Posted On: June 26, 2012

Poll Sends Clear Message to Presidential Candidates about Child Health Issues

It’s election season, and there is no shortage of either polls or opinions. A recent national survey by the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Children’s Health found that a majority of adults agree on four major issues they want the presidential candidates to address.

More than 2,100 adults were surveyed, and were asked to select the single most important child health issue from 24 common health concerns. These priorities represented more than half of all responses, and crossed party and ethnic lines:

Because many adult health problems often are seeded in childhood—obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression—the need for early intervention is acute, and is a matter of public policy.
To see the full report, link here.

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Posted On: June 21, 2012

Teething Products Can Be a Mouthful of Danger

It seems simple: A teething baby cries and a parent rubs the baby's gums with an analgesic to relieve the pain. But a recent FDA statement warns that this can lead to a serious disorder.

Methemoglobinemia, as described in a story on MedPage Today, can lead to oxygen deprivation and even death. Benzocaine, which is found in many over-the-counter products to relieve the pain of teething and toothache, is the source of concern. The greatest risk is for children younger than 2, who are also those most likely to get teething pain.

Methemoglobinemia is also known as “blue baby syndrome.”

This is not the first time the federal agency has warned about products containing benzocaine. In 2006 it issued a warning about such products, which include Baby Orajel, Orabase, Orajel, Anbesol and Huricaine. Since then, it has received 29 reports of benzocaine gel-related cases of methemoglobinemia. Nineteen of them were among children, 15 of whom were younger than 2.

A second warning was issued last year, and we wrote about it then. Given the dire nature of the disorder, the warning bears repeating.

FDA officials are concerned that parents might not be aware of the symptoms of methemoglobinemia. They include:

  • pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips and nail beds;

  • shortness of breath;

  • fatigue;

  • confusion;

  • headache;

  • light-headedness;

  • rapid heart rate.

Symptoms can occur shortly after use, or maybe not for several hours. A child can experience symptoms after the first use or not for several subsequent uses.

Parents have options for teething pain relief. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests a chilled teething ring or gum massage using your finger. If those don’t work, consult your pediatrician before using a topical agent.

Benzocaine is also used by physicians and dentists to numb parts of the mouth and throat before performing procedures such as transesophageal echocardiograms (in which an ultrasound probe the size of a small finger is inserted into the esophagus to view the heart), endoscopy (in which a scope is used to view the interior of a hollow body organ, such as the stomach) and feeding tube insertions.

If you are or a loved one is scheduled for any of these procedures, discuss the risk with your health-care provider.

Anyone can be at risk from benzocaine; the risk is higher for people with heart disease, asthma, bronchitis or emphysema, and for anyone who smokes.

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Posted On: June 15, 2012

CT Scans Pose Increased Radiation Risk for Children

X-rays are a wonderful diagnostic tool, but like many other tests, they come with risks. In this case, radiation, an excess of which can lead to cancer. CT scans, which create detailed images of the interior of the body, are superior for diagnosing several medical problems—more than 80 million are performed every year in the U.S.

But they use significantly more radiation than standard X-rays, and a breakthrough study in Britain confirms that the risk is higher for children.

Concern about the effects of radiation are especially appropriate for children, who are at greater risk because their cells turn over more rapidly and because they have a longer life span in which to be exposed to all forms of radiation. We’ve addressed this concern before, and have described the general risk in “Radiation Overdose Injuries.”

As reported by NPR in conjunction with Kaiser Health News, children who get CT scans have a slightly higher risk for brain cancer and leukemia, according to the study published in the Lancet.

The study is considered significant because it’s the first to follow youngsters who had CT scans for their subsequent cancer risk. Nearly 180,000 patients who got CT scans between 1985 and 2002 before their 22nd birthdays were followed.

Researchers calculated that the amount of radiation from two or three scans of the head before age 15 would increase the risk of brain cancer threefold. It would take five to 10 head scans to triple the risk of leukemia.

Researchers emphasized that the overall risk for brain cancer and leukemia is very low, so although a threefold increase sounds ominous, the risk remains quite low even among people who got scans.

In the 10 years following the scans, researchers estimated that about one excess brain tumor and one case of leukemia occurred per 10,000 head CT scans performed in young children.

But scans of other parts of the body also look risky, they concluded, and it's probably not just a matter of multiple CTs and leukemia and brain tumors among kids; there's a good chance even one CT scan poses some risk to children and possibly for various cancers.

Experts say it's important to remember that CT scans save a lot of lives, and that they are certainly appropriate in some situations, including:

  • major motor vehicle accidents where there's multiple potential organ injuries;

  • abdominal pain for which surgery might be required—for example a bowel obstruction or sometimes appendicitis;

  • for some symptoms of head injuries, but not all.

The bottom line is that many CT scans are unnecessary, and doctors must be much more selective about how are used.

If your doctor suggests that you or your child has a CT scan, ask why. Ask if there are other options, such as ultrasound, which doesn’t offer as much detail as a CT scan, but in some cases is a sufficient diagnostic approach.

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Posted On: June 7, 2012

For Kids, More Screen Time Equals Less Fitness

Are you sitting down? A study of teenagers showed that sedentary behavior increased as they aged, and at the expense of physical activity. The culprit is the allure of an electronic screen.

As interpreted by the American College of Sports Medicine, (ACSM) cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) levels could improve in childhood if kids spent less time in front of a screen. The study was published in the official journal of the ACSM, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Researchers assessed more than 2,000 children ages 11 to 13 in their relationship between sedentary time spent in front of a screen and changes in CRF. Boys and girls living in a single city in England were studied. Intervals of screen time were broken into segments of 10-19, 20-29 and more than 30 minutes.

As the children grew older, they generally grew more sedentary. By the time they were 16, on average, they spent 121 percent more time sitting in front of a screen for longer than 30 minutes than at the beginning of the study.

Those who reported more screen time were able to complete fewer running laps. The association was strongest for the children who started with mid-to-high CRF levels, and was independent of physical activity levels.

It isn’t exactly rocket science to conclude that the popularity of electronic media can be a threat to cardiovascular development, whether you’re playing “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare,” updating your Facebook page or texting your homework assignments to your bff. And that if sedentary habits of kids become the sedentary habits of adults, that’s an invitation to all the disorders that can reflect poor cardio fitness—heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

“[S] pending too much time sitting is hazardous to children’s health,” the study’s lead author said. To co-opt the words of Romantic-era poet William Wordsworth, “The Child is father of the Man.”

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