Thursday, April 23, 2015

Emergency Room: No Place for Children

Growing up involves getting hurt sometimes. Children play hard, sometimes bumping into things or falling. Unfortunately, serious preventable injuries also occur – some that result in trips to the ER, resulting in disabilities or even death.  Consider these real-life examples:
  • On Halloween 2012, 15-year-old Christina Morris-Ward, dressed in dark clothes and wearing headphones, crossed the street while looking down at her phone. She was struck and killed by an oncoming car.
  • In July of 2003, the Beaudette family was heading home from a family vacation. En route, the mother briefly unbuckled their 9-month-old daughter, Nora, to remove some clothing layers. Nora was only unbuckled for a few seconds – exactly when they were involved in a crash. Nora died as the emergency vehicle reached the hospital.
If you have the stomach for it, SafeKids.org has more than a dozen such sobering stories of preventable childhood accidents with tragic outcomes, useful for sharing with others to emphasize specific childhood accident risks.

The fact is that preventable injuries remains the leading cause of childhood deaths in the U.S.  according to the World Health Organization, with preventable injuries killing about 2,000 children every day. The statistics are overwhelming:
  • According to the CDC, almost 9 million children each year are seen in emergency departments for injuries, and more than 9,000 children die from these injuries.
  • Safe Kids Worldwide stats show that an average of eight minutes does not go by without a younger child going to the emergency room due to medicine poisoning, and that poison control centers receive about one call every minute for help with a medicine poisoning a child under age six. 
  • More from the CDC:
    • Rates of traffic-related injuries are highest for children aged 5–19 years.
    • Falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries.
    • Death rates for drowning exceed those from falls, fires, pedal cycle injuries, pedestrian injuries, and poisoning combined.
The sad truth is that about one million families each year will lose a child to such preventable injuries. Can they be prevented? Maybe not entirely, but the intent of Safe Kids Day is to reduce the overwhelming volume of preventable child injuries. 

April is the month of Safe Kids Day, a day in which child advocacy organizations worldwide publicly highlight the need to protect our kids from preventable injuries – statistically the highest cause of death in the U.S.

Is the Safe Kids Day goal realistic? Since the percentages vary from country to country, it appears absolutely possible to create a safer world for our children.  If the U.S. child injury rates were as low as Sweden’s, for instance, about 4,700 U.S. children's lives would be saved each year.

The holistic approach to childhood injury prevention is to identify how and where children are injured – whether at home, at play, or on the way – and then taking steps through awareness programs and legislation to improve the safety statistics.

Some of the more common sources of serious injuries to our youngest include accidents related to batteries (swallowing etc.), bicycles, falls, fires, driveway incidents, guns, heatstroke, medicines, playgrounds, boating, burns and scalds, carbon monoxide poisoning, choking and strangulationHalloween and other holidays, and more.  

Steps to avoiding serious childhood accidents

Here are some practical steps you can take to keep your children out of the ER:
  • Regularly check to ensure that your child’s car seat seatbelt attachment has less than one inch of movement.
  • Make sure pot handles are turned inward while cooking.
  • Use safety plugs in unused wall sockets.
  • Don't mow the lawn when children are playing anywhere nearby.
  • Put gates at the top of stairways when you have young children.
  • Keep baby crib sides fastened.
  • When bathing a baby, always check bath water temperature before putting your child in.
  • Avoid using pillows with your sleeping baby.
  • Choose high chairs with a broad base to prevent tipping.
  • Be careful when using plastic bags, especially dry-cleaner bags.
  • Secure all stores of chemical and cleaning products, like drain clog cleaners, oven cleaners, furniture polish, and other toxic substances.
  • Use safety latches for cabinets.
  • Secure tip-able furniture and appliances.
  • Check your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms monthly and replace batteries annually.
  • Make sure all medicines in your home are out of reach of children – don’t forget about vitamins or medications in purses or left on counters!
  • Remove small swallowable objects from your child’s living areas. Coin-sized watch batteries look like candy to a toddler, and are often swallowed with disastrous result.
Get more child safety tips at the CDC’s Child Safety site. Or learn more about Safe Kids Day 2015 at SafeKidsDay.org.

Live Healthy. Live Smart.
-FamilyWize

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Does Garcinia Cambogia Really Work?

