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Daily Dose

Plate Size & Childhood Obesity

1.15 to read

While I have been trying to change up my eating habits a bit and talking to patients about trying some new foods, I came upon an interesting study in the journal Pediatrics.  

The hypothesis for the study, which was done among school children in Philadelphia, was “can smaller plates promote age-appropriate portion sizes in children?”.

There have been previous studies in the adult literature that have shown that dish ware size influences self-serve portion sizes and caloric intake. Whether the same conclusions with children were true had yet to be examined, but it does make sense that it might.

So, the hypothesis was correct and when children were given larger bowls, plates and cups, they served themselves larger portions and in turn more calories. In the study, 80% of the children served themselves more calories at lunch when using adult-size plates and bowls.

This is really great news, in that by changing the size of the plate we might be able to affect a child’s portion size without them even really being aware!

I remember that our kids all had children’s bowls, plates and cups that they loved to use and eventually they either broke, got lost, or we just decided to have everyone eat off of the same plates. But, maybe it would make more sense to continue to have our children use child sized plates until they reach puberty?  Certainly seems that it wouldn’t hurt and if schools did the same thing we might be able to impact some of the obesity problem by just changing one behavior.  It is definitely worth trying!

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.

Your Teen

Study: Freshman 15 Weight Gain Is Real

A new study shows that nearly one in four freshmen gain at least five percent of their body weight during their first semester.A new study shows there is some truth behind what has long been considered an urban legend about the infamous freshman 15. The study, published in Nutrition Journal, shows that nearly one in four freshmen gain at least five percent of their body weight, an average of about 10 pounds, during their first semester.

“Almost one quarter of students gained a significant amount of weight during their first semester of college,” say researchers Heidi J. Wengreen and Cara Moncur of the department of nutrition and food sciences at Utah State University in Logan. “This study provides further evidence that the transition to college life is a critical period of risk for weight gain, and college freshmen are an important target population for obesity prevention strategies.” Other studies have documented the phenomenon of the freshman 15 weight gain but researchers say few have examined the changes in behaviors that occur as students transition from high school to college that may contribute to unhealthy weight gain. The study followed 159 students enrolled at a mid-sized university in the fall of 2005. Each student’s weight was measured at the beginning and end of the fall semester, and the participants also filled out a survey about their diet, physical activity, and other health-related habits during the last six months of high school and during the first semester at college. Researchers found the average amount of weight gained during the study was modest, at about 3.3 pounds. But 23 percent of college freshmen gained at least five percent of their body weight and none lost that amount. There was no significant difference in the amount of weight gained by women and men in the study. Those who gained at least five percent of their body weight reported less physical activity during their first semester at college than in high school and were more likely to eat breakfast and slept more than those who didn’t gain as much. Previous studies have shown teens and adults who skip breakfast are more likely to gain weight, and researchers say they were surprised to find that eating breakfast regularly was linked to greater weight gain in the first three months of college. They say it may reflect more frequent meals at all-you-can-eat dining facilities at college, and more research is needed to clarify this finding. “In general, our findings are consistent with the findings of others who report the transition from high school to college promotes changes in behavior and environment that may support weight gain,” they conclude.

Daily Dose

The Obesity Epidemic Continues

The obesity epidemic continues with no end in sight. It is one of our major public health problems and the ongoing health care concerns of patients with obesity are well known. There have been many different studies looking for a biologic basis for obesity. There is a new study just released from the International Journal of Obesity that suggests that there is behavioral link for obesity.

