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Your Child

Kids and Caffeine

2.00 to read

While sipping on a coffee-laced Frappuccino, I’m reading about a current study on caffeine and kids. It made me think about my own dependence on caffeine and when it started. For as long as I can remember, my parents would drink several cups of coffee in the morning before going to work, and even as late as right before they retired for the night.  I suspect my mother had a cup while I was busy being born.

I can’t remember exactly when I joined the family coffee drinking ritual, but I know I was pretty young.  Fall and winter demanded hot steaming cups of coffee and iced coffee helped cool the torturous Texas summers. Spring was a combination of both. Sometimes I think that by now, there’s probably coffee bean residue percolating in my blood stream. 

I kind of wish that I’d never started drinking coffee, because it’s the caffeine I really crave- not necessarily the taste of the brew.  When I’ve tried to quit, my body and mind rebels with headaches and bad attitudes. Which brings me back to the study on kids and caffeine.

Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that children and teens are now getting less caffeine from soda, but more from caffeine-heavy energy drinks and coffee.

"You might expect that caffeine intake decreased, since so much of the caffeine kids drink comes from soda," said the study's lead author, Amy Branum, a statistician at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. "But what we saw is that these decreases in soda were offset by increases in coffee and energy drinks."

Not too long ago, energy drinks were just a fad, something that was more likely to give you the shakes than boost your energy level. That was before they were tweaked and bottled or canned in fruity flavors, sugary beverages and clever advertising. Once kids (and adults) got a taste of the “new and improved” tasty stimulates, the caffeinated beverages began to become a part of every day life – at least Monday through Friday when school and work beckoned.

"In a very short time, they have gone from basically contributing nothing to 6 percent of total caffeine intake," Branum said.

“Energy drinks have more caffeine than soda,. That's their claim to fame," she said. "That's what they're marketed for."

So, what effect does excessive caffeine intake have on our kids? Scientists are not sure yet. There are concerns and a lot of questions about the possible adverse consequences for kids who are still developing.  Caffeine addiction, obesity from sugar heavy beverages, high blood pressure, rapid heart beats and anxiety are some of the side –effects researchers are exploring. 

Using data from the 1999 to 2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Branum's team estimated that 73 percent of American children consume some level of caffeine each day.

Although much of their caffeine still comes from soda, the proportion has decreased from 62 percent to 38 percent. At the same time, the amount of caffeine kids get from coffee rose from 10 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2010, the researchers found.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that energy drinks are never appropriate for children or adolescents and in general, caffeine-containing beverages, including soda, should be avoided. The AAP suggests that children should drink water or moderate amounts of juice instead.

The genie is probably out of the preverbal bottle as far as some adolescents and college-aged kids are concerned.  Although, if they are more aware of the possible health risks associated with excessive caffeinated beverages, they may decide to look at healthier energy producing sources such as exercise, meditation and more rest.

Where parents can have the most influence is with their younger children.  Refraining from purchasing caffeinated products (there’s even “energy” gum) and keeping them out of the home is a good first step.

And by all means, avoid introducing your kids to coffee at a young age. It might seem kind of cute, but twenty years down the road, they may wish you hadn’t slid that first cup of java their way.

The report was published in the February edition of the online journal Pediatrics.

Sources: Steven Reinberg,

Your Child

Can Dogs Help Kids Be Less Anxious?


Scientific studies have already linked fewer allergies and asthma in kids that own dogs, now a new study says you can also add less anxiety to the list of benefits from man’s best friend.

Researchers say a new study shows kids who live in a home with a pet dog score far lower on clinical measures of anxiety.

Although the study was small, the results were not surprising. Researchers focused on 643 kids between 6 and 7. But the team at Bassett Medical Center in New York found that just 12 percent of children with pet dogs tested positive for clinical anxiety, compared to 21 percent of children without a dog.

"It may be that less anxious children have pet dogs or pet dogs make children less anxious," Dr. Anne Gadomski and colleagues wrote in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Previous studies have also shown that adults benefit from owning a pet as well as kids. In fact, many health officials suggest that adults should consider getting a dog. Not only can they provide companionship but can encourage more exercise.

