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Your Teen

Mental Health Clues Found in Teen Brain Scans


If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many ups and downs in your teenager’s moods- there’s a very good reason; their brain is still developing. Brain scans from a research team at the University of Cambridge identified the areas of the brain that change the most during the teen years. It’s no surprise that areas associated with complex thought and decision-making are the ones going through a growth spurt during this time.

The scientists also discovered a link between teenage brain development and mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

The team from Cambridge's department of psychiatry scanned the brains of 300 people between the ages of 14 and 24.

They found that basic functions such as vision, hearing and movement were fully developed by adolescence. However, complex thinking processes and decision-making were still in a growth stage.

These areas are nerve centers with lots of connections to and from other key areas.

You can think of the brain as a global airline network that's made up of small infrequently used airports and huge hubs like Heathrow where there is very high traffic.

The brain uses a similar set up to co-ordinate our thoughts and actions.

During adolescence, this network of big hubs is consolidated and strengthened. It's a bit like how Heathrow or JFK have become gradually busier over the years.

Researchers found that genes involved in the “hub” were similar to those associated with mental illnesses, including schizophrenia.

The discovery is in line with the observation that many mental disorders develop during adolescence, according to researcher Dr Kirstie Whitaker.

"We have shown a pathway from the biology of cells in the area through to how people who are in their late teenage years might then have their first episode of psychosis," she told the BBC.

Genetics are not the only reason for mental illnesses. Older studies have also linked stress during childhood and the teenage years as a possible contributor. Recent findings have shown an association between maltreatment, abuse and neglect and brain development during childhood and adolescence. In addition, these types of stressors may also contribute to the emergence of mental illness.

Lead researcher, Professor Ed Bullmore, whose work was funded by the Wellcome Trust, believes the discovery of a biological link between teenage brain development and the onset of mental illness might help researchers identify those most at risk of becoming ill.

"As we understand more about what puts people at risk for schizophrenia, that gives us an opportunity to try to identify individuals that are at risk of becoming schizophrenic in the foreseeable future, the next two to three years, and perhaps to offer some treatment then that could be helpful in preventing the onset of clinical symptoms. "

The study also sheds light on the mood and behavioral changes experienced by teenagers during normal brain development.

"The regions that are changing most are those associated with complex behavior and decision making," says Dr. Whitaker.

"It shows that teenagers are on a journey of becoming an adult and becoming someone who is able to pull together all these bits of information.

This is a really important stage to go through. You wouldn't want to be a child all your life.

This is a powerful and important stage that you have to go through to be the best and the most capable adult that you can be."

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Story source: Pallab Ghosh,


Your Teen

Smoking and Drinking Rates Among Teens Dropping


There’s good news to report on teens’ use of alcohol and cigarettes. According to new government data, smoking and drinking among teenagers fell to new lows in 2015.

According to the data gathered, just 9.6 percent of adolescents, ages 12 to 17, reported using alcohol in 2015, down from 17.6 percent in 2002.

Far fewer adolescents smoke every day: about 20 percent in 2015, down from 32 percent in 2002.

The numbers came from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a federal agency that tracks addiction and mental health issues in the United States.

It appears that today’s teens are choosing not to follow in their parent’s footsteps, which had much higher rates of smoking and drinking when they were adolescents.

Kana Enomoto, principal deputy administrator at the agency, said the new numbers showed that rigorous public health efforts to reduce smoking and drinking among teenagers were paying off.

The survey also tracked prescription drug use and abuse, as well as the use of illegal drugs like heroin. While the trend is still down, the difference was not statistically significant from 2014, but headed in the right direction. Heroin deaths have been increasing rapidly across the country, health experts are hoping the data showing a decline in use could be an early indicator that the trend is reversing.

Prescription drug abuse is still very high in the United States. The survey found that about 119 million Americans 12 and older, or about 44 percent of that population, used prescription psychotherapeutic drugs in the past year. Of those, the vast majority — about 98 million — used pain relievers.

In all, about 19 million people age 12 and older, or about 7 percent of that population, misused prescription drugs in the past year, including about 12.5 million people who misused pain relievers.

Government funded treatment programs for drug abuse continue to lack congressional approval, frustrating mental health and drug abuse service providers.

“There’s no other condition for which we would accept the fact that less than 10 percent of people are treated,” Ms. Enomoto said.