You can buy garcinia cambogia in any health food store or even most big-box stores. That's no surprise, given its fame as a weight-loss and weight-control supplement. But what exactly is garcinia cambogia? Does it work? Is it safe to use?

What is Garcinia Cambogia?


Garcinia cambogia is an orange-sized fruit that grows in parts of India and Indonesia. It’s a popular ingredient in curries and chutneys, as well as an acid indigestion reliever.
But its sudden rise in popularity has to do primarily with its reputation as a dietary weight control supplement and appetite suppressant. Some research also shows garcinia cambogia is effective at controlling blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Garcinia cambogia’s “active” ingredient – the one associated with its weight loss/control characteristics – is hydroxycitric acid, also known as HCA, which is found in the fruit's rind.

What is HCA?


HCA, the element responsible for garcinia cambogia's weight loss and weight control characteristics, has been shown in some scientific research to block certain enzymes that generate body fat, while also raising serotonin levels, which can reduce your appetite.

Studies on Garcinia Cambogia and Weight Loss


Garcinia cambogia might work to lose weight, but the research is conflicted. First, let’s take a look at  research that supports its efficacy or safety, and then get a handle on its potential problems or failures.
The case for garcinia cambogia:
Some studies support garcinia cambogia's weight management value and safety:
  • This research on the garcinia cambogia's HCA extract showed it to be safe when used in normal dosages.
  • Research on several HCA studies concluded that garcinia extract showed a small but statistically significant amount of weight loss.
  • This 2009 study showed that garcinia cambogia’s hydroxycitric acid and flavonoids can decrease lipid composition levels in blood and reduce fat deposition in the aorta of high cholesterol diet animals.
  • Another study showed that high doses of garcinia cambogia suppressed fat accumulation in obese rats.
  • This 1988 research on HCA showed that its inclusion in the diet significantly reduced food intake, body weight, and body fat in tested animals.
  • Guinea pigs on a high cholesterol diet who were given the Garcinia species (atriviridis) had a tendency to decrease lipid composition levels and fat deposition in the aorta.
  • One 1970 study with rats showed that HCA inhibit fat producing enzymes, making it more harder for the body to turn carbs into fat.
  • Is it safe? Garcinia cambogia’s HCA, researched in this toxicity study using pregnant rats, showed no maternal toxicity and no external, skeletal, or soft tissue fetus abnormalities.
The case against garcinia cambogia:
It's important to note that much of the research on garcinia cambogia or HCA was not performed on human subjects. While the above data is promising, some studies say that it does not work; or, if it does work, may not be safe. For instance:
  • An NYU medical report concluded that it “remains unclear whether HCA offers any weight-loss benefits.”
  • In this study, HCA showed efficacy in terms of body fat accumulation suppression, but that the HCA also “caused potent testicular atrophy and toxicity.”
  • The FDA issued a 2009 safety warning in response to a multitude of severe negative health reactions (ranging from jaundice and potential liver damage) to the supplement Hydroxycut, believed to be related to its garcinia cambogia extract (which has since been removed from Hydroxycut).
  • Dr. Oz advises not to use garcinia cambogia if you have Alzheimer's or dementia, or if it’s in your family tree, as some studies show that garcinia cambogia can worsen it.
  • This study, reported in JAMA, showed garcinia cambogia did not produce significant weight loss or fat mass loss. It found that the study group lost less weight than the placebo group.
  • In a garcinia cambogia study involving overweight women, the study group lost more weight than the placebo group, but found no appetite curbing effect.
Conclusion? Given the variety of research results, sometimes conflicting, it really is up to you and the advice of your doctor to determine whether or not garcinia cambogia is right - and safe - for you.


Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Thursday, April 16, 2015

What is Minority Health Month and how can you participate?

This April marks the 30th year of Minority Health Month. The goal of Minority Health Month is to raise awareness regarding the health and healthcare issues that affect racial and ethnic minorities.  What do you need to know about minority health and healthcare? Find out how you can get involved, which events are being held near you, and what information can be helpful to you and your family.

How did Minority Health Month get started?

Based on the findings of the Heckler Report, the Office of Minority Health (OHM) was established in 1986, with its Resource Center being established the following year.  The OHM Resource Center is responsible for the Affordable Care Act, Disparities Action Plan, and other important initiatives that focus on minority health.


What are the components of Minority Health Month?

