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Infant obesity widespread in the USA

A study led by Brian Moss of Wayne State University’s School of Social Work reveals that one third of infants in the U.S. are obese or at risk of obesity. In addition, of the 8,000 infants studied, those found to be obese at 9 months had a higher risk of being obese at 2 years. Other studies have revealed that Infant obesity increases the risk for later childhood obesity and could lead to other obesity-related health problems like heart disease, asthma, high blood pressure and cancer. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood and infant obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years.

Moss, in collaboration with William H. Yeaton from the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, published their analysis, “Young Children’s Weight Trajectories and Associated Risk Factors: Results from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B),” in the January/February 2011 issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion. The ECLS-B draws from a representative sample of American children born in 2001 with diverse socioeconomic and racial/ethnic backgrounds. It is one of the first studies to monitor weight status changes of a nationally representative sample of very young children.

For their study, Moss and Yeaton used results from ECLS-B to follow the trajectory of the infants’ weight status at 9 months and 2 years, then performed statistical analyses to examine whether weight persistence, loss or gain was linked to demographic characteristics such as sex, race/ethnicity, geographic region or socioeconomic status. Children above the 95th percentile on standard growth charts were considered to have infant obesity, children in the 85th to 95th percentile were considered at risk for obesity.

Some of their results show that:
• 31.9 percent of 9-month-olds were at risk or obese;
• 34.3 percent of 2-year-olds were obese or at risk for obesity;
• 17 percent of the infants were obese at 9 months, rising to 20 percent at 2 years;
• 44 percent of the infants who were obese at 9 months remained obese at 2 years;
• Hispanic and low-income children were at greater risk for weight status gain;
• Females and Asian/Pacific Islanders were at lower risk for undesirable weight changes;
• 40 percent of 2-year-olds from the lowest income homes were at risk or obese compared to 27 percent of those from the highest income homes.

“This study shows that a significant proportion of very young children in the United States is at risk or is obese,” said Moss. The team notes a consistent pattern of obesity starting early in life. “As obesity becomes an increasing public health concern, these findings will help guide health practitioners by targeting high risk populations and foster culturally sensitive interventions aimed at prevention and treatment of obesity,” Moss said.

“We are not saying that overweight babies are doomed to be obese adults. However, we have found evidence that being overweight at 9 months puts you on track for being overweight or obese later in childhood.”

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Children who don’t like fruit and vegetables are 13 times more likely to be constipated

Primary school children who don't like eating fruit and vegetables are 13 times more likely to develop functional constipation than children who do, according to a study in the December issue of the Journal of Clinical Nursing. Drinking less than 400ml of fluid a day also significantly increases the risk. Dr Moon Fai Chan, assistant professor at the National University of Singapore, teamed up with Yuk Ling Chan, from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, to study the diet and toileting habits of 383 children aged from eight to ten from a school in Hong Kong. Fifty-one per cent were boys and children who were on regular medication or who paid regular hospital or clinic visits were excluded. Seventy per cent of the children who took part in the study were ten-years-old, 22 per cent were nine and eight per cent were eight.

“A number of studies have suggested that functional constipation – which is due to dietary habits, environmental habits and psychosocial factors rather than a particular health problem – is getting worse among school-age children” says Dr Moon Fai Chan from the Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Study at the University. “It is estimated that functional constipation accounts for 95 per cent of cases of constipation affecting children once they pass infancy. The condition has serious consequences, as it can cause a wide range of distressing emotional and physical problems such as stress, soiling, problems at school, damaged self-confidence and reduced social interaction.”

Key findings of the study included:

  • Seven per cent of the children who took part suffered from functional constipation and there were clear dietary differences between the children who did and did not have problems.
  • Girls were more likely to have functional constipation than boys (8.2 per cent versus 6.6 per cent) and nine-year-olds were more likely to report problems (13.3 per cent) than eight-year-olds (10 per cent) and ten-year-olds (5.2 per cent).
  • Children who only drank 200ml to 400ml of fluid a day were eight times more likely to experience problems than children who drank 600ml to 800ml and 14 times more likely than children who drank a litre or more.
  • Children who said they did not like fruit or vegetables were 13 times more likely to suffer from functional constipation than children who did.
  • Nine out of ten children refused to use the school toilets for bowel movements and the figure was the same for children with and without constipation.

