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Daily Dose

Bedtime!

1:30 to read

Bedtime….an important word for parents and for children. A recent study in Pediatrics just reinforces how important bedtimes for children may be.  The research shows that preschool children who had an earlier bedtime were less likely to become obese in their teenage years. 

The study involved nearly 1,000 children who were born in 1991 and whose parents recorded their bedtimes when they were 4.5 years old.  The researchers then looked at the growth data (height/weight) for these children when they were 15 years of age.

Interestingly, the pre-school children who were in bed by 8:00 p.m. had half the risk of becoming obese as a teenager compared to those children who went to bed after 9 pm. Specifically, of the children who went to bed by 8 pm, only 10 percent were obese as teens, while 16 percent of those who went to bed between 8 and 9 pm developed obesity, and 23 percent of those children   who had bedtimes after 9 pm developed teenage obesity. 

While there has been much research surrounding sleep and obesity (as well as behavior), this study provides even more evidence to the possible “protective effect” of early bedtime and bedtime routines for young children.  If getting to bed on time and earlier can in some way help stem the obesity tide, it would seem like an easy recommendation for many parents to follow.  

As a mother I was always a “fan” of schedules and bedtimes…and actually putting your child to bed at night is such a wonderful time of day. The routine of a bath, snuggles, some books ( with wishes for just one more) and more hugs and kisses is such a wonderful memory I have of my own 3 boys. It just seemed that everyone was happier (and I guess healthier) when we had early bedtimes. I remember I had a friend who always had her 3 young children fed, bathed and in bed by 7:00 p.m. every night..and in those pre cell phone days we did not dare call her house after that time!!  

I also think bedtime routines are important for younger children year round. While it is more difficult to have regular bedtimes for older children during the summer months, children under elementary school age (and maybe even older) really do benefit from continuing on the same bedtime schedule during the summer months.  I think if you told your middle school or teenager this “rule” there  might be mutiny….but I know as well as a working parent, it is much easier to have a routine even when the kids are out of school…they would totally disagree!

I am excited about this study and using it as another resource when discussing sleep habits and bedtime routines with my patients.  

Your Child

Will 60% of U.S. Children be Obese by Age 35?

2:00

As many as six in ten U.S. children could be obese by the time they are 35 years old. That sobering news comes from a study conducted by "Childhood Obesity Intervention Cost-Effectiveness Study" (CHOICES).

The numbers are a result of data entered into a computer. The investigators first combined height and weight data from five studies involving about 41,500 children and adults. The computer then generated a representative sample of 1 million "virtual" children up to the age of 19, living in the year 2016. The model then predicted how obesity rates would unfold until all the virtual children turned 35.

The model indicated that being overweight or obese early in life bumped up the risk for being obese later in life. In addition, the more overweight or obese someone was as a child, the greater the person's chance of being obese by age 35.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 20 percent of American children between the ages of 6 and 19 years of age are currently obese. That reflects a tripling of the number since the 1970s.

The study’s lead author, Zachary Ward, a doctoral candidate in health policy with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's Center for Health Decision Science, in Boston, noted that the results were not unexpected.

"It should not be surprising that we are heading in this direction. We are already approaching this level of adult obesity for certain subgroups [and] areas of the country." Ward said.

Still, Ward expressed some surprise at how strongly being obese at a very young age predicted obesity decades down the road. 

"For example, we found that three out of four 2-year-olds with obesity will still have obesity at age 35," he said. "For 2-year-olds with severe obesity, that number is four out five."

Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, was also not surprised at the findings.

"Trends show obesity occurring earlier in adulthood, and [the] current level of childhood obesity suggests that the trend will continue," said Sandon, who was not involved with the analysis. 

Because "obesity is difficult to reverse at any age," she said, prevention is key. Parents should not rely solely on public school nutrition and activity programs to do the job.

Earlier studies have suggested that obesity in children may begin in the womb if the mother is obese when she becomes pregnant, and develops gestational diabetes. This combination can produce a large child at birth. Studies have shown that babies born with higher amounts of fat at birth tend to continue having more body fat in childhood and on into adulthood.

Experts recommend that overweight women that are considering becoming pregnant, first lose the extra weight and be tested for type2 diabetes. If they are found to have type2 diabetes before they're pregnant, they should be treated beforehand; this will help their pregnancy and prevent complications.

Sandon also notes that there are other things parents can do to help insure a healthier child. "Concerned parents can make efforts to prepare and provide healthier foods at home, plan regular scheduled mealtimes, limit screen time, encourage participation in sports, encourage participation in active leisure time activities instead of more sedentary activities and, most of all, set an example by being active, having a healthy relationship with their own food choices and having regular mealtimes as well."

