January 27, 2017

Are Your Children Fit For Life?


Paul Smolen MD FAAP

Carolinas Medical Center, Charlotte NC

Creator of the blog, Portable Practical PediatricsAuthor of Can Doesn't Mean Should-Essential Knowledge for 21st Century Parents
Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics, University of North Carolina School of Medicine

Post originally published in slightly different form at www.docsmo.com September 12, 2016


So here is something you and your children should think about.  Unless they develop a major illness, each and every morning your children get up out of bed, they are a little stronger, a little faster, and a little smarter than they were the day before.  During the previous day, their little bodies had a chance to grow new cells in all of their organs. Compared to the day before, their hearts got a little bigger as did their lungs, kidneys, and brains.  And of course, you are not paying attention if you don't notice the tremendous increase in their cognitive abilities - they get smarter every day as well.  There is this steady march of growth and increase in organ function all during childhood that halts sometime between 20 and 30 years of age.  Today, we are going to explore these phenomena in a little more detail and talk about why this aging/organ function curve has tremendous relevance for your children.  

Childhood is about growth and change:

Do you remember how thrilling it was, as a child, to acquire new skills?  I remember how excited I was when I learned to swim and dive, ride a bike, hit a jump shot from 15 feet, or hit a twist serve on a tennis court.  I could literally feel my body getting stronger, faster, and more agile by the day.  My growth and development physically seemed to increase until my 20’s, and then the party was over.  Yes, I continued to get more knowledgeable well into adulthood, but my physical growth and agility began to decline. Research supports these facts.  Current evidence confirms that humans reach their peak physical capacities between 20 and 30 years of age.  Peak cognitive ability comes a little later, about age 30 to 40.  

What this means is that, until the physical peak, each day your child is a little stronger, a little faster, able to burn more oxygen, and do more physical work.  After that peak day, no matter how much we wish it weren't so, there is a very slow but steady decline in our physical prowess. It doesn’t matter how many yoga classes we go to, how many weights we lift, or how many miles we run a week, the decline still occurs.  The rate of decline is biologic and predetermined. 

So here is the big take home point we all need to understand that is relevant for your children - Since physical decline is inevitable in adult life, it is vital that children maximize their peak physical abilities when they are young.  The higher a child's physical capacity is during their childhood, the longer and healthier a life they can have.  

Obviously, the children with the highest functional capacity as they enter adulthood are likely to be the ones who reach the disability threshold last.
By exercising, breathing hard, sweating, chasing other children, climbing trees, eating good food, getting enough quality sleep, and expanding and challenging their cognitive abilities, a child’s organs develop a higher peak capacity than if they sit playing video games, eat low quality processed food, or get low quality sleep while watching TV and texting late into the night.

Parents need to take action:

Here is the great news - kids, your kids, can improve their long-term health.  Good health as an adult is, to some degree, a choice.  Make sure your kids know that!  You and your child need to understand the graph of physical capacity versus age, and think about it as you make decisions about your child's activities, diet, and sleep habits.

We have all heard the expression, "use it or lose it"Well, it is extremely true - a fundamental truth of childhood.  Pack that little truism into little Johnny or Janie's head before they leave your care.  Maybe they will see why you are so interested in getting them to turn off the TV and video games and get outside to play.  Physical activity that your children experience will give them health they will carry their entire adult life. 

Here is a Doc Smo pearl for you to remember:  It's a terrible mistake for parents to underestimate their influence on their kids - or its corollary - Wisdom kept to oneself is wisdom wasted. Make sure you take a few minutes regularly to share your life wisdoms with your children. You will both benefit from the effort.

This is your host, Doc Smo, asking you to remind your children that they will never become fit, if all they do is sit. Until next time.

