Your Child

Kids May Get Swine Flu Shots First

U.S. schoolchildren may be first in line for swine flu vaccine this fall, and might even be able to get the shot right at school. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is taking that possible scenario to school superintendents around the country, urging them to spend the summer planning what to do if the government decides it needs their buildings for mass vaccinations.

"If you think about vaccinating kids, schools are the logical place," Sebelius told The Associated Press. No decision has been made yet on whether and how to vaccinate millions of Americans against the new flu strain that the World Health Organization has formally dubbed a pandemic, meaning it now is circulating the globe unchecked. Currently, swine flu doesn't appear any more lethal than the regular flu that strikes each winter. But scientists fear it may morph into a more dangerous strain. Regardless, it can kill, and the WHO says about half of the world's more than 140 known deaths so far have been people who were previously young and healthy. If that trend continues, "the target may be school-age children as a first priority" for vaccination, Sebelius said. "That's being watched carefully." Those shots would be in addition to the regular winter-flu shots that will be given as usual. Health officials are working to make people understand who will need which vaccine, or maybe both. "We really just don't know, unfortunately, at this point," Sebelius said, noting that those decisions will be made in part based on how swine flu behaves in the Southern Hemisphere this summer, where flu season is just beginning.

Your Child

Can Your Child Hear You?

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You may think your child isn’t listening to you, but in fact, he or she may not hear you.

Twelve percent of U.S. children between the ages of 6 and 19 suffer from noise-induced hearing loss – that’s about 5.2 million children – according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

About 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 U.S. children are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears.

Many hearing experts have suspected that long-term hearing loss begins in childhood and now studies have shown how common hearing impairment is among kids.

"Historically, people have been looking only at adult hearing loss and assuming that this is not a problem among children," said Amanda Niskar, a nurse at the CDC and lead author of a study released last summer. "What we have found here for the first time is that this is not true. [Hearing loss] is a progression, and it starts when you're very young."

Some hearing experts say the problem of hearing loss in kids will likely worsen, considering rising levels of environmental noise.

One of the most common contributors to kid’s hearing loss is loud music. Regular exposure to loud noises can damage nerve cells in the ear called hair cells. As the name suggests, these cells have tiny hairs that detect sound vibrations and turn them into signals sent to the brain. But while soft noises only cause the hairs to vibrate, loud noises can break them.

Brief instances of exposure to loud noise may only temporarily damage these hairs. Niskar said two hours of loud music on headphones or seven minutes next to the speakers at a rock concert result in damage that may last for only a few days. However, chronic exposures can damage the hair cells — and hearing — permanently.

Loud toys can also cause hearing impairment. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASLH) discusses toy noise on their website www.asha.org.

“Some toys are so loud that they can cause hearing damage in children. Some toy sirens and squeaky rubber toys can emit sounds of 90 dB, as loud as a lawn mower. Workers would have to wear ear protection for similarly noisy sounds on the job.

The danger with noisy toys is greater than the 90-dB level implies. When held directly to the ear, as children often do, a noisy toy actually exposes the ear to as much as 120 dB of sound, the equivalent of a jet plane taking off. Noise at this level is painful and can result in permanent hearing loss.

Toys that pose a noise danger include cap guns, talking dolls, vehicles with horns and sirens, walkie-talkies, musical instruments, and toys with cranks. Parents who have normal hearing need to inspect toys for noise danger.

Before purchasing a new toy, listen to it. If the toy sounds loud, don’t buy it.”

Good advice to help protect your child’s hearing.

What are the signs and symptoms of hearing loss in kids? Each child is different, but there are some symptoms such as:

Signs in Babies

•       Does not startle at loud noises.

•       Does not turn to the source of a sound after 6 months of age.

•       Does not say single words, such as “dada” or “mama” by 1 year of age.

•       Turns head when he or she sees you but not if you only call out his or her name. This sometimes is mistaken for not paying attention or just ignoring, but could be the result of a partial or complete hearing loss.

