® Infant Formulas Recalled

October 22, 2010

Abbott, the maker of Similac-brand baby formula, has recalled about 5 million containers of its powdered formula—which includes Isomil® and Go & Grow®—due to concerns over contamination with insects or insect larvae.

The recall affects milk- and soy-based formulas that were distributed in the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam and some Caribbean countries. Contaminated formula will not result in any long-term health problems, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but consuming the products may result in short-term stomach upset. Parents should consult a doctor if symptoms persist for more than a few days.

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"FDA understands that this kind of contamination is a great concern to parents and caregivers, especially in a product they rely on to nourish their infants," said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., on the agency's website. "To date, FDA has not received any consumer reports of illness associated with the recalled formula."

Only some Similac-branded formulas are being recalled; liquid Similac products, for example, are not part of Abbott's voluntary recall. The company has stated that the problem occurred in only one manufacturing facility in Michigan and was discovered following an internal quality review.

To check if products you've purchased are part of the recall, visit the company's website and type in the lot number from your product (it's printed on the bottom of the container), or call . Anyone who has a recalled container should stop using it immediately and return it to the manufacturer for a full refund.

Sources: FDA: Abbott Recalls Some Similac Formulas; and Abbott: Abbott Voluntarily Recalls Certain Similac® Brand Powder Infant Formulas That Did Not Meet Its Quality Standards.

12 Choking Hazards to Avoid

August 3, 2010

Most choking incidents involve tots younger than age 3. But the danger still exists for children older than four, suggests a study published in the Archives of Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. Here's what you need to know to protect your youngster from choking.

The researchers, from several U.S. universities and medical centers, looked at information on almost 3,000 children admitted to hospitals in 2003 for airway obstruction. Younger kids—with an average age of 2.5 years old—were more likely to have ingested choking foods, while slightly older children—with an average age of 4.3 years old—were more likely to have tried to swallow a non-food object such as a small toy.

So, keep these common choking hazards away from babies, toddlers and preschoolers:

  • nuts and seeds
  • peanut butter
  • soft bread
  • grapes
  • popcorn
  • hard or gooey candies
  • round, firm foods such as hot dogs and raw carrots, unless they are chopped
  • uninflated or popped balloons
  • coins
  • marbles
  • tiny toy parts
  • button batteries

The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that parents and other caregivers learn choking first aid and Infant and Child CPR. To find out about classes in your area, check with the American Red Cross at

Source: Shah, Patel, Lander and Choi. Management of Foreign Bodies Obstructing the Airway in Children. Archives of Otolaryngology. April 2010.

Babies Move to the Beat

August 3, 2010

You coo and whisper to your baby all the time. But a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that you might want to be drumming as well. Here's more on how babies respond to a good, strong beat.

Researchers from England and Finland studied 120 babies and toddlers between the ages of five months and 24 months as they sat on their parent's lap. The babies listened to different kinds of music and rhythms, as well as to people speaking.

The scientists discovered that the little ones found the rhythm and tempo of music even more alluring than human speech. They spontaneously made rhythmic movements, moving their arms, legs and heads, when they heard music with a regular beat, such as drumbeats, much more than they did when people spoke.

And the beat made the babies happy. Though the babies didn't always move in time to the music's beats (they'll lack the motor control for this until preschool), the more they could coordinate their movements to the rhythm, the longer they smiled.

Source: Zentner, Eerola. Rhythmic Engagement With Music in Infancy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Published online before print March 15, 2010, March 30, 2010 vol. 107 no. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1000121107

Many Baby Foods Overloaded With Sugar

July 14, 2010

Packaged snacks aimed at babies and toddlers look so appealing that we parents buy them by the millions. But more than half of all baby and toddler foods in Canada's supermarkets—many of them the same foods sold here in the United States—contain too much sugar, according to research from the University of Calgary.

The study, published in the Journal of Public Health, found that more than half of 186 foods marketed for babies and toddlers have excess sugar. That means more than 20% of their calories come from added sweeteners.

The researchers looked at the sugar content of pureed mixed baby foods, some cereals, snacks such as cookies, bars, and biscuits, and meals for toddlers. They didn't include simple pureed fruits and vegetables, juices and other beverages, baby formulas, and cereals made to be mixed with water or breast milk.

The researchers also looked at the nutritional differences between some of the baby and toddler foods, such as cookies, and their grownup equivalents. Their findings: Not only were the baby and toddler foods no more healthy than the adult items, but in some cases, the products for the younger set were even higher in sugar than the adult versions!

So, how can you tell if a food for your little one is higher in sugar than it should be? Check for added sugars on the food label. Forty percent of the foods found to be too high in sugar listed sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, or a sweetener such as corn syrup or dextrose as one of the first four ingredients.

Source: Gabriele Nagel, Gudrun Weinmayr, Andrea Kleiner, Luis Garcia-Marcos, David P Strachan, the ISAAC Phase Two Study Group Effect of diet on asthma and allergic sensitisation in the International Study on Allergies and Asthma in Childhood (ISAAC) Phase Two. Thorax 2010;65:516-522 doi:10.1136/thx.2009. 128256

Doctors Often Misdiagnose Kids

July 14, 2010

If you're sometimes unsure what "bug" might be bugging your child, so is the doctor. More than half of the pediatricians who responded to a recent survey said they misdiagnose at least one child per month, according to research published in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers considered it a misdiagnosis when doctors made an incorrect diagnosis, delayed a proper diagnosis, or missed a problem altogether.

The anonymous survey of 726 pediatricians or pediatric residents in Houston and Cincinnati found that the most common misstep was diagnosing a viral infection as a bacterial infection. This is important because while antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections such as strep throat, they don’t work on viral infections such as colds or the flu. Not only don't you want your kids taking medications unnecessarily, but antibiotic overuse can contribute to the growing problem of bacteria that are immune to antibiotics.