A decrease in the numbers of teens drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes is really a welcomed change. Smoking is the largest cause of preventable death in the United States, with illnesses linked to it taking more than 480,000 lives a year.

Research indicates that alcohol use during the teenage years could interfere with normal adolescent brain development and increase the risk of developing an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD.) In addition, underage drinking contributes to a range of acute consequences, including injuries, sexual assaults, and even deaths—including those from car crashes.

No one wants to see his or her son or daughter become one more sad statistic.  Family support and treatment availability are key in helping our young people live healthier and happier lives.

Story source: Sabrina Tavernise,


Your Teen

90% of High School Kids Need More Exercise


Nine out of ten high school students are not exercising enough to stay healthy and fit, setting up a pattern that often continues after they graduate, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers followed students at 44 high schools for four years, and found that only 9 percent met current exercise recommendations throughout that time. For the most part, those habits held steady after high school -- though college students were more active than non-students.

For students that continued to college, those living on campus exercised more than those living at home.

It's not clear why those students were more active. They might have been more involved in sports, for example, or simply walked more -- running from classes to dorms and other campus buildings, said lead researcher Kaigang Li.

"The walkability of your environment is important," said Li, an assistant professor of health and exercise science at Colorado State University, in Fort Collins.

This is not the first study to look at the physical condition of high school and college students.  Several other studies have found that these two groups struggle with getting enough meaningful exercise. 

According to Peter Katzmarzyk, a professor at Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Center, in Baton Rouge, "This study really confirms the low levels of physical activity in adolescents, which appear to be maintained over time as they transition into young adulthood."

The strength of this study, he said, is that it objectively measured teens' activity levels: Students wore devices called accelerometers, which tracked how much they moved over the course of a week.

Katzmarzyk, who was not involved in the study, conducts research on child exercise patterns, obesity and health.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teenagers should get at least one hour of physical activity each day that includes exercise that boosts the heart rate, such as running. Kids should also try some strength-building activities -- for example, push-ups or lifting light-weights.

The CDC noted that a lack of physical education in U.S. schools may be a contributing factor in students’ understanding of exercise and how it can improve their health. 

At one time, PE was a part of every student’s daily school activities, today, according to the CDC, only 29 percent of high school students have gym class every day.

The evidence from this new research and other studies makes a good argument for more physical education, according to Katzmarzyk.

"Any way that we can increase physical activity levels in adolescence might translate into maintaining higher levels of physical activity in young adulthood," he said. "So physical education in high school is certainly an important outlet for this."

Still, Li said, there are probably numerous reasons for teenagers' low exercise levels.

He noted that in elementary school, most U.S. kids do get enough physical activity. But there is a steep drop-off after that. According to Li, that could be related to many factors -- including heavier homework loads starting in middle school, and more time on cellphones and computers.

While schools and communities can advance opportunities for kids to be more physically fit, families that put a high priority on exercise and a healthy lifestyle give their children the ability to independently remain physically fit for a lifetime.

Story source: Amy Norton,

Your Teen

Serious Burns Caused By E-Cigarette Explosions


Many family members have e-cigarettes inside their homes, pockets and purses. As more adults try to quit smoking traditional cigarettes, the use of electronic smoking devices (e-cigarettes) is rapidly increasing.  Several recent studies show that not only are adults experimenting with e-cigarettes, but also teens and preteens are attracted to the candy-flavored gadgets through peer pressure, advertising and celebrity endorsements.

One aspect of e-cigarette use that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, until now, is that these devices can un-expectantly explode causing severe burns to the face and other areas of the body.

According to a research letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine, electronic-cigarette devices are randomly exploding, burning and injuring people near them when they detonate.

The University of Washington Regional Burn Center in Seattle has treated 22 people for burns and other injuries caused by exploding e-cigarettes since October 2015, lead author Elisha Brownson, M.D., a burn/critical care surgical fellow at the hospital, told HealthDay.

The lithium-ion batteries used in e-cigarettes, Brownson said, cause the explosions. These rechargeable batteries charge a heating coil that brings liquid nicotine and flavorings to the boiling point inside the device, creating an inhalable vapor. Batteries in some of the devices are overheating, causing a fire or an explosion, she said.

The first Seattle case Brownson treated was a man in his 20s using an e-cigarette while driving. The device exploded in his mouth, blowing out several front teeth. She said she has since treated a variety of burns and blast injuries caused by e-cigarettes, including patients with flame burns covering 10 to 15 percent of their total body surface.

