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Youth Physical Fitness Levels Affected by 'Screen Time'

Keep "screen time" down to two hours a day if you want your children to stay physically fit, advises a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia studied 2,750 children to evaluate their physical activity and the time they spent on e-mail, text messaging, television, video games, and surfing the Internet. They then measured the children's scores on physical fitness tests.

As "screen time" increased, fitness levels decreased. This effect was stronger for girls.

Dr. Louise Hardy, author of the study, said that two hours a day appears to be the tipping point. Children who spend more than that amount of time staring at a screen are less likely to stay in shape.

Labels: video_games, physical-fitness, screen-time

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Premature Babies at Risk for Later-Life Psychiatric Hospitalization

A major study of 545,628 Swedish people born in the 1970s found that premature babies are at increased risk for anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric disorders as teenagers and young adults.

Dr. Karolina Lindstrom of Sachs Children's Hospital in Stockholm found that 3.5 percent of babies born in the late seventh or eighth months of pregnancy had been hospitalized for psychiatric disorders. Among the very prematurely born (sixth or early seventh month of pregnancy), the percentage was 5.2 - 68 percent higher than average.

This study appeared in the journal Pediatrics.

Labels: mental_health, premature-births

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Autism Associated with Genetics, First-Borns, Older Parents

Two new studies have shed some additional light on the genetic basis of autism.

Autism, a developmental disorder that affects one in 150 American children, could be similar to Down Syndrome in that the risk for developing the disorder increases with the age of the parents when the child is born.

  • The first study, which was led by Dr. Maureen Durkin of the University of Wisconsin, analyzed data on 300,000 U.S. births and 1,200 cases of autism. Dr. Durkin's team found an increased risk of autism among older parents and first-borns.

    The autism risk was found to increase by 20 percent for every ten year's increase in parental ages. The ages of the mother and father both mattered.

    First-born children were also at increased risk, perhaps because some families stop having children after they find out their first child has special needs. Dr. Durkin also speculated that first-born children might be exposed to more toxins from their mothers' bodies, which can put them at a higher risk for autism.

    If a mother is over 35 and a father over 40, their first-born is at triple the risk for autism.
  • The second study was from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Dr. John Constantino, M.D., and his colleagues identified two regions of DNA associated with autism.

    Dr. Constantino believes that the genetic basis of autism is complex, with many genes and genetic variations contributing to the syndrome.

    "Genetic factors tend to interact with one another," he said. "One gene might increase risk by 10 percent, but two genes in proper combination increases it by ten-fold."
Dr. Constantino's study appeared in Biological Psychiatry.

Labels: autism, parents, genetics

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Medication for Children Increasing, Obesity May Be Behind It

A recent study by St. Louis University indicates that medication use among children in the United States is increasing drastically. Medications are being prescribed to children in record numbers to treat diabetes, asthma, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Researchers hypothesize that increasing levels of childhood obesity may be catalyzing this trend.

Study co-author Dr. Donna Halloran, assistant professor of pediatrics at St. Louis University, commented on the findings:

"Across all the medication classes we looked at, the rates of use increasedsometimes dramatically. ... This is particularly concerning, given that several of these diagnoses have been linked to obesitydiabetes, hypertension, depression, asthma."
In recent years, the study reports, use of a particular drug to treat type 2 diabetes has increased by 100 percent, while prevalence of the condition itself has increased by over 130 percent among girls ages 10 to 19. (Sources: health.usnews.com)

Labels: medications, obesity

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Utah May Require Insurance to Pay for Autism Treatments

A Utah woman whose son recovered from autism is working to change laws in her state so that all autistic preschoolers can receive similar treatments. Leeann Whiffen's son, Clay, underwent two years of "applied behavior therapy" as a toddler, costing her about $30,000 a year. Mrs. Whiffen mortgaged her home and used credit cards to pay for it.

William Jensen, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, supports the measure. He said that studies show that 30% to 40% of higher functioning autistic children who receive at least two years of such therapy are "indistinguishable from normal children ten years down the line."

"They are probably still autistic, but they've made such dramatic gain that you cannot distinguish them from other kids," he said. He acknowledged that it is impossible to predict which children will benefit from early childhood treatments.

State Senator Howard Stephenson will sponsor the bill requiring insurance companies to pay for the therapy with a cap of $30,000 per year. The bill is called "Clay's Law."

Labels: autism, treatment, insurance

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High-fat Diets Disrupt Natural Body Clocks

High-fat diets may disrupt the body's natural daily rhythms, leading to hormone imbalances, obesity, sleep disorders, and cancer, according to a new animal study performed at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Dr. Oren Froy and his team fed mice low- or high-fat diets, with every other day as a fasting day. The mice on the high-fat diets experienced disruptions in their sleep/wake cycles and other 24-hour systems associated with metabolism.