Smo Notes:

  1. Rate of decline of physical functioning in Women
  1. Age of Peak Cognitive ability

November 21, 2016

Saying Grace and Then Demonstrating Grace at Thanksgiving

Don Shifrin MD FAAP 
Bellevue, WA

As parents, we encounter “teachable moments” every day. There is an old saying about children that they have small heads but big ears. It is unlikely and impossible to ignore that they have not seen or heard, media portrayals of both presidential candidates this year that were (OK, perhaps not unjustifiably) significantly negative. And certainly, vitriolic rhetoric from the candidates and media pundits as well. We have seen and heard hateful remarks on all media venues and our children have been watching. We have not seen many role models of civility.
America has concluded a contentious election, and now there is a significant winner/loser mentality among at least half the population, again not unjustifiable based on previous statements by both candidates, especially from our new president-elect. 
Regardless of what we are experiencing we do have a president-elect. And as parents we need to model respect for the office. Yes, we can comment that politicians can be flawed, but accusations of racism, sexism, and classism are going to stay in children’s minds a long time. 
So how should we to speak to children and families about the results, how to help families cope with disturbing rhetoric, and how to explain news reports of increasing numbers of protests? 
It is vitally important that we calmly reassure all children  so they feel safe and protected in their day-to-day lives.
Explain clearly that the way democracy works is that we vote to elect who will oversee our government. This is a good opportunity to invoke what Abraham Lincoln (our 16th president) meant (in his Gettysburg address in Nov. 1863 - 153 years ago) when he said  “government of the people ( coming from the people), by the people, and for the people.” 
Do find out what your children and teens have heard and what they understand. Teens may be very passionate when expressing their opinions about the election. 
Listen!  Try not to quickly interrupt. Allow your child to express what he or she is feeling, including fear, anxiety, or anger.  Do not minimize or dismiss their concerns. As you listen, note any misconceptions, misinformation, or anxieties. 
Every child is different. Their age and individual anxiety level will determine how much and what information you may wish to share. Try to separate fact from fiction. Put provocative statements (i.e. building a wall - deporting all ‘illegals’ - putting Ms. Clinton in jail.) in the  context of our democratic system.  
Because we live in a media saturated world, pay attention to what your children watch on screens. Try, if possible, to watch with them and use those ‘teachable moments’ to help them digest what is being discussed. Be careful not to verbally provide aggressive, dismissive, discriminatory, or inflammatory color commentary about topics being discussed. Children are not politically savvy and are unfamiliar with the checks and balances of the US Government. 
We are all American citizens. You now have a continuing opportunity to be a positive and reassuring role model for your family. When you share your feelings about new information, do so in a respectful manner. The teachable moment emphasizes that respect and kindness are important values for families, even if they have significant disagreements with someone. If we see or hear that some adults do not understand or demonstrate  disrespect by using shouts or threats, we will still value these attributes and proclaim them. Avoid generalizations about gender, race, or culture. And note that a strong democracy is designed to protect all Americans.
How can we act if we disagree? We have legislators we can petition, op-eds we can write. And we can recognize and provide commentary on incendiary and offensive words and actions. Your child is always watching, and you are the door they walk through on their way into the world. Your calm reassurance (we will be OK) and ability to promote wellbeing is  the most empowering part of parenting.
So this Thanksgiving please pay attention when political commentary (if you even agree to discuss politics) becomes inflammatory or overwhelming to children that are present. Focus on what is positive is your lives, that our Republic has survived almost 250 years and will indeed survive this administration. If adults will not cease angry or fiery words, you can gently point out to the children that is not the kind of talk that you endorse. “Our thanksgiving table is a place where we model love and value acceptance, tolerance…. and thanks.”
Finally - Always encourage your child to tell you or a teacher if he/she feels threatened or bullied,  and to speak up when they see or hear something inappropriate. 

J. M Barrie (Peter Pan) “Always be a little kinder than necessary.”
Warren Buffet, (a vocal Clinton advocate) stated, “I support any President of the United states. It’s very important that the American people coalesce behind the President. That does not mean we cannot criticize him or disagree with what he is doing. But we need a country unified. He (the president) deserves our respect.” 



October 30, 2016

New Media Plan Toolkit Available for Parents on HealthyChildren.org


Corinn Cross, MD FAAP
Pacific Palisades, CA
Council on Communications and Media Executive Committee

The AAP’s Council on Communications and Media has two new policy statements, Media and Young Minds and Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents” as well as a corresponding Technical Report, Children and Adolescents and Digital Media,” out in the November issue of PEDIATRICS. These statements outline the changing relationship children and teens have with media. While the policy statements allow for us to discuss what we know and map out what still needs to be researched, the toolkit on HealthyChildren.org gives pediatricians and families the guidance and tools they need to parent, now.

Media has become ubiquitous in our daily lives. For children and adolescents, this includes school time, free time and homework time. Media is used for communication, education and recreation. The policy statements and technical report outline something that many parents have realized -- the 2 hour limit just isn’t enough advice. Screen use is so nuanced and weaved into our day that parents need more guidance. 

