Lifestyle, not just obesity, may be harmful to children’s health and wellness

Of all the chronic pediatric medical conditions some children must live with, obesity is arguably the one they and their parents are most concerned about. Asthma or diabetes rarely have the social stigma associated with obesity. Unlike the other two disorders, it is also often viewed as preventable with the proper diet and exercise.

More troubling to some, though, are the potential health problems that can result from being overweight. These kids are at greater risk of developing a heart disease or type 2 diabetes. However, recent findings from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Nursing suggested that obesity may not be the issue. While researchers believe that children should be more active and eat a healthy diet, they felt that simply making those lifestyle changes can be beneficial even if no weight loss occurs.

During the researchers' two-week study, they noticed that the cardiovascular health of obese children soon matched that of their non-obese peers. Rather than obesity affecting children's health and wellness, the condition and problems like diabetes may instead be symptomatic of lifestyle.

"This work underscores the need to focus on changing lifestyle as opposed to focusing on body weight and weight loss," said Christian Roberts, Ph.D., the study's lead author.

Notably, more than one-third of children between 12 and 19 years old are considered obese, and it is one of the most common chronic pediatric medical conditions. Thanks to medical and health efforts for the past few decades, the rate of children who are overweight has stopped rising, as Time magazine recently reported. Still, it remains a significant concern for many parents. Encouraging kids to live a healthier life can be difficult, but parents who try to accommodate them by finding physical activities they enjoy and healthy food that they like eating can help prevent it from affecting their long-term health.

Kids with chronic conditions should receive flu shots

It's a sad fact that children with chronic pediatric medical conditions are often at an increased risk for illness than their peers. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kids with asthma, heart disease, diabetes, liver disorders and a wide variety of other conditions are more likely to catch the flu than other children. During the last flu season, the CDC discovered that 53 percent of children hospitalized for the disease had previously existing health problems.

The CDC researched the long-term medical conditions possessed by the hospitalized children and found that asthma (20 percent), brain and nervous system disorders (13 percent) and non-asthma based lung diseases (6.3 percent) were their most frequently occurring medical conditions.

As if their preexisting medical condition and increased chance to be affected by the flu weren't enough, the CDC found that the flu can also make their chronic health problems even worse. The organization noted that asthma and congestive heart failure are particularly affected.

To combat the flu and avoid further health complications in kids with chronic pediatric medical conditions, the CDC recommended that they receive flu shots to ensure the children's health and wellness. The organization stressed that immunizations should not be delivered by a nasal spray.

Further preparation
Along with obesity, asthma is one of the most common chronic pediatric disorders in the U.S., and the Standard Speaker recently noted that it affects 7 million children. Along with flu shots, parents of these kids should also alert the local school system to the condition, as asthma is one of the most significant causes for hospitalization in children and they are also 39 percent more prone to asthma attacks than adults.

Handling chronic medical conditions often means finding ways to persuade kids to take their treatment or live a healthy lifestyle that won't worsen their condition. One way parents can achieve that is with flavored medication that they enjoy taking rather than avoid taking.

TV and video games may be linked to children’s depression

Many chronic pediatric medical conditions are fairly obvious. Asthmatics have difficulty breathing and will likely eventually be brought to the hospital to have it diagnosed. Obesity is another disorder that can generally be noticed even without a doctor's examination. However, certain risks to children's health and wellness are less clear because they lack visible physical symptoms. Depression may be one of the more significant ones. As children grow older, they go through a number of developmental phases, and parents might mistake long-term depression as just a phase the child is going through. 

While parents who suspect that their child might be depressed should have the condition diagnosed, there are a few risk factors that could lead to it in kids. A recent study from Public Health England discovered that too much television, video games and living an inactive lifestyle may lead to depression. As television viewing habits increased, kids' self-reported levels of happiness and self-esteem decreased. Additionally, longer-lasting television watching among younger children (1 to 3 years old) was linked with attention and hyperactivity disorders. Every hour spent in front of a screen increased the chance that a juvenile would have socio-emotional problems, the study authors explained. 