In the study 226 families, both children and their parents were followed over three years with serial height and weight measurements. The results showed that obese mothers were 10 times more likely to have obese daughters, while obese fathers had a six-fold chance of having an obese son. In both cases, children of the opposite sex were not affected. Researchers therefore believe that the link for obesity may be behavioral rather than genetic. It would be very unusual to have genetics influence children only along gender lines. Rather, it seems that there may some form of “behavioral sympathy” related to becoming overweight. It seems that daughters copy lifestyles of their mothers, and sons their fathers. Looking further, researchers noted that eight in 10 obese adults were not severely overweight or obese when they themselves were children. In other words, the parents are passing their eating habits and behaviors on to their children, which brings us back to “modeling behavior”. I bring up the discussion of eating habits and nutrition when children are beginning their first table foods. Parents want to feed their children healthy foods, but they also worry if their child will not eat what the parent has prepared. Starting from the first foods the “notion” of eating healthy needs to be positively re-enforced. One way to do this is by preparing meals together which can teach cooking skills along with making healthy food choices. The idea that our children are going to like everything that we make, or clean their plates is obsolete. I think that our job as parents is to provide good food choices, a happy family mealtime and to be models of healthy eating. With this should come daily exercise. This study seems to confirm that it may be nurture, not nature that is contributing to the worldwide obesity problem. That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

Your Baby

Longer Breast-Feeding Time, Less Childhood Obesity

2:00

A new study looks at the duration of breast-feeding and babies who are high risk for obesity, as they get older. Researchers found that the longer mothers breast –fed these higher risk babies, the less likely the babies were to become overweight later.

"Breast-feeding for longer durations appears to have a protective effect against the early signs of overweight and obesity," said lead researcher Stacy Carling, a doctoral candidate in nutrition at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y.

Carling and her colleagues followed 595 children from birth to the age of 2. They tracked the children's weight and length over this time, and compared individual children's growth trajectories to how long the children breast-fed.

Which children are considered at high risk for extra weight gain? Researchers found that babies whose mothers were overweight or obese, mothers with lower education levels and mothers who smoked during pregnancy were more likely to have overweight children. Almost 59 percent of the children at risk for being overweight had mothers with one or more of these characteristics, compared to about 43 percent of the children not at risk for excessive weight gain.

Higher-risk babies who breast-fed for less than two months were more than twice as likely to gain extra weight than those who breast-fed for at least four months.

Although the study didn’t prove that longer breast-feeding actually reduced risk for obesity, it did provide several reasons why the link between the two may exist.

"Breast-feeding an infant may allow proper development of hunger and satiety signals, as well as help prevent some of the behaviors that lead to overweight and obesity," Carling said.

"Breast-feeding, especially on demand, versus on schedule, allows an infant to feed when he or she is hungry, thereby fostering an early development of appetite control," she said. "When a baby breast-feeds, she can control how much milk she gets and how often, naturally responding to internal signals of hunger and satiation."

The study did not include information on whether the babies were exclusively breast-fed or how often they were getting milk at the breast versus from a bottle, but the time required to reduce obesity risk was not long.

"The difference of two months of breast-feeding may be enough to reap some benefit," Carling said.

There are many reasons mothers choose to breast-feed for shorter periods, and some mothers are not able to breast-feed at all. For mothers that choose to breast-feed, Carling believes they need to be supported on many levels.

"Ultimately, increasing breast-feeding rates in the United States means increasing knowledge and support at a variety of levels from institutional to interpersonal," Carling said. "Our study recognizes the benefit of longer duration breast-feeding in a specific population and, hopefully, this and other studies will lead to more customized breast-feeding promotion in those populations at higher risk for overweight and obesity."

The findings were published in the January print issue of Pediatrics, and funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Source: Tara Haelle, http://consumer.healthday.com/women-s-health-information-34/breast-feeding-news-82/breast-feeding-for-longer-may-protect-infants-at-risk-for-obesity-694218.html

Daily Dose

Parenting Gone Too Far?

1.15 to read

I recently read an article in The New York Times about another new “parenting” book. I am not sure I understand this latest addition to a group of what I would call “extreme parenting” books. 

Similar to the Tiger Mom, or the American mother who extolled the French “method” for parenting, this new book, to be titled “ The Heavy”, is written by a mother who discusses her daughter’s weight issue and how she “enforced her daughter to diet”. 

