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Your Child

Antibiotics Often Prescribed When Not Needed

2.00 to read

By now, most parents understand that antibiotics are not effective for viral infections, only for illnesses caused by bacteria.

However, that hasn’t deterred many physicians from over-prescribing antibiotics for children with ear and throat infections.

More than 11 million antibiotic prescriptions written each year for children and teens may be unnecessary, according to researchers from University of Washington and Seattle Children's Hospital. This excess antibiotic use not only fails to eradicate children's viral illnesses, researchers said, but also supports the dangerous evolution of bacteria toward antibiotic resistance.

"I think it's well-known that we prescribers overprescribe antibiotics, and our intent was to put a number on how often we're doing that," said study author Dr. Matthew Kronman, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at Seattle Children's Hospital.

"But as we found out, there's really been no change in this [situation] over the last decade," added Kronman. "And we don't have easily available tools in the real-world setting to discriminate between infections caused by bacteria or viruses."

 Doctors have limited resources when it comes to differentiating between bacterial or viral infections. Physicians can use the rapid step test to determine if the streptococcus bacteria is the cause of a child’s sore throat, but that is about it for immediate diagnostic tools.

Most colds are virus related and one of the first symptoms will be a sore or scratchy throat. It will typically go away after the first day or so and other cold symptoms will continue. Strep throat is often more severe and persistent.

A virus often causes ear infection as well. Many doctors treat ear infections as though they are bacterial to be on the safe side and avoid serious middle ear infections.

To determine antibiotic prescribing rates, Kronman and his colleagues analyzed a group of English-language studies published between 2000 and 2011 and data on children 18 and younger who were examined in outpatient clinics.

Based on the prevalence of bacteria in ear and throat infections and the introduction of a pneumococcal vaccine that prevents many bacterial infections, the researchers estimated that about 27 percent of U.S. children with infections of the ear, sinus area, throat or upper respiratory tract had illnesses caused by bacteria.

But antibiotics were prescribed for nearly 57 percent of doctors' visits for these infections, the study found.

Kronan hopes that the study’s results will encourage the development of more diagnostic tools and will spur doctors to think more critically about prescribing antibiotics unless clearly needed.

Previous research has shown that parents often pressure their doctor to prescribe an antibiotic to treat their child’s ear or sore throat symptoms. However, when parents are given other suggestions on how to alleviate the symptoms they have been much more receptive than when their doctor just flat out says he won’t prescribe antibiotics.

Many physicians and researchers are concerned that the amount of antibiotics being prescribed these days is setting us all up for future problems when dealing with bacterial infections. Bacteria are adaptable and mutate over time becoming less responsive to antibiotics. When possible, it’s much healthier in the long run to treat your child’s symptoms with simpler therapies. Ask your physican ways you can make your little one more comfortable until the symptoms pass. 

The study was published online in the journal Pediatrics.

Source: Maureen Salamon, http://consumer.healthday.com/infectious-disease-information-21/antibiotics-news-30/antibiotics-prescribed-twice-as-often-as-needed-in-children-study-says-691686.html

Your Baby

Can More Fruit Consumed During Pregnancy Raise Baby’s IQ?

1:30

The USDA recommends that women consume 2 cups of fruit daily. This can include fruits that are fresh, canned, dried or frozen, as well as 100-percent fruit juice.

Fruit not only contains important vitamins, minerals and fiber but may also provide benefits for the children of moms-to-be who consume more fruit during pregnancy.

According to a new study from Alberta, Canada, the children of mothers that consumed higher levels of fruit during pregnancy, had better cognitive development by the time they were one-year-old.

Researchers said the effects of eating more fruit on test scores were significant.

"It's quite a substantial difference," Dr. Piush Mandhane, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta, said in a press release.  "We know that the longer a child is in the womb, the further they develop -- and having one more serving of fruit per day in a mother's diet provides her baby with the same benefit as being born a whole week later."

For the study, researchers analyzed data on 688 one-year-old children collected as part of the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development study, and considered the amount of fruit their mothers consumed during pregnancy, gestational age at birth, parental lifestyle factors, including income and education, and cognitive tests given to the children.

Two-thirds of the population falls between 85 and 115 on the traditional IQ scale, with the average at about 100. The researchers found if pregnant mothers ate six or seven servings of fruit or fruit juice per day, their children scored six or seven points higher on IQ tests at one year old. There was no improvement in learning when only the babies were fed fruit.