Gadomski acknowledged how special pets can be to a child by noting that, "Sometimes their first word is the name of their pet," she told NBC News. "There is a very strong bond between children and their pets."

What makes dogs such special pets for kids?  Godmski’s team said, "From a mental health standpoint, children aged 7 to 8 often ranked pets higher than humans as providers of comfort and self-esteem and as confidants," they wrote.

"Animal-assisted therapy with dogs affects children's mental health and developmental disorders by reducing anxiety and arousal or enhancing attachment," they added.

"Because dogs follow human communicative cues, they may be particularly effective agents for children's emotional development."

The researchers asked parents for specific details about what type of anxiety a child showed.

Pets seemed to help in several areas.

"Significant differences between groups were found for the separation anxiety component ('My child is afraid to be alone in the house') and social anxiety component ('My child is shy') favoring pet ownership," they wrote.

Most of the families in the study - 73 percent - had a pet of some kind. Most - 58 percent - had dogs. Families with pets may be more stable and may be more affluent, but the researchers suggest there's more to it than that.

"A pet dog can stimulate conversation, an ice-breaking effect that can alleviate social anxiety via a social catalyst effect," they wrote.

Other studies have also shown that playing or cuddling with a dog can release the bonding hormone oxytocin, and lower the stress hormone cortisol, they noted.

There’s already an abundance of research on dogs and families, which is one of the reasons Gadomski chose to look at the relationship between dogs and kids for this study.

However, she noted that cat lovers might also benefit from the same type of interaction.

If you’re interested in getting a dog as a pet for your family, there are several websites that offer a quiz to help families decide which breed may best be suited for them. Just search “best dog breeds for families.”

Shelters also have puppies and dogs that make wonderful pets.  Many of the older dogs are already house trained and socialized. Shelter staff can answer your questions about whether a particular dog that is up for adoption would be suitable for a family and small children.

Source: Maggie Fox,






Your Child

Is Cereal the Best Breakfast Choice?

1.45 to read

Experts have long said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. New research now suggests that it may help prevent obesity in children as well. Kids who eat breakfast every morning have more energy throughout the day, improved learning and behavior and maintain a healthy weight according to a report released by the journal Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Previous studies have linked eating breakfast with maintaining a lower body mass index (BMI) over time. The new study looked at the role that breakfast, specifically cereal, plays in both weight and nutrition among low-income kids.

One in every four American children lives in a food insecure household where breakfast isn't a sure thing, lead author Dr. Lana Frantzen told Reuters Health.

"(Cereal) is an excellent breakfast choice, it's simple, and gets those essential nutrients that children need, especially low income minority children," who tend to be hit hardest by childhood obesity and related health problems, said Frantzen, who is employed by Dairy MAX, a regional dairy council in Grand Prairie, Texas.

Frazen and her co-authors interviewed 625 schoolchildren over a two-year period in San Antonio, Texas. Once a year they asked the children to remember what they had had to eat over the previous three days and calculated their BMI, a measure of weight relative to height.

Researchers found that as the children got older, they tended to eat breakfast less often. As fourth graders, 64 percent of the kids said they'd eaten breakfast on each of the last three days, compared to 42 percent by the time they were sixth graders.

Kids who ate cereal four out of the nine days tended to be in the 95th percentile for BMI, which is considered overweight, compared to kids who ate cereal all nine days, whose measurements were in the 65th percentile, in the healthy weight range.

Thirty-two percent of fourth graders did not eat breakfast at all, 25 percent had something other than cereal and about 43 percent had cereal.

Children who ate cereal for breakfast had higher recordings of certain nutrients than children who ate something else for breakfast or nothing at all. Kids who ate more cereal got more vitamin D, B-3, B-12, riboflavin, calcium, iron, zinc and potassium in their diets than kids who ate less cereal or none at all. They also got slightly more calories, fat, fiber and sugar.

All breakfast cereals are not the same. Many pediatricians and family doctors recommend choosing a whole grain cereal that has a low fat and sugar content as well cooked cereals such as oatmeal.

Whether it’s cereal, eggs or oatmeal, the important take away is that breakfast provides your child more energy and nutrients while helping to lower his or her chance of obesity.  Just those three things can assist tremendously in helping your child have a healthier life.