The study by Ward and his colleagues appears in the November issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Story sources: Alan Mozes, https://www.webmd.com/children/news/20171129/60-percent-of-us-kids-could-be-obese-by-age-35#1

Lucilla Poston, Professor, https://www.news-medical.net/news/20170111/Childhood-obesity-starts-in-the-womb.aspx

 

 

Daily Dose

Chubby Toddlers & Weight Gain

1.15 to read

So, what goes on behind closed doors? During a child’s check up, I spend time showing parents (as well as older children) their child’s growth curve. This curve looks at a child’s weight and height, and for children 2 and older, their body mass index (BMI). This visual look at how their child is growing is always eagerly anticipated by parents as they can compare their own child to norms by age, otherwise called a cohort. 

I often then use the growth curve as a segue into the discussion about weight trends and a healthy weight for their child. I really like to start this conversation after the 1 year check up when a child has  stopped bottle feeding and now getting regular meals adn enjying table food. 

This discussion becomes especially important during the toddler years as there is growing data that rapid weight gain trends, in even this age group, may be associated with future obesity and morbidity. Discussions about improving eating habits and making dietary and activity recommendations needs to begin sooner rather than later. 

I found an article in this month’s journal of Archives of Pediatrics especially interesting as it relates to this subject.  A study out of the University of Maryland looked at the parental perception of a toddler’s (12-32 months) weight. The authors report that 87% of mothers of overweight toddlers were less likely to be accurate in their weight perceptions that were mothers of healthy weight toddlers. 

They also reported that 82% of the mothers of overweight toddlers were satisfied with their toddler’s body weight. Interestingly this same article pointed out that 4% of mothers of overweight children and 21% of mothers of healthy weight children wished that their children were larger. 

Part of this misconception may be related to the fact that being overweight is becoming normal.  That seems like a sad statement about our society in general. 

Further research has revealed that more than 75% of parents of overweight children report that “they had never heard that their children were overweight” and the rates are even higher for younger children. If this is the case, we as pediatricians need to be doing a better job.  

We need to begin counseling parents (and their children when age appropriate) about diet and activity even for toddlers. By doing this across all cultures we may be able to change perceptions of healthy weight in our youngest children in hopes that the pendulum of increasing obesity in this country may swing the other way. 

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

Daily Dose

Rice Cereal & Childhood Obesity

Does white rice cereal cause childhood obesity? One pediatrician thinks so.I recently saw Dr. Alan Greene on TV discussing infant feeding practices and how that may relate to the problem of childhood obesity. Dr. Greene, like most pediatricians, has long been a proponent of healthy eating. He recently launched his “White Out” campaign to change how babies are introduced to solid foods.

His argument is that an infant’s first food has long been rice cereal.   Rice cereal is typically introduced to a baby between 5 – 6 months of age when they are just beginning to sit up in a high chair, and may be fed with a spoon. Rice cereal  typically comes in a box and breast milk or formula is added to the dried flakes in order to make it the consistency where the  baby may be  offered a few bites from a spoon. Although rice is a “white grain” there are also other infant cereal products available, and there are no “directives” that say that a brown rice or mixed grain cereal may not  be used. As I understand it, the whole idea is really just to get the baby used to spoon feeding and then I begin introducing my infant patients to vegetables and fruits. So, the idea that the baby rice cereal is somehow linked to the entire problem of childhood obesity seems somewhat shortsighted to me. An infant is only fed rice cereal one or two times a day while still receiving either breast milk or a formula. Remember that breast milk and formulas contain carbohydrates too. Infant cereal whether it be brown or white rice should not be the only food a baby is introduced too, nor should they eat cereal all day long. While Dr. Greene is concerned that babies will “get hooked on the taste of highly processed foods”, I'm more concerned that parents will quickly forgo rice and whole grain cereals, fruits, veggies and meats and begin feeding their children frosted or honey nut cheerios (a favorite early finger food),  as wells as goldfish and puffs, pasta and other white foods.  These are the foods I  am most likely to see in my office, not a bowl fruits and vegetables. Babies really get the  majority of their calories from breast milk or formula until about 9 – 12 months of age. Parents should be encouraged to feed their babies a wide array of healthy foods including cereals, vegetables, fruits and meats.  Dr. Greene is right,  a baby doesn’t tell you he won’t eat brown rice, or oatmeal or spinach or prunes. For the most part an infant happily opens their mouths and will take what is fed to them. The problem occurs a little later as babies start to show a preference for foods , whether that is by making a face, or pushing food away, they definitely show preferences. This is when the idea of getting “hooked on foods” really begins. It is not uncommon for me to hear a parent of a one year old say, “my baby doesn’t like…… squash, or cereal, or peaches.”  Soon thereafter you hear, “my toddler will only eat…..fill in the blank”. Those are the words that send shivers down my spine. Trying to get those parents to buy into the fix the meal and they will eat it if they are hungry is quite a difficult concept at times. The issue is not only beginning a baby on rice cereal, the problem is more complex. It is getting parents to understand that our children will always have food preferences, that does not mean that we need to acknowledge them or submit to them. It means that we need to make good healthy meals for our families, white rice or brown rice is only the beginning of the story. That's your daily dose for today. What do you think? Leave your comments below!