The researchers noted that future studies will explore longer-term benefits of increased fruit consumption during pregnancy beyond one year of life, as well as whether higher intake of fruit affects development of other parts of the brain.

"We found that one of the biggest predictors of cognitive development was how much fruit moms consumed during pregnancy. The more fruit moms had, the higher their child's cognitive development," Mandhane said.

Experts recommend that pregnant women eat a variety of foods throughout the day to make sure they and their baby get the nutrients they need. A balanced diet contains fruits and vegetables, breads and grains, protein and dairy. Doctors often prescribe prenatal vitamins just in case a mom-to-be isn’t able to get all the nutrients she needs by diet alone.

While fruit is important to one’s overall diet, pregnant women should consult with their OB/GYN about their intake if they are diabetic or susceptible to gestational diabetes.

The study was published in the online edition of EBioMedicine,

Story source: Stephen Feller, http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2016/05/26/Eating-fruit-while-pregnant-helps-babys-cognitive-development-study-says/3311464273928/?spt=sec&or=hn

Your Teen

What do Energy Drinks Actually Do to the Body?

2:00

There’s been a lot of discussion over whether caffeine-spiked “Energy Drinks” are really safe for consumption, particularly for kids and young adults.  Although many manufacturers add the advisory statement “not recommended for children, pregnant or nursing women and persons sensitive to caffeine” on their label, it often goes ignored.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that as these drinks have become more popular, the incidences of caffeine related overdoses and deaths have increased.

In one heartbreaking example, 14-year-old Anais Fournier died from cardiac arrest due to caffeine toxicity after consuming two 24- ounce cans of Monster energy drink a day apart.

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been investigating whether there is causal link to the drinks and health problems, Mayo Clinic researcher Anna Svatikova and her colleagues wanted more information about exactly what happens in your body after you consume one of the drinks.

She and her team recruited 25 volunteers. All were young adults age 18 or older, nonsmokers, free of known disease, and not taking medications. They were asked to drink a 16-ounce can of a Rockstar energy drink and a placebo -- with the same taste, texture, color and nutritional contents but without the caffeine and other stimulants -- within five minutes on two separate days.

The energy drink had the following stimulants: 240 mg of caffeine, 2,000 mg of taurine and extracts of guarana seed, ginseng root and milk thistle. All typical ingredients associated with energy drinks.

Researchers took numerous measurements first before they drank and 30 minutes after. With the placebo, there was very little change. With the energy drink, however, many of the changes were marked:

•       Systolic blood pressure (the top number) - 6.2 percent increase

•       Diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) - 6.8 percent increase

•       Average blood pressure - 6.4 percent increase

•       Heart rate - none

•       Caffeine in blood - increase from undetectable to 3.4 micrograms/mL

•       Norepinephrine level (the stress hormone, which can give you the shakes when you have too much caffeine) in blood - increase from 150 pg/mL to 250 pg/ML

Writing in JAMA, the researchers said that these changes may predispose those who drink a single drink to increased cardiovascular risk.

This may explain why a number of those who died after consuming energy drinks appeared to have had heart attacks.

They also exposed the volunteers to two-minute physical, mental, and cold stressors after consuming the energy drinks to see how that might affect blood pressure and other body functions.

The physical stressor involved asking participants to squeeze on a handgrip; the mental one to complete a series of mathematical tasks as fast as possible; and the cold one immersing their one hand into ice water. Interestingly, there was no further change.

Another thing that is typically overlooked when people choose one of these drinks is the serving size. A 16-ounce can is two servings. A 24-ounce can has three servings. Caffeine and sugar content is often listed per serving. But honestly, how many people drink a third or half a can at a time? Besides caffeine, other stimulants are often added to energy drinks such as Ginseng and Guarana. Most people have no idea what they are, what they do and if they negatively interact with medications.

The American Beverage Association defends the drinks and said in a statement  that "there is nothing unique about the caffeine in mainstream energy drinks, which is about half that of a similar sized cup of coffeehouse coffee" and that drinking coffee would have produced similar effects.

“The safety of energy drinks has been established by scientific research as well as regulatory agencies around the globe. Just this year the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) confirmed the safety of energy drinks and their ingredients after an extensive review," the organization said.

It’s up to parents to decide whether these drinks are beneficial to their family or if they should re-think purchasing one for themselves or their child. A family discussion about the pros and cons of energy drinks with pre-teens and teenagers could give the kids the information they need to make a good choice.