Source: Reuters,



Any Benefits From Eating Your Own Placenta?


Here’s a medical study I never thought I’d read –“Are there health benefits associated with eating your own placenta after giving birth”?

Well…no, according to a research team from Northwestern University in Chicago. In fact, there may be a few health risks associated with ingesting placenta.

As I read the study’s findings, I began to wonder; who thought this was a good idea in the first place?

It turns out that throughout history there have been some cultures in which women ate the placenta after giving birth. It’s called placentophagy.

Some animals are known to also eat their afterbirth.

Apparently its’ also become the thing among a few celebrity mothers. While some believe that fresh placenta provides the most benefits, others elect to make a smoothie or have it dried, processed and made into pills.

However, the question still remains – is there any real benefit from eating placenta whether it’s raw, processed, made into a smoothie or pill, grilled or baked?

Scientists from Northwestern University pored over accumulated research that has been done on the topic.  The bottom line is that they could not find any evidence that there are any health benefits to placentophagy and that there may be unknown risks to mothers and their infants.

"Our sense is that women choosing placentophagy, who may otherwise be very careful about what they are putting into their bodies during pregnancy and nursing, are willing to ingest something without evidence of its benefits and, more importantly, of its potential risks to themselves and their nursing infants," study lead author and psychologist Cynthia Coyle said in a Northwestern news release.

In the study, Coyle's team reviewed data from 10 published studies. They found no data to support that eating the placenta -- either raw, cooked or in pill form -- protects against postpartum depression, reduces pain after childbirth, increases a woman's energy, helps with lactation, improves mother-child bonding, replenishes iron in the body, or improves skin elasticity. All touted as reasons many of the celebrity moms chose to give it a try.

The researchers also said that there are no studies examining the risks associated with eating the placenta, which acts as a filter to absorb and protect fetuses from toxins and pollutants.

Coyle noted that "there are no regulations as to how the placenta is stored and prepared, and the dosing is inconsistent. Women really don't know what they are ingesting."

If placentophagy appeals to you, be sure and check with your hospital or birthing center first. Many hospitals dispose of the placenta as bio-hazardous waste along with the other medical waste that occurs during birth (needles, blood, gloves etc.). You’ll most likely have to make arrangements ahead of time or find a more accommodating provider.

Source: Robert Preidt,

Your Child

Kids Allowed to Sip Alcohol Get Mixed Message


Letting your little one have an occasional sip of alcohol may be sending him or her the wrong message suggests a new report. 

According to the study, children that are allowed to sporadically sip alcohol as youngsters are more likely to start drinking by the time they are in high school.

Researchers followed 561 middle school students in Rhode Island for about three years. At the start of sixth grade (about age 11), nearly 30 percent of the students said they'd had at least one sip of alcohol.

The alcohol was provided in most cases by parents and given at parties or special occasions.

By ninth grade, 26 percent of those who'd had sips of alcohol at a younger age said they'd had at least one full alcoholic drink, compared with less than 6 percent of those who didn't get sips of alcohol when younger.

The researchers also found that 9 percent of the sippers had gotten drunk or engaged in binge drinking by ninth grade, compared with just under 2 percent of the non-sippers.

The study’s lead researcher Kristina Jackson, of Brown University’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, in Providence, Rhode Island, said the findings don’t prove that sips of alcohol at a young age absolutely leads to teen drinking.

"We're not trying to say whether it's 'OK' or 'not OK' for parents to allow this," Jackson said in a journal news release.

She noted that some parents believe that introducing children to alcohol at home teaches them about responsible drinking and reduces the appeal of alcohol.

"Our study provides evidence to the contrary," Jackson said.

Giving sips of alcohol to young children may send them a "mixed message," she suggested.

"At that age, some kids may have difficulty understanding the difference between a sip of wine and having a full beer," Jackson said.

For the study, Jackson’s team tried to account for other factors that might contribute to underage drinking such as parent’s drinking habits and any family history of alcoholism as well as the kid’s tendency to be impulsive or a high-risk taker.

Jackson says that there was still a connection between the early sipping and drinking by high school age.