The biggest problems with school toilets were that children preferred to go at home. They also cited lack of toilet paper and dirty toilets. “When we compared our findings with previous studies we found that the levels of functional constipation among Hong Kong school children was higher than those in the USA and UK, but similar to Italy” says Dr Chan. The authors have made a number of recommendations that they feel would help to tackle the problem. They suggest that:

  • Primary schools should work with healthcare professionals to make children more aware of the problem, with regular healthcare education sessions in classrooms and at assemblies.
  • Parents need to be educated about functional constipation so that they can spot problems in their children and make sure that their diet provides sufficient fluid, vegetables and fruit. They should also remind their children to pay regular toilet visits at school.
  • School tuck-shops should stock high-fibre snacks such as popcorn, fresh food and dried fruit, instead of crisps and sweets.
  • Children should be encouraged to drink plain water during lessons and drinking fountains should be installed.
  • School toilets should be more user-friendly, private and well stocked with paper so that children feel more comfortable using them.

“We hope that this study will help to raise awareness of functional constipation, which can cause children real physical and emotional distress and seriously affect their quality of life” says Dr Chan.

Source: Investigating factors associated with functional constipation of primary school children in Hong Kong. Chan MF and Chan YL. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 19, pp3390-3400. (December 2010). DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2010.03366.x

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Caffeine consumption common in kids

Even young children appear to be consuming more caffeine, so much so that caffeine could be contributing to sleep problems in primary school children, researchers found. Three-quarters of children ages 5 to 12 consumed caffeine on an average day in a survey of parents at routine clinic visits by William J. Warzak, PhD, of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, and colleagues. The more caffeine children consumed, the fewer hours they slept on average (P=0.02), the researchers reported online in the Journal of Pediatrics, although not drawing a causal link. The average intake was two or three times higher than the 22- to 23-mg daily average reported nearly a decade ago, they noted.

Eight- to 12-year-olds in Warzak's study averaged 109 mg of caffeine — the equivalent of nearly three 12-oz cans of soda each day. But even the 52 mg of caffeine consumed by 5- to 7-year-olds on an typical day was well above the level known to have a physiologic effect on adults, the researchers noted. “There's really no role for caffeine in kids,” Marcie Schneider, MD, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, emphasized in commenting on the study. “We know that caffeine raises your blood pressure, raises your heart rate, and can be addictive.” Unlike older teens who are likely drinking coffee to wake up in the mornings for school, the assumption is that younger kids are getting most of their caffeine from soda, noted Schneider, who serves as a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition.

She urged pediatricians to raise parents' awareness of the issue, perhaps as part of the yearly checkup. “We routinely ask kids what they're eating and drinking,” “It may be something that is worth pediatricians pointing out to parents that this kid does not need caffeine in their life partially because it does some things that are negative.”

Warzak's group surveyed parents of 228 children seen at an urban outpatient pediatric clinic during routine visits about the children's average daily consumption of drinks and snacks with an emphasis on caffeine-containing items. None of the children had a known sleep disorder or medical condition that might cause bedwetting. Illustrated depictions were provided to help parents accurately estimate serving sizes.

Nearly all of the caffeine intake was consumed through beverages. Few children got a meaningful amount of caffeine from food. “Caffeine's diuretic properties have encouraged behavioral health practitioners to eliminate caffeine from the diet of children with enuresis,” the researchers noted. However, they found that intake didn't correlate with the number of nights a child wet the bed (P=0.49). Overall, enuresis was actually less likely in children who consumed caffeine.

The researchers cautioned that interpretation of these results may be complicated by cultural differences in reporting children's behavioral health concerns and that their study could not draw any causal conclusions. Schneider also noted the use of parental reports and the relatively small sample as limitations. Although the findings offered no support for removing caffeine from children's diets on the basis of bedwetting, Warzak's group concluded in the paper that “given the potential effects of caffeine on childhood behavior, a screen of caffeine consumption might be beneficial when evaluating childhood behavioral health concerns.”

Source: Warzak WJ, et al “Caffeine consumption in young children” J Pediatr 2011; DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2010.11.022.

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