Children also reported having a higher degree of anxiety and unhappiness the more they played video games. Other outside factors were also found to affect a child's depression, with bullying and the local neighborhood both potentially influencing how kids feel. Mobile devices, as popular as they are for social activity like texting, were also found to lack the positive influence that face-to-face interaction can have. 

Understandably, greater physical activity was discovered to positively enhance how children feel, as did familial interactions such as regularly having meals together. Breakfast was also positively linked to how kids performed and acted throughout the day. 

Other potential signs of depression
Although more time spent watching television and playing video games may indicate depression and a lack of self-esteem, parents should not take those signs alone as evidence of the disorder. If they suspect their children may be depressed, they should be aware that the symptoms may change depending on how old their kids are. The Mayo Clinic noted that younger juveniles usually display irritability, hopelessness and worry, while adolescents tend to be more anxious, angry and averse to socializing. Schoolwork and sleep schedules may also be affected by the condition. Regardless, a medical assessment is the best way to verify just how a kid is feeling, and if it is a phase or something more serious. 

While professional help should be sought if a child is depressed, weaning kids off of television and video games may help improve their mood, as can greater interaction with family and friends. Placing greater emphasis on family meals may also be beneficial. Even for juveniles who aren't depressed, engaging in these measures can potentially prevent the condition from developing in the first place. 

Are your kids taking too much headache medicine?

Many parents can have trouble getting their children to take their medicine, even when the kids are sick. The taste of cough syrup can be off-putting, and the strong odor of various ointments can also make it hard when giving medicine to children. But the bland nature of most headache medication causes few children to turn it down when they're experiencing a migraine or other head pain. Additionally, over-the-counter drugs may give the impression that they're relatively harmless. 

Although headache medicine is usually fine in small doses, overuse can lead to a variety of health problems. The Mayo Clinic noted that pain relievers such as ibuprofen can cause ulcers and intestinal bleeding. These problems can be even more pronounced in children. Aspirin should be avoided in children altogether due to its link to Reye's syndrome. 

The solution can become the problem
Another issue related to overusing pain medication is that it can cause additional headaches. recently covered the efforts of Ishaq Abu-Arafeh, M.D., who runs a headache clinic at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Yorkhill. Abu-Arafeh just released a new book for advancing pediatric patient care and achieving better outcomes in the field of children's headaches. He noted that taking ibuprofen and paracetamol too frequently can cause short periods of pain and leave children's heads feeling sensitive and sore. This in turn can lead to kids taking even more pain relievers and suffering additional headaches. Once parents have resorted to that, they may need to stop giving their children ibuprofen altogether, despite the effect it will have on their kids. 

"We are seeing quite a lot of conditions that in the past used to be exclusive to adults, like medication over-use headaches," said Abu-Arafeh. "We see quite a lot of headaches in children because they are getting too many paracetamol. It makes it very difficult to manage them."

The source noted that Abu-Arafeh did not know why headaches were more frequent among children, despite one third of his patients experiencing the condition. However, he pointed out that a sedentary lifestyle can affect children's health and wellness.

A few alternate treatments
To help children alleviate the pain of a headache, the Cleveland Clinic suggested that people try to relax. Activities like taking a hot shower or stretching can alleviate some of the symptoms. Prolonged computer use or strenuous exercise can also cause headaches, but regular breaks can reduce the risk of suffering one. Convincing a kid to do any of these things might be hard, but informing him or her that they will help with a migraine should encourage them to act. Maintaining a healthier diet can also reduce the frequency of pain. 

Writing for the Chicago Tribune, Sue Hubbard, M.D., also suggested that parents may want to use triptans. She noted that they are frequently used to treat children's migraines and she considers them safe. She also suggested that caretakers should avoid using the same type of medication, both because of the related health problems associated with overuse and due to the differing types of headaches. 

Childhood obesity appears to be on decline

When we consider the easy availability of fast food, soda, candy and other junk snacks in the U.S., it's no wonder that many people suffer from an obesity problem. Couple these facts with people often having a sedentary lifestyle behind a desk or counter and it's relatively easy for people to fall into the trap of weight gain with little recourse for improvement. Between avoiding the temptation of a quick, easy bite and willing ourselves into exercising regularly, staying healthy regularly takes an effort.