Source: Ariana Eunjung Cha, http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleID=2469194

Your Teen

Early Puberty and Bone Health

1.50 to read

The normal rate of bone mass decline in adulthood is about 1 to 2 percent each year. This means that a 10 to 20 percent increase in bone density resulting from a naturally early puberty could provide an additional 10 to 20 years of protection against normal age-related decline in bone strength, according to the researchers.A new study suggest the earlier your child starts puberty, the lower the risk he or she will have osteoporosis later in life.

The research was based on 78 girls and 84 boys, who were studied from the time they began puberty until they reached sexual maturity. The investigators found that adult bone mineral density was influenced by age at puberty onset, with greater bone mass linked to early puberty and less bone mass associated with later puberty. However, bone strength did not seem to be affected by how long puberty lasted. "Puberty has a significant role in bone development," study leader Dr. Vicente Gilsanz, director of clinical imaging at the Saban Research Institute of Children's Hospital Los Angeles, said in a hospital news release. "During this time, bones lengthen and increase in density. At the end of puberty the epiphyseal plates close, terminating the ability of the bones to lengthen. When this occurs, the teenager has reached their maximum adult height and peak bone mass," Gilsanz explained. Reduced bone mineral density leads to osteoporosis, which affects 55 percent of Americans aged 50 and older. The normal rate of bone mass decline in adulthood is about 1 to 2 percent each year. This means that a 10 to 20 percent increase in bone density resulting from a naturally early puberty could provide an additional 10 to 20 years of protection against normal age-related decline in bone strength, according to the researchers. The study was published in the January issue of the Journal of Pediatrics. Pediatricians have long understood the role of pediatric bone development in osteoporosis prevention. The tween and teen years are critical for bone development because most bone mass accumulates during this time. In the years of peak skeletal growth, teenagers accumulate more than 25 percent of adult bone. By the time teens finish their growth spurts around age 17, 90 percent of their adult bone mass is established. Following the teen years, bones continue to increase in density until a person is about age 30. The need for calcium in the diet. Calcium is critical to building bone mass to support physical activity throughout life and to reduce the risk of bone fractures, especially those due to osteoporosis. The onset of osteoporosis later in life is influenced by two important factors: •   Peak bone mass attained in the first two to three decades of life •   The rate at which bone is lost in the later years Although the effects of low calcium consumption may not be visible in childhood, lack of adequate calcium intake puts young people at increased risk for osteoporosis later in life. Other foods, including dark green, leafy vegetables such as kale, are also healthy dietary sources of calcium. But, it takes 11 to 14 servings of kale to get the same amount of calcium in 3 or 4 8-ounce glasses of milk. In addition to calcium, milk provides other essential nutrients that are important for optimal bone health and development, including: •       Vitamins D, A, and B12 •       Potassium •       Magnesium •       Phosphorous •       Riboflavin •       Protein The role of physical activity in bone development. Weight-bearing physical activity helps to determine the strength, shape, and mass of bone. Activities such as running, dancing, and climbing stairs, as well as those that increase strength, such as weight lifting, can help bone development. For children and teenagers, some of the best weight-bearing activities include team sports, such as basketball, volleyball, soccer, and softball. Studies show that absence of physical activity results in a loss of bone mass, especially during long periods of immobilization or inactivity.

Your Child

Study: More and Younger Children Suffering From Concussion

2:00

In order to develop statistics on how many U.S. children and teens are being diagnosed with concussion, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzes emergency room data from around the country.

But, a new study finds that children’s concussions may be vastly underreported because family pediatricians, not ER doctors, are doing the examinations.

In the study, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, researchers from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the CDC used CHOP's regional pediatric network to figure out when and where children were diagnosed with a concussion.

They found approximately 82 percent had their first concussion visit at a primary care site like a pediatrician's office, 12 percent were diagnosed in an emergency department, 5 percent were diagnosed from a specialist, such as a sports medicine doctor or neurologist, and 1 percent were directly admitted to the hospital.

The authors noted that the findings indicate that many more children have suffered a concussion than recent stats suggest.

In another surprising turn, researchers found that one-third of those injured were under the age of 12.  Many reports have been focused on teen athletes instead of younger children.

"We learned two really important things about pediatric concussion healthcare practices," Kristy Arbogast, lead author and Co-Scientific Director of CHOP's Center for Injury Research and Prevention, said in a statement today. "First, four in five of this diverse group of children were diagnosed at a primary care practice -- not the emergency department. Second, one-third were under age 12, and therefore represent an important part of the concussion population that is missed by existing surveillance systems that focus on high school athletes."