•       Seems to hear some sounds but not others.

Signs in Children

•       Speech is delayed.

•       Speech is not clear.

•       Does not follow directions. This sometimes is mistaken for not paying attention or just ignoring, but could be the result of a partial or complete hearing loss.

•       Often says, “Huh?”

•       Turns the TV volume up too high.

If you suspect your baby may have a hearing problem, make sure that he or she has a hearing screening. It’s easy and not painful. Older children should have their hearing tested before entering school any time there is a concern about the child’s hearing. Children who do not pass the hearing screening need to get a full hearing test as soon as possible.

With Christmas and holiday shopping in full swing, make sure to test the toys you buy for your child if they produce a noise and check to see that they are not too loud for your little one to be around.

Hearing loss can affect a child’s performance in school and personal relationships. If you have any suspicions that your child is having difficulty hearing the sooner he or she is checked, the better. There are many excellent therapies for hearing loss now as opposed to even a decade ago.

Sources: Dan Childs, http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=117355

http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/hearingloss/facts.html

http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Noisy-Toys/

Your Child

CDC Warning: Dangerous Pool Parasite

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With temperatures in the high 80s and 90s, lots of families are cooling down with a swim in the pool. It’s pretty much become a summer tradition over the decades and can be a great way to have fun, exercise and beat the heat.

However, there is a parasite outbreak that parents should know about before allowing their children to swim in public, private or even their own pool.

The parasite is Cryptosporidium and it can cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, watery diarrhea, vomiting, fever and stomach cramps. You can become infected with cryptosporidium by touching anything that has come in contact with contaminated feces.

The parasite is encased in a tough shell and is not easily removed by typical pool treatments like chlorine or bromine. It can survive for several days after a pool treatment, whereas e-coli is typically eliminated within minutes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a warning about the dangers of Cryptosporidium in pools and hot tubs.

CDC's Healthy Swimming Program chief Michele Hlavsa said that the outbreaks commonly affect children.

"With these outbreaks, we see they disproportionately affect young children," Hlavasa said, "They're the ones who can go to a pool and young children tend to carry lots of germs."

The parasite can be cleared from the body in about two to three weeks, Hlavasa said, but in a person with a weakened immune system the condition may become chronic or even fatal.

Pool owners can help reduce the risk to their family and guests by insisting people shower before diving into the water, the CDC stated. This practice could assist in preventing the microorganism from contaminating hot tubs or pools. It is also a good idea for anyone experiencing diarrhea to stay out of pools, the national public health agency recommended. Parents of young children are advised to change diapers well away from pools, in order to prevent contamination of the water by human waste.

For families visiting public pools, the CDC recommends that parents look to see their pool's most recent inspection was posted through their local health department or even look into buying their own chlorine tests that can be used to test if the water is properly treated.

The CDC also provides several sets of tips to help prevent water-borne illnesses:

Keep the pee, poop, sweat, and germs out of the water!

•       Stay out of the water if you have diarrhea.

•       Shower before you get in the water.

•       Don't pee or poop in the water.

•       Don't swallow the water.

Every hour—everyone out!

•       Take kids on bathroom breaks.

•       Check diapers, and change them in a bathroom or diaper-changing area—not poolside—to keep germs away from the pool.

•       Reapply sunscreen.

•       Drink plenty of fluids.

Check the free chlorine level and pH before getting into the water.

•       Pools: Proper free chlorine level (1–3 mg/L or parts per million [ppm]) and pH (7.2–7.8) levels maximize germ-killing power.

•       Hot tubs/spas: Proper disinfectant level (chlorine [2–4 parts per million or ppm] or bromine [4–6 ppm]) and pH (7.2–7.8) maximize germ-killing power.

•       Most superstores, hardware stores, and pool-supply stores sell pool test strips.

Enjoying the benefits of swimming is something that families everywhere will be taking advantage of this summer. Remember, we share the water—and the germs in it—with everyone. Take these few steps ahead of time to help make sure summer pool fun doesn’t turn into a summer illness.