Of course, maintaining a good diet and a regular exercise regimen is easier when people start these habits from an early age. The habits we learn while we're young can stick with us for a lifetime, so emphasizing our children's health and wellness now can set kids on a path for better living for the rest of their lives. 

Even the best parent can have trouble watching over his or her child all of the time, though. Between school, time with friends, field trips and all the other activities that parents may not participate in, the ability to guide our children's health is limited. Thankfully, the trend toward childhood obesity may finally be on the decline, according to health officials from the Women, Infants and Children program. 

Preschoolers found less frequently suffering from obesity
Based finding from a study on 18 states, low-income preschoolers were found to be less likely to be affected by obesity than kids studied in previous years. This is notable because children in this demographic can be at greater risk for weight problems than their peers due to limited access to healthy food. While health officials noted that one in eight U.S. preschoolers are overweight, the problem is even more prevalent among black and Hispanic children. Overall, one-third of all children are impacted by this problem.

Still, the problem recently declined in states such as Washington and Mississippi. The most significant decreases were in Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey and South Dakota, which each reduced their obesity rates by one or more percent, according to the study.

"I'm hoping it's a trend. We're really trying hard," said Laurie Riegert, a nutritionist for the WIC. 

What may be contributing to this recent decline is the assistance of groups such as the WIC, which offers vouchers for healthy food and nutritional advice to low-income families. The group's policies eliminated sugary drinks like juice and reduced the amount of saturated fat from low-income children's food packages. The WIC has also pushed for more breast-feeding, which may factor into the improvements. 

"People are more aware of sugars," said Riegert. "They're trying not to give their kids soda, and they're starting to become aware of physical activity – that's hard for some families, because they're working full time."

Left untreated, childhood obesity can cause chronic pediatric medical conditions that continue into adulthood. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that it can lead to diabetes, bone and joint problems and an increased risk of heart disease in adulthood. 

Adulthood and exercise may minimize asthma problems

As much as parents strive to keep their children healthy, some factors are outside of their control. They can make sure they eat right and encourage them to exercise, but the environment and genetics can both affect a child's health and wellness despite a parent's best efforts. For many parents, their child's development of asthma is one such problem. 

Asthma is the most common chronic pediatric medical condition in the United States, where it affects one in 10 kids. While parents have a number of options for managing the problem, there is some hope for recovery in the long term. Based on a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, 20 percent of children may overcome asthma in adulthood. This differs depending on the sex of the child and his or her specific type of asthma. For example, children are less likely to overcome fur allergies, and the condition is more likely to persist in girls than it is boys. 

The study noted that while doctors are unlikely to say that a child no longer suffers from asthma, many will say that the disease is in remission after a prolonged period without any symptoms. Patients were considered to be in remission if they did not use asthma medication for 12 months. 

"This study can give parents some hope, but there's no guarantee for any child," said Jennifer Appleyard, M.D. 

The condition may not be fully outside a parent's control
However, there are a few ways parents can minimize the effects of asthma on their children. Kids who stay fit are less likely to suffer some of the worse problems associated with the disease. Recent findings published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that obese children are 1.16 to 1.37 times more at risk of developing asthma than other kids, and the chance increases with a higher body-mass index. Obese girls between 6 and 10 years old were especially vulnerable to the affliction, who were 1.36 to 1.56 times more likely than their peers to develop the disease. 

Asthma symptoms were especially pronounced among obese children, and overweight kids usually had to use their inhaler more often than other asthma sufferers. Researchers also suspected that body fat plays a role in inflammation, and that the additional stress placed on a child's chest by the extra weight could also worsen the condition. 

The study took advantage of Kaiser Permanente's database of 623,358 children when establishing the link between asthma and weight. 

"When they have difficulty breathing, it seems more extreme to them than to kids with normal weight," said Mary Helen Black, Ph.D., a research scientist biostatistician at Kaiser Permanente. 