She also stressed that parents who have already given their child sips of wine or beer shouldn’t be alarmed, but should think about sending their child a clear message about alcohol use and abuse.

The study was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Sources: Robert Preidt,

Your Baby

Could higher cigarette taxes save babies lives?


A new study says that when the cost of cigarettes increase, fewer babies die.  The study links rising cigarette taxes to a decline in infant deaths.

Specifically, researchers said that each $1 per pack increase in the overall tobacco tax rate over the years 1999-2010 may have contributed to two fewer infant deaths each day.

The dangers of smoking during pregnancy are well documented. Complications include infant nicotine addiction, lower oxygen for the growing baby, increased chances of miscarriage, an increase of a baby developing respiratory problems and sudden infant death syndrome to name just a few.

Fortunately, U.S. smoking rates have declined during the years examined in the study – 1999 to 2010.

The research doesn't directly prove that higher taxes translate into fewer infant deaths. Still, "we found that increases in cigarette taxes and prices were associated with decreases in infant mortality," said study author Dr. Stephen Patrick, an assistant professor of pediatrics and health policy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

In the new study, researchers tracked infant death rates and tobacco taxes from 1999-2010, when inflation-adjusted tobacco taxes on the state and federal levels rose from 84 cents a pack to $2.37 per pack. During the same time period, the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births fell from 7.3 to 6.2 overall, and from 14.3 to 11.3 among African-Americans.

Other factors were also considered that might influence infant mortality including family income and education. Researchers still found an association with the rising cigarette taxes.

Patrick acknowledged that it's possible that factors other than cigarette taxes contributed to the decline in the infant death rate. One possibility is that medical care improved over that time, leading to fewer deaths. But Patrick said that prospect is unlikely since such a change would presumably be seen in all states, and the study didn't reveal that kind of trend.

The researchers also examined the effect of tobacco prices, and found that increases appeared to have the same level of impact on infant mortality as tax hikes.

What about the prospect that pregnant women and new mothers might choose to spend money on tobacco -- including higher taxes -- instead of on their children? "That would only occur if smoking is a large share of the household expenditures," Levy said. And, he said, it's important to note that research has shown that higher taxes are especially likely to lead to less smoking among the poor.

While there may be other contributing factors that reduce the number of infant mortality during the research dates, researchers noted that the higher cost of cigarettes means more pregnant women will smoke either not at all or less and that’s a good thing for the babies they deliver.

The study was published online in the journal Pediatrics.

Sources: Randy Dotinga,

Your Child

Naps Help Preschoolers Learn Better

2.00 to read

There are two things adults envy about youngsters – their bountiful energy and their naps.

A new study says that those afternoon siestas that many preschoolers enjoy are not a waste of time.  In fact, a daily nap may improve their ability to learn by improving their memory skills.

Preschooler’s brains are busy. On a daily basis they are processing new and exciting information. Their brains are storing the input from these experiences in short-term storage areas said Rebecca Spencer, lead study author and a neuroscientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

"A nap allows information to move from temporary storage to more permanent storage, from the hippocampus to the cortical areas of the brain," she said. "You've heard the phrase, 'You should sleep on it.' Well, that's what we're talking about: Children need to process some of the input from the day."

Many of the nation's preschoolers put in longer days than do their working parents, arriving at school as early as 6:30 a.m. and getting picked up after 5 p.m., Spencer said. "We're all short on sleep, and the kid's sleep is affected by the parents' schedules," she said.

For the study, the researchers taught 40 children from six preschools in western Massachusetts a visual-spatial memory game in the morning. The children were asked to remember where nine to 12 different pictures were located on a grid.

During the afternoon, children were either encouraged to nap or to stay awake. Naps lasted about 80 minutes. Later in the afternoon and the following morning, delayed recall was tested between both groups -- children who were encouraged to sleep and those who were kept awake.

The researchers found that although the children performed similarly in the morning, when their retention was fresh, children forgot significantly more when they had not taken a nap. Those who had slept remembered 10 percent more than those who were kept awake. The next day, the kids who had napped the previous afternoon scored better than those who hadn't napped. The data showed that a child doesn't recover the memory benefit from nighttime sleep, the researchers said.