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.

Daily Dose

Family Dinners Help Fight Obesity

1.15 to read

Sadly, the problem with obesity in America does not seem to be going away, and is not even improving!! The latest data shows that adult obesity rates have risen in 23 states in 2009 and the trend continued through 2010 and 2011.

Obesity and the problems associated with it, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, joint problems etc. begin in childhood. If we cannot change our children’s eating and exercise habits we have no hope of stemming the tide of ongoing obesity. By 2020 the headlines might read, “Obesity rising in all 50 states” with the majority of the population dealing with this crisis. In that vein we must not only begin modeling better eating habits for our children, but do so by returning to the idea of family meals. Family meals were the “norm” when I was growing up. We were fortunate to have breakfast and dinner at home each day and we were expected to be present for those meals. I know it was hard for my mother to do this as she worked when I was young, and my father travelled a great deal of the time. But parental sacrifice has not changed over time, and we all know that we will often do things “just for the kids”. The good thing about preparing meals these days is that the grocery stores have made it quite easy for even a very busy family to be able to prepare a “home cooked” meal. All of the chains have rotisserie chickens available and also offer prepackaged meats such as meat loaf, pre-made hamburger patties, or fish filets. The salads are also prepackaged and you can even buy fruit already cut up. I am “thrifty” and don’t mind making my own hamburger patties or cutting up fruit, but picking up a chicken on the way home from work is often a quick way to begin a dinner. The chicken can be used in a salad or used as a main course. We parents just have to be a little more inclined to drive through the grocery store rather than the fast food restaurant. I am still convinced that our children will eat what we prepare and gather together for meals if that becomes the norm once again. Our kids are busy too, and they will appreciate knowing that dinner will be there every night, and that it will be healthy. Leading by example is the best way to begin. We can’t afford not to try! That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow. Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

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!

Daily Dose

Kids, Media & Obesity

1.30 to read

A new study looks at the link between a child's media use and body weight. A recent study in the July issue of Pediatrics looks at mounting research showing that a child’s media use may be linked to their body weight, not only due to the fact that they don’t get as much exercise if they are watching TV and using other media, but also due to other issues related to media exposure.

The new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, entitled “Children, Adolescents, Obesity and the Media” states that, “American society couldn’t do a worse job at the moment of keeping children fit and healthy – too much TV, too many food ads, not enough exercise, and not enough sleep.” It has become my routine during well child exams, beginning as young as 2 years of age, to ask parents as well as older children, “Do you have a TV in your room?”, “Do you have a computer or DVD player in your room?” I am still amazed at the number of young children who answer “yes” to this question.  Fortunately, many also respond “No”, and then ask me when they may have a TV in their room?  My standard answer is “When you leave home and go to college or work.”  Most parents are relieved with this response. A few don’t understand why I am even asking the question. This new policy statement reiterates that parents need to be paying attention to the amount of “screen” time their children get daily. Total non-educational screen time (again, the definition of educational may vary from family to family), should be no more than 2 hours per day. This limit on screen time should also be enforced in child care centers, after school program and in community centers. According to the statement, the numerous ads on air for junk foods and fast foods, only increases a child’s desire for these foods. It is easy to keep your child from buying Cocoa Puffs or Fruit Loops (just randomly selected, you can fill in your cereal) when they have never seen the cute ad for these sugary cereals. I still remember, “Trix are for kids!”  Children who are allowed to stay up late at night watching TV are not only exposed to numerous ads, but at the same time do son get enough sleep, and the combination puts them at greater risk for childhood obesity.  Dr. Victor Strasburger, one of the lead authors states, “Kids see 5,000 to 10,000 food ads per year, most of them for junk food and fast food.” By asking parents and their children about screen time pediatricians can encourage a family to have a well thought out plan for limiting screen time while encouraging outside activity. These recommendations will hopefully translate into less screen time, less exposure to advertising, less sedentary activity and ultimately a healthier weight for children. What do you think? I would love your comments and feedback.

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