TV-MA: Violent Television Puts a Hamper on Bedtime

If your young kids are having trouble sleeping at night, you may want to take a look at what television programs are watched right before bedtime. In a recently released report, researchers from the Seattle Children’s Research Institute found that violent or intense content could significantly affect a child’s sleep pattern, including their ability to fall asleep. The study is set to be published in the September issue of the medical journal Pediatrics.

Even as adults, it is hard to argue against the effects late-night television or movies may have on an otherwise restful night. But as the study’s lead author, Michelle Garrison, set out to find, changing these habits could mean the difference between sweet dreams and nightmares. “Making a relatively simple change in what kids are watching is a change worth the effort,” explained Garrison. And unlike other options, this does not require a trip to the doctor’s office.

For the study to begin, Garrison and her colleagues sought families in the Seattle area who had children between the ages of three and five: eventually, 565 children and their families signed on. This group was then divided into two groups. In one group of 276 children, parents were asked to change their nightly viewing habits, switching regular broadcasts with “healthy media.” Information on healthy eating and nutrition was sent to the other 289 children and their families. All families were asked to keep diaries and take surveys to log programing and sleeping habits. Input was collected on three separate occasions after six month intervals.

After examining results, Garrison concluded that “when kids in this age group watched violent or age-inappropriate media, they were more likely to have nightmares, have a hard time falling asleep and wake up during the night.” Children that abstained from this type of media, and instead watched material considered healthy, were much more likely to have better sleeping habits. For the group of children that stuck to “healthy media,” 64 percent were less likely to have problems sleeping or falling asleep over the group that was only provided with nutritional information.

For Dr. Sangeeta Chakravorty, the director of the Pediatric Sleep Evaluation Center at the Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, these results were not surprising. “Clearly, children process information while they sleep,” Chakravorty explained. “If it’s the last thing they do before bed, they’ll be processing that as they sleep.”

Judging what type of programming is “healthy” may be harder than it sounds. Kid-centric shows like Spongebob Squarepants may be more violent for young children than they seem. Children as young as three tend to have a much different interpretations of these shows than slightly older children.

“An 8-year-old can watch superheroes and understand that it’s not what happens in real life,” said Garrison. “But the same content can be overwhelming and scary for a 3-year-old. The idea that people might just explode is scary for a 3-year-old.” So, what do experts suggest? A simple switch of nighttime shows should certainly help.

According to Garrison, shows like Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, and Curious George “can be beneficial for preschool children to watch, because they emphasize things such as literacy, numbers and social skills.” The best fix, however, would be to get rid of nighttime television altogether, and instead swapping it with an educational activity like reading or playing with toys. These activities allow children to take charge of their own pace and not get riled up by the shows they are watching. In this way, bedtime could be a much better experience: for both children and parents alike. Hopefully.


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BPA in Dental Fillings Linked to Behavioral Problems in Children

A new study out of the New England Research Institutes of Watertown, Massachusetts, has found that a resin compound commonly used in dental fillings may be a cause for concern. According to the research, fillings made out of a bisphenol-A glycidyl methacrylate (bisGMA)-based composite may be inadvertently causing behavioral and psychosocial issues in the children that have them.

While bisGMA may not be the most widely known material, its main component bisphenol-A (more commonly known as BPA) is no stranger to controversy. Commonly found in the linings of cans, as well as in food and drink containers, BPA has been vehemently protested by those wanting to see it banned from being used in children’s toys and baby bottles. Now, dental researchers fear that significant amounts of the dangerous chemical may be leaching into children’s mouths by way of these fillings—and this is leaving a sour taste in the mouths of many.

In the course of the five year study, 534 children between the ages of 6 and 10 were evaluated by Dr. Nancy Maserejian and her team at the New England Research Institutes. Some children examined had bisGMA fillings and others had fillings made of a urethane dimethacrylate-based polyacid-modified composite.

In the end the team found that 16 percent of children with the highest levels of BPA exposure exhibited problems with behavior that included instances of depression, delinquent behaviors, acting out, and issues with attention and self-esteem. “On average, the difference in social behavior scores were very small and would probably not be noticed for each individual child,” explained Maserejian. “But imagine a huge group of children around the country; you’d probably notice a difference.” Add the risk of multiple cavities per child, and the danger also escalates.

While silver amalgam fillings were the go-to fillings for well over 150 years, new bisGMA fillings have gained in popularity because its white color most resembles a natural tooth. Amalgam fillings have also seen its fair share of hullabaloo due to numerous reports that the amalgam material contained suspicious levels of mercury. Regarding that issue, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends having amalgam fillings removed only if the fillings are in less than good condition—otherwise, it is unnecessary.