As busy pediatricians, we don’t often have the time to delve into media use in our office visits but recommending parents visit the website and create a Family Media Use Plan is something we can find the time to do. Creating a Family Media Use Plan is an important step in helping parents realize that they can, and should, still “parent” their children’s online life and be aware of, and hopefully approve of, their online and media choices.  The toolkit discusses screen free zones and times, device curfews and where devices should charge overnight. It talks about displacement and the need to maintain a healthy balance, which includes an appropriate number of hours of sleep for age as well as 1 hour of physical activity a day. Parents are encouraged to co-play, and co-view media with their children and to research apps and shows through sites like Common Sense Media so that they can be aware of content and age appropriateness. The toolkit introduces the ideas of diversifying media experiences and encourages parents to think about what their family’s values are and to ensure that their child or adolescent’s media experiences are inline with those values. 


Many parents feel overwhelmed when it comes to parenting, device use and media choices. The online resource gives parents concrete tools to navigate this new area of parenting. 

September 29, 2016

Stress and Teens: Does Media Play a Role?

Hansa Bhargava MD FAAP
Staff Physician, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta
Medical Editor, WebMD



Pediatricians are seeing more and more teens suffering from stress. Whether they are complaining of it or having somatic symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches, it seems that stress and anxiety are on the rise. We know that over scheduling, homework, and the pressures of getting into college can contribute to this. But can media also affect it? Is screen time and media a stressor or a remedy for stress?
In a recent WebMD survey published in their Teens and Stress report, 54% of teens were stressed according to parents. Interestingly, 40% of parents turned to the screen  for family stress relief while 58% of teens did. Social media and texting was used as stress relief by almost half the teens. This is on the heels of the Common Sense Media survey reporting that US teens were using media for 9 hours a day. Other recent reports have shown that 94% of teens with mobile devices are online daily with many online constantly.
So it seems that stress is on the rise and media use is on the rise. Although there may not be a direct relationship, some real issues impact stress and anxiety. Consider this: 23 % of teens report cyberbullying, especially girls. There have been reports of “Facebook depression” and loneliness, as kids who aren’t in social media conversations may feel left out. Other negative consequences can also have an impact: many teens are in front of a screen late at night or ‘sleep text’, both of which can contribute to lack of sleep, which in turn can decrease focus and potentially cause irritability and depression. And last but certainly not least, what about the time media consumes? 
Time spent on media is time often not spent communicating with family. Lately, when I’ve gone into a restaurant, I’ve observed that as soon as a family sits down, everyone pulls out a mobile device. No one is really talking. So even the short amount of time not doing homework, playing soccer, or at school is being compromised. Psychologists, community leaders and experts have long reported that family time can contribute to less depression, less anxiety, better academic performance and generally happier kids. But what if that family time is on media?? 
As the AAP reviews our screen time recommendations,  I feel that we, as pediatricians should continue to advise parents about basic principles. 

Parents need to lay down some parameters about when and how media is used. Media is a centerpiece of teens’ lives and is not going away, but just as we don’t give our kids a set of keys to our car and say “just drive”, we need to enforce appropriate media use. And  good modeling is also critical: parents need to put down their mobile devices and simply communicate with their kids. Old fashioned parenting and just talking to your kids can build the foundation to a less stressful childhood and hopefully a happier life. 





August 29, 2016

What’s New and Next? Applying Past and Present Principles of Professionalism for Posting



Terry Kind, MD, MPH
Associate Professor of Pediatrics
The George Washington University / Children’s National

From the latest way to share information, to dire concerns about career-ending posts, to the next new thing, where have we been and where are we going?  Guidelines are essentially meant as a starting point [Kind in AMA J Ethics 2015], to encourage thoughtful posting.  The same principles to guide your professional behavior in real life remain applicable in the online arena as well, but with additional considerations.  Your personal and professional might blend.  The voice you project --and the images you share-- are augmented. And, depending on the context, your post may be ephemeral or everlasting.  Social media has transformed our communication options, and has great potential to improve healthcare, communication, and information sharing. It allows us to innovatively reach out and engage.  And to listen.  

