Posted On: January 25, 2013

Don’t Let a Bouncy House Fling You Into the Emergency Room

Bouncy houses have become a go-to activity for childrens’ birthday parties and other outdoor celebrations that include kids. But, as a recent study in the journal Pediatrics finds, they’re not without risk.

Claire McCarthy, a primary care physician and medical director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Martha Eliot Health Center, advises parents on to be mindful of the potential danger if they’re considering renting a bouncy house, and to take measures to minimize it.

Between 1990 and 2010, about 65,000 children were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for injuries they got in bouncy houses. “That’s about 31 kids a day,” McCarthy writes. According to Pediatrics, the number and rate of injuries increased fifteen-fold during the study’s 20-year period.

Most of the injuries were arm and leg fractures or sprains. Fortunately, only 3 in 100 required hospitalization. More than half of the injured kids were 6 to 12 years old; most of the rest were younger.

A bouncy house seems like a safe, padded environment to horse around in, but it still presents a lot of ways for a kid to get hurt. Most of the injuries documented in the Pediatrics study resulted from falls, many of them falling out of the bouncy house, but kids pushing, pulling and crashing into each other caused a lot of hurt, too.

This isn’t to suggest you reject the idea of a bouncy house for your child’s party—but you should take some precautions. Like wearing helmets when you ride a bike, there are guidelines for using bouncy houses, also known as “inflatable amusement devices.” The Pediatrics researchers suggest that, beyond the manufacturers’ information, rules should be devised similar to those for trampolines, because the injuries are very similar.

The best thing you can do, McCarthy says, is use common sense:

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s directions and safety guidelines.

  • Be especially careful with children younger than 6, or wait until kids are that old to use a bouncy house.

  • Don’t overcrowd the house--keep numbers of kids using it small. Everyone inside should have their own personal space.

  • Make sure kids keep body parts to themselves.

  • No flips or other stunts.

  • Supervise! Make sure there are enough grownups to monitor the bouncy house activity at all times during its use, and make sure they enforce the rules.

  • Have zero tolerance for rough-housing or other dangerous behavior. Consider using a whistle, like a lifeguard.

For more specific, detailed guidelines on bouncy house use, consult the Consumer Products Safety Commission guidelines.

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Posted On: January 18, 2013

More Resources for Mental Health Treatment on College Campuses

College is when kids become adults and, for many, begin to navigate the world mostly by themselves. It’s also when, in some cases, the symptoms of mental illness begin to present or get worse.

A collaborative report by and NPR recently explained how some campuses are implementing systems to address the growing population of students with mental health needs. The growing demand is attributed to a couple of factors: a society more tolerant of the need to help people with mental illness so that students feel more comfortable seeking help at school, and more teenagers getting mental health treatment earlier who otherwise wouldn’t have made it to college at all.

According to the story, the average college counseling center sees 1 in 10 of the school's enrolled students each year.

At the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, for example, the counseling center uses a triage system to be able to see as many students as possible. When a student calls the counseling line, he or she gets a 20-minute phone consultation with a therapist. Discussion subjects include sleeping and eating habits, attendance, substance use and whether they're having thoughts of self-harm.

Students in crisis are seen by counselors immediately. If appropriate, prescriptions for medication are authorized. One in 4 callers is referred to off-campus therapists right away.

Last year, the program was able to accommodate 9,000 counseling center visits with only 12 full-time therapists for a student body of about 25,000.

Alison Malmon, president and founder of Active Minds, a mental health advocacy group with chapters on campuses across the country, told Kaiser/NPR that schools are getting better at meeting the mental health needs of their students. It’s not ideal, but it’s a big step forward.

To anyone who has felt the social/academic/away-from-home pressure of attending college, results of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors Annual Survey (2011) will come as no surprise. Anxiety has outpaced depression as the No. 1 student complaint.

That’s a consequence, no doubt, of the tight job outlook in our pinched economy. But as one former director of the UVA counseling center said, "We really want students to know it's OK to reach out for help, and there's no shame in having anxiety or depression… . It's just part of the human condition."

To find a chapter of Active Minds, click here. To learn more about treatment for depression among teenagers, see our blog. And here are tips for finding a psychotherapist.

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Posted On: January 11, 2013

A Profile of Kids at Risk of Being Bullied

It’s no surprise that vulnerable kids are ripe for bullying. Two recent studies found that children who suffer from food allergies and those involved in weight-loss programs reported being bullied by their peers. But it might surprise that those who are victimized because of their weight are sometimes bullied by their parents.

Both studies were published in the journal Pediatrics, here and here.

In one study, nearly one-third of children with food allergies reported bullying or harassment specifically related to their allergy, often involving threats with food. In the weight study, nearly two-thirds of teens at weight-loss camps reported weight-related victimization.

Bullying can cause great harm. See our post about the connection between bullying and suicide. Less dire consequences include social isolation, poor academic performance, depression, anxiety and chronic health problems.

As described on, surveys of 251 food allergy patients ages 8 to 17 and their parents were analyzed at a single allergy clinic.

