I think we can all agree that 2016 was a news roller coaster —at turns nauseating, exciting, and just plain sobering. And the output of fascinating headlines included an unusual amount of news relevant to parents and kids. Here are five family-centric health topics that caught my attention last year, and are good to catch up on if you haven’t already. What am I missing? Be sure to comment here or on Facebook to let me know. Happy New Year to you and yours…and thanks so very much for reading.
Screen Time for Tots O.K.—As Long as Parents Get Involved. For the past decade, parents have struggled to heed American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations banning any and all screen-time for kids under 2. But now, conceding the ubiquitousness of digital media in all our lives, the AAP have updated their guidelines to not include an age floor for screen use—but instead encourages parents to be more proactive in how, what, and for how long kids of all ages watch. They recommend printing out and sticking to a Family Media Use plan like this one that encourages careful vetting of games and shows, time for outdoor play and exercise, and putting phones and tablets “to bed” when kids do.
HPV Vaccination Works—But Not Enough Kids Are Getting It. The prevalence of the cancer-causing human papilloma virus (HPV) in teen girls has dropped impressively—by 64%—since the HPV vaccine was introduced a decade ago. And yet, just 42 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys between the ages of 13 and 17 are getting the recommended 3-dose vaccine series. A just-released study in Pediatrics suggests that pediatricians take a more formal approach to getting families on board—presenting it clearly as one of the recommended vaccines for kids rather than launching an open-ended conversation about it over the course of a well visit.
Dads are Crucial to Kids’ Healthy Development. Shifting family dynamics have gotten more fathers involved in childcare, but old stereotypes and gender norms still perpetuate the notion that moms are the emotional center of kids’ lives. New research and guidelines may change that perception: In a rigorous review of recent research on fatherhood, the AAP released a clinical report showing that dads’ involvement is a stronger predictor of kids’ health and success than many might assume. Among their findings: Healthy “horseplay” often initiated by dads may challenge children to be more confident in taking risks; the amount of father communicates with a child at age 3 may be one of the chief predictors of kids’ later verbal ability; and teens with involved dads are less likely to engage in risky behavior or suffer from depression. Michael Yogman, M.D., chair of the AAP Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health and co-author of the report, goes so far as to suggest that pediatricians start giving dads, specifically, a prescription at infant well visits: “Play with your baby every day.”
Zika Hits Home—and the Impact Goes Beyond Microcephaly. A little more than a year after we started reading about the devastating effects of the mosquito-borne virus in South America, cases of Zika started popping up in Florida in July 2016. The spread, at least domestically, seems to have been contained by now, but public health officials warn that warm weather in 2017 could bring about more cases—and more dangers. A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that damage during fetal development from the mosquito-borne virus can occur throughout pregnancy, and that other birth defects are even more common than microcephaly, when babies are born with very small heads. Given Zika and the increase in tick-borne illness diagnoses in kids, it’s more important than ever that parents get as serious about applying an effective insect repellent to kids—and themselves, especially if pregnant—as they’ve become about slathering on sunscreen. We’ve listed the most effective safe bug sprays, here.
U.S. Kids are Heating Healthier, But… Finally, some good news on the kid diet front: Brown University research on children’s eating patterns between 1999 and 2012 reveals that kids are eating more whole grains, whole fruits, dairy, and protein from seafood and plants. They’re also laying off sugary foods and drinks more than ever before. But: they continue to eat too much salt and not enough vegetables—even fewer veggies than previous, less health-conscious generations consumed, say Brown epidemiologists. Here are some HHK ideas for some simple, kid-friendly veggie side dishes, and 25 superfoods—including seven vitamin-packed vegetables—worth trying on your children.