We’ve crafted tips for using social media in clinical care drawing upon ethical and professional principles [Chretien and Kind in Circulation 2013] and tips for use in medical education [Kind, Patel, Lie in Pediatrics 2013 and Kind, Patel, Lie, Chretien in Med Teacher 2014].   When considering new platforms of communication, think about who you are online and offline, who is or may be reading and engaging with what you post, and what are your goals?  Essentially, be a good and thoughtful citizen and share well.  

What does sharing well actually mean?  Just like in pediatrics where we aim to “catch a toddler being good” my colleagues and I sought to explore how medical students are using Twitter in “good” ways, such as for their professional development.  Do they, and if so how?  In this digital ethnographic study, we found that they do use Twitter to supplement their traditional medical school experience. It provides them with access and voice.  Access, to experts and various perspectives, and to communities of support.  Voice, for advocacy, and to craft their own digital identity, and to level the playing field among the various medical hierarchies.   [Chretien, Tuck, Simon, Singh, Kind in JGIM 2015].  

What do you need in order to post well, in addition to Wifi and a charger?  We propose that in the health professions, your posting rests on a platform of public trust [Chretien and Kind in Acad Med 2014]..  Consider security, that is, what online behaviors could jeopardize patient privacy and/or impact your own career security.  Resting on that secure base, then reflect on your own online identity and the relationships you navigate.  This sets you up to discover ways to use social media to improve health, enhance career paths (self and others) and innovate.  Throughout your journey, maintain an awareness of potential challenges and opportunities. 

Ultimately, you should draw upon the same principles of professionalism that you’d employ offline, as online.   I shall leave you with this tweet-sized tip I once shared a few years back.

T is it thoughtful
W is it wise?
E is it educational?
E is if evidence-based?
T is it tweet-worthy?

References/Resources:



July 26, 2016

Fast Food Marketing to Children: What Parents Can Do

Kathleen Lovlie MD FAAP
Gulf Shores AL
Author of "Practical Parenting: An Un-Politically Correct Guide from the Trenches"
 



Lately, children and teens are exposed to fast-food advertising from every angle. Traditional print, TV, and radio ads are ever present.  Marketers carefully place products at child height and colorfully design packaging to attract their attention. Mobile devices and social media accounts are plagued with ads.

Social media sites entice with advergames, contests, points to redeem and free downloads. If your child subscribes to or follows a YouTube channel or Twitter handle, he or she is volunteering to be sent endless “opportunities,” with ads attached. These ads encourage users (your children) to “share” and “invite” friends to participate on the websites – free word of mouth advertising! Facebook, for example, comes with 6 billion fast food ads – 19% of the total ads on the site.

Food stylists make their products look better than they ever do in reality. Advertisements suggest health benefits and a happier, more carefree life. They bait with prices that will feed your children more cheaply than a grocery store, until you switch to higher priced items at the counter. Restaurants default to a less healthy options like French fries and soda, rather than the more costly fruit and milk.

The purveyors of fast food are not on your side. Their success depends on your failure, and they have bigger wallets than you do.



Fast Food Ad Facts

Here are some facts about fast food advertising from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity



  • In 2012, 4.6 billion dollars was spent on fast food advertising—a hard number for me to get my brain around. 4.6 billion dollars will buy 920 million kid’s meals: 33,000 lifetimes worth of daily happy meals. Imagine the profit that must be generated to make spending that amount of money reasonable. These people are not your friends.
  • Less than 1% of kid’s meals (33 out of 5427) met USDA nutrition standards.
  • Only 3% of kid’s meals met the industry’s own standards.

Fast Food Ads Have Presence in Your Child’s Life


Fast food ads are unavoidable. Your children will see them and will want what they are selling.

There is no evidence that media literacy in any way defends against the effectiveness of advertisements. Knowing that fast food ads are trying to sell you something that is bad for you does not keep you from wanting it. We are grownups, and we fall for the ads.  We cannot expect more of our children than we do of ourselves.
 

In the end, it comes down to committing to do the right thing, and then acting on that commitment:


  • Clean out your cupboards and throw out all the junk.
  • Make a healthy meal plan for the week before you shop.
  • Shop with a list made from that meal plan, and stick to the list.
  • Shop at farmer’s markets and around the outer rim of the grocery store. Avoid the aisles unless there is something on your list that is on that aisle.
  • Prepare meals ahead for busy nights, so that you don’t end up in the drive-through line at the fast food restaurant.
  • Keep healthy snack food available at hand: fruits and veggies, whole grain crackers, cheese, popcorn... Throw out the chips and snack cakes.