Forty-five in 100 of the kids and 36 in 100 of their parents reported bullying or harassment. Eight in 10 bullies were classmates, and 6 in 10 bullying incidents happened at school. Verbal teasing was common, as was waving the allergen in front of the child; 12 in 100 kids had been forced to touch the food to which they were allergic.

Most of the bullied kids said they had reported the bullying, but parents knew in only about half the cases. When the parents did know, the situation improved for the kids.

The weight study included 361 kids ages 14 to 18 surveyed online while they attended two national weight-loss camps. One-third of the respondents were in the normal weight range; nearly one-quarter were overweight and 4 in 10 were obese. The first group represents many kids who previously had lost significant amounts of weight and had returned to the program for maintenance.

The more the kids weighed, the better their chances at being bullied, although many of the normal weight groups remained at risk.

Bullying came in the form of teasing, relational victimization (behavior aimed at damaging relationships or one's social reputation), cyberbullying and physical aggression. The most common bullies were:

  • peers (9 in 10)

  • friends (7 in 10)

  • physical education teachers or sport coaches (4 in 10)

  • parents (nearly 4 in 10)

  • teachers (1 in 4)

The researchers said that some of the adults might have been well-meaning, but made clear that any bullying can be extremely damaging. As MedPageToday summarized, bullying has immediate and long-term effects, both physical and emotional.

The researchers concluded that pediatricians and other caregivers should become front-line interveners when a patient presents with symptoms or stories of bullying. That means helping kids and their parents anticipate and handle incidents, and teaching parents how to recognize bullying clues.

Even if your kid isn’t talking, sometimes you can recognize if he or she has been bullied. Physical clues include unexplained bruises, cuts and scratches; behavioral clues are avoiding school and social events, substance abuse, anxiety and depression. In addition, kids might have chronic headaches or stomach aches.

Simply realizing that if your child suffers from food allergies or excessive weight, he or she is particularly at risk; you can help him or her be prepared for what might occur.

If the bullying occurs at school and at home, the researchers said that "healthcare providers may be among their only remaining allies."

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Posted On: January 4, 2013

TVs Don’t Belong in Kids’ Bedrooms

If the post-holiday gift haul has overwhelmed you with a wave of electronic diversions, a story in the Los Angeles Times issues a kind of tsunami warning. It’s a bad idea, says a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, to put a TV in a child's bedroom.

For most American households, says The Times, it’s too late: In the U.S., 7 in 10 kids between 8 and 18 have a television in their bedroom.

As research has long shown, more "screen time" is linked to higher rates of obesity. (See our post about screen time and fitness .) The new study says that not only do kids with a TV in their bedroom tend to watch more TV, but compared with television watched in other household settings (the family room), the screen time a kid logs in the bedroom is associated, hour for hour, with more belly fat, higher triglycerides (blood fats) and overall greater risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

The new study compared kids with about the same diets and the same levels of physical activity. The ones with a TV in their bedrooms had more cardiometabolic risk factors—that is, test results indicating greater risks to heart function and greater insulin resistance—than the ones who must watch TV in one of their home's common rooms.

The study’s lead author said that beyond the effects of sitting too long in front of a TV, a television in the bedroom has the potential to disrupt sleep patterns and interfere with shared family meals. Sleep deprivation is another risk factor for obesity and metabolic dysfunction. And family mealtimes seem to promote more healthful eating, lower obesity rates and less use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco by kids.

Vicky Rideout, an independent consultant who has written extensively about children's media exposure and its effects, told The Times that "Research has consistently shown better outcomes for kids who don’t have a TV in their bedroom than for those who do, whether we’re talking about obesity, sleep or academic achievement."

In addition to removing the TV from the kids’ rooms, Rideout wants parents to pay attention to all newer technologies as well. "Keep an eye on your child’s smartphone and computers too, because food companies are now marketing games, websites and mobile apps designed to boost consumption of foods kids should be eating less of, not more of," she told The Times.

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Posted On: January 2, 2013

Energy Drinks Entice Teens with Mumbo Jumbo

You can take your caffeine straight, or mixed with a large dose of b.s. If sales trends are any judge, many teens take their caffeine with the b.s., and they pay a lot more than if they took it straight with a cup of coffee or a NoDoz tablet.

We're talking about energy drinks, which are marketed with lots of scientific sounding ingredients, proprietary mixtures of this and that, but it all boils down to one and only one ingredient that's been proven to do anything: caffeine.

This conclusion was repeated again today in a takeout by Barry Meier, a top New York Times investigative business reporter. Energy drinks simply have no scientific basis to claim that they do anything for you that you wouldn't get from regular old caffeine alone.

To sell these products, Meier documents how the manufacturers mix in large amounts of obscure, little tested ingredients with mega-doses of well known stuff like various of the B vitamins. But it all adds up to the same thing: no real proof, unless you're a believer in marketing jingles, that they do anything beyond a cup of coffee's worth of caffeine.

To get the same caffeine boost that a 16-ounce energy drink will give you for $2.99, you could spend less on a Starbucks coffee, or even less on a NoDoz tablet: about 30 cents.

It's your choice, kids.

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