Dr. Froy believes that that a high-fat diet not only puts a person at risk for overweight because it is high in calories, but also because it interrupts "natural circadian rhythmicity."

This study appears in the journal Endocrinology.

Labels: nutrition, sleep, diet

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Autism Slows Down Sound Processing

Autistic children may process sounds more slowly than normal children, which partially explains why they have problems in communication.

"Twenty milliseconds does not sound like much," said lead researcher Dr. Timothy Roberts of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "But it means that these kids are on the 'el" (in the word elephant) while the rest of the world is on the 'phant.'"

He and his colleagues used magnetoencephalography to measure 64 autistic children ages 6 to 15, and found a delay of one-fiftieth of a second in sound processing compared to a control group of children without the disorder.

"Since we speak about four syllables a second," Dr. Roberts said, "the autistic brain, being slower to process syllables, could easily get to the point of being overloaded." He presented his report to the Radiological Society of North America, noting that the new technique could prove valuable as a screening method for young children.

Autism has the symptoms of poor communication, repetitive behaviors, and avoidance of physical contact with other people. It affects one in 150 children.

Labels: autism, brain_activity, sounds

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Training Kids in Social Skills May Have Long-Lasting Benefits

A Seattle program for children in high crime districts seems to produce long-lasting benefits, according to a new study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Dr. David Hawkins of the University of Washington compared 400 children who participated in the Seattle Social Development Project during elementary school to 298 who did not. The project provided parents with educational materials and tutored children in social skills and self-control.

By age 27, those who took part in the project were more likely to have earned an associate's degree and less likely to suffer from a mental disorder. However, participating in the project did not affect the incidence of substance abuse.

Labels: social_skills, mental_health, self-control

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Nature Walks Might Improve Cognitive and Memory Skills

Spending time in nature might improve your performance on memory and attention task tests, according to a new study from the University of Michigan.

Psychologists Marc Berman, John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan asked volunteers to take cognitive tests and then walk in either a park or an urban area of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Then the subjects took the tests again. Those who walked in nature did better than those who walked in the city. The same held true for another group of volunteers who were retested after looking at photographs of nature or city neighborhoods.

The authors, writing in the journal Psychological Science, believe that city environments require more interpretation compared to natural environments, which are experienced as restful.

Researchers at the University of Illinois have found that children with attention deficit disorder can reduce their symptoms by spending time in nature.

Labels: exercise, memory, green_time

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Fruit Drinks Contain Pesticides

A team of Spanish researchers tested fruit drinks and found the highest levels of pesticide residue in those from Spain and the United Kingdom. The United States and Russia had the lowest levels.

Dr. Antonio Molina-Diaz and his colleagues performed laboratory tests on 100 fruit-based drinks from 15 countries, as part of a larger effort to determine the effect of pesticide-containing foods on children.

This study appears in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

Labels: nutrition, diet, fruit-drinks

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Predicting Teen Levels of Activity

Children who are good at object control skills, such as catching, throwing, and kicking balls, are more likely to become active and participate in sports as teenagers.

Researchers in Australia tested 276 elementary school children for those three skills as well as their abilities in locomotion, including hopping, sprinting, and jumping. Five years later, children who showed good object control tended to participate more in sports and exercise programs.

This study appears in the journal Medicine and Sports.

Labels: sports, activities, exercise

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New IQ Test for Mentally Handicapped

Dr. David Hessel and his colleagues at the University of California, Davis, have devised an intelligence test for children with fragile X syndrome or genetically based developmental disabilities.

Before Dr. Hessel's work, most children with low-functioning intelligence would score zero on IQ tests. There were no accurate ways to indicate any nuances in ability.

This study appears in the journal Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

Labels: IQ, mental_illness

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Blood Sugar Levels Affect Brain Function

Spikes in blood sugar can cause memory problems, according to a new study from Columbia Medical Center. Researchers believe that since the ability to regulate blood sugar lessens with age, their study could explain why it becomes harder to form new memories once you reach age 40 or so.

However, the results of this study also have implications for overweight children and teenagers at risk for Type 2 diabetes. Dr. Scott Small, author of the study, said that an overweight young person is not only at risk for heart disease and metabolic disorders, but also impairment of cognitive abilities.

"Whether they will be able to keep up with the demands of education and a fast-paced complex society - that's the part that scares me," he said.

Dr. Small and his colleagues first studied glucose levels in mice and monkeys to determine a connection with brain functions, and then used magnetic resonance imagining on 240 elderly volunteers.

This study appears in the Annals of Neurology.

Labels: nutrition, brain_activity, sugar

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