Family Matters

Kids’ Health Roundup: Child Obesity and TV Ads, Parents’ Bad Math, and the Effect of Mom’s Stress on Babies

The Pediatric Academic Societies convened in Boston for their annual meeting starting Saturday. Here's a quick update of some of the useful research presented.

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It was a banner weekend for news about moms and babies as the Pediatric Academic Societies convened in Boston for their annual meeting. Researchers discussed childhood obesity, medication errors and the effect of stress on babies in the womb, among other topics. Here’s a summary of some of the findings:

Could food insecurity increase risk of obesity?
While it’s fairly obvious that obesity is a result of eating too much, a more subtle cause may be the fear of not having enough food, according to researchers at New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital Center. It’s not unusual for low-income families to suffer from “food insecurity” — worry about whether they have enough food to feed their children. About one-third of 201 low-income, mostly Hispanic mothers with babies younger than six months old reported food insecurity, which in turn can influence portioning and frequency of feedings and can result in mothers pressuring their children to eat even when they’re not hungry.

(MOREScientists Find Two Gene Variants that Predispose Kids to Weight Gain)

Child obesity and TV commercials
Simply being able to identify which television ads are associated with which fast-food restaurants can be a risk factor for obesity, according to researchers who found that teens and young adults who were most familiar with fast-food advertisements also tended to weigh more.

Researchers at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center surveyed 3,342 teens and young adults about their eating and television-viewing habits, then showed them 20 still images from fast-food television ads. The ads had been digitally altered to remove the restaurant brands.

Eighteen percent of those surveyed were overweight and 15% were obese. Obesity rates were linked with greater recognition of the fast-food ads: 17% of those who recognized more ads were obese compared to 8.3% of those who identified few ads. “Individuals who are more familiar with these ads may have food consumption patterns that include many types of high-calorie food brands, or they may be especially sensitive to visual cues to eat while watching TV,” said study co-author Dr. James D. Sargent, a pediatrics professor at Dartmouth, in a statement. “More research is necessary to determine how fast-food ad familiarity is linked to obesity.”

(MOREMom’s Obesity, Diabetes Linked with Autism and Developmental Delays)

Why parents’ poor math skills matter
Being bad at math can lead parents to make errors when it comes to giving appropriate medication dosages to their children, according to researchers from New York University School of Medicine.

Parents whose math abilities are at the third-grade level or below are five times more likely to dispense an incorrect dosage than parents with skills at a sixth-grade level or above.

Previous research has found that parents with difficulty reading are also more likely to make dosage errors, but this study focused on 289 parents of children younger than 8 who were prescribed liquid medication. A third of the parents had poor reading skills, according to assessment tests, and 83% had poor math skills, with 27% falling at third-grade level or below.

“Dosing liquid medications correctly can be especially confusing, as parents may need to understand numerical concepts such as how to convert between different units of measurement, like milliliters, teaspoons and tablespoons,” said study co-author Dr. H. Shonna Yin, an assistant professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital Center, in a statement. “Parents also must accurately use dosing cups, droppers and syringes, many of which vary in their measurement markings and the volume they hold.”

Providing math-challenged parents with pictures of dosing instruments filled correctly could prove helpful, says Yin.

(MORE: Can Elmo Inspire Your Kid to Become a Scientist?)

How mom’s stress affects babies’ development
Maternal stress can translate to low iron levels for babies, which can give rise to physical and mental delays.

Mothers under stress in their first trimester have significantly lower cord-blood ferritin levels than mothers who are not under stress, according to Israeli researchers who followed 63 pregnant women living in an area in Israel that was targeted by more than 600 rocket attacks. Their infants had lower iron levels when compared to 77 babies born to women in a control group.

“Our findings indicate that infants whose mothers were stressed during pregnancy are a previously unrecognized risk group for iron deficiency,” said Rinat Armony-Sivan, director of the psychology research laboratory at Ashkelon Academic College, in a statement. “Pregnant women should be aware that their health, nutrition, stress level and state of mind will affect their baby’s health and well-being.”

MORE: How ‘Bring Your Dog to Work’ Days Could Lower Stress