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>Pregnant women's alcohol intake may affect teen's weight

Doctors have known for some time that women who drink alcohol during pregnancy tend to give birth to smaller infants. But research also shows that lower weight in these kids may persist into the teen years.

Researchers from the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh studied 580 pregnant women for the effects of alcohol consumption on the weight of their offspring. The women were classified as abstainers, meaning that they didn't drink any alcohol at all during pregnancy, or as light, moderate or heavy drinkers. All of the women were healthy, poor and at least 18 years old. The babies were assessed shortly after birth and again at 14 years of age. The results were published in the October 2002 issue of Alcoholism: Experimental and Clinical Research.

The scientists found that women who drank alcohol had smaller babies. But they also found that the more a woman drank, the smaller her child was even at 14 years of age. None of the children suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. The scientists discovered that continuous alcohol consumption was more likely to predict smaller size than occasional binge drinking.

It is important to note that the low income of the women enrolled in this study may have contributed to the weight differences in their offspring due to medical and financial burdens not experienced by wealthier families.

Boredom in school linked to smoking

Most parents know that teenagers who are bored are more likely to get into trouble. But new research shows bored teens are also more likely to smoke.

Research from Boston University and the University of Massachusetts interviewed almost 500 kids aged 12 to 15 years who had not smoked in the past month and did not own any tobacco promotional items (such as T-shirts). Among the topics of the interview were questions about whether their parents smoked, how much they liked school, whether they felt rebellious or depressed, and whether they owned any tobacco promotional items. They then re-interviewed the teens four years later. The results of the study were published in the February 2003 issue of Pediatrics.

The researchers found that after four years, about one-fifth of the teenagers owned a tobacco promotional item. Of them, 45 percent were smokers. Of the kids who did not have promo items, only 15 percent smoked. The kids who felt bored in school were twice as likely to own a tobacco promotional item as those who felt engaged in school.

"I think we are picking up on kids who don't see a place for themselves at school," said Dr. Lois Biener, co-author of the report. "They are looking for some kind of identity for themselves. Being attracted to a T-shirt with a Marlboro sign on it offers them a particular kind of identity."

The study "makes a case for protecting kids from tobacco advertising and promotion," says Dr. David Baron, chairman of the Department of Family Practice at Santa Monica – UCLA Medical Center.

The study also found that kids of smokers were three times more likely to own tobacco promotional items.

Fascinating Kid Facts

• You can help your children avoid developing knee arthritis in later life by encouraging them to exercise a lot now. In an article published in the September 2003 issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Australian researchers said youngsters' physical activity helps the knees grow good, strong cartilage. Knee cartilage can be increased by 15 percent each year in physically active boys and 10 percent each year in physically active girls.

• Treatment for scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, may need to be different for overweight teenagers than it is for kids of normal weight. A new study shows that while a back brace, the only proven non-surgical treatment, works for about half of teens in general, it works less than one third of the time in overweight teenagers.

• Cochlear implants, surgically implanted devices used to help deaf people regain some hearing, are associated with increased risks of bacterial meningitis. In a study published in the July 31, 2003, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that meningitis was more than four times as common in children under age 6 with cochlear implants than in children without implants. Parents of hearing-impaired children are urged to have their children immunized against the most common causes of bacterial meningitis before considering cochlear implants.

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