Minority Health Month has four goals:

1. Raise awareness
2. Provide education
3. Continue research
4. Recognize the different needs of racial and ethnic minorities

What are the racial and ethnic categories for Minority Health Month?

Black/African American
American Indian/Alaska Native
Asian American
Hispanic/Latino
Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander

Why is Minority Health Month important?

The individuals who fall into the previous categories make up approximately 37% of our society, according to the latest census numbers. In addition, it is projected that in five years, more than half of all children in the United States will be from a minority background. It's important to understand the unique health issues and challenges facing minority families and individuals in order to create a healthcare system that better benefits us as a nation.

What types of issues affect minorities?

While minorities may face the same health and wellness issues as any other group, some issues can be of particular concern. For example:

Tobacco use
Disease
Vaccines and immunizations
Injury and violence prevention and control

How can you participate in Minority Health Month?

Host an event
Take part in an event
Volunteer
Encourage others to participate in one of the many events being held throughout the month
Share the information discovered

A week-by-week look at Minority Health Month:

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has named this Minority Health Month “Prevention is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity.” Below is a weekly breakdown of topics that will be covered.

1. Kick off week
2. Transforming Health
3. Strengthen the Nation’s Health and Human Services Workforce
4. Advance the Health, Safety, and Well-Being of the American People
5. Advance Scientific Knowledge and innovation

Where can you find events?

Check out this site for a calendar of events in your area. From health screenings and wellness fairs, to conferences and workshops, there's something for everyone to take part in, regardless of your age or background.

Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of your family. So take part in Minority Health Month, and take advantage of the information, research, and programs available during this time!

Live Healthy. Live Smart.
-FamilyWize

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Help Your Children Excel in School!

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is an educational reform that instituted high, common standards for all students at each grade level, raising expectations for school systems across the country. While that’s a good move in the long term, adapting to new standards and helping your children keep up can be challenging. Here's what you should know about Common Core so you can help in the effort to raise more successful students.

What are Common Core Standards?

The Common Core Standards were designed to make sure every student is prepared for success after high school.  The standards apply to English and language arts as well as mathematics. Visit the Common Core site to learn more.

What are STEM classes and how do they relate to Common Core?

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. There's been an increased focus on STEM classes in today’s classroom. Experts believe STEM classes provide better preparation for higher learning. In addition, there are more jobs related to these fields and STEM education produces a better quality student overall.

What role do the arts play in today’s classroom?

A number of recent studies have demonstrated the need for arts education in addition to the STEM curriculum, leading to proposals to change the name to “STEAM.” Visual and performing arts are noted for:

  • Increasing the overall quality of the student
  • Boosting the student's aptitude for problem solving, which supports the STEM curriculum
  • Improving critical thinking skills



What do you need to know about effective learning?

Students learn in a variety of ways, including:

  • Reading new information
  • Writing notes regarding what’s discussed
  • Seeing the information, such as on a board or computer screen, or in a book
  • Hearing the information recited by a teacher or instructor

Studies show the most successful students understand how they best learn new information. With the help of teachers and parents, students can find the tools that make learning most effective and enjoyable.

How can you help with your child’s learning?

  • Encourage problem solving and critical thinking at home through games, mind teasers, and exercises.
  • Support activities such as art, dance, theater, and other endeavors that encourage creativity.
  • Demonstrate the importance of ongoing education yourself by reading, researching, and pursuing other educational endeavors. Children learn best by example.
  • Don’t forget to exercise! A recent Swedish study showed that an increase in physical activity led to an improvement in school performance.
What are some STEM programs and activities?

There are many exciting STEM initiatives right now:

  • Virtual Environment Interactions (VEnvl): Students control the movement of virtual characters in a video-like setting, blending choreography and computational skills in a learning environment. Check out this study for more information.
  • The Children’s Museum of Houston has developed an afterschool program named A'STEAM that provides students with activity kits designed to build Common Core skills. The program has expanded to operate in 16 sites throughout the greater Houston area. You can read more about the program here.
  • The Girl Scouts of America conducts the Girls in STEM program, and are helping to promote the STEM curriculum through various badges and activities.
Even if you’ve been out of the classroom for years, you can still help your child be successful in their scholastic career. By staying informed regarding curriculum changes, and getting involved in the educational process, you can play a vital role in building successful students.