Alex Diamond, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and director of the injury prevention program, told ABC News that these findings are important to help health officials understand how prevalent concussions really are. Diamond was not involved in the study.

Pediatricians are a good choice for seeking advice and diagnosis on concussions because they know the history of the child, Diamond said.

"That’s why it’s great for a pediatrician to deal with this," Diamond said. "They know the kid at baseline and they know the family."

The findings may have far-reaching implications for what we know about the number of concussions in the U.S., the authors said, noting that this study suggests that the condition is extremely underreported if the vast majority of concussions are diagnosed outside the emergency department.

"We need surveillance that better captures concussions that occur in children and adolescents," Dr. Debra Houry, director of CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said in a statement today. "Better estimates of the number, causes, and outcomes of concussion will allow us to more effectively prevent and treat them, which is a priority area for CDC's Injury Center."

Concussions often happen without a loss of consciousness and can have long-term effects.

In fact, a brief loss of consciousness or "blacking out" doesn't mean a concussion is any more or less serious than one where a child didn't black out.

If your child might have had a concussion, go to the emergency room or see your pediatrician if he or she has any of these symptoms:

•       Loss of consciousness

•       Severe headache, including a headache that gets worse

•       Blurred vision

•       Trouble walking

•       Confusion and saying things that don't make sense

•       Slurred speech

•       Unresponsiveness (you're unable to wake your child)

•       Ringing in the ears

•       Nausea

•       Vomiting

Some symptoms of concussions may be immediate or delayed in onset by hours or days after injury, such as:

•       Concentration and memory complaints

•       Irritability and other personality changes

•       Sensitivity to light and noise

•       Sleep disturbances

•       Psychological adjustment problems and depression

•       Disorders of taste and smell

Symptoms in infants and toddlers may be more difficult to recognize because they cannot express how they feel. Nonverbal clues of a concussion might include:

•       Appearing dazed

•       Listlessness and tiring easily

•       Irritability and crankiness

•       Loss of balance and unsteady walking

•       Crying excessively

•       Change in eating or sleeping patterns

•       Lack of interest in favorite toys

Experts recommend that parents take their child in for an evaluation if their child receives more than a light bump on the head.

Story sources: Gillian Mohney, http://abcnews.go.com/Health/concussions-children-vastly-underreported-study-finds/story?id=39506549

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/concussion/basics/symptoms/con-20019272

Your Baby

Study: Preemies Do Well in School

1:45

Parents of premature babies often worry how their child will do academically later in life. A new study may ease their minds.

Researchers followed more than 1.3 million premature babies born in Florida and found that two-thirds of those born at only 23 or 24 weeks were ready for kindergarten on time, and almost 2 percent of those infants later achieved gifted status in school.

Though extremely premature babies often scored low on standardized tests, preterm infants born 25 weeks or later performed only slightly lower than full-term infants. For babies born after 28 weeks, the differences in test scores were negligible.

"We know a lot about the medical and clinical outcomes [of premature babies] and we know some about short-term educational outcomes, but what we didn't know is how the babies do once they get further out into elementary school and middle school," the study's first author Dr. Craig Garfield, associate professor of pediatrics and of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told CBS News.

The babies were born in Florida from 1992 to 2002 with gestational ages of 23 to 41 weeks who later entered Florida public schools between 1995 and 2012. The scope of the study included a diverse group of children with varied backgrounds and economic status.

The study did not include additional research possibly connected to the children’s development such as medical issues related to premature birth, or information about factors that may have helped these children perform well in school, such as their biological makeup or if they got extra support from family or school programs.

"This is a really large group of children," Garfield said. "A lot of studies are done in a select group, but the population in this study is really all the babies that were born and lived up to one year in Florida and we were able to follow them through the education system to eighth grade."

Senior author David Figlio, director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, acknowledges concerns that very premature infants (those born between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy) tend to score well below their full-term peers on standardized tests. However, he said he believes "the glass is more than half-full."

"Most infants born at 23 to 24 weeks still demonstrate a high degree of cognitive functioning at the start of kindergarten and throughout school," he said in a statement.

The study is good news for parents already consumed with uncertainty about the future of their premature infant – something they need during a very difficult time.