Why "Never" is Easier for Kids to Understand than "Sometimes"
 
Remember that “never” is much easier for a child to understand and deal with than “sometimes.” If you never stop at the drive through and never buy junk food, after the first two weeks your kids will rarely ask, even though they saw that yummy advertisement a dozen times and really wanted to try those fruit snacks. Be consistent.

If you sometimes give in, they will ask until your ears bleed. Pestering is powerful when you’re tired and stressed.

Remember, you have the greatest influence on your children’s health. Fast food companies have 4.6 billion dollars on their side, but you have love for your children and the responsibility they handed you with that warm sweet bundle. You win.

June 28, 2016

Diversity in Children's Media

Jacqueline Dougé, MD, MPH, FAAP
Medical Director, Bureau of Child Health
Howard County Health Department
Blog site: DrJacquelineDouge.com


I had an interesting conversation with my older son after watching an interview of Marvel Comic authors and illustrators.  The interviewer asked about the diversity of modern day Avenger characters.  The new Spiderman is African-American and Latino, Ms. Marvel will be Pakistani-American and the new Thor is a woman.  My seventeen year old son was surprised that the characters he grew up watching were going to be of different genders, religions, races and ethnicities.  I asked him what he thought about the increasing diversity of the characters.  His response wasn’t what I expected, “I’m older now and don’t need the characters to be diverse to look up to them.”  Would his response have been different if he had grown up watching diverse superheroes?

But he also made another interesting point; characters shouldn’t be created solely to meet a demand for diversity.  My son’s response surprised me. I expected to hear that he agreed with me that there should be more diverse images and characters for kids.

My son and I have had many conversations about race, especially being African-American.  We’ve had more discussions over the past few years in light of news stories that report on the murder and violence of young black men.  In addition, he’s had to address negative biases based on his race in school.  My suggestion of having more kids of color in media was a possible solution to combat negative stereotypes and normalize the idea that different people live, work and play together.  My son is very aware of the lack of diversity in media, and as a recently graduated senior no longer needs to look up to superheroes.  He realizes that diversity in media is important, but to just have characters of different races and ethnicities isn’t enough and shouldn’t be done solely to meet some demand or current trend.
 
In 2013 blog post on diversity in children’s media, Dr. Kevin Clark wrote, “Diversity is more than demographics. We need to think about diversity holistically. Yes, it’s about gender and race, but we need to add a component to go with those demographic components of diversity—being aware of what children hear, see, and do.”  In his blog, he discusses his work to help young children create video games. He realized that even thought he was the same race of the children, African-American, he was working with, their experiences were different.  Race isn’t the only factor that connects or resonates with kids.  In creating diverse media for children, one must also consider whether the content and experiences are relatable and realistic.

Children’s media has the opportunity to create positive and enriching experiences for children.  What children see, hear and read influences their self-identity.  In the 2015 AAP News article on racial socialization, which refers to the process how kids learn to deal with racial issues, the authors discussed the role that pediatricians can play to help parents navigate the issue of race with their children.  One strategy mentioned was to discuss with parents the role that positive cultural and diverse images can have on children.  These images provide a counter narrative to images of negative stereotypes and violence.

Most pediatricians aren’t in the business of developing media, but there are opportunities to promote positive culturally diverse media such as the books recommended to our families and books and magazines displayed in waiting rooms.  In addition, there are opportunities to create diverse media content, i.e. write a book, create videos.

The term diversity is broad and complex.  It must not only have individuals or images that check a box, such as gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, but include the multifaceted layers of being a person.  Our kids are surrounded by and use media, why not have it also reflect the diversity of its users?


Resources to learn more about diverse media for children:

    •    Help your kids find books with diverse characters

    •    Apps and Games with Diverse Characters

    •    DiversityinApps



References:
Anderson A, Ellison A. Helping families navigate race issues should be an ongoing conversation. AAP News 2015;36;2. Retrieved May 28, 2016, from http://www.aappublications.org/content/aapnews/36/8/11.full.pdf

Clark, K., Ph.D. (2013, July 09). Diversity in Children's Media Is More Than Just Race or Gender - Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning & Children's Media. Retrieved May 28, 2016, from http://www.fredrogerscenter.org/2013/07/09/diversity-in-childrens-media-is-more-than-just-race-or-gender/