Live Healthy. Live Smart.
-FamilyWize

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Advances in Autism Understanding & Diagnosis

April’s Autism Awareness Month has extra significance this year, thanks to breaking news from the world of autism research.  While a cure for autism remains elusive, these recent medical research discoveries do offer hope in terms of better autism diagnosis and understanding.

Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is an array of closely-related disorders with a shared core of symptoms (such as learning delays, communication problems, and social interaction deficits). ASD affects one in every 88 children.

Putting autism diagnosis on speed dial


A recent scientific advance from Virginia Tech, reported in January of this year, promises to revolutionize how ASD is identified and diagnosed during childhood, with changes that mean earlier and faster diagnosis. The researchers have created a two-minute ASD brain-imaging test to aid in the diagnosis of children with ASD.

“Two minutes” would be life-changing for families going through ASD diagnosis of a child. Diagnosis today, which is extremely time-consuming and somewhat subject (relying on a clinical observation and judgment), would become lightning-fast and much more accurate with the new imaging test.

How it works: The test identifies perspective-tracking responses to determine whether a child has ASD.  The brain’s middle cingulate cortex response is tracked using an MRI test.  The analysis helps medical professionals identify differences in the response of a child with ASD compared to those of a child without the condition. As the tests show, a more subdued response indicates a more severe level of symptoms.

3-D diagnosis reveals the shape of autism


Also reported in January, researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia have been able to identify a uniqueness in the facial measures of children with autism by employing an advanced 3-dimensional imaging and statistical analysis technique.

Through these 3D facial measurements, scientists are able to noninvasively screen a small child for autism by using a system of cameras that, together, generate fully dimensional facial images. The scientists can then measure distances along the curvature of the face, identifying structural differences characteristic of those with ASD, while also gaining insight into possible genetic causes.

Using the 3D measurement procedure and statistical analysis, the researchers found three distinct subgroups of children with autism who shared a similar measurement pattern in facial features that aligned to similarities the subgroups had in the kinds and severity of autism.

Autism-Vaccine connection? Not likely


A 2014 report showed that a study by the Institute of Medicine, and followed up by a  RAND Corporation analysis, provided evidence that debunks – or at least minimizes – any cause-effect concerns regarding a link between vaccines and autism.

The researchers looked at the safety of the most common vaccines, including the hepatitis A and B, DTaP, influenza, MMR, rotavirus, meningococcal, chickenpox, pneumococcal, and poliovirus vaccines. Their conclusion: while serious side effects from the vaccines can happen, they are extremely rare. 

The vaccine sometimes associate with autism is the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.  Their conclusion: The MMR vaccine is not responsible for the recent rise in autism.

The latest discoveries on environment and genetic influences in autism


Several new studies tell us that environmental factors are more important than previously thought in understanding the causes of autism, and equally as important as genes.
  • In the largest study to date to look at how autism runs in families, researchers found that children with a brother or sister with autism are 10 times more likely to develop autism; 3 times if they have a half-brother or sister; and 2 if they have a cousin with autism. The estimates show that inheritability of autism to be 50%, with the other 50% explained by non-heritable or environmental factors.
  • Another study showed that prenatal exposure to air pollution increases autism risk.
  • In a third study on environmental influences on autism, scientists concluded that there appears to be a link between certain pesticides an an increased risk for autism.
  • In this study, researchers found that prenatal exposure to the chemicals thalidomide and valproic acid can be linked to an increased risk of autism.
To learn more about autism and ASD, see our two previous articles: Autism–A Growing Concern and The Latest on Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Making Math Fun for Young Kids

April is Mathematics Awareness Month, a national event that promotes the importance of mathematics.  And interesting research shows that a surprisingly early introduction of math concepts to children can help them succeed later in school and beyond.

How an early intro to math helps your kids later


Research supports the value of introducing math early – even in preschool ages. Early math skills development builds long-term academic potential.
For example, a landmark 2007 study showed that preschool math lessons in a program funded by the National Science Foundation failure showed remarkable score improvements, helping young children develop mathematics knowledge that reduced future risk of school failure. And a massive research initiative from 2011 analyzed data from more than 16 thousand children comparing activities or traits thought to be influential in determining a child’s future success potential; the researchers concluded that no other metric influenced success more than early math skills. More research in 2012 and a 2013 NIH-funded study supported these other studies’ results, showing that elementary-or-earlier math learning set a foundation for later math success.