Story source: Ashley Welch, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/premature-babies-preemies-catch-up-in-school-study/

Your Baby

Preventing Peanut Allergies in High-Risk Children

2:00

New research suggests that, under clinical supervision, children that are at a high risk for developing a peanut allergy can build a lasting tolerance to the legume.

Children that participated in the new study were fed peanuts for years as part of a supervised clinical trial. Now, the researchers are reporting that those youngsters maintained their tolerance for at least a year, even if they didn't keep eating peanuts.

"The therapy persisted, and after 12 months of avoidance there was no increase in the rates of peanut allergy. They maintained their ability to tolerate peanuts, even though they hadn't been eating it," said Dr. Sherry Farzan, an allergist with Northwell Health in Great Neck, N.Y. Farzan wasn't involved in the research.

This suggests that the immune system "learns" that peanut is not a threat to the body, and kids won't have to keep eating peanuts for the rest of their lives to maintain their tolerance, said Dr. Scott Sicherer. He's a pediatric allergy specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Sicherer also wasn't part of the current study.

This study is an extension of the groundbreaking LEAP (Learning Early about Peanut Allergy) clinical trial. Last year, that trial found that feeding peanuts to at-risk babies for 60 months reduced their risk of developing a peanut allergy. The study determined an infant's risk of peanut allergy using an allergy skin test.

Before the original LEAP study results, physicians told parents to avoid exposing their child to allergic foods until they were older and their immune system were more developed.

But the LEAP trial found that exposing at-risk kids to peanuts regularly beginning in infancy actually prevented peanut allergies by the time they reached age 5, Sicherer said. Eating peanuts lowered the rate of peanut allergy by 80 percent in the now-preschoolers, according to the study authors.

"For this high-risk group, waiting longer and longer to eat peanut isn't good," Sicherer said. "It's better to get it into your diet as soon as possible."

Both Farzan and Sicherer warned that this type of preventive strategy should only be given under a doctor’s supervision.

And, this prevention therapy is only for kids at risk of peanut allergy, not for kids who already have developed the allergy, Sicherer warned.

"If you have someone who already had a peanut allergy and gave them peanuts, then they'd get sick and maybe end up in an emergency room," he said.

After the initial study, researchers wanted to know if the children who were successful at building a tolerance to peanuts would have to eat them regularly for the rest of their lives.

To answer this question, the researchers followed more than 500 of the original 640 children for a one-year period of peanut avoidance. Half of this group included previous peanut consumers. The other half had always avoided peanuts.

 

After 12 months of peanut avoidance, only 5 percent of the original peanut consumers were found to be allergic, compared to 19 percent of the original peanut avoiders, the findings showed.

"This study offers reassurance that eating peanut-containing foods as part of a normal diet -- with occasional periods of time without peanut -- will be a safe practice for most children following successful tolerance therapy," said Dr. Gerald Nepom. He is director of the Immune Tolerance Network (ITN), the consortium behind the LEAP trial.

"The immune system appears to remember and sustain its tolerant state, even without continuous regular exposure to peanuts," he added in an ITN news release.

Farzan said there appears to be a "critical period" between 4 and 11 months where "we can push the immune system around a little."

Farzan and Sicherer both said that by the time kids reach age 5, the immune system appears to have accepted that peanuts aren't a danger to the body.

"After following this pattern, it may not be that important anymore, at least after age 5, to worry if someone isn't keeping up," Sicherer said. "It may not be necessary to keep up with such consistent ingestion."

According to the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public health, food allergies affect between 2 and 10 percent of U.S. children. Peanut allergy is considered the most fatal food allergy. 

The LEAP study, and now with the results from its extended research, may offer a new generation of children a chance at preventing this problematic allergy altogether.

Story source: HealthDay reporter Dennis Thompson, http://www.webmd.com/allergies/news/20160304/supervised-exposure-therapy-for-peanut-allergy-lasts-study-finds

 

Your Teen

Teens: Fatal Car Crashes Down

2:00

It seems like there are far too many studies reporting bad outcomes where teens are involved; too much drinking, eating, smoking and risky behaviors.

However, a recent study concludes that fatal car crashes involving teens have dropped by over half in the last decade. Researchers believe one reason may be that more teenagers are receiving driving licenses attached with restrictions.

"Many factors are probably at play, but there is wide agreement the graduated licensing programs are an important contributor to the decline in fatal crashes," lead study author Ruth Shults, an injury prevention researcher at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said in an to email to Reuters Health.

Graduated licenses may limit teens from diving at night as well as restrict how many teenage passengers can ride in a car with a teen driver.