Sources: http://www.cdc.gov/features/healthyswimming/

Gillian Mohney, http://abcnews.go.com/Health/cdc-warns-pool-parasite-summer/story?id=32060444

 

 

 

Your Child

Water Safety Tips

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It’s not quite summer yet, but families are already enjoying time spent in pools and lakes. Every year when water activties increase we hear the sad news of someone's loved one drowning. There are safegueards people can take to make swimming and playing in the water safer and it's always appropriate to review them once again as the season begins. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has created a list of precautions to help keep children safe when they are playing near or in water.

Do swimming lessons for children 4 and under help prevent drowning?

Some parents believe that starting their toddler (or infant) with swimming lessons will give them an advantage if they somehow find themselves in water over their head. The AAP used to not recommend swimming lessons for children one to three years of age because there was little evidence that lessons prevented drowning or resulted in better swim skills. There was also concern that parents or guardians would become less vigilant about supervising a child who had learned some swimming skills.

However, small studies have shown that children who develop swimming skills at this age are less likely to drown. The studies don’t define what type of lessons work best, so the AAP is not recommending mandatory swim lessons for all children ages 1 to 4 at this time. Instead, the new guidance recommends that parents should decide whether to enroll an individual child in swim lessons based on the child’s frequency of exposure to water, emotional development, physical abilities, and certain health conditions related to pool water infections and pool chemicals.

The AAP does not recommend formal swimming lessons for children under the age of one.

If you do enroll your child in swimming lessons, make sure that pool safety guidelines set by the YMCA are used.

The AAP recommends these 12 safety rules for parents, guardians and children when they are around water:

  1. Be aware of small bodies of water your child might encounter, such as bathtubs, fishponds, ditches, fountains, rain barrels, creeks, watering cans—even the bucket you use when you wash the car. Empty containers of water when you’re done using them. Children are drawn to places and things like these and need constant supervision to be sure they don’t fall in.
  2. An adult, preferably one who knows CPR, should always be near and watch children who are swimming, even in a shallow toddler’s pool. The adult should be within arm’s length, providing “touch supervision” whenever infants, toddlers, or young children are in or around water. Empty and put away inflatable pools after each play session.
  3. Enforce safety rules: No running near the pool and no pushing others underwater.
  4. Don’t allow your child to use inflatable toys or mattresses in place of a life jacket. These toys may deflate suddenly, or your child may slip off them into water that is too deep for him or her.
  5. Be sure the deep and shallow ends of any pool your child swims in are clearly marked. Never allow a child to dive into the shallow end.
  6. Backyard swimming pools, (including large, inflatable above-ground pools), should be completely surrounded with at least a 4-foot (1.2 meters) high fence that completely separates the pool from the house. The fence should have a self-closing and self-latching gate that opens away from the pool, with the latch at least 54 inches high. Check the gate frequently to be sure it is in good working order. Keep the gate closed and locked at all times. Be sure your child cannot manipulate the lock or climb the fence. No opening under the fence or between uprights should be more than 4 inches (10 cm) wide. Keep toys out of the pool area when not in use so that children are not tempted to try to get through the fence.
  7. If your pool has a cover, remove it completely before swimming. Also, never allow your child to walk on the pool cover; water may have accumulated on it, making it as dangerous as the pool itself. Your child also could fall through and become trapped underneath. Do not use a pool cover in place of a four-sided fence because it is not likely to be used appropriately and consistently.
  8. Keep a safety ring with a rope beside the pool at all times. If possible, have a phone in the pool area with emergency numbers clearly marked.
  9. Spas and hot tubs are dangerous for young children, who can easily drown or become overheated in them. Don’t allow young children to use these facilities.
  10. Your child should always wear a life jacket when he swims or rides in a boat. A life jacket fits properly if you can’t lift it off over your child’s head after he’s been fastened into it. For the child under age five, it also should have a flotation collar to keep the head upright and the face out of the water.
  11. Adults should not drink alcohol when they are swimming or boating. It presents a danger for them as well as for any children they might be supervising. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70% of boating fatalities are alcohol related.
  12. Be sure to eliminate distractions while children are in the water. Talking on the phone, working on the computer, and other tasks need to wait until children are out of the water. 

Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States. About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.

These statistics are not meant to scare you into not allowing your child to enjoy the benefits and fun of swimming. Swimming is great exercise and really enjoyable, particularly on a hot summer day. It’s also a great family activity. These stats are to remind you that extra precautions and serious attention needs to be given when children are around water, so that fun doesn’t turn into tragedy.

Source: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-play/Pages/Water-Safety-And-Young-Children.aspx

http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html

Your Child

Halloween Safety Tips

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You can tell we’re entering the holiday season by the plethora of gaudy displays going up in mega grocery stores and malls.  Enormous bags of candy are already filling the shelves and in less than two weeks kids will be hitting the streets carrying on the tradition of celebrating Halloween.

Along with the kid’s fun comes parental responsibility. You can’t protect your child from everything, but there are some tips for keeping your little ones safe.

You can start by preventing fires and burns.

  • Select flame retardant materials when buying or making costumes.
  • Choose battery-operated candles and lights instead of open-flame candles.

The next step is make sure your child can see clearly where they are going and can be seen.

  • Trim costumes or clothing with reflective tape. Many costumes are dark in color and can’t easily be seen by drivers.
  • Give your child a small flashlight or glow stick to carry with them if they are trick- or- treating after dusk.

Store bought costumes rarely fit properly, so you may need to make some adjustments.

  • Adjust costumes to ensure a good fit. Long skirts or capes can drag on the ground and cause falls.
  • Secure hats, scarves and masks to ensure that your child can see everything that is going on around them. Also, check to see that nothing is keeping your child from breathing properly. Masks and some super-hero helmets can fit too tightly, making it hard to breathe.
  • Make sure that swords, canes or sticks are not sharp.

Colored contacts have become popular with some older children. Often the packets these contacts come in have advertising on the package claiming that, “One size fits all.” They don’t.  These lenses are illegal in some states, but can be found online. They may cause pain, inflammation, and serious eye infections. Avoid these at all costs.

How old should children be before they can be unaccompanied by an adult? There is no correct answer to that question. An adult should always accompany young children. When your child is about ten, they may start asking to go with their friends. There are some questions to think about before you decide to let them.

  • What is your child’s maturity level? Do they normally act pretty responsible and make good choices?
  • Who are the friends they want to go with and what is their maturity level?
  • What area are they going to be trick-or-treating in?  Will it be local or in an area your child may not be familiar with?
  • What time do they plan to start and be back home? Give your child a definite time.

Whether your child is with you or out with friends make sure someone has a charged cell phone with them.  You want be prepared in case of an emergency.

Halloween has changed over the years and lots of parents now take their children to specific places that host Halloween parties and activities, but whether it’s in a controlled environment or out on the streets, it’s still smart to keep safety first.

Sources: http://www.cpsc.gov/Global

http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/news-features-and-safety-tips/pages/Halloween-Safety-Tips.aspx

Dr. Karen Sherman, http://www.hitchedmag.com/article.php?id=365

Your Child

Louisville Slugger Softball Bat Recall

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Just as softball season is swinging into high gear, the world’s most famous baseball bat maker is issuing a recall.

The Louisville Slugger OneX Fastpitch Softball Bat is recalled because the bat’s barrel can separate from the handle during use and strike people nearby.

The recalled bats include all OneX style bats. The composite bat has a white and grey shell with blue and yellow lettering. "Louisville Slugger oneX" appears twice on the barrel, in yellow in one place and in blue lettering on the other side.  The "X" is yellow in both places.  

Approximately 170 bat handle separations have been reported to the company. The company is aware of one report of a barrel from a broken bat hitting a player in the shin.  

There are about 13,000 bats affected by the recall.