Math success pays off with career success


The value of math skills extends far beyond school success. Career statistics show that the success potential of a student climbs with their mastery of math.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, all of the highest paying U.S. occupations require mathematics skills to enter the field or to succeed within the job itself.  (Click the “See How to Become One” link found under each of the top 20 occupations.)

How to make math fun


Getting your kids to see math as fun may not be as hard as you might think. Math experts say that youngsters learn through play. Many of the following ideas and exercises use play to teach math concepts.
First, don’t forget that math happens all around our kids everyday:
  • Division for a first grader sound impossible? If a TV show starts in 3 minutes and there are 3 kids who get a turn with a toy before the show starts, most 7-year-olds can figure out that each child gets one minute with the toy.
  • Splitting up a pizza or desert pie is a great way to teach fractions, such as one fourth or one sixth. 
  • Teaching addition and subtraction can be fun on a long drive using the mile-marker signs, using concepts of how many miles to go or how many you’ve traveled since the state’s border.
Here are great math resources for parents to help make math fun:
  • Math is Fun, predictably, is the perfect website to start. It organizes math activities by subject and by age group, from Kindergarten to 12th grade.
  • Make Learning Math Fun, an article on Parent.com’s site, offers great tips too.
  • Check out the Math Subject Center at EducationWorld.com.
  • Cool Math Games is a site with countless online games that teach math in a fun and competitive way.  Unfortunately the games aren’t organized by age or grade, so you’ll have to play a few yourself to determine if they are right for your child. 
  • For your pre-Kindergartner, check out this site, with more than 30 math games and exercises for the younger set. 

Finally, don’t forget to boost your child’s ability to grasp math concepts by giving them a good breakfast.  As we reported here, studies reported by the Food Research and Action Center on the importance of a healthy breakfast show that students who eat breakfast increase their math and reading scores. 

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Autism–A Growing Concern

Because April is Autism Awareness Month and World Autism Awareness Day is April 2, April is a good time to focus on this fastest-growing of the developmental disabilities, with an estimated growth rate above 1,100%.

What is autism?


Autism is a developmental disability – a malfunction of the brain that impacts a speech, learning, and communication skills.  It is more precisely known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) due to its wide range of symptoms and impairment or disability levels. One in every 88 children in the U.S. are reported to have some level of autism.

The symptom range is broad. Some children are only mildly impaired and may grow up to be self-sufficient. Other children are more severely disabled and may require a lifetime of care.

Diagnosing autism


Common autism symptoms, according to National Institutes of Health (NIH), include:
  • Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts;
  • Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities;
  • Early presentation of symptoms (typically recognized in the first two years of life); and,
  • Significant impairment in social or occupational skills.
Some common symptoms parents and caregivers should be looking for include poor eye contact, late or absence of speaking, a preference to be alone, not playing or interacting with others, repetitive movements, or extreme emotional behavior (bouts of laughing or crying that have no apparent reason, tantrums, etc.). If you see such symptoms, have your child medically evaluated for ASD.

Many leading organizations in child development, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, advise autism screening for all toddlers (18 and 24 months of age).  But with continually improving methods of diagnosis, experts are recommending even earlier screening when an infant may be at high risk for autism, such as when the older siblings have already been diagnosed with ASD.

Early diagnosis and intervention is important.  Early intervention has been shown to reduce the effects of autism. When treatment is started early, during the time of hyper brain development (between ages 0 and 3), a child can experience significant progress and improvements before they begin kindergarten.

What causes autism?


Medical research has not yet identified the exact causes of ASD. The growth in the numbers of those diagnosed in recent time is largely due to better diagnosis, but it is believed that genetics and environment can play a part.

Regarding genetic influences: Identical twins often share an ASD condition, and siblings generally have a 35-fold greater risk of developing the disorder. 

As for ASD environmental influences, researchers are finding links between ASD and certain family medical conditions, the age of the parents, exposure to toxins, and birth or pregnancy complications.


Autism Resources


If you have concerns about your child's development and possible ASD symptoms, here are some services and resources to help:
  • The Autism Society of America (ASA). The ASA has chapters throughout the country and provides info on symptoms and treatments.
  • NIH’s A Parent’s Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder intended to help parents understand ASD, recognize signs and symptoms, and find resources.
  • Autism Speaks, one of the world's leading autism science and advocacy organizations, funds research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and a cure for autism. their website provides a wealth of information and resources for parents of children with ASD.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer