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Health report cards raise awareness

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Your child may get an A+ in math, but how good is his health? A new study shows that report cards may be just as useful in helping you understand your child's health as they are in helping you understand his academic prowess.

Researchers from Boston studied almost 1,400 elementary-school children in four urban schools. Parents of some of the children received a report card containing measurements of the child's weight and fitness level. Other parents received general health information. A third group of children did not receive any new information. The results of the study were published in the August 2003 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

They found that among overweight children, parents who received the report cards were more likely to know the weights of their children than parents in the other two groups. They were also more likely to plan physical activities with their kids and to ask to receive such a health report card the following year. And the parents who received report cards were more than twice as likely to plan medical help for their children and four times more likely to plan dieting activities with their children.

Breast-feeding protects infants from lung infections

Newborns who are breast fed generally enjoy a wonderful bonding experience with Mom and fewer ear infections. And new evidence shows that these babies are less likely to be hospitalized with serious lung infections.

Researchers from the University of California San Francisco combined the results of seven previously completed studies exploring the relationship between breast feeding and infant hospitalization for lung infection. Their results were published in the March 2003 issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

They found that infants who were not breast fed had more than three times the risk of being hospitalized for severe lung infections than babies who had been exclusively breast fed for at least four months.

The authors note that for the purposes of this study, the only infants included were full-term, healthy infants living in areas with access to top-notch medical care. Sick, premature or underweight infants were not included.

Importance of on-time vaccination

It probably seems like your infant gets a lot of vaccines. Every time you turn around, she needs another shot for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough (DTaP). Even though it can be a hassle, a new study shows that getting all her shots, and getting them on time, is important for disease prevention.

The DTaP vaccine is supposed to be given four times—at 2, 4, and 6 months, and again at 15-18 months. But researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study in the July 2003 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine noting that many parents miss the third dose, which then causes them to either time the fourth dose improperly or skip it altogether.

The fourth dose is particularly important to prevent whooping cough infections as toddlers go through preschool. Whooping cough, or pertussis (the P in DTaP), is a highly contagious, potentially life-threatening infection in babies and young children. The vaccine provides only temporary immunity, so it is important to ensure that the littlest children have all the vaccines. Older children and adults frequently get pertussis infections, but they are far less likely than little tikes to suffer devastating illness.

Further, the fourth dose of the vaccine works best if it is given at least six months after the third dose. The CDC's study showed that if babies get the third dose late, they may not wait a full six months before receiving the fourth dose. Also, as children get older they are more likely to suffer serious side effects from the vaccine itself.

"An invalid dose four of DTaP represents not only wasted vaccine, time and money, but also unnecessary increased risk of adverse reactions and difficulty in completing the series in 18 months," says the CDC's Tara Strine, MPH.

School lunches can be fun, yummy and healthy

Remember the days when you used to trade your carrot sticks for your best friend's cupcakes? Eating a nutritious and satisfying lunch at school is a key to good school performance. If you want to help ensure that your little one will follow in healthy footsteps, Cedars-Sinai Registered Dietician Netty Levine offers the following suggestions:

Encourage your child to help prepare and choose the food for his lunch. He'll take the food more seriously if he helped get it ready himself.

Pack foods from each of the five food groups: a low-fat protein, whole grain breads, vegetables, fruits and dairy products. To add excitement try cutting a turkey sandwich into fun shapes with a cookie cutter, and use brightly colored vegetables such as cherry tomatoes and sliced yellow peppers. Try tortillas and rice cakes instead of regular sandwich bread.

Include junk food, since you know your child will want some. But limit the amount to the child's age. For example, if he's 7 years old, pack seven potato chips and seven M&Ms. Encourage him count them out before packing.

Include enough food to allow for a snack or two during the day. No one likes to go hungry.

Avoid some painkillers during pregnancy

If you're like many Americans, you reach for the over-the-counter ibuprofen or naproxen when you have a headache, backache or fever. But a new study shows that some painkillers may cause miscarriages in pregnant women.

Researchers from California interviewed over 1,000 women who had just found out that they were pregnant. They asked them questions about their use of medications, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen. The scientists then determined the outcomes of those pregnancies. Their results were published in the August 16, 2003, issue of the British Medical Journal.

Women who had taken NSAIDs while pregnant had an 80 percent higher risk of miscarriage than women who did not take these medications. The risk was highest in women who had taken NSAIDs around the time of conception or who had taken them for longer than one week during pregnancy.

It is important to note that acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is not an NSAID. Women who took acetaminophen did not have any increased risk of miscarriage.

Fascinating kid facts

• Are you worried about coughing and wheezing in your infant this winter? According to an article in the October, 2002, issue of American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, wood stoves, kerosene heaters and gas space heaters are all associated with wheeze and coughing in babies less than a year old.

• If you want to help ensure that your second pregnancy goes just as smoothly as your first, you may want to wait awhile. A study published in the August 9, 2003, issue of the British Medical Journal found that in more than 89,000 women, those who got pregnant less than six months after giving birth were more likely to give birth prematurely or have babies who died shortly after birth.

• Babies born with Down Syndrome face many developmental struggles, including an average one-year delay in learning to walk. Researchers at the University of Michigan are developing an exercise program that can help children with Down Syndrome learn to walk an average of three to four months sooner. The program, housed in the Department of Kinesiology, involves baby-sized treadmills, ankle weights and some of the kinds of high-tech equipment used to help train Olympic-caliber athletes.

Dale Mazer is an internal medicine specialist who also has a degree in public health.
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