To better understand whether memories were actively processed during naps, the researchers took 14 preschoolers to a sleep lab for polysomnography, a sleep study that shows changes in the brain. The children took naps for about 70 minutes. The napping children showed signs of signals being sent to long-term memory from the brain's hippocampus.

"Thus, there was evidence of a cause-and effect relationship between signs that the brain is integrating new information and the memory benefit of a nap," Spencer said.

The study was published in the September issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Spencer is concerned about the trend in many public preschools to discontinue naps. She said naps need to be put back into the preschool day, and she wants to see exploration of ways to enhance the napping experience -- with darkened rooms and comfortable cots or pads, for example.

What’s the bottom line? "Naps are not wasted time," Spencer said.


Your Teen

Head Injury Linked To Violent Behavior

2.00 to read

A new study says that children who have suffered a head injury are more likely to get into a fight or take part in other types of violent behavior. Every parent knows that childhood often comes with bumps, bruises, cuts and falls. Sometimes those accidents include head injuries. A new study says that children who have suffered a head injury are more likely to get into a fight or take part in other types of violent behavior.

The connection between head injury and violence was particularly strong if the head injury had occurred within the past year, the authors of the study note in the journal Pediatrics. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 1.7 million Americans experience a traumatic brain injury every year, due to bumps, blows, jolts, or any injury that disrupts the brain's normal functioning. The study author, Dr. Sarah Stoddard with the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, told Reuters Health that- with this type of research- it is difficult to figure out if brain injury is really the root of the aggression or if some other factor is the reason. Stoddard also notes that activities like drinking, drug use ,and a history of violence didn’t seem to explain the findings. Stoddard and a colleague analyzed several years' worth of data from 850 kids in high school and followed them until five years after they left school. All of the participants had a grade point average of 3 or lower, putting them at risk for dropping out. In the fifth year of the study, 88 of the young adults said they had suffered a head injury. Of those individuals, 43 percent said they had gotten into a fight, hurt someone, or taken part in some type of violence over the following year. That compared to 34 percent of those who didn't report a head injury. The findings suggest that the more recent a head injury is, the more likely a young adult is to be aggressive. According to Stoddard, "The brain does recover over time." Stoddard also adds that researchers should investigate the long-term effects of head injuries in young people, as well as preventive measures such as protective gear for sports and interventions that help kids with head injuries manage their behaviors before they lead to violence. A different study conducted by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, of young athletes 15-to-24 years old, reveals that sports are second only to motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of injury to the brain. And concussions represent 10 percent of all high school athletic injuries. Previous studies have also shown that brain injuries can also cause changes in memory, reasoning, and emotions, including impulsivity and aggression. In studies with prisoners, researchers have found that those with a history of brain injuries are more likely to engage in violence. The study "does suggest there is a link between head injury and violence particularly early on," said Dr. Huw Williams, who has found the same relationship in prisoners, but was not involved in the new work. And if they believe their children experienced a brain injury in the past, they should also get expert advice on what to look for to make sure brain function doesn't deteriorate, he added. "It's important to monitor." Brain injury can range from mild to severe causing a short loss of consciousness and confusion to amnesia and coma. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that head injuries should be observed, and treatment should be sought if any of the following symptoms appear: •       A constant headache, particularly one that gets worse •       Slurred speech or confusion •       Dizziness that does not go away or happens repeatedly •       Extreme irritability or other abnormal behavior •       Vomiting more than 2 or 3 times •       Stumbling or difficulty walking •       Oozing blood or watery fluid from the nose or ears •       Difficulty waking up or excessive sleepiness •       Unequal size of the pupils (the dark center part of the eyes) •       Double vision or blurry vision •       Unusual paleness that lasts for more than an hour •       Convulsions (seizures) •       Difficulty recognizing familiar people •       Weakness of arms or legs •       Persistent ringing in the ears If your child does well through the observation period, there should be no long-lasting problems. Remember, most head injuries are mild. However, be sure to talk with your child's doctor about any concerns or questions you might have. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, also contains a free online training course on preventing sports-related brain injuries in young athletes.

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,


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Keeping it fun for kids with food allergies during Halloween.

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