"We see a lot of patients who have burns on their thigh and their hands. That's when the device has exploded in their pocket, and they're using their hands to get the device out and away from them," Brownson said. "There also have been a lot of injuries to the hands and face when people have had explosions as they've been using them. Patients tell us they had no idea this could happen. They've had little to no warning that the device is going to explode."

The flame-burn injuries have required extensive wound care and skin grafting, and exposure to the alkali chemicals released from the battery explosion has caused chemical skin burns requiring wound care.

Why do these devices explode? NBC News put the question to Venkat Viswanathan, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in March of 2016.

“The electrolyte inside the battery is basically the equivalent of gasoline, so when these batteries short out, there's a surge of heat that causes this flammable electrolyte to combust and explode."

Well-made lithium-ion cells have a very small risk of failure. But the cheaper cells "have a much greater chance of having a manufacturing defect," which increases the likelihood for failure, Viswanathan said.

The risk goes up if the cells are overcharged or charged too quickly. This can happen if the e-cig comes with a poorly designed charger or the user switches chargers. Well-made lithium-ion batters have fail-safe mechanisms to prevent these problems. Poorly made ones do not. Just because a charger plugs into that e-cig doesn't mean you should use it.

E-cigarettes remain largely unregulated. Until recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had made little headway in the regulation of e-cigarettes. However, the FDA has recently extended regulatory authority to cover all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, although the prospects for battery regulation remain unclear. While these explosions were previously thought to be isolated events, the injuries among our 15 patients add to growing evidence that e-cigarettes are a public safety concern that demands increased regulation as well as design changes to improve safety. In the meantime, both e-cigarette users and health care providers need to be aware of the risk of explosion associated with e-cigarettes, the paper’s researchers noted.

Story sources:

Herb Weisbaum,

Your Teen

10 Reasons Teens Act The Way They Do


Anyone in the midst of raising a teen knows that the adolescent years can be some of the most difficult to get through and understand.

As a parent or guardian of a teenager that wants to be more independent, but also needs supervision and guidance, the times can be challenging indeed.

If that’s the position you find yourself in, you may be asking – what’s going on in that youngster’s brain? Actually, there’s a lot happening!

There are several scientific reasons an adolescent brain can be similar to a toddler’s: After infancy, the brain's most dramatic growth spurt occurs in adolescence. Here’s 10 things you may not know about your teen’s brain.

10. Critical period of development. Adolescence is generally considered to be the years between 11 and 19. It’s easy to see the outward changes that occur in boys and girls during this time, but inside, their brains are working on overdrive.

"The brain continues to change throughout life, but there are huge leaps in development during adolescence," said Sara Johnson, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Parents should understand that no matter how tall their son has sprouted or how grown-up their daughter dresses, "they are still in a developmental period that will affect the rest of their life," Johnson told LiveScience

9. The growing brain. Scientists used to believe the greatest leap in neuronal connections occurred in infancy, but brain imaging studies show that a second burst of neuronal sprouting happens right before puberty, peaking at about age 11 for girls and 12 for boys.

The adolescent's experiences shape this new grey matter, mostly following a "use it or lose it" strategy, Johnson said. The structural reorganization is thought to continue until the age of 25, and smaller changes continue throughout life.

8. New Thinking Skills. This increase in brain matter allows the teenager to become more interconnected and gain processing power, Johnson notes.

If given time and access to information, adolescents start to have the computational and decision-making skills of an adult. However, their decisions may be more emotional than objective because their brains rely more on the limbic system (the emotional seat of the brain) than the more rational prefrontal cortex.

"This duality of adolescent competence can be very confusing for parents," Johnson said, meaning that sometimes teens do things, like punching a wall or driving too fast, when, if asked, they clearly know better.

Sound familiar?

7.  Teen tantrums. While teens are acquiring amazing new skills during this time, they aren’t that good at using them yet, especially when it comes to social behavior and abstract thought.

That’s when parents can become the proverbial guinea pig. Many kids this age view conflict as a type of self-expression and may have trouble focusing on an abstract idea or understanding another's point of view.

Particularly in today’s heavy media influenced world, teens are dealing with a huge amount of social, emotional and cognitive flux says Sheryl Feinstein, author of Inside the Teenage Brain: Parenting a Work in Progress (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009.)

That’s when they need a more stable adult brain (parents) to help them stay calm and find the better path.

6. Intense emotions. Remember the limbic system mentioned earlier (the more emotional part of the brain)? It’s accelerated development, along with hormonal changes, may give rise to newly intense experiences of rage, fear, aggression (including towards oneself), excitement and sexual attraction.

Over the course of adolescence, the limbic system comes under greater control of the prefrontal cortex, the area just behind the forehead, which is associated with planning, impulse control and higher order thought.

As teens grow older, additional areas in the brain start to help it process emotions and gain equilibrium in decision-making and interpreting others. But until that time, teens can often misread parents and teachers Feinstein said.

5. Peer pressure. As teens become better at abstract thinking, their social anxiety begins to increase.  Ever wonder why your teen seems obsessed with what others are thinking and doing?

Abstract reasoning makes it possible to consider yourself from the eyes of another. Teens may use this new skill to ruminate about what others are thinking of them. In particular, peer approval has been shown to be highly rewarding to the teen brain, Johnson said, which may be why teens are more likely to take risks when other teens are around.

Friends also provide teens with opportunities to learn skills such as negotiating, compromise and group planning. "They are practicing adult social skills in a safe setting and they are really not good at it at first," Feinstein said. So even if all they do is sit around with their friends, teens are hard at work acquiring important life skills.

4. Measuring risk.  "The brakes come online somewhat later than the accelerator of the brain," said Johnson, referring to the development of the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system respectively.

At the same time, "teens need higher doses of risk to feel the same amount of rush adults do," Johnson said. Not a very comforting thought for parents.

This is a time when teens are vulnerable to engaging in risky behaviors, such as trying drugs, sex, getting into fights or jumping into unsafe water.

So what can a parent do during this risky time? "Continue to parent your child." Johnson said. Like all children, "teens have specific developmental vulnerabilities and they need parents to limit their behavior," she said.

It’s when being a parent to your child instead of trying to be their “friend” is more difficult but much more important for their physical and emotional safety.

3. Yes, parents are still important. According to Feinstein, a survey of teenagers revealed that 84 percent think highly of their mothers and 89 percent think highly of their fathers. And more than three-quarters of teenagers enjoy spending time with their parents; 79 percent enjoy hanging out with Mom and 76 percent like chilling with Dad. That’s not 100%, but it’s probably more than you thought.

One of the tasks of adolescence is separating from the family and establishing some autonomy, Feinstein said, but that does not mean a teen no longer needs parents – even if they say otherwise.

"They still need some structure and are looking to their parents to provide that structure," she said. "The parent that decides to treat a 16 or 17 year old as an adult is behaving unfairly and setting them up for failure." 

Listening to your teen and being a good role model, especially when dealing with stress and the other difficulties life can present, can help your teen figure out their own coping strategies.

2. Sleep. Ah, yes, sleep. Although teens need 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night, their bodies are telling them a different story. Part of the problem is a shift in circadian rhythms during adolescence: It makes sense to teen bodies to get up later and stay up later, Johnson said.

But due to early bussing and class schedules, many teens rack up sleep debt and "become increasingly cognitively impaired across the week," Johnson said. Sleep-deprivation only exacerbates moodiness and cloudy decision-making. And sleep is thought to aid the critical reorganization of the teen brain.

"There is a disconnect between teen’s bodies and our schedules," Johnson said.

Shutting down the electronics an hour before bedtime has been shown to help teens as well as adults get to sleep quicker and sleep better. No computer, TV, video games or cell phones.

1.The “I am the Center of the Universe” syndrome. You may have noticed that your teen’s hormones are causing quite a bit of havoc. Experts say that’s to be expected. But you may still wonder- what the heck is going on with my kid?

The hormone changes at puberty have huge affects on the brain, one of which is to spur the production of more receptors for oxytocin, according to a 2008 issue of the journal Developmental Review.

The increased sensitivity caused by oxytocin has a powerful impact on the area of the brain controlling one’s emotions. Teens develop a feeling of self-consciousness and may truly believe that everyone is watching him or her. These feelings peek around age 15.

While this may make a teen seem self-centered (and in their defense, they do have a lot going on), the changes in the teen brain may also spur some of the more idealistic efforts tackled by young people throughout history.

"It is the first time they are seeing themselves in the world," Johnson said, meaning their greater autonomy has opened their eyes to what lies beyond their families and schools. They are asking themselves, she continued, for perhaps the first time: What kind of person do I want to be and what type of place do I want the world to be?

Until their brains develop enough to handle shades of grey, their answers to these questions can be quite one-sided, Feinstein said, but the parents' job is to help them explore the questions, rather than give them answers.

And there you have it. Teen’s brains are exploding with new data, confusing signals and dueling desires. It’s a tough time in one’s development- but rest assured, what you teach them by example and compassion as well as how you gingerly help guide them will last a life-time. Even when you do the best you can, there are no guarantees that they will turn out the way you’re hoping they will – they are after all- individuals with a will and a mind of their own. But now you know a little more about why your teen acts the way they do.

Story Source: Robin Nixon,

Your Teen

Experts Recommend Screening All Teens for Major Depression


Studies indicate that one-in-five U.S. children have some for of mental, behavioral or emotional problems.  Among teens, one –in- eight may suffer from depression with only about 30 percent receiving any treatment.  Those are troubling statistics for parents, caregivers and health professionals.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), believes more needs to be done to help these children and has recommended that primary care physicians screen all patients between the ages of 12 and 18 for major depression.

Screening tools are available to help primary care doctors accurately identify major depression in adolescent patients, and there are effective treatments for this age group, the task force said.

"Primary care clinicians can play an important role in helping to identify adolescents with major depressive disorder and getting them the care they need. Accordingly, the task force recommends that primary care clinicians screen all adolescents between 12 and 18 years old for this condition," task force member Dr. Alex Krist said in a USPSTF news release.

Currently, there isn’t enough evidence to know whether screening children 11 and younger would be beneficial. The task force noted that more research on depression screening and treatment in this age group is needed.

The consequences of undiagnosed and treated major depression in teens can have serious consequences such as involvement in the criminal justice system, drug or alcohol abuse and in some cases, suicide.

"It is important to take any concern about depression seriously, regardless of age, and any parent who has a concern about their child's mood or behavior should talk with their child's primary care clinician," he said in the news release. Kemper is a professor of pediatrics at Duke University School of Medicine, in Durham, N.C.

The recommendation was published online Feb. 9 in the Annals of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics.

For more information about child and teen depression, one resource is The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at

You can also talk with your family doctor or pediatrician if you feel your child is suffering from depression. They should have resources for you as well.

Source: Robert Preidt,



Your Teen

HPV Vaccine, Proving Effective in Teenage Girls


While the controversy over the HPV vaccine may continue in some circles, a new study says the vaccine is proving effective in teenage girls.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was introduced 10 years ago and its use immediately became a hot topic. The vaccine is recommended for young girls and boys ages 11 and 12, to protect them from the sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical as well as anal, penile, mouth and throat cancers. 

The study found that in teenage girls, the virus’s prevalence has been reduced by two-thirds.

Even for women in their early 20s, a group with lower vaccination rates, the most dangerous strains of HPV have still been reduced by more than a third.

“We’re seeing the impact of the vaccine as it marches down the line for age groups, and that’s incredibly exciting,” said Dr. Amy B. Middleman, the chief of adolescent medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, who was not involved in the study. “A minority of females in this country have been immunized, but we’re seeing a public health impact that is quite expansive.”

HPV vaccinations rates, in young girls and boys, have slowly been increasing, since the vaccine was introduced, but 4 out of 10 adolescent girls and 6 out of 10 adolescent boys have not started the recommended HPV vaccine series, leaving them vulnerable to cancers caused by HPV infections.

That is partly because of the implicit association of the vaccine with adolescent sexual activity, rather than with its explicit purpose: cancer prevention. Only Virginia, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia require the HPV vaccine.

The latest research examined HPV immunization and infection rates through 2012, but just in girls. The recommendation to vaccinate boys became widespread only in 2011; they will be included in subsequent studies.

Using data from a survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the study examined the prevalence of the virus in women and girls of different age groups during the pre-vaccine years of 2003 through 2006. (The vaccine was recommended for girls later in 2006.) Researchers then looked at the prevalence in the same age groups between 2009 and 2012.

By those later years, the prevalence of the four strains of HPV covered by the vaccine had decreased by 64 percent in girls ages 14 to 19. Among women ages 20 to 24, the prevalence of those strains had declined 34 percent. The rates of HPV in women 25 and older had not fallen.

