Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that 2015 was packed with big, debate shaping events, both here and abroad. In the global grand scheme of things, everyday kids’ health news may seem relatively unimportant, but to parents, good pediatric research—especially when paired with good, actionable advice—can lead to life altering positive changes. (Which is why I created this blog in the first place!) Here, I’m sharing the five, kids’ health headlines from 2015 that most fascinated—and in some cases, inspired—me.1. Measles isn’t going away.
What started with a bout of measles among kids at Disneyland in December ballooned into a multi-state outbreak, affecting more than 100 kids in January alone. The CDC is “very concerned” about the possibility of an even larger outbreak down the road, says Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Besides being seriously dangerous, potentially leading to pneumonia, encephalitis, and even death, the problem with measles is that its one of the most contagious viruses there is. Measles spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and 90% of the people around an infected person will catch it if they aren’t protected, according to the CDC. So, talk to your pediatrician to make sure your children’s shots are completely up-to-date, and if your infant is too young for a vaccine, make sure he or she doesn’t come into contact with infected children.2. Pets make for healthier kids.
In case your kids needed any more fodder for their case for a fluffy new friend: Mounting research shows that having animals in or around the house can lead to big health benefits for growing immune systems and developing brains. In November, Swedish scientists published data on one million children that found that dog exposure during infancy was associated with a 13% lower risk of asthma in school-age children, while farm animal exposure was linked to a 52% risk reduction. Separately, CDC-funded researchers discovered that kids with dogs, specifically, were less anxious than their peers, even after controlling for family income, age, gender, and other variables. Pets may be hard work, but it appears they give back more than companionship.3. Big kids are seriously sleep deprived.
Think you’re tired? In August, the CDC revealed that 2 out of 3 high school students get less than the recommended eight hours of sleep per night for their age group. Too-early school start times are partially to blame: The average start for middle and high schools is 8:03, which many sleep experts believe is out of sync with adolescent sleep cycles. But screen-based gadgets may be the worst culprit: A Norwegian study of 10,000 teens found that more than 90 percent of girls and 80 percent of boys use a cell phone in the hour before bed, a practice that’s been strongly linked in recent research to thwarted sleep (the blue light can trick the brain into thinking it’s daytime). If your children own gadgets, consider putting the phones and pads to sleep in a different room than them, and be sure to revisit the National Sleep Foundation’s guidelines on how long children of different ages should snooze: it’s 10 to 13 hours per day for preschoolers, nine to 11 for kids between ages 6 and 13, and eight to 10 hours for teens.4. Cutting back on a little sugar goes a long way.
If you had to choose just one healthier habit to adopt for your family this year, clearing the kitchen of too-sweet snacks may be your best bet. Endocrinologists at the USCF Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco showed that lowering overweight kids’ sugar intake dramatically boosted their health—in just 10 days. Even without changing the amount of calories they were consuming or exercise they were doing, children who cut out almost all sweetened foods were able to improve their levels of blood sugar, cholesterol, fasting glucose and insulin (all markers for diabetes). They also reported feeling less hungry. Need inspiration? Print out these easy ways to cut back on sugar from nutritionist Dana White, R.D., here and post on the ‘fridge.5. Beware of “overvaluing” kids.
It seems intuitive to tell kids how special they are, but a new study adds to growing evidence that this could do more harm than good. In the first prospective study of its kind, scientists from Ohio State University and the University of Amsterdam surveyed families four times over one-and-a-half years to see if they could identify which factors led children to have inflated views of themselves. They found that kids of parents who “overvalued” them—thought they were more special than others—developed narcissistic behaviors later on. (The full report is an interesting read: In order to measure parental overvaluation, researchers asked parents, among other questions, whether their 8- to 12-year-olds are familiar with not only real historic people, like Neil Armstrong, but also fictional ones, like “Queen Alberta.” As you might have guessed, quite a few parents held firm that their little Einsteins knew all about “Queen Alberta.”)
Rather than convincing yourself and your kids’ of their greatness, researchers recommend greater “parental warmth”: simply letting kids know, often, how much you love them. This leads to high levels of much healthier self-esteem, without the narcissism. The difference? “People with high self-esteem think they’re as good as others, whereas narcissists think they’re better than others,” says study co-author Brad Bushman, Ph.D.