Dara Lynn Weiss’s book deal stems from a recent article she has written for Vogue detailing her own parenting methods for dealing with her 7 year old overweight daughter.  In the article, Ms. Weiss discusses placing her daughter on a “strict” diet and punishing her for making poor food choices. 

She has gotten a lot of buzz on TV, radio and online for her methods, which included not only restricting her daughter’s food choices, but humiliating her daughter as well as discussing her own adult issues surrounding body image and weight control. 

I see far too many young children who are overweight and have ongoing issues with food choices. I also spend a great deal of time trying to help educate the parents of these children on how they can help their child become a “healthier eater” without using the word DIET.  

For a child who is 7-8 years old, as is Ms. Weiss’s daughter, the majority of the discussion revolves around the food that is available in the home, how the entire family eats, how much exercise a child gets, and what the child eats for lunch (whether they take their lunch or buy a school lunch). The discussion never includes words like “shame, punishment, or humiliation”, but rather terms like “healthy eating for growing bodies, modeling eating habits, and teaching children about better food choices.”  

While this approach may seem boring it does work.  Parents truly are the “boss” of the majority of their child’s food choices for the first 8-10 years of a child’s life. Why do you have to berate or punish a child in order to promote good nutrition? We are not talking about a teen who is driving through fast food joints, or eating from the 7-11 counter. 

Lately it seems that unless you’re writing “books on parenting that anger parents” or cause a huge backlash on Internet sites, no one wants to read them?  

A good parent does not need to use EXTREMES.  Is there no middle ground any more?  Can we not go back to the days of “everything in moderation”. The pendulum seems to have swung so far that a mother can score a major book deal while berating her young daughter and in my mind setting her daughter up for a serious eating disorder in the future. Yes, I also take care of a fair number of anorexic and bulimic patients (mainly girls) and unfortunately many of them have mothers with body image and eating disorders as well. 

So, while I do agree with Ms. Weiss that overweight and obese children must have parental involvement and  the necessary diligence to change their eating habits, I don’t agree with her methods. I am happy that the issue is being discussed but there has to be a better way.  Another bestseller? I hope not for my patients. 

What do you think? I would love your feedback!

Daily Dose

Childhood Obesity

1.30 to read

Everyone knows that obesity is on the rise and it is often beginning in childhood.  During well-child visits (and often during a visit for colds or flu) parents often bring up a child’s weight.  By using growth charts it is fairly easy for the doctor to show a parent and child where they fall on the growth curve and BMI (body mass index) curve as well. When discussing weight issues it is sometimes difficult to decide what terms are appropriate to use.

A study just published on line in Pediatrics surveyed 445 parents of children 2–18 years of age to assess what are perceived to be the most appropriate terms to be used when discussing weight issues in a child. The study, done at Yale University, was interesting in that more than 60% of parents said that referring to a child as “extremely fat” or “obese” would be “most stigmatizing and the least motivating terms to encourage weight loss.”

In this study, American parents preferred that terms such as “unhealthy weight”, “weight problem” or “being overweight” be used to discuss weight issues and that these terms would also be more motivating for weight loss.

In the same study about 36% of parents said that they would “put their children on a strict diet” in response to weight stigma from a doctor. This is concerning as well as since research has shown that severe dieting and restriction of calories in young children may backfire and may at times lead to other issues including eating disorders.

Whether we call it an unhealthy weight or being overweight or even using the term fat probably depends on each family and their own preferences. But whatever we call it, the topic should be addressed at each well child visit. The basic tenets of a healthy body weight still depend on eating a well balanced diet and getting daily exercise. Why does that sound so simple?

The easiest way to start to control weight gain is to begin with good habits when your children are young. If children are raised from their toddler years with a wide variety of healthy foods presented to them at meal and snack time, they will learn to enjoy these foods. “Grazing” should be discouraged and discussions should not be about “what you will or won’t eat” but rather about gathering for family meals and enjoying the time together. Parents needn’t be “short order” cooks, a child will eat if they are hungry and given the opportunity. But by offering a limited variety of foods and preparing just a few items that a child “likes” the stage is already being set for poor eating habits down the road.