Shults says that may be partly responsible for reducing the overall crash rate by 20 to 40 percent.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of drivers aged 16 to 19 involved in fatal crashes fell by 55 percent to 2,568 in 2013, down from 5,724 in 2004, supported by an increase in graduated licenses programs.

The numbers may also be down because some teenagers are waiting till they are 18 to get their driving license, said Eric Teoh, a senior statistician at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Virginia.

"An 18-year-old novice is probably more prepared maturity-wise than a 16-year-old novice," said Teoh, who wasn't involved in the study.

Many parents have changed what they look for in a car for their teenager. Newer models have better safety features - such as electronic stability to help keep the car in line if the driver loses control. That one feature alone may also be a contributing factor in fewer crashes.

Across 42 states included in the survey, the proportion of high school students who drive ranged from about 53 percent to about 90 percent, with the highest rates in the mid-western and mountain states, where population density is low. West coast states including California, Washington and Oregon were among eight excluded from the study.

In cities, fewer students drove, which may be related to family income, shorter travel distances and wider use of public transportation or alternatives such as walking or bicycling.

Nationwide in 2013, about three in four high school students 16 and older reported driving in the past month; the proportion was lower among black and Hispanic teens compared to white youth.

The economy may have also played a role in the reduction of teen drivers. Less dispensable money may have forced teens to look for alternative means such as public transportation, bicycles or walking.

"The economic downturn resulted in changes in the way people drive, with people taking fewer elective trips," said Raymond Bingham, a professor at the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor, who wasn't involved in the study.

Leisure trips, as opposed to driving to work or school, are associated with more crashes, Bingham said.

Whatever the reasons, it’s good to know that more of our teenage drivers are living to grow into adulthood and making it pass the turbulent adolescent years.

Source: Lisa Rapaport, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/08/us-health-teens-drivers-crashes-idUSKBN0MZ21020150408

Your Child

Healthier Choices for Students in School Lunch Lines

1:30

School lunches have changed over the years and in many school cafeterias, food options are healthier than ever before, according to a new study.

Elementary school cafeterias are offering more vegetables, fresh fruit, salad bars, whole grains and more healthy pizzas, while the availability of high-fat milks, fried potatoes and regular pizza has decreased, researchers report.

"School food service programs have worked hard to improve the nutritional quality of school lunches, and largely have been very successful," said lead researcher Lindsey Turner, director of the Initiative for Healthy Schools at Boise State University, in Idaho.

Although in some schools food choices are improving, that’s not the case everywhere. Turner noted that more work needs to be done to make sure every student has the same healthy choices in the lunch line.

In the study of more than 4,600 elementary schools that are part of the U.S. National School Lunch Program, researchers found that school lunches improved significantly between 2006-2007 and 2013-2014.

Despite improvements in food choices, disparities were still found. For example, schools in the West were more likely to offer salad bars than schools in the Northeast, Midwest or South, the researchers found.

Schools with a majority of black or Hispanic children were less likely to offer fresh fruit than schools with a preponderance of white students.

Also, schools in poor areas were less likely to offer salads regularly.

Over the course of the study, Midwestern schools slightly reduced offering pre-made salads in favor of salad bars, but Southern schools were more likely to offer pre-made salads and less likely to have salad bars, the researchers found.

On the other side of offering healthier foods is choosing to eat those foods. Just because there are better food options available, doesn’t mean that kids will eat them. One expert noted that it takes time and effort for kids to change their eating habits. It not only has to look good, it has to taste good.

"It is not only important to improve the quality of school lunches but to make these foods attractive, tasty, easily seen and accessible," said Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center, in New York City.

Studies have found that putting fresh fruit in a nice bowl, in a conveniently located, well-lit area in the school cafeteria increased sales of fruit by 102 percent, she noted.

"A brightly lit, hot-and-cold salad bar filled with colorful fresh fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts, mushroom and spinach pizza, and veggie tacos center-stage in the lunchroom would be very attractive to students and staff alike," Heller said.

This approach works well at home, too, she added.

"Kids are more likely to grab healthy foods like cut-up melon, carrots, peppers, edamame and hummus when they are upfront and easy to grab in the fridge," Heller said.

The study was published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Story source: Steven Reinberg, http://consumer.healthday.com/vitamins-and-nutrition-information-27/food-and-nutrition-news-316/america-s-school-lunches-getting-healthier-study-709097.html

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