The second most common problem? Not recognizing medicine side effects. This may happen in part because some medications can have unexpected or unusual effects on children. For example, some of the older antihistamines, such as Benadryl®, make most kids drowsy. But in some cases, they can have the opposite effect, making kids act hyper. Other common misses in the study included mental health problems and appendicitis.

What you can do to make sure your child gets the proper diagnosis? Don't push for antibiotics if the doctor doesn't consider them necessary. It's hard to see your child sick, but some bacterial infections may subside without antibiotics. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics' guidelines for treating middle ear infections (the most common bacterial infection in kids and the one most often treated with antibiotics) don't always recommend antibiotics as a first treatment. For kids between 2 and 12, without severe symptoms, the guidelines say watchful waiting is an option.

Also, trust your instincts. You know your child best, so tell the doctor what you have observed and what you are thinking. Good pediatricians always take what parents are saying into consideration, and they need your input. The doctors in the survey said that failure to get sufficient information from a medical history, physical exam or review of a child's chart was where the process broke down most often.

Finally, don't hesitate to seek a second opinion if you're unsatisfied. And try to work with experienced pediatricians; in this survey, a whopping 77% of the pediatric residents—trainees—who participated said they misdiagnose at least once a month.

Source: Pediatrics Vol. 126 No. 1 July 2010, pp. 70–79 (doi:10.1542/peds.)

Study Links Burgers to Asthma

June 9, 2010

An unhealthy diet may be partly to blame for the rise of allergies and asthma in the U.S. and other developed nations. That's the finding of a large, multi-national study published recently in the journal Thorax.

The study looked at ten years' worth of diet and asthma/allergy information on some 50,000 kids ages 8–12 from 20 affluent and poor countries. Researchers found that those who consumed a lot of fruit, green vegetables, and fish had the lowest likelihood of developing asthma. The Mediterranean diet, in fact, which is typically full of fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats from animal products, seemed to be associated with the lowest prevalence of wheezing and lifetime development of asthma.

On the flip side, eating a lot of hamburgers—three or more a week—was associated with the highest incidence of asthma over a lifetime for kids. But that was only true for youngsters in the richer countries in the study.

Mediterranean-type diets, say the researchers, have two-pronged benefits: They're loaded with antioxidant-rich produce, which may offer some protection against asthma, and with fish, whose omega 3 fatty acids may reduce allergy- and-asthma-promoting inflammation.

But while burger-bingeing seemed to have negative effects for kids in richer nations, high consumption of other meats wasn't associated with higher asthma rates in kids in any of the countries studied. So, say the researchers, it's possible that the hamburgers were simply a proxy for an overall unhealthy lifestyle. The takeaway: While it's still unclear whether burgers themselves are playing a role in respiratory ills, a diet filled with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and fish does seem to be protective against asthma.

Source: Gabriele Nagel, Gudrun Weinmayr, Andrea Kleiner, Luis Garcia-Marcos, David P Strachan, the ISAAC Phase Two Study Group Effect of diet on asthma and allergic sensitisation in the International Study on Allergies and Asthma in Childhood (ISAAC) Phase Two. Thorax 2010;65:516-522 doi:10.1136/thx.2009. 128256

Is Your Child Vulnerable to Video?

June 9, 2010

Violent video games can affect some preteens and teens adversely, making them more aggressive. But they may also offer more than a few positives, such as better social and leadership skills, according to a special issue of the Review of General Psychology.

One of several studies published in the issue suggests that only certain adolescents are vulnerable to the negative effects of violent video games. According to the research, which was conducted at Rutgers and Villanova Universities, teens who tend to be disagreeable, emotional, and anger-prone, as well as less conscientious, are far more likely to be adversely affected than preteens and teens without these characteristics.

Research from Massachusetts General Hospital found that video games can actually be a boon to the social-emotional abilities of preteens. Scientists there surveyed 1,254 middle-schoolers and found that video games can offer a wide range of benefits. Among these, video games offer a focus for making new friends and spending time with others, competitive joy and a sense of mastery and accomplishment, the chance to lead and teach others how to play, and can help preteens learn how to regulate their emotions. To help keep video game play under control, says lead author Cheryl Olson, Ph.D., try playing along with your kids, limit play time, keep game systems in common areas of the house, and keep an eye out for negative effects such as irritability.

Sources: Patrick M. Markey, PhD; Charlotte N. Markey, PhD; Vulnerability to Violent Video Games: A Review and Integration of Personality Research; Review of General Psychology, 2010, Vol. 14, No. 2, 82–/10 DOI: 10.1037/a0019000; and Cheryl K. Olson, M.P.H., Sc.D., Children's Motivations for Video Game Play in the Context of Normal Development, Review of General Psychology, 2010, Vol. 14, No. 2, 180–1/10 DOI: 10.1037/a0018984

Toddlers and TV

May 12, 2010

You know too much tube time isn't healthy for kids. Now, a new study from the Universite de Montreal, the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center, and the University of Michigan suggests that watching television at the age of two is a predictor for a wide variety of negatives later in life.

The study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, looked at 1,314 kids and asked their parents to report how much television the children watched each week at 29 months of age and 53 months of age. The researchers then asked parents and teachers to report on the children's academic, emotional and health behaviors, as well as their body mass indexes (BMIs)—a way to determine whether a person is at a healthy weight or an unhealthy weight—when the children were 10 years old.

