Children’s Health

Patrick J. Skerrett

Pediatricians should ask teens about drug, alcohol use at every visit

Although current recommendations call for pediatricians to ask their adolescent patients about alcohol and drug use at every visit, many don’t. To make it easier for doctors and nurses to do this, the American Academy of Pediatrics has just published a set of questions to guide the confidential conversation, along with advice on what to do with the answers. The first question is a simple one about drug or alcohol use. If the answer is no, the health care provider should praise the teen and encourage him or her to continue making good decisions about health and safety. If the answer is yes, six follow-up questions called the CRAFFT questions) can help separate those who are experimenting from those who may be headed for serious trouble and need more in-depth help.

Patrick J. Skerrett

Do chronic diseases have their origins in the womb?

Heart disease, stroke, diabetes, asthma, osteoporosis and other common chronic diseases are often blamed on genes, pollution, or the wear and tear caused by personal choices like a poor diet, smoking, or too little exercise. An intriguing hypothesis is that these and other conditions stem from a developing baby’s environment, mainly the womb and the placenta. During the first thousand days of development, from conception to age 2, the body’s tissues, organs, and systems are exquisitely sensitive to conditions in their environment during various windows of time. A lack of nutrients or an overabundance of them during these windows, so the thinking goes, programs a child’s development and sets the stage for health or disease.

Patrick J. Skerrett

A new view of the teenage brain: adaptation is job 1

A few years back, my colleague Michael Miller wrote an interesting article about the adolescent brain in the Harvard Mental Health Letter. I had only a passing interest in the topic at the time, being far more focused on raising a 9-year old and a pair of 8-year-olds. Fast-forward six years, and I now have […]

Annmarie Dadoly

What to do when your child refuses to go to school

As summer winds to a close, many school age children are reluctant to greet another school year. Who can blame them? Swapping swimming, lazy days, camp activities, and late nights for classrooms, homework, and early morning bus rides isn’t much of a trade at all. For some children, reluctance turns into school refusal. This goes beyond an occasional “I hate school” or “I don’t want to go to school today.” Children with school refusal may sob, scream, or plead for hours before school in an attempt to stay home. They may often complain of illness and run home from school if forced to go. Absences can last weeks or even months. The problem may start at any point but common triggers are the start of a new school year, making the transition to a new school (middle school to high school, for example), or returning from school vacation. School refusal often stems from an anxiety disorder, according to Coping with Anxiety and Phobias, a new Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School. Helping a child through school refusal often takes concerted effort from the parents, school staff, a therapist, and the child.

Michael Craig Miller, M.D.

Kids and social media: Guidance for parents

Confused about how to extend analog parenting into the digital world? New guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics offers practical advice to pediatricians (and parents) to help children use social media tools safely and in ways that encourage them grow socially and emotionally. Michael Miller, M.D., editor of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, says the guidelines are “anchored in what we know about child and adolescent development rather than any perceived special influences of the social network.”

Michael Craig Miller, M.D.

FDA panel finds no link between artificial food colorings and hyperactivity in most children

Artificial food coloring has been blamed for causing hyperactivity in children. For most kids, there is no connection between food coloring and hyperactivity, an FDA panel has concluded. But it also noted that certain children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be uniquely vulnerable, not just to food colorings, but to any number of food additives. The panel said that food additives themselves are not inherently toxic to the nervous system, but that some children have a unique intolerance to these substances.

Peter Wehrwein

Play Ball: Will new rules for bats make baseball safer?

When a hitter makes solid contact with a baseball, the ball leaves the bat travelling very fast. The type of bat matters — ball speeds are higher with aluminum and newer composite bats than they are with wood bats. Why? Wood bats are solid. When one smacks a ball, the bat stays fairly rigid and the ball flattens out for a millisecond, absorbing some of the energy in the bat-ball collision. Aluminum and composite bats are hollow. When they strike a baseball, the bat gives. That means more of the energy of the bat-ball collision is transferred to the “bounce” of the ball off the bat. Harvard Health Letter editor Peter Wehrwein talks with experts in sports injury, the physics of baseball, and bat testing to explain connections between bat type and injury.

Patrick J. Skerrett

Sudden death in young athletes—can it be prevented?

In a seven-day span, three high-school athletes died while pursuing their sports. An epidemic? No. Approximately 100 youth, high school, and college athletes die each year, many from a cardiovascular problem. The deaths renewed a hot debate among parents, coaches, and physicians: should the pre-sports checkup for competitive athletes include an electrocardiogram (ECG)?

Patrick J. Skerrett

Sugary soda and juice can boost blood pressure, weight

A large new study links drinking sugar-sweetened sodas and juices with higher blood pressure and extra pounds. The results are in line with earlier studies, and with some clinical trials, showing that daily consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages isn’t so good for the body.

Ann MacDonald