Our job as parents is to provide healthy meals (and snacks) to our children, while the children will have to decide whether or not to eat it. There will be days that they are getting their favorite foods and others that they may not, but in the long run they will be a better and healthier eater. It would be nice not to have to figure out the correct term to use for being overweight or even obese.  Maybe we can cure it in the next generation and the terminology will become obsolete!

That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Daily Dose

Have Your Child's Blood Pressure Checked

1:00 to read

When you take your child in to the pediatrician for a check-up do they check their blood pressure? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children, beginning at the age of three years, should routinely have their blood pressure checked.  

In certain circumstances a younger child should have their blood pressure checked too. With the growing epidemic in obesity, pediatricians are seeing more children with abnormal blood pressure readings. It is important that the right sized blood pressure cuff is used for measuring a child’s blood pressure. There are standards for blood pressures for different age children. The standards are also based on a child’s height.

When a child’s blood pressure reading is greater than the 90th percentile for their age they are said to have pre-hypertension. The prevalence of childhood hypertension is thought to be between one and four percent and may even be as high as 10 percent in obese children. Obesity plays a role but, related to that is also inactivity among children, diet, and their genetic predisposition for developing high blood pressure. Then it is appropriate for further work up to be done to evaluate the reason for the elevation in blood pressure.

If I find a child with a high blood pressure reading during their physical exam, it is important to re-take their blood pressure in both arms. I also do not depend on automated blood pressure readings, as I find they are often inaccurate and I prefer to use the “old fashioned” cuff and stethoscope to listen for the blood pressure. If the blood pressure reading is abnormal, then I have the child/adolescent have their blood pressure taken over a week or two at different times of the day. They can have the school nurse take it and parents can also buy an inexpensive blood pressure machine to take it at home. I then look at the readings to confirm that they are consistently high. The “white coat” syndrome, when a doctor assumes that the elevated blood pressure is due to anxiety, may not actually be the case, so make sure that repeat blood pressures are taken. If your child does have elevated blood pressure readings it is important that further evaluation is undertaken, either by your pediatrician or by referral to a pediatric cardiologist.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

Daily Dose

School Lunches & Obesity

1.30 to read

Since we have been talking about healthier school lunches, I thought I would share with you an interesting article in last month’s Pediatrics which related to regulations on school snacks.  

While the nutrition standards for school meals changed for the 2012-2013 school year, the new guidelines do not effect foods in vending machines, snack bars or other venues within the school that are not a part of the regular school meal programs. These foods (typically snacks and drinks) are termed “competitive foods” as they compete with school breakfasts and lunches. 

This study looked at weight changes for 6,300 students between 2004-2007 and followed the students from fifth to eighth grade.  They found that adolescents in states with strict laws regulating the sale of “competitive foods” gained less weight over this 3 year period than those living in states without laws. 

As the childhood obesity epidemic continues (the CDC now estimates that 1/5 of American children are obese), public health officials continue to look at ways to improve a child’s eating habits during the school day.  The laws surrounding snack foods at school differ by state. There are no laws in some states, weak laws (where recommendations were made but there were no specific guidelines), and strong laws (where detailed nutritional standards were issued). 

The study did not conclude that strong laws were directly responsible for the differences in a student’s weight gain, but it did conclude that these outcomes tended to happen in states with strong laws.  That would seem to make sense to me as most children including my own, if given the opportunity, would at times choose vending machine snacks over a healthy school lunch. 

I also think that this is more common as the children become teens and seem to “snack” for lunch while multi-tasking rather than sitting down to eat a well balanced lunch. I continually hear this comment from adolescent patients of mine when I ask them about their lunch habits, and many of whom eat “off campus” if allowed, and choose fast foods over a healthy school cafeteria lunch.  Off school lunches seem to be another issue as well. 

One of the lead authors on the study stated, “competitive-food laws can have an effect on obesity rates if the laws are specific, required and consistent”. It seems like this might be a good cause to discuss with your own state representative.

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