September 19, 2014

CDC Says Kids Eat Too Much Salt

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines, children should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium every day. According to a new report by the CDC, they’re eating about 3,300 mg.

The risks of eating too much salt include high blood pressure, which can lead to stroke and heart disease later in life. And high-sodium foods often have a lot of calories, which undermines weight control.

American youngsters already show the effects of their salty diet. As federal officials said in a story on, 1 in 6 Americans 7 to 18 years old has elevated blood pressure, which is linked closely linked to a high sodium intake and obesity.

Most of the sodium kids eat comes from processed foods including pizza, sandwiches like cheeseburgers, cold cuts and cured meats, pasta with sauce, cheese, salty snacks like potato chips, chicken nuggets and patties, tacos and burritos, bread and soup.

"Most sodium is from processed and restaurant food, not the salt shaker," CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement. "Reducing sodium intake will help our children avoid tragic and expensive health problems."

According to the report, more than 9 in 10 U.S. kids between 6 and 18 years old eat too much sodium every day. Teenagers eat more salt than younger kids.

About 65% of their sodium consumption comes from foods purchased in stores; fast food restaurants account for about 13%. Meals provided at school represent 9% of total sodium consumption.

And if you think snacking, and food eaten outside of parental control, is the root of this evil, think again — dinner is the largest single source of sodium, accounting for nearly 40% of daily consumption.

The study involved the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2009 and 2010, and included interviews with more than 2,000 school-aged children.

Developing a taste for salty foods occurs early, so it’s important for parents to influence diet from a young age, and help their children develop a taste for less salty meals through what they buy, how they prepare it and by establishing healthful eating habits themselves.

As the researchers said, the need is to reduce sodium "across multiple foods, venues and eating occasions." In calling for processed foods with less sodium, they acknowledged that efforts in Britain to reduced total sodium consumption resulted in a 15% decline over seven years.

The CDC recommends that parents and caregivers:

  • Model healthful eating for their children by providing a diet rich in fruits and vegetables without added sodium.

  • Compare Nutrition Facts labels to choose the lowest sodium option before they buy.

  • Ask the grocery manager to provide more low sodium options for their family's favorite foods.

  • Request restaurant nutrition information to make lower sodium choices when dining out.

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September 12, 2014

Weight Gain Makes Kids More Vulnerable to Asthma

Asthma and obesity are common problems among U.S. children, and a new report in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology ponders how obesity contributes to childhood asthma.

Nearly 7 million U.S. children have asthma, and more 12 million kids from 2 to 9 years old are obese. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), obese children have an increased risk of developing asthma. An ACAAI news release accompanying the journal report acknowledges link between childhood obesity and asthma, but said research hadn’t determined which condition generally occurs first, or whether one causes the other.

This study suggests that being overweight comes first, although the connection is complex and many factors have yet to be examined.

The report showed that rapid growth in body mass index (BMI) during the first 2 years of life increased the risk of asthma until kids were 6 years old. Previous studies showed that the onset and duration of obesity and the ratio of lean tissue to excess fat can affect lung function. (See our blog, “Fast Food Diet Shows Link to Breathing Problems.”)

But practitioners often don’t know if the constricted airways characteristic of asthma makes kids unwilling to exercise, and therefore gain unhealthy amounts of weight, or if being overweight narrows airways, prompting the development of asthma.

“Most kids who suffer from asthma also have allergies,” Michael Foggs, MD, and president of ACAAI, said in the news release. “These allergic responses in the lung can lead to symptoms of allergy. Coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath are all symptoms that make exercise harder.”

The ACAAI says that children with asthma and other allergic diseases should be able to participate in any sport they want to as long as their condition is monitored and controlled. If they show symptoms of asthma during or immediately following exercise, it’s an indication that their condition is not being properly controlled.

In other words, asthma shouldn’t be so severe that it restricts a kid from being active; it’s a condition that can be managed and accommodated.

For advice from allergists about dealing with your child’s asthma, link here. To learn more generally about asthma and allergic conditions, and to locate an allergist in your area, link here. For information about hospital treatment of children with asthma, see our blog, “Assessing the Quality of Hospital Care for Children with Asthma.”

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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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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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