What they found was that the more television the children watched at 29 months of age, the less engaged they were in classroom learning, math achievement, and exercise at the age of 10. In addition, the higher TV-watchers were more likely to be picked on by other kids, to eat more junk food and drink more soda, and to have higher BMIs. In fact, each additional hour of reported TV time was linked to a 13% drop in time pursuing physical activity on weekends, a 10% increase in the likelihood of being bullied by classmates, and a 6% reduction in achievements in math.

This doesn't mean that every child who watches TV as a toddler will experience these effects. But it does give parents a heads-up that too much media during early childhood may lead to problems in learning, behavior, and health.

Neighborhood Asthma Risks

May 12, 2010

Youngsters who live near the intersections of railroads or large highways may face a significantly higher risk of childhood asthma. That's what a study recently published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology has found.

The study, conducted at the Mayo Clinic, looked at 3,970 people born between 1976 and 1979 in Rochester, Minnesota and at the census tracts in which they lived. The research found that of the 1,947 who lived in areas that faced intersections, 6.4 % developed asthma, which is the leading cause of chronic illness in kids. Only 4.5 % of those whose homes didn't face intersections developed the respiratory condition. The takeaway: In addition to risk factors such as a family history of allergies or asthma and exposure to tobacco smoke, the environment outside a youngster's home may play a key role in the development of pediatric asthma. The researchers are also looking at the potential effect of neighborhood environments on other disease outcomes.

Mildly Ill Kids Getting Sent Home from Childcare Unnecessarily

April 23, 2010

A minor illness such as a runny nose may be no reason for a youngster to stay home from childcare. But a recent telephone survey of 305 childcare centers in Wisconsin found that many of the facilities reported that they would send kids with conditions like runny noses home for the day.

Via phone, researchers spoke with childcare center representatives about five conditions: a cold, conjunctivitis (pink eye), gastroenteritis, fever, and the scalp infection known as tinea capitis. None of these are grounds for exclusion from childcare, according to guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Public Health Association (APHA).

The survey, whose results were published in the journal Pediatrics, found that 57% of childcare center directors said they would send home kids with mild ills—even though they didn't need to for the health of the other children at the center.

About 8% of childcare center directors said they would send a child with a cold home, while 84% of directors said they would send a child with tinea capitis home. The more experienced directors were less likely to send a child home without good reason.

What to do? The study authors suggest that directors of childcare centers may need training on guidelines for exclusion. Ask the director of your childcare center what guidelines the center uses for stay-at-home illnesses.

Dangers of Dissolvable Nicotine Products

April 23, 2010

A dissolvable nicotine pellet that looks a little too much like candy may pose a danger to unaware children, according to new research from organizations such as the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The product, called Camel Orbs, are flavored with either cinnamon or mint, and contain 1 milligram (mg) of nicotine per pellet. The same company, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, also manufacturers Camel Strips and Sticks, which contain .6 mg and 3.1 mg of nicotine respectively.

Camel Orbs are sold as tobacco products and the company says that the packaging is child-resistant. But the study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, says these items could lead to accidental nicotine poisoning of youngsters.

"In the eyes of a four-year-old, the pellet looks more like candy than a regular cigarette," says lead study author Gregory Connolly, D.M.D., M.P.H., director of the Tobacco Control Research Program at HSPH. "To make it look like a piece of candy is recklessly playing with the health of children."

The researchers found that a one-year-old might experience mild to moderate symptoms of nicotine poisoning, such as nausea and vomiting, after eating 8 to 14 Orbs, 14 Strips or 3 to 4 Sticks. Eating 10 to 17 Orbs could cause severe poisoning or even death.

In addition, because nicotine is highly addictive, and these products may appeal to children and adolescents, they could increase the likelihood that young people become addicted to nicotine.

Importance of Mom-Son Bond Affirmed

April 9, 2010

It sure sounds like a no-brainer, that a healthy and loving relationship between mothers and babies helps kids in their emotional development. But research linking so-called secure attachment—essentially, when children receive consistent comfort and support from caregivers—to youngsters' behavior has been somewhat inconsistent over the years. Now, an analysis of numerous studies, published in the journal Child Development, has found that Mom's love early in life is key to behavior later in childhood at least for boys.

The theory of attachment is a simple one: it holds that young kids with insecure attachments—who may be rejected or discouraged when they ask for help, or who may receive that help inconsistently—are more likely to act out later in childhood. But because prior research on the subject looked at so many different factors, it was difficult to nail down a scientific link.

But now that researchers at several institutions, led by England's University of Reading, have analyzed the results of 69 previous studies involving nearly 6,000 children, we may have confirmation that parental consistency early in life is essential for young boys. The basic question that researchers sought to answer, they say, was whether insecure attachment was linked to behavior problems across all the studies they analyzed. The results, according to researchers, were a resounding yes.

"More specifically, our analysis showed that children with insecure attachments to their mothers, particularly boys, had significantly more behavioral problems, even when the behavioral problems were measured years later," says study leader Pasco Fearon, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Reading. The results, however, were not similar for girls. That may be because this analysis looked at aggressive behavior; girls, say the researchers, may be more likely to turn their feelings inward than to display aggression.

Mouth Breathing From Allergies Can Affect Health Adversely

April 9, 2010

Are your kids sniffling and stuffed up from spring allergies? One little-noticed result may be mouth breathing, which can cause physical and social problems, according to a study published in the journal General Dentistry.

Untreated mouth breathing can lead to a variety of problematic facial and dental developments, such as facial deformity, gingivitis, crooked teeth and gummy smiles, says the study. Mouth breathing can also cause improper oxygen concentration in the bloodstream, which can result in high blood pressure, sleep apnea, cardiac problems and more.

In addition, mouth breathing is likely to adversely affect sleep, impairing kids' abilities to focus during the school day. As a result, says study author Yosh Jefferson, DMD, "Many of these children are misdiagnosed with attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity."

One issue, say the study researchers, is that most healthcare professionals are unlikely to be familiar with the potential problems associated with mouth breathing. If you notice your child mouth breathing, bring it up to your child's dentist and/or doctor. Mouth breathing can be treated in several ways, including removal of tonsils and/or adenoids if they are swollen, and use of expansion appliances to widen sinuses and help open the nasal passages.

Low Levels of Vitamin D Linked to Asthma

March 29, 2010

Research from the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., suggests that there may be an association between low levels of vitamin D and asthma, at least in African-American children. The study found that kids with asthma were much more likely to have low levels of vitamin D in their blood than kids without asthma.

The study measured the vitamin D blood levels of 85 African-American youngsters between 6 and 20 years old who have asthma. The researchers also tested the vitamin D blood levels of 21 healthy African-American children between the ages of 6 and 9 years old.

The researchers found that only 19% of the kids who were asthma-free had either insufficient (less than 30 nanograms per milliliter of blood) or deficient (less than 20 nanograms per milliliter of blood) levels of the vitamin. A whopping 86% of the youngsters with asthma, on the other hand, had low levels of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is known to play a key role in helping to preserve bone strength and research in recent years has suggested that a deficiency may increase risks of heart disease, diabetes and even some cancers. While more research is certainly needed to confirm the link between asthma and low levels of vitamin D, in the meantime, it's wise for parents to ensure that kids get sufficient amounts of milk, which is usually fortified with vitamin D. And keep an eye out for new government recommendations on vitamin D intake, which are expected to be coming soon.

Is Fitness Linked to Better Learning

March 29, 2010

Kids who exercise regularly may learn better, according to research presented at the American Heart Association's 2010 Conference on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism, held recently in San Francisco.

The researchers, from West University University, looked at the body mass index percentiles, fitness levels, and standardized academic test scores of 725 fifth grade children in Wood County, West Virginia. They compared those numbers to the kids' academic performance and fitness two years later, when the youngsters were in seventh grade.

The researchers then split the study participants into four groups: one group was at a high physical fitness level in both fifth and seventh grades; a second group was physically fit in fifth grade but not in seventh grade; a third group was not fit in fifth grade but had achieved high fitness in seventh grade and a final group was not physically fit either in fifth grade or in seventh grade. The study found that the kids who had the highest average scores in standardized tests in math, reading, science and social studies were fit in both fifth and seventh grades. The group that scored second-highest on the academic tests was comprised of kids who were not physically fit in fifth grade but were in seventh grade. The kids who were out of shape in both fifth and seventh grade scored the lowest on the academic tests.

The message for parents: Helping kids stay fit may well benefit them academically. And for kids who are not fit, getting them more active may boost their grades as well. The researchers also suggest that increasing the focus on physical fitness in school may help kids be healthier, happier—and to achieve more academically.

Baseball Arm Injuries Increasing

March 12, 2010

Little League season is on the way and studies show that throwing arm injuries in children and adolescents are on the upswing. Three studies presented at the recent Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) offered possible solutions to this problem.

One study, led by Houston orthopaedic surgeon Charles Metzger, M.D., suggests that a simple five-minute stretch done after play may make a difference. The move, called the posterior capsular stretch, can help stretch out one of the shoulder ligaments that is often tight in teen pitchers and catchers. Instructions can be found on

Following youth baseball throwing guidelines can also reduce injuries, according to George A. Paletta, Jr., M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon and medical director/head team physician for the St. Louis Cardinals. For example, youngsters should never throw if they are in pain or if they show obvious signs of fatigue.

Finally, getting fast diagnosis and treatment for elbow pain—which can strike 25% of young baseball players—is key, say researchers from the University of Tokushima Graduate School in Japan. In particular are injuries known as osteochondral lesions, tears or fracture in the cartilage of the elbow joint.

Obese Youngsters Have Early Signs of Heart Risk

March 12, 2010

Obese children as young as three years old may already be displaying blood markers of inflammation—which can signal an increased risk of heart disease in the future. So found a study from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

The study analyzed data from 16,334 kids between the ages of 1 and 17, grouping them into four categories: healthy weight, overweight, obese, and very obese. Among the healthy weight three year olds, some 17% had elevated C-reactive protein (CRP), a sign of inflammation in adults. But more than 40% of the very obese children in that age range had higher-than-normal CRP.

The difference between the two groups was much more significant in older kids. Among adolescents (ages 15 to 17), only 18 percent of the healthy weight youngsters had elevated CRP. But 83 percent of the very obese teens had high CRP.

The findings, say researchers, suggest that there is a link between childhood obesity or overweight and inflammation, and suggest that more research be done on the potential impact of long-term inflammation in overweight and obese youngsters. "This really underscores the importance of preventive measures," says Asheley Cockrell Skinner, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at UNC. So, feed kids fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy proteins and ask your doctor for advice if your youngster is overweight.

Choking Risks and Kids

February 27, 2010

On average, one child in the United States dies from choking on food every five days, according to statistics. But a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) aims to reduce that number.

The new policy statement, published in the journal Pediatrics, asks food manufacturers to place warning labels on foods with a high choking risk and to design or redesign foods to minimize those risks. The AAP also recommends that foods with a significant choking hazard be recalled; and seeks to establish a nationwide system of surveillance and reporting of choking incidents.

Currently, foods that pose significant choking risks include grapes, nuts, popcorn, and hot dogs—which cause more deaths from choking than any other food item. Children under the age of four should not eat firm, round foods that have not been cut into small pieces. Grapes should be quartered and hot dogs should be cut lengthwise, so the pieces are long and thin—not round. Also, young children should avoid eating seeds, hard candy, and raw carrots.

Lack of Light Keeping Teens Up?

February 27, 2010

Teens may be staying up later at night, in part because they spend more morning time indoors—missing out on the morning light that gets the body's sleep/wake cycle going, according to new research from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The study, published in Neuroendocrinology Letters, found that teens who were deprived of morning light (also called blue light) began to go to bed later. The study looked at eleven 8th graders who wore glasses that blocked morning light from reaching their eyes. By the end of the study's fifth day, the youngsters were taking 30 minutes longer to get to sleep at night.

Why? Blocking morning light delays the action of the hormone melatonin, which tells the body when it's nighttime. People generally go to sleep about two hours after the onset of the hormone melatonin, say the researchers. So, when the onset of melatonin is delayed, so is sleep.

Middle- and high-schoolers may be missing out on the morning light because they're traveling to—or already in—school early in the morning. And schools, say the scientists, are unlikely to be lit brightly enough to jog the sleep/wake system properly. But thanks to this study, researchers may begin thinking differently about school design and lighting.

Stress Sensitive Kids And Supportive Environments

February 12, 2010

Some kids are more sensitive to stress than others, and these children are more likely to develop health and behavior problems than other youngsters. But new research suggests that kids who are more easily stressed can fare just fine when raised in supportive environments.

The study, published in the journal Child Development, looked at 338 kindergarteners, along with their teachers and their families. The researchers, from several institutions, including the University of California, Berkeley, wanted to find out how family issues might affect the way kids handle stress.

The researchers found that kids who tended to be more reactive when given minimally stressful tasks to perform were also more affected by positive and negative family situations. Thus, these highly sensitive kids were more apt to experience developmental problems if they were raised in high-stress settings.

However, these kids, who had stronger biological reactions to stress than other youngsters, also had stronger reactions to positive situations. So they did quite well when reared in low-stress and caring families. As one of the study researchers said, "Parents and teachers may find that sensitive children, like orchids, are more challenging to raise and care for, but they can bloom into individuals of exceptional ability and strength when reared in a supportive, nurturing, and encouraging environment."

New Explanation for Sweet Tooth

February 12, 2010

Kids who are raised in families with a history of alcoholism may have a more positive reaction to intensely sweet taste, according to new research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. The kids' own levels of depression may also play a role in their liking for sugary foods.

The study, which was published online in the journal Addiction, looked at 300 kids between the ages of five and 12. The children tasted five different levels of table sugar (sucrose) dissolved in water and chose the one they liked most. The kids also answered questions about depression symptoms and their mothers provided researchers with information on family alcohol histories. Almost half of the kids in the study had some family history of alcoholism, either in a parent, sibling, grandparent, aunt or uncle. Some 25% were found to have symptoms of depression.

The 37 children who had depressive symptoms along with a family history of alcohol dependence were most likely to favor the intensely sweet water and sugar mixture (24% sucrose, about twice as sweet as cola). Other kids tended to prefer the drink with 18% sucrose.

What might these findings signify? This doesn't mean, say the researchers, that an early taste for intense sweets is linked to alcoholism. However, sweetness and alcohol do affect similar reward areas of the brain. And some kids may be especially prone to liking very sweet foods for biological reasons. When it comes to depression, say the researchers, when kids are depressed, sweets may simply improve their mood; other studies have found that sugary items may reduce depressed feelings in adults.

Calorie Information Leads to Better Choice at Fast Food Restaurants

January 28, 2010

Knowing the number of calories in items at fast-food restaurants causes parents to make healthier food choices for their children, according to a study published recently in the journal Pediatrics.

The study, conducted at Seattle Children's Research Institute, involved 99 parents of children between the ages of three and six who sometimes eat in fast food restaurants. Researchers gave the parents sample McDonald's menus, with prices and pictures of available items, and asked parents what they might choose for themselves and their children during a typical visit to a fast food restaurant. Half the parents also received calorie information for the items.

The result? "Our study found that when we gave parents calorie information about their choices on a fast food menu, they actually made lower calorie choices," says study leader Pooka S. Tandon, M.D. The parents who had the calorie counts chose meals or items that were, on average, 102 calories less than the items chosen by parents without the calorie information. This cut the calories in choices for the children by about 20%.

There was, however, no difference in the calories in the hypothetical choices the adults made for themselves. Among other findings, the study researchers suggest that parents model healthy eating habits for their children.

Three Keys to Social Success

January 28, 2010

Three specific skills may help children develop and maintain healthy social connections. So say neurobiologists at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, who recently published research on the subject in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.

Scientists performed two studies on the subject; first observing a random group of 158 Chicago schoolchildren, then observing a random sample of 126 kids who had been referred to a clinic. The necessary skills, according to the results of the two studies, are for kids to be able to first notice non-verbal and social cues, then to understand those unspoken messages, and finally, to respond appropriately and display self-control in social settings. These abilities can help children develop and maintain friendships.

This is important because the number of kids with such challenges is significant and children who are socially rejected are more likely to experiment with drugs, experience academic failure, and/or develop depression or anxiety later in life. "The number of children who cannot negotiate all these steps, and who are at risk of social rejection, is startling," says study leader Clark McKown, Ph.D., the research director of the Rush Neurobehavioral Center, who headed the research team. Some four million schoolchildren—or nearly 13% of kids in that age range—have challenges in the area of social-emotional learning.

What's most helpful about the studies, say the researchers, is that this kind of research can aid in the development of proper screening tests and treatment plans for kids with social-emotional learning issues.

Peanut Allergy Less Common Than Thought?

January 18, 2010

The majority of kids who display a sensitivity to peanuts using traditional tests may not actually have full-blown peanut allergies, according to new research from Europe. That's because current allergy tests may often be diagnosing peanut allergies where none exist.

Peanut allergies are typically diagnosed through the use of blood tests, skin tests or a combination of both. But researchers at the UK's University of Manchester have discovered that these tests may be largely inaccurate.

In an eight-year study on nearly 1,000 children, starting at birth, scientists found 110 eight-year-olds who were determined to have peanut allergies through traditional tests. Although the children were found to have a sensitivity to peanuts in the skin and blood tests, most turned out not to be allergic to them in real life. Seventy-nine of the children underwent peanut tolerance challenges—where they were exposed to the peanut allergen in a safe, controlled environment, then monitored for allergic reactions such as wheezing and hives. Only seven of the 79 displayed true allergic reactions.

The researchers said that a new test, to detect the peanut compound known as Ara h2, shows significant promise at pinpointing peanut allergies with much greater accuracy. What to know: The research is intriguing, but needs to be replicated in larger groups.

Movie Scenes Seem Unsafe

January 18, 2010

When you're watching movies with your children, pay attention to the risk-taking on the screen. A recent study led by researchers from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that half the scenes in children's movies in recent years show unsafe behaviors.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at whether injury-prevention strategies on-screen have improved in recent years. The authors looked at 67 G or PG rated movies that were out between 2003 and 2007, with a total of 958 scenes. They compared their findings with two earlier CDC studies.

The CDC and other organizations have been pushing filmmakers to bring positive public health messages to the public in recent years. While the researchers found that the on-screen behavior was somewhat safer, with three-quarters of the characters shown in boats wearing life jackets and 56% of those in vehicles wearing seat belts, there's still too much risky behavior. According to the study, "approximately one half of scenes still depict unsafe practices, and the consequences of these behaviors are rarely shown."

Docs Need to Know More about Food Allergies

December 30, 2009

Pediatricians and family physicians say they don't always feel confident about diagnosing or treating food allergies. So says a new study from Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, which analyzed what more than 400 doctors nationwide know about food allergies.

While almost all the doctors who responded to the survey, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, said that they treat or have treated children with food allergies, many say they are uncomfortable about gaps in their knowledge of the subject. Most of the doctors were able to identify common childhood food allergies, but were less sure about how often kids outgrow such allergies. Few doctors were clear on correct dosages of epinephrine, which is used for the treatment of the life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. They were also unaware that teens are at greater risk of dying from anaphylaxis than younger children .

The survey found that while the overall knowledge of food allergy was fair, misconceptions were common. For example, many thought chronic nasal stuffiness was a symptom of food allergy; it is not.

Currently, some 4 to 6% of kids in the United States are thought to suffer from food allergies. The researchers leading this study are working on a food allergy education program that doctors can use in their office as a reference tool.

Seeing Bullying Can Cause Problems

December 30, 2009

It's well-established that bullying can harm those who are bullied. New research from England suggests that even those who witness such abuse can experience adverse psychological effects.

The study, published in the journal School Psychology Quarterly, found that children who see peers being verbally or physically abused by other kids can become even more distressed than the victims themselves.

The English researchers surveyed 2,002 students between the ages of 12 and 16, at 14 public schools. The students were given a list of bullying behaviors, including kicking, hitting, name-calling, and threatening. Students were asked whether they'd seen, been the victim of, or perpetrated any of these behaviors during the previous school term and how often. Kids were also asked whether they experienced feelings of depression, anxiety, hostility and other signs of psychological suffering.

Students who saw bullying were more apt to indicate greater distress than those who were victims or bullies. But why? Other studies have found that kids who witness bullying may feel guilty for not helping the victim. And researchers in this study suggest that by watching bullying, kids who’d been victimized in the past may be re-experiencing their previous torment. In addition, bystanders may worry that they will be bullied again in the future, which can cause significant anxiety.

The takeaway: Schools need to understand the impact that simply witnessing acts of bullying can have on children, say the researchers. Parents can help by talking with kids about bullying and helping them to come up with useful strategies, such as quickly telling a grownup if they see anyone else being victimized.

Reading Program Changes the Brain

December 21, 2009

An intensive program to enhance reading skills in poor readers may create positive physical changes in the brain, according to a new study published in the journal Neuron. The research, from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, found that 100 hours of remedial help for kids between the ages of 8 and 10, actually improved the quality of the brain's information-carrying white matter.

At the beginning of the study of 72 children, 47 of the children were considered poor readers and 25 read at a normal level. The good readers and 12 of the poor readers received no remedial instruction; the remaining poor readers received 6 months of reading help. The researchers scanned the brains of all the children in the study before and after the program.

At the end of the study, the brain scans of the good readers and the poor readers who received no help had not changed. But in the 35 children who received the extra instruction, imaging studies suggested that the white matter was able to transmit information more efficiently. In real-world terms, the children were able to read better.

What's exciting about this study is that it provides the first evidence that training can create physical changes in the brains of children. And, say researchers, this may have positive implications not just for kids with reading challenges, but for those with developmental disorders such as autism as well.

Unhealthy Food Marketing Aimed at Kids

December 21, 2009

Trying to keep your kids eating healthy foods? TV ads may be foiling your plans. A new study from the University of Arizona says that food and beverage manufacturers are still targeting kids with marketing campaigns for unhealthy foods, despite promises to change their strategy.

The study, commissioned by Children Now, a public policy organization that advocates for children, looked at 2007's Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. That initiative was launched by the U.S. Council of Better Business Bureaus as a voluntary program to help improve the quality of foods and beverages marketed to youngsters. In 2006, the Institute of Medicine recommended that marketers move toward promoting healthier food choices as a way to combat childhood obesity.

But the new study found that the advertising of low-quality foods to kids continues largely unabated. In 2005, before the initiative, 84% of the food ads on TV that were aimed at children were for foods in the poorest nutritional category. Today, a whopping 72.5% of kid-targeted food advertisements are for unhealthy foods. Only 1% of TV food ads that target children are for healthy items such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

Both the report and the Institute of Medicine suggest that Congress regulate these ads. But for now, it's up to parents to point kids toward healthier food options such as fresh produce, whole grains, and low-fat proteins.

New Evidence Supports Early Autism Help

December 3, 2009

A comprehensive intervention program for very young kids with autism—a developmental disorder that can have a profound impact on socialization and communication—has been shown to help such youngsters improve their IQ, speaking ability, and social skills, according to the results of a five-year study. The study, published online in the journal Pediatrics, is the first randomized controlled trial of intensive treatment for autistic children between 18 months and 30 months old.

In the study, conducted at the University of Washington, the researchers split 48 children with autism into two groups. Half were put on the Early Start Denver Model, which uses play-based relationship-building and behavior modification techniques and employs a combination of professional therapy and parent-directed therapy. The remaining 24 youngsters received therapy through community-based programs.

After two years, the youngsters in the Denver Model program had made what researchers call "significant gains" in IQ, language, adaptive behavior, and social interactions. More specifically, the IQs of the Denver Model kids rose an average of 18 points, while the IQs of the kids receiving community-based therapies increased by an average of only 7 points.

The importance of the study, say researchers, is that it underscores the importance of early autism diagnosis, and confirms the effectiveness of intensive and very early intervention. In fact, they say, the Denver Model can be used with children as young as 12 months old.

Sleep Changes Before Puberty

December 3, 2009

Well before kids start showing the physical signs of entering puberty, their sleep habits may begin changing. Recent research from Tel Aviv University in Israel has found that changes in sleep patterns that often crop up between the ages of 11 and 12 years of age may be precursors to the onset of puberty.

Researchers collected data on 41 boys and 53 girls between 10 and 11 years old from a larger study. The kids completed questionnaires that included information on their sexual maturation and physical development and then filled out sleep diaries. They also wore small devices to measure their sleep time. The same assessments were conducted one year and two years later. Eighty-two kids completed the second assessment and 72 finished the third.

The scientists found that over the course of the study, the onset of sleep was both delayed and reduced before puberty. Pre-teens took an average of almost 50 minutes more to fall asleep and slept an average of 37 minutes less per night. Girls, in general, slept better than boys.

According to the researchers, while biology can affect sleep during puberty, environmental issues—such as school stress and technology—can also play a role, potentially affecting sleep negatively. So parents and teachers need to help kids learn how to develop and maintain good sleep habits as they mature.

Chemicals in Plastics Affecting Boys' Play?

November 23, 2009

A study led by University of Rochester Medical Center researchers suggests that some of the chemicals known as phthalates may be linked to less-typical male play in preschoolers. Phthalates are used to soften plastic and the recent study of 145 preschoolers is the first to link them to possible changes of masculine brain development.

The pilot study, published in the International Journal of Andrology, looked at an analysis of urine samples of pregnant women. When the children were between 3 and a half years old and six and a half years old, the mothers filled out questionnaires about their kids' activities.

The result: The sons of women with higher urine concentrations of two phthalates, DEHP and DBP, during pregnancy were less likely to engage in traditionally male games, such as play fighting and playing with trucks.

Exposure to these phthalates, often used in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) typically occurs through food, and can happen during food processing, packaging, storage, and heating. The phthalates are also found in vinyl and plastic tubing, soaps and lotions, and household products.

Results, say the researchers, need to be confirmed, but the study raises concerns about fetal exposure to so-called anti-androgens and their possible effects on the development of male brains. "The implications are potentially profound," says lead author Shanna H. Swan Ph.D., director of the Center for Reproductive Epidemiology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Acetaminophen and Asthma

November 23, 2009

Some studies have suggested a link between acetaminophen (Tylenol®) use and increased risks of asthma in both children and adults, most notably 2008's large International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) study—which found that acetaminophen use in the first year of life was associated with higher asthma risks in six and seven-year-old children. But results of some other studies have been less clear. Now, researchers have tried to clarify research findings by analyzing 19 previously published studies.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver searched for medical journal articles published on the topic between 1996 and 2008 and synthesized the results of the most appropriate ones. They found that the risk of asthma and wheezing in children who had used acetaminophen in the year before their asthma diagnosis was 60 percent higher than for children who didn't use acetaminophen. In addition, the risks of asthma in kids who used acetaminophen in the first year of life was 47 percent higher than it was for other youngsters. The researchers, whose study was published in Chest, the journal of the American College of Chest Physicians, also noted a higher risk of asthma and wheezing in children whose mothers had used acetaminophen during pregnancy.

One possible mechanism, say the researchers: acetaminophen may have an impact on an enzyme that's part of asthma's anti-inflammatory response. Still, while the research has shown an association between the use of acetaminophen and risks of asthma, it hasn't established any cause and effect. More research, say the scientists, needs to be done.

Surprising Findings About Milk & Kids' Weight

November 12, 2009

Parents are routinely advised to switch to low-fat milk for kids once they reach age two—or as early as 12 months old for children at risk for being overweight or with a family history of heart disease, obesity or high cholesterol. But is it possible that children who drink full-fat milk on a daily basis have a lower Body Mass Index (BMI)—the ratio of height to weight—than youngsters who rarely consume milk? That's the conclusion of a thesis presented recently at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

The study looked at the nutrition, bone mineralization and body composition of 120 healthy eight-year-olds in Sweden, and asked the children how often they consumed a variety of foods.