As for bisGMA fillings, researchers agree that until additional studies are processed, nothing should be set in stone. But if you would like to encourage the American Dental Association (ADA) to provide patients with the safest and most effective fillings, write to the ADA President, and sign the petition here.

Regardless of these current or future findings, what can be certain is that in order to cut down on this risk the best way to steer clear of the problem would be to prevent cavities in the first place. Dr. Mary Hayes, a spokesperson for the ADA as well as a Chicago-based pediatric dentist has put it in the simplest terms: “I’m going to use this study as another educational opportunity…The best tooth material is your own.”


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Providing Greater Health Care for Mothers and Children Around the World

Developed as a way to progress the quality of life in the world’s poorest and most underdeveloped countries, the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals were established and set in motion in 2000, to be met by the year 2015. The main purpose of the goals, which focus attention on a number of important aspects (including but not limited to ending world poverty and hunger, combatting HIV/AIDS, maintaining environmental sustainability, encouraging global partnership, and providing child health care), is to ensure that every person on the planet has an equal right to freedom, equality, basic needs, and dignity.  

While targeting child health around the world, the UN has raised the stakes and plans to reduce the mortality rate of children aged five years and younger by at least two-thirds between the years 1990 and 2015. Despite ongoing efforts this goal is still a distance away; but groups like the United States’ Agency for International Development (USAID), and its administrator Raj Shah, are hopeful that it is one that can be reached. 

No stranger to the issue, children’s advocacy group Save the Children headed a study (sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) that would eventually find significant information about the state of global health care. According to the study, newborn babies—those within the first month of life—accounted for an astonishing 40% of preventable child deaths throughout the world each and every year. What is more, only a small amount of international aid is geared towards newborn and maternal care.

While the news is certainly concerning, it provides a clear plan of action for alleviating this crisis. “We must make sure to focus global efforts on when our kids are dying,” explained the President and CEO of Save the Children, Carolyn Miles. “Shockingly, this is right at the start of their lives when they are newborn babies.”

In 2010 alone, approximately 7.6 million children under the age of five died around the world—of these, 3.1 million were newborns. While the total number is down from 1990 (12.4 million), most of these deaths can be attributed to preventable causes like pneumonia, diarrhea, and other newborn complications. And while the treatment can often times be simple enough, the means and know-how are largely less available.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in a similar report, found that two of the strongest causes of infantile deaths can be traced to pneumonia and diarrhea (29% of children’s deaths, five years and younger). It is here where the international agency, as well as Save the Children, hope to focus future efforts. “Deaths due to these diseases are largely preventable through optimal breastfeeding practices and adequate nutrition, vaccinations, hand washing with soap, safe drinking water and basic sanitation, among other measures,” explained UNICEF in its report.

With the recent “Child Survival: Call to Action” meeting in Washington (June 15-16)—hosted by India, Ethiopia, and the Obama Administration—representatives from around the world convened in order to better prepare for the challenges ahead of them. But at least now crosshairs can be focused more adequately. Now is the time to take action on a global scale and eradicate preventable causes of infant deaths. To urge the international authority on heath, the World Health Organization (WHO), to improve global newborn and maternal health care, sign the petition here.


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Obese Ohio Boy Returned to Mother after Losing 50 Pounds

A few months ago, the news shocked the nation: officials took a Cleveland, Ohio nine-year-old from his mother and put him in foster care, on the charges that he weighed in at a whopping 218 pounds and she was doing little to help him slim down. Now, 50 pounds lighter, the boy is returning home, along with a free gym membership, nutritional counseling, and exercise equipment, donations from health organizations in the area.
Back in March, officials returned the child to his mother under protective supervision. But it took all the way until May for a juvenile judge to release the boy from the supervision, though social workers still plan on looking in on the family from time to time.
“We will remain involved as long as the mother allows us to remain involved,” said Mary Louise Madigan, spokeswoman for Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services. “She doesn’t have to allow anything anymore, because essentially the two years has passed, legally we’re at the end of the line.”
The county’s Children and Family Services agency claims to have worked with the family for up to a year before finally placing the boy in the care of his uncle last fall.
Reports indicated that the boy, who suffers from sleep apnea, a weight-related sleep disorder that causes sufferers to cease breathing for brief points during the night, first received attention when his mother brought him to a hospital for breathing problems last year. The then-second-grader was promptly enrolled in “Healthy Kids, Healthy Weight,” a weight-loss program run by Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. He managed to shed a few pounds, but after he began to gain them back, the Department of Children and Family Services asked for custody of the boy, seeking to place him into a foster home.
Since then, the nine-year-old has dieted his way down to 166 pounds.
But while the 50 dropped pounds is a major milestone, the case has raised some questions about the direction in which the fight against childhood obesity will sway.
Some wonder: is it beneficial, or even ethical, to separate kids from their families because they’re at risk for obesity-related diseases? According to one family who’s gone through a similar ordeal, it’s not.
Anamarie Regino, now a teenager, was placed in foster care as a ninety-pound three-year-old. She didn’t improve, was diagnosed with a genetic predisposition to being heavy, and eventually, returned to live with her parents.
“They say it’s for the well-being of the child, but it did more damage than any money or therapy could ever to do to fix it,” said her mother, Adela Martinez.
But on the other side of the spectrum, some health pundits encourage the drastic measures, claiming that allowing a child to become obese is akin to child abuse and endangerment.
Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Children’s Hospital Boston, and Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health, say the point isn’t to blame or punish parents, but to get obese children the help their families can’t—or don’t—provide them.
Government intervention “”ideally will support not just the child but the whole family, with the goal of reuniting child and family as soon as possible. That may require instruction on parenting,” Ludwig said.
Murtaugh, Ludwig’s co-author on an opinion piece on the topic, concurred.
“Despite the discomfort posed by state intervention, it may sometimes be necessary to protect a child.”

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Anthrax Vaccines for Children? — Pending Review

Anthrax, a term synonymous with bioterrorism and the United States Postal Service, is once again on the lips of many government officials as they recently met to discuss the steps towards vaccinated children against the lethal disease.  In a meeting that took place at the end of last month, a government panel decided that once ethical issues are resolved surrounding the issue, the vaccine can then be tested in children to better protect them against the disease if an outbreak or attack were to occur.

“[A]n acute infectious disease caused by a spore-forming bacterium called Bacillus anthracis,” anthrax shot to high-alert levels around 2001, when Americans were warned of possible acts of bioterrorism by those spreading the anthrax disease through its white powdery substance.  The disease got a wide level of attention due to the ease of which it could be sent and travel throughout the country by way of the U.S. mail.  According to the United States Department of Labor, the disease could be contracted through inhalation, consumption, and most commonly through abrasions or cuts to the skin.  Once in the body, symptoms would be similar to those of the common cold—swollen lymph glands, nausea, loss of appetite—and progress to vomiting of blood, severe diarrhea, and possibly death.

In 2001, a scientist at an Army biodefense laboratory, Bruce Ivins, was accused by the FBI of sending the dangerous powder through the mail killing 5 people and making 17 others sick.  Before Ivins was charged with the crimes, he was found dead of an apparent overdose of Tylenol.  Since this time, however, anthrax has become the biggest name in bioterrorism.

A controversial immunization program, set up by the Pentagon in 1998, was challenged by the courts questioning the safety of the immunized military personnel once it was administered to them.  Since this time, the anthrax vaccine has been given to over 2.6 million members of the armed services deployed overseas to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas believed to use the disease as a biological weapon against the troops.  However, once lawsuits objected to immunization surfaced in 2004, a federal judge suspended the program.

According to the Associated Press, while it is impossible to get the disease from the vaccine, adults who have taken it have had side effects like muscle aches and soreness, fatigue, headaches, and the very rare occasion of an allergic reaction to the vaccination.

Because of these factors, many are cautious of what the potential dangers could be if given to children.  Due to these uncertainties, the National Biodefense Science Board (NBSB) has recommended that the United States Department of Health and Human Services review the ethics of this case before continuing with their testing.  Only when this has happened do they want the testing to continue to determine how much and when kids should be immunized.

“We need to know more about the safety and immunogenicity of the vaccine on a large number of children in the event of a bioterrorist’s attack,” explains panel member Ruth Berkelman, of Emory University.  Others, like Vera Sharav of a New York-based advocacy group—Alliance for Human Research Protection—agree that until the ethical problems are resolved the controversial program should not proceed:  “The trial would expose healthy children to substantial harm with no possibility of benefit.”

Whether or not parents will be willing to get the children inoculated is another question entirely. And one not likely to be answered until further review. To pledge your support for further review and research into an anthrax vaccine for children, sign the petition here, and as always be educated on vaccines for you and your children.


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Girls in the U.S. Hitting Puberty Earlier Than Ever

According to the journal Pediatrics, American girls are hitting puberty earlier than ever. In a study profiling 1,239 girls between the ages 6-8, researchers found that about 15% of the girls participating in the study, which was conducted in 2010, reached puberty by age 7. Scientists are not entirely sure of the reason girls are maturing at such a young stage, but they believe several factors, including obesity and environmental toxins, could be involved. Whereas girls in the U.S. typically used to reach puberty around age 10 or 11, the age at which girls today begin to menstruate and develop breasts has been dropping quickly. The early onset of puberty has “shortened the childhood of girls by about a year and a half” over the last 30 years, according to Sandra Steingraber, who wrote a report on precocious puberty in 2007.

Young girls whose bodies mature their brains face serious health risks, according to Marcia Herman-Giddens, an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Early onset puberty raises the risks of girls dealing with depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and self-injurious tendencies such as eating disorders and attempted suicide. Later in life, the odds of breast and uterine cancers are significantly elevated due to the fact that they will have been exposed to estrogen for a longer period of time.

The effect of obesity on young girls has been explored as a reason for early onset puberty. In the past generation, boys and girls alike “have become less connected to nature and, in many ways, less free,” according to Chris Feudtner, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Children are less active than previous generations, and as a result are heavier; according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 30% of America children are overweight or obese. Dr. Luigi Garibaldi, a professor of pediatrics and clinical director or pediatric endocrinology at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, believes obesity has a role to play in precocious puberty. Garibaldi points out that in the 1700s, girls didn’t begin to menstruate until they were around 17 or 18, largely due to malnutrition. Dr. Frank Biro, the director of adolescent medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the lead author of the study, also believes obesity is a critical factor in early onset puberty. Research has shown that children who are overweight have higher levels of leptin, a hormone that regulates appetite and is produced in fat cells. Although leptin is not solely responsible for starting puberty, research has suggested that puberty cannot start without the presence of leptin.

Environmental toxins have also been blamed for triggering early puberty. Numerous chemicals, which can be found in pesticides, household cleaners, and plastic products, can interfere with the hormone system. Bisphenol A (also known as BPA), an estrogen-like chemical found in numerous plastic and metal consumer products, has drawn the attention of scientists after it was discovered that BPA has caused early puberty in animals. There is speculation that BPA can cause early puberty in young girls. As with other chemicals, the effects of BPA are not entirely understood, although BPA is increasingly present in the population- according to the CDC, 90% of Americans have BPA in their bodies.

Several other factors contributing to early puberty are being examined by researchers. The rate of premature infants, which have increased by 18% since 1990, may be a contributing factor. Babies who were born early or at a low birth weight play “catch-up growth,” which could eventually lead to being overweight, according to Steingraber. Rapid weight gain initiated by prematurity makes children less sensitive to insulin, which increases their chance of developing diabetes. It is also possible that genetics play a factor; studies have shown that black girls consistently hit puberty earlier than white girls. This is attributed to the fact that black girls generally have higher levels of insulin and leptin, which, as previously mentioned, may influence the onset of puberty. In the study published in Pediatrics, 23% of the black girls studied had started puberty by age 7, compared to 10% of white 7-year-olds.

In an effort to further research the causes of precocious puberty, the National Institutes of Health is funding research to examine the effects of environmental causes on young girls. Dr. Frank Biro, who is involved with the study, will be working with other researchers to test more than 1,200 girls for exposure to chemicals. The National Children’s Study will be conducting similar research on 10,000 children from before birth to age 21 to assess the effects of environmental influences.

Court: No Autism-Vaccine Link

[img_assist|nid=190807|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=230|height=230]August 30 – A small but vocal group of activists who blame vaccines for causing autism were dealt a major set-back on Friday when a U.S. appeals court upheld a ruling that vaccines are not to blame for autism.

The litigants had claimed that the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine and the preservative thimerosal are responsible for causing autism in children.

The lower court, however, found that evidence for that assertion “is weak, contradictory and unpersuasive. Sadly, the petitioners in this litigation have been the victims of bad science conducted to support litigation rather than to advance medical and scientific understanding [of autism.]”

The appellate court in its ruling on Friday said “we have carefully reviewed the decision of the special master and we find that it is rationally supported by the evidence, well-articulated, and reasonable. We, therefore, affirm the denial of the [plaintiffs’] petition for compensation.”

For years, some activists and a small group of physicians have insisted that vaccines are to blame for a rise in autism cases. However, the lower court notes, “Unfortunately, the [plaintiffs] have been misled by physicians who are guilty, in my view, of gross medical misjudgment,” adding that this determination was “not a close case at all.”