“The vaccine is more effective than we thought,” said Debbie Saslow, a public health expert in HPV vaccination and cervical cancer at the American Cancer Society. As vaccinated teenagers become sexually active, they are not spreading the virus, so “they also protect the people who haven’t been vaccinated,” she said.

Many doctors are pressing for primary care providers to strongly recommend the HPV vaccine in tandem with the other two that preteen children now typically receive.

Many health experts are hoping that the positive results from this study will encourage more pediatricians and primary care physicians to discuss getting the vaccine with parents of young children.

The study was published in the online journal Pediatrics.

Source: Jan Hofman,

Your Teen

Good Mood is Contagious Among Teens


A lot has been written about depression in teens because it can have serious and sometimes fatal consequences. However, like all things, there’s another side to teen temperaments and it turns out that it’s quite contagious; the good mood.

While many researchers have wondered if depression spreads more easily among teenagers, a new study suggests that depression does not but good moods do and are helpful in combating depression.

Researchers looked at more than 2,000 American high school students to see how they influenced each other’s moods. They found that a positive mood seems to spread through groups of teens, but having depressed friends doesn't increase a teen's risk of depression.

In fact, having plenty of friends in a good mood can halve the chances that a teen will develop depression over six to 12 months. Having a lot of happy friends can also double the likelihood of recovering from depression over the same time period, the researchers found.

"We know social factors, for example living alone or having experienced abuse in childhood, influences whether someone becomes depressed. We also know that social support is important for recovery from depression, for example having people to talk to," study author Thomas House, a senior lecturer in applied mathematics at the University of Manchester in the U.K., said in a university news release.

"Our study is slightly different as it looks at the effect of being friends with people on whether you are likely to develop or recover from being depressed," he added.

House believes that teens who have a strong network of positive friendships might actually help protect against depression.

"This was a big effect that we have seen here. It could be that having a stronger social network is an effective way to treat depression. More work needs to be done but it may that we could significantly reduce the burden of depression through cheap, low-risk social interventions," House concluded.

Depression is serious and should never be taken lightly, some teens may be overwhelmed by the emotional and physical changes they are experiencing. This study suggests that adolescents that are around other adolescents who are happy most of the time seem to pick up on that feeling and it helps in lifting their spirits and changing their outlook.

Sources: Robert Preidt,




Your Teen

Overweight Girls Start Periods At Earlier Age

1.45 to read

Early-onset menstruation is linked to later health problems such as breast cancer, said Sarah Keim, a researcher at The Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus, who wasn't involved in the new study. Girls who get their period early in life are also more likely to have sex sooner than their peers, Keim added, which increases the risk of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.It's nothing new that girls are getting younger and younger when they have their first period, but experts worry that the current obesity epidemic could be fueling that trend.

Overweight or obese girls get their first period months earlier than their normal-weight peers, according to a Danish study. Early-onset menstruation is linked to later health problems such as breast cancer, said Sarah Keim, a researcher at The Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus, who wasn't involved in the new study. Girls who get their period early in life are also more likely to have sex sooner than their peers, Keim added, which increases the risk of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. About 17 percent of American kids and teens are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the study, researchers used information on body mass index (BMI) -- a measure of weight in relation to height -- and age at first period from about 3,200 Danish girls born between 1984 and 1987. The girls started their period just after they had turned 13, on average, which is about half a year later than in the U.S. Keim said part of the reason for this difference may be that African-Americans tend to start their periods before white girls. On average, a girl got her period about 25 days earlier for every point her BMI increased. For a female of about average height and weight, a one-point change in BMI is equivalent to about six pounds. Overweight and obese girls, for example, got their period three to five months before normal-weight girls, said Anshu Shrestha, a graduate student at UCLA School of Public Health, who worked on the study. There has been past research showing a link between BMI and when girls start menstruating. However, since this study was done more recently, it shows that the link is holding up in today's generation, Keim said. The researchers also found that a girl's mother's weight was related to when her daughter started menstruating, but less so than earlier work had hinted. For every point her mother's BMI when pregnant went up, the girl's period came about a week earlier, according to the new study, which was published in the journal Fertility and Sterility. Keim said the Danish findings reinforce the importance of keeping a healthy weight. "It's important for your entire life, starting from very early on," she told Reuters Health. "And it can even affect your children's health." Talking to your daughter about Menstruation. Most girls begin to menstruate when they're about 12, but periods are possible as early as age 8. That's why explaining menstruation early is so important. But menstruation is an awkward subject to talk about, especially with preteen girls, who are often embarrassed by this discussion. So what's the best way to approach this ticklish topic? If your daughter asks questions about menstruation, answer them openly and honestly. Provide as many details as you think she needs at the time. It's OK to let your daughter set the pace, but don't let her avoid the topic entirely. If she's not asking questions as she approaches the preteen years, it's up to you to start talking about menstruation. Don't plan a single tell-all discussion. Instead, talk about the various issues - from basic hygiene to fear of the unknown - in a series of short conversations. Consider it part of a continuing conversation on how the human body works. Remember, your daughter needs good information about the menstrual cycle and all the other changes that puberty brings. If her friends are her only source of information, she may hear some nonsense and take it for fact. To introduce the subject of menstruation, you might ask your daughter what she knows about puberty. Clarify any misinformation and ask what questions she might have. It may be helpful to time your conversations with the health lessons and sex education your daughter is receiving in school, or you could broach the subject before a routine doctor's appointment. You can tell your daughter that the doctor may ask her whether she's gotten her period yet. Then ask if she has any questions or concerns about menstruation. Girls might prefer to learn about menstruation from a female family member, but sometimes that's not possible. If you're a single father and you're not comfortable talking about menstruation, you might delegate these conversations to a female relative or friend. The key is to make sure the information is relayed somehow. The biology of menstruation is important, but most girls are more interested in practical information about periods. Your daughter may want to know when it's going to happen, what it's going to feel like and what she'll need to do when the time comes. - What is menstruation? Menstruation means a girl's body is physically capable of becoming pregnant. Each month, one of the ovaries releases an egg. This is called ovulation. At the same time, hormonal changes prepare the uterus for pregnancy. If ovulation takes place and the egg isn't fertilized, the lining of the uterus sheds through the vagina. This is a period. - Does it hurt? Many girls have cramps, typically in the lower abdomen, when their periods begin. Cramps can be dull and achy or sharp and intense. Exercise, a heating pad or an over-the-counter pain reliever may help ease any discomfort. - When will it happen? No one can tell exactly when a girl will get her first period. Typically, however, girls begin menstruating about two years after their breasts begin to develop. Many girls experience a thin, white vaginal discharge about one year before menstruation begins. - What should I do? Explain how to use sanitary pads or tampons. Many girls are more comfortable starting with pads, but it's OK to use tampons right away. Remind your daughter that it may take some practice to get used to inserting tampons. Stock the bathroom with various types of sanitary products ahead of time. Encourage your daughter to experiment until she finds the product that works best for her. - What if I'm at school? Encourage your daughter to carry a few pads or tampons in her backpack or purse, just in case. Many school bathrooms have coin-operated dispensers for these products. The school nurse also may have supplies. - Will everyone know that I have my period? Assure your daughter that pads and tampons aren't visible through clothing. No one needs to know that she has her period. - What if blood leaks onto my pants? Offer your daughter practical suggestions for covering up stains until she's able to change clothes, such as tying a sweatshirt around her waist. You might also encourage your daughter to wear dark pants or shorts when she has her period, just in case. Your daughter may worry that she's not normal if she starts having periods before, or after, friends her age do, or if her periods aren't like those of her friends. But menstruation varies with the individual. Some girls have periods that last two days, while others have periods that last more than a week. It can even vary this drastically from month to month in the same girl. The amount of blood lost each month can vary, too, usually from 4 to 12 teaspoons (about 20 to 60 milliliters). It's also common for girls to have irregular periods for the first year or two. Some months might even go by without a period. Once your daughter's cycle settles down, teach her how to track her periods on a calendar. Eventually she may be able to predict when her periods will begin. Schedule a medical checkup for your daughter if: - Her periods last more than seven days - She has menstrual cramps that aren't relieved by over-the-counter medications - She's soaking more pads or tampons than usual - She's missing school or other activities because of painful or heavy periods - She goes three months without a period or suspects she may be pregnant - She hasn't started menstruating by age 15 The changes associated with puberty can be a little scary. Reassure your daughter that it's normal to feel apprehensive about menstruating, but it's nothing to be too worried about and you're there to answer any questions she may have.


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