Your Child's Health
Sex Ed and Teen Birthrates
The Question: What impact, if any, does sex education have on teen pregnancy?
The Study: Researchers at Washington University evaluated the sexual education practices of 24 states and matched them to the teen birthrate for each state. The study spanned 1997 though 2005 and monitored the birthrate for girls 15-17 years old.
The Results: The more and better the sex education in a state, the lower the teen birthrate. States with higher levels of religiosity and political conservatism had higher adolescent birthrates.
Comment: The researchers point out that the content of sex education courses were greatly influenced by the state characteristics and so it may be the level of religiosity and political conservatism that influence both the sex education classes and the teen birthrate.
Read More: Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 02/12
Diet and Birth Defects
The Question: Does the quality of the maternal diet before pregnancy affect the occurrence rate of two birth defects—neural tube defects (NTD — defects for the spinal cord and brain) and cleft lip/palate?
The Study: The quality of the diet of over 10,000 pregnant women with due dates spanning 1997 to 2005 was obtained from standardized surveys. The study included 936 offspring with NTD, 2,745 with cleft lip/palate, and 6,147 children with no defect (control subjects).
The Results: A high-quality diet reduced the risk of having an infant with a NTD by half and of having an infant with a cleft lip/palate by one third.
Comment: The authors from Stanford and the University of Utah concluded that a good pre-pregnancy maternal diet reduces the risk of the two birth defects they studied. They add that preconception vitamin use, especially folic acid, also contributes to the lower risks.
Read More: Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 2/12
Soy Formula and Early Menarche
The Question: Does the use of soy-based formula in infant girls influence when they have their first period (menarche)?
The Study: The mothers were enrolled in this long-term study shortly after giving birth. Among other factors, their use of soy-based formula was recorded. Nearly 3,000 girls were followed and their age of menarche was recorded. Around 2 percent of the mothers reported feeding a soy-based formula to their baby girls.
The Results: The girls who were fed the soy-based formula experienced menarche an average of four months earlier than the girls not given a soy-based formula (149 months vs. 153 months).
Comment: The authors from UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke conclude this difference may be due to hormonal influences of the soy isoflavone the infant girls ingested while being bottle fed. However, they recommend that this “subtle association” needs further study. If the results hold true, then this study reinforces the importance of breastfeeding over bottle feeding.
Read More: Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, 02/12
Hepatitis A Vaccinations
The Question: Are our teens adequately immunized against hepatitis A?
The Study: Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data from the 2009 National Immunization Survey–Teen and looked at the hepatitis A immunization rate for more than 20,000 teens. The states of residence of the teens were divided into three groups by hepatitis A requirement: (1) universal child vaccination since 1999, (2) consideration of vaccination since 1999, and (3) universal vaccination since 2006.
The Results: The teens in group 1 had the highest immunization rate—74 percent. Those in group 2 had the second-highest rate—54 percent, and those in group 3 had the lowest rate—28 percent.
Comment: Although most people who contract hepatitis A recover without long-term consequences, it is completely preventable with proper vaccinations. In states with laxer immunization requirements, fewer teens are properly vaccinated and thus at an increased risk of contracting hepatitis A.
Read More: Pediatrics, 02/12
Breastmilk and Gut Bacteria
The Question: What is the role of breastfeeding in the development of bacteria in the newborn’s gut?
The Study: The breast milk from 20 mothers and the stool from their infants were cultured. In nearly all the mother-infant pairs, three strains of bacteria—Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Staphylcoccus—were found in both the breast milk and the stool. Each strain of bacteria that grew underwent DNA testing to determine if the gut bacteria were the same as the breast milk bacteria.
The Results: In 19 of the 20 pairs, the mother and infant shared the same bacteria.
Comment: This study from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain, confirms what many lactation proponents have long said—breastfeeding helps infants colonize their guts with the bacteria they need.
Read More: Journal of Human Lactation, 02/12
Breastfeeding and Sleep
The Question: Does breastfeeding have an effect on the chances of infants developing colic or nocturnal sleep problems?
The Study: In this study from Israel, 94 mothers answered questions about their two-to-four-month-old infant’s irritability/potential infantile colic and sleep characteristics. The melatonin levels of five mothers’ breast milk were measured every two hours for 24 hours, and in three samples of artificial formula.
The Results: Infants exclusively breastfed had a lower incidence of colic, fewer episodes of irritability, and a trend towards longer periods of sleep.
Comment: Melatonin helps to induce sleep and relaxes smooth muscle (the type of muscle found in the intestines). Adults secrete it at night. Infants, however, don’t. This small study supports the idea that breastfeeding improved infant sleeping. More work is required to definitely say there is a cause-and-effect relationship related to melatonin.
Read More: European Journal of Pediatrics, 02/12
Swaddling and Supine Sleeping Position
The Question: Are parents who swaddle their babies more likely to put them to sleep in a supine (face up, on the back) position?
The Study: Researchers at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC, interviewed 103 mothers of newborns who had swaddled their babies to learn their reasons for swaddling. They also assessed the mom’s understanding of the proper sleep position for infants.
The Results: The moms swaddled their baby for a number of reasons, including infant comfort and warmth. Nearly 80 percent of the moms found it effective and thought the infants were more comfortable. Around 90 percent thought it to be safe. These moms were more likely to put their infants to sleep on their backs (the proper position) than moms who didn’t swaddle.
Comment: The researchers concluded that educating new moms on the advantages swaddling might improve compliance with supine sleeping for infants. The other possibility is that moms who swaddled are better educated about methods to keep their babies safe and thus more likely to know about the benefits of the supine sleeping position.
Read More: Clinical Pediatrics, 03/12
Teen Sunscreen Use
The Question: Are teens using sunscreen?
The Study: The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is a voluntary survey completed by students in grades nine to twelve. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed forms completed by teens from 1999 through 2009, looking at the answers to questions on sunscreen use.
The Results: Over this time span, sunscreen use declined. For white students, sunscreen use when in the sun for more than an hour decreased from 43 percent to 30 percent. For Hispanic students, use declined from 38 percent to 22 percent. The rate of use for black students remained constant.
Comment: Studies have demonstrated that childhood and teen sun exposure and sunburns increase the risk of developing skin cancer as an adult. This study emphasizes the importance of teaching children the importance of proper skin protection.
Read More: Journal of Adolescent Health, 03/12