The bats were sold nationwide at sporting goods, other retail stores and distributed to college amateur competitive softball teams from approximately May 2012 through February 2013 for about $350.

Consumers should immediately stop using the bat and contact Hillerich & Bradsby for a free replacement bat and the choice of an additional free item.

You can contact Hillerich & Bradsby at (800) 282-2287 from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET Monday through Friday or online at www.slugger.com and click on Recall for more information.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is still interested in receiving incident or injury reports that are either directly related to a product recall or involve a different hazard with the same product. You can contact them online at SaferProducts.gov to furnish information about your experience with the bat.

Louisville Slugger OneX Fastpitch Softball Bat

Your Child

Heavier Kids Eating Fewer Calories?

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You might think that all overweight kids eat more calories than thinner kids, but according to a new study, you’d be wrong.

Younger children who are overweight do consume more calories than their thinner peers, but older overweight kids may actually eat fewer calories than their healthy-weight counterparts.

"The message for society and parents is: Don't assume that a child who's overweight is overeating. Obesity isn't just a simple matter of eating more," said study author Asheley Cockrell Skinner, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill. "Be sympathetic. Overweight children reported eating fewer calories, and to lose weight, these kids have to eat even less. It's probably even harder for them to lose weight than we give them credit for."

The study included dietary information from nearly 13,000 children between the ages of 1 and 17. The information came from U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which was conducted from 2001 to 2008. The population included in this study is representative of the U.S. population.

The food-consumption data was collected on two separate days. Children and their parents were asked to recall what the child had eaten in the last 24 hours and how much they ate of any particular food. The researchers had a number of representative measuring devices to try to get the best approximation of portion size that they could.

In the younger kids researchers found that obese and overweight children did in fact eat more calories. For example, in 3- to 5-year-olds, overweight girls consumed an average of 1,721 calories a day compared to 1,578 calories a day for their healthy weight peers. In boys of the same age, the overweight group consumed 1,809 calories a day vs. 1,668 calories a day for the normal-weight children.

But the older obese and overweight children actually ate fewer calories than the thinner kids. Between the ages of 12 and 14, overweight girls consumed about 1,794 calories a day compared to 1,893 calories daily for normal-weight girls. In boys of the same age, the overweight young men consumed about 2,209 calories daily compared to 2,291 for normal-weight boys.

Why were these children still overweight or obese? The researchers believe that the overweight children were less active than their thinner counterparts.

"Overweight children tend to be less active," she said, but added that other factors are likely at play. "The body has complex reactions to how much you eat, when you eat and your activity levels. And, we just don't completely understand these reactions yet," she explained.

An variety of factors affect body weight. "Overweight children tend to be less active," she said, but added that other factors are likely at play. "The body has complex reactions to how much you eat, when you eat and your activity levels. And, we just don't completely understand these reactions yet," she explained.

Parents often worry that their children aren't eating enough, but a child will eat significantly less than an adult, and in general, "the child is usually eating what they need," she said.

Activity appears to play as important a role in childhood as it does in adulthood. Sitting at the computer or watching TV has taken the place of active outdoor endeavors. By exercising together, the whole family can benefit.

You can show an interest in any activities that your child likes. From ballet to biking, encourage your child to participate. 

Walking is one of the best exercises for losing weight and building stamina. Everyone benefits from breathing deeper, being out of doors, talking with each other and it's easier on the knnes than running. It’s a super way to get kids off the couch and moving. When children (and adults) are obese, walking is a great start to getting more fit.

Sports are a great way for kids to get active. If your child isn’t interested in traditional sports there are plenty of alternatives such as dance, tae-kwon-do, step aerobics, zumba etc. Sixty minutes of physical activity per day is recommended. It doesn't have to be all at once. You can break up the day into shorter segments as long as you get in a total of one hour of exercise. 

Diet is important but it needs to go hand in hand with physical activity. That’s something that every family can work on together.

Source: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2012/09/10/overweight-teens-typically-eat-

http://parentsforhealth.org/tips-how-to-get-kids-active

Your Child

Childhood Obesity; It’s a Family Affair

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Although there seems to be non-stop discussion about the influence modern day society has on our children, one fact remains the same. Parents and caregivers have the biggest impact on a child’s life. When it comes to helping obese children lose weight and lead healthier lives, it’s parents who decide what food is purchased, and how much activity a child gets. If parents are not available, then a caregiver makes those importance decisions.

For an obese child to have a real chance at losing weight and living a healthier life, parents, caregivers and other family members should be involved in treatment programs designed to help their children.

The American Heart Association released a scientific statement today on the role of parents, families and caregivers in the treatment of obese kids.

"In many cases, the adults in a family may be the most effective change agents to help obese children attain and maintain a healthier weight," Myles Faith, an associate professor of nutrition at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in an American Heart Association (AHA) news release.

"To do so, the adults may need to modify their own behavior and try some research-based strategies," added Faith, who is the chair of the writing group that published an AHA scientific statement in the Jan. 23 issue of Circulation.

But let’s be honest…. old habits are hard to break. That’s why the more people you have working together the more likely you’ll be successful in making the changes you want.  Most families dealing with obesity really want to help family members lose weight  – they often just need a better game plan to help guide them.

One of the most important messages to parents is that they need to lead by example. It is entirely unrealistic for children to change their food and physical activity behaviors on their own. Too often, during the week, family meals consist of high calorie-high / high-fat fast foods. Then the weekend is an all-you-can-eat buffet style breakfast and dinner.

Lack of exercise only adds to the difficulty in dropping unhealthy pounds.

Technology has gotten a lot of the blame for keeping kids in chairs or on couches, but it can also be beneficial. Computers and smart phones may be beneficial in self-monitoring and goal setting for children and their parents. Games such as “Dance Dance Revolution” along with “Wii Fit” and a host of others get kids and even adults up and moving.  In lieu of blaming technology for being a culprit, perhaps viewing it as an opportunity to reach children and teens in the medium they understand may be the best way to communicate healthful behaviors.

Faith adds “Teaching families to identify how many calories they take in from food, and burn during exercise, is a core component to most family treatment programs that have been studied.  Parents and children become more ‘calorie-literate’ in a sense, so they better understand how many calories are in a burger vs. apple vs. water bottle. This knowledge sets the stage for behavior change, and can be an eye opener for many parents.”

Faith and his colleagues identified a number of strategies that have been linked to better outcomes, including:

  • Working together as a family to identify specific behaviors that need to be changed.
  •  Setting clearly defined goals -- such as limiting TV viewing to no more than two hours per day -- and monitoring progress.
  •  Creating a home environment that encourages healthier choices, such as having fruit in the house instead of high-calorie desserts or snacks.
  •  Making sure parents commend children when they make progress, and don't criticize them if they do backslide. Instead, helping children identify ways to make different decisions if they're faced with the same kind of situation again.
  •  Never using food as a punishment or reward.
  •  Keeping track of progress toward goals.

"While these strategies were implemented by health care professionals in a treatment program, the psychological principles on which they are based provide sound guidance for families of obese children as well," Faith said.

A healthy life starts in infancy. For too many years, people just didn’t know much about the nutritional aspect of eating. You’re hungry-you eat. But now, there is an abundance of information, millions of studies that have been conducted, and a food’s calorie, fat, carbohydrate and sodium count is on every label or at your fingertips on the computer. The result of not paying attention to what we put in our mouths is having a devastating impact on families’ lives.

There are many ways to get up-to-date on your child's health. Pediatricians can be critical in the education of parents and caregivers in the optimum feeding and physical activity behaviors for raising healthy children.  Daycare centers, WIC and even grandparents can play a positive role in influencing health outcomes in children.

Denial and ignorance will not make obesity go away. Overweight and obese children seldom outgrow it and they carry that weight-and all its health consequences-into adulthood. Make health a priority for the entire family, and with education, support and good planning everyone will benefit now and for generations to come.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about childhood obesity and treatment at http://news.yahoo.com/parents-may-hold-key-treating-kids-obesity-2104138...

Sources: http://news.yahoo.com/parents-may-hold-key-treating-kids-obesity-2104138...http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/01/24/aha-childhood-obesity-needs-to-...

Your Child

Exercise Improves Thinking Skills in Overweight Kids

A new study says the more the kids exercised, the more the intelligence-test scores went up. An average increase of 3.8 points on scores in cognitive planning skills was noted in kids who exercised 40 minutes a day for three months, the researchers found.When overweight, sedentary kids start to exercise regularly, their ability to think, to plan and even to do math improves, a new study suggests.

In addition, exercise was linked to increased activity in the parts of the brain associated with complex thinking and self-control, according to brain imaging scans analyzed by the researchers. "This implies that chronic sedentary behavior is compromising children's ability and achievement," said lead researcher Catherine Davis, a clinical health psychologist at the Georgia Prevention Institute at Georgia Health Sciences University in Augusta. "We know that exercise is good for you, but we didn't have very good evidence [before this] that it would help children do better in school," said Davis. Although this study was done among overweight children, she believes that similar results would be seen in normal-weight kids. Davis speculates that these positive changes are a result of a combination of biological and environmental factors. "There are some neural growth factors that have been identified in mice that exercise," she said. These benefits may include more brain cells and more connections between them. But there are also social and environmental factors, she noted. "There's more stimulation when things are moving faster and when you're moving. So it is cognitively stimulating to move," Davis said. With one-third of U.S. children overweight, Davis thinks that exercise needs to become an essential part of children's lives. "Make sure your child has a balanced life -- not only that they study, but that they learn to take care of their bodies as well," she said. The report is published in the January issue of Health Psychology. For the study, Davis's team randomly assigned 171 overweight children 7 to 11 years old, to either 20 minutes or 40 minutes of vigorous exercise every day after school or to no exercise. The exercise program focused on fun and safety rather than competition and skill, and included running games, hula hoops and jump ropes. Researchers found it raised their heart rates to 79 percent of maximum, which is considered vigorous. The researchers evaluated the children using standard achievement tests known as the Cognitive Assessment System and Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement III. Some children also had magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of their brains. The MRIs found that children who exercised had increased activity in the so-called executive function area of the brain -- associated with self-control, planning, reasoning and abstract thought -- as well as the prefrontal cortex. The latter is the part of the brain linked with complex thinking and correct social behavior, the researchers noted. There was also decreased activity in an area of the brain that's behind the prefrontal cortex. The shift seems to be tied to faster developing of cognitive skills, Davis said. In addition, the more the kids exercised, the more the intelligence-test scores went up. An average increase of 3.8 points on scores in cognitive planning skills was noted in kids who exercised 40 minutes a day for three months, the researchers found. Children who exercised 20 minutes a day experienced smaller gains. There were also improvements in math skills, but not reading ability. "The finding of improved math achievement is remarkable, given that no academic instruction was provided, and suggests that a longer intervention period may result in more benefit," the researchers said. Commenting on the study, Samantha Heller, a dietitian, nutritionist and exercise physiologist, said: "Take a bunch of kids, put them outside, give them some balls, jump ropes and street chalk, and they will be running, jumping and playing hopscotch in no time." They become happier, more energetic, smarter kids, she said. "Children's bodies know intuitively that exercise is essential for healthy brain and body function. But when we deny children their natural instincts and allow them to stultify in front of a TV or computer, they become lethargic and moody," Heller said, adding that sedentary kids are also prone to being overweight and may do poorly in school. "It seems a no-brainer to me that for kids' brains to be healthy, they should be encouraged to participate in regular exercise and given the time and place for it," Heller concluded. "We need to turn off the computers, TVs, cell phones and iPads and let kids do what they do naturally: Run around and play."

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