Because of this, researchers suggested that parents and physicians should watch for asthma symptoms in overweight children. Families can also motivate their children to exercise more often and eat healthy meals, which should minimize the risk of developing the condition. 

Eating healthy can have a high cost

While every parent knows that a healthy diet is an important part of his or her children's health and wellness, the temptation to slip into a fast food restaurant for a bite can be a compelling alternative to preparing a meal. This kind of quick fix may seem fine in the short term, but it can set a precedent that leads to long-term problems like child obesity. 

Worse, many inexpensive, easy-to-prepare foods are also high in calories, but low in nutrition. A recent Dartmouth College study found that when shoppers have to choose between quality or price, they will regularly buy their groceries based on cost. This was usually true regardless of their education, nutritional knowledge or income level.

"Even with all good intentions, with our concern for nutrition, when we see something that's too expensive and we can't afford it, we don't buy it. When we see something on sale, we buy it, even though it may not be very good for us," said Kusum Ailawadi, the marketing professor at the Tuck School of Business who led the study. 

While many participants in the study regularly exercised and avoided fast food and junk food, they still ate sugary, high-calorie food like cereal and yogurt that they believed were healthy. 

Because of the way price influences grocery purchases, Ailawadi suggested that taxing unhealthy food may encourage consumers to buy more nutritious alternatives. 

Healthier living on a budget
Reacting to the study, LiveScience suggested a few healthy, but inexpensive, alternatives parents could add to their children's diet. Instead of buying French fries or other foods that are high in starch, you can buy brown rice. It's healthier than many other groceries and less pricey, too – a pound usually costs less than $2. 

The news source also suggested that pita pizzas are a good option because the basic ingredients only cost about $0.80 per serving, and you can customize the toppings to find a tasty combination of ingredients that your children will enjoy eating. Their ability to pick and choose what they use can also add a bit of fun to their meal, which can also encourage them to eat better every day.

Finding the right mix of cost-effective, healthy food that kids like to eat can be difficult, but more awareness about your shopping habits and your dining options can help you avoid compromising quality for price. 

Choking continues to be a major risk for children

When it comes to childhood hazards, choking is one of the most severe. According to a recent report, an estimated 34 kids are treated each day at emergency rooms for choking-related incidents, HealthDay News reported – an alarming statistic that should influence the way parents approach children's health and wellness.

"It's a very common thing," said researcher Gary Smith, M.D., director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. "We think much more attention needs to be paid to food choking."

Smith and his team of researchers analyzed a national database covering the period of 2001 to 2009. They found that in 2001, about 10,400 U.S. children were treated for non-fatal choking emergencies, while by 2009, the average number of kids seen rose to 12,400.

The study, which was published online by the journal Pediatrics and appears in the August print edition, pinpoints specific foods like candy, meat, bones, fruits and vegetables as major culprits behind potential choking episodes for kids.

Preventing choking
So, apart from cutting foods like these out of children's diets or limiting their access to them, what are some ways that parents can keep kids safe and prevent choking?

According to Smith, certain strategies, like redesigning food labels to caution parents about the risks of choking, can be useful.

"We know that labeling is one thing we can do, but we know from experience, from other public health [efforts], labeling is not effective as a standalone," added Smith.

Additional methods that parents can take include educating themselves about choking hazards and being mindful of the types of toys they give kids. Those that are recommended for older children should not be given to youngsters, as they may put kids' health at risk.

Choking is a serious risk and a leading cause of injury and death for children, and because it can happen at any time, it's essential that parents try to be as vigilant as possible.

Some common risks for choking include food, small toys and even liquids. The Child Injury Prevention Alliance recommends that kids under 4 not be given popcorn, hot dogs, chewing gum, marshmallows, whole grapes or chunks of fruit that could become lodged in throats.

Other ways that parents can prevent emergencies is to be prepared for situations before they occur. By taking a first aid and CPR course, adults can immediately come to children's aid if they begin choking or experience a similar emergency. Making sure that youngsters don't run, walk or play with food in their mouths is one way to reduce the likelihood of choking, and cutting food into smaller bites can make it easier for kids to eat.