The researchers found that the full-fat milk drinkers weighed less, on average, than the infrequent milk-drinkers. The same failed to hold true for kids who drank low-fat or medium-fat milk. It's true that the full-fat milk drinkers consumed more saturated fat than recommended, but they still had a lower BMI than kids with a lower fat intake.

The explanation? Researchers say they really don't have the answer. One possibility: Kids who avoid full-fat milk may be consuming more sugary soft drinks, say the researchers. Or, the full-fat milk drinkers may be more likely to be eating other healthy foods.

Before making your decision about what kind of milk to serve your youngster, talk with your child's pediatrician.

Is Smoking to Blame for Tots' Behavior Problems?

November 12, 2009

Research in recent years has suggested that maternal smoking during pregnancy is associated with behavior problems in boys born to those mothers. What's been unclear is whether maternal smoking in pregnancy might also affect girls and at what ages problems in either gender might crop up. New research published online first in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggests that smoking during pregnancy can increase the risk of behavior issues in both boys and girls as young as three years old.

Researchers at the University of York, Hull-York Medical School in England, looked at questionnaires about more than 13,000 three-year-old boys and girls in the UK's Millennium Cohort Study.

Nearly 10 percent of the moms in the study said they smoked heavily during their pregnancy and 12.5 percent reported smoking lightly. After accounting for factors such as family economic status, education level and maternal drinking or drug use, the researchers found that boys whose mothers smoked persistently throughout pregnancy were at significant risk of hyperactivity and behavior problems, compared to sons of non-smokers.

The young sons of lighter smokers (less than ten cigarettes a day) appeared to be at increased risk for attention-deficit problems, while the sons of heavier smokers were at higher risk for hyperactivity or behavior problems.

The risks for girls were evident but different: The daughters of mothers who smoked either lightly or heavily were at heightened risk only for conduct problems, not attention-deficit issues.

Protect Your Child from Crash Injuries

November 2, 2009

New research published in the journal Pediatrics confirms what earlier studies have suggested: that using a booster seat can significantly improve child safety and reduce the likelihood of crash injuries in children between the ages of four and eight.

The new study, which looked at insurance claim data on auto accidents involving kids in 15 states and Washington, D.C., over a nine-year-period from 1998 to 2007, found that kids in seat belt-positioning booster seats were 45 percent less likely to be injured in a car crash than were the kids using standard car seat belts.

The researchers interviewed tens of thousands of parents or drivers in crashes in which kids were involved. The biggest benefit was seen in side-impact crashes, where the risk of injury from far-side crashes was reduced by a whopping 82 percent and the likelihood of injuries from near-side crashes was cut by 68 percent for kids who were in booster car seats. Injury rates for high-back and backless booster seats were similar.

Laws for booster car seat use vary from state to state. But the study authors suggest that doctors continue to recommend the use of boosters for kids until they are at least eight years of age or achieve a height of 4' 9".

Time to Toss the Pacifier!

November 2, 2009

Time to take away the pacifier? Sucking on a pacifier or a bottle can be soothing for many babies. However, research from Patagonia, Chile, found that persistent sucking habits can increase the likelihood of speech disorders in preschoolers.

The study, published in the online journal BMC Pediatrics, looked at 128 children between the ages of three and five years old. They found that kids who stopped receiving bottles by nine months of age were less likely to develop speech disorders, while the babies who used a pacifier or sucked on their fingers for more than three years were three times more apt to develop speech difficulties.

Previous studies have found that sucking habits in early childhood may have an effect on the anatomy of the mouth, teeth and jaw. The takeaway: Although, as the researchers, point out, this study is observational in nature and not conclusive, it suggests that extended sucking habits, aside from breastfeeding, may hamper the speech development of young children. According to previous research, breastfeeding, however, may actually help babies in the areas of speech and swallowing.

Treating High Blood Sugar in Moms-to-Be

October 12, 2009

For years, obstetricians have been unable to come to a consensus about whether mild gestational diabetes—high blood sugar levels that are first identified during pregnancy—should be treated or simply monitored. Now, the results of a recent federally funded study have come down on the side of treatment, for the sake of both baby and mother.

Moderate to severe gestational diabetes has traditionally been treated. But a new study on 958 pregnant women with gestational diabetes, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that treating women with mild gestational diabetes (defined as abnormal results on an oral glucose-tolerance test, but a fasting glucose level below 95 mg per deciliter) also had observable benefits.

Women in the study who received counseling on diet and glucose monitoring and when necessary, were treated with insulin, gained less weight, and were less likely to have a C-section, give birth to a preterm baby, or develop preeclampsia—a condition marked by high blood pressure (hypertension) and protein in the urine (proteinuria), which can result in premature birth. The babies of the women in the treatment group were also less likely to be larger than normal at birth; overly large babies are more likely to develop diabetes later in life.

Can You Spot the Warning Signs of Dyslexia?

October 12, 2009

Dyslexia or related learning disabilities (e.g., ADHD), often marked by reading difficulties, may affect as many as 15 percent of Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). Challenges in the ability to hear individual sounds in words—known as phonemic awareness—are often at the root of this condition, which is the most common of all learning disabilities. Do you know the signs of dyslexia?

With October as National Dyslexia month, experts are encouraging parents to educate themselves about the warning sign for the condition. Early identification and intervention is key. Children with dyslexia who receive early reading instruction have fewer problems achieving grade-level reading than those who don't receive help until 3rd grade or later, according to the Massachusetts Branch of the International Dyslexia Association.

Dyslexia warning signs, according to the International Dyslexia Association, include beginning to talk later than normal; poor reading comprehension and spelling; and challenges in learning to read, pronouncing or retrieving words or acquiring vocabulary; using grammar appropriately; differentiating sounds of letters, and putting ideas on paper. Children with dyslexia are likely to have several of the above characteristics.

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