Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: children

Should all children be screened for high cholesterol?

July 11, 2010 |  9:01 pm

High cholesterol is common enough in children these days that all of them should be screened for the condition, say the authors of a new study examining the rates of high cholesterol in children.

KidsStatins Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening children and teens who have a family history of premature heart disease or high cholesterol or those children who already have risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity, high blood pressure or who smoke or have diabetes. For these children, screening should start after age 2 and before age 10.

However, a sizable number of people don't have accurate information on family medical history. In the new study, released online Sunday in the journal Pediatrics, researchers reviewed data from more than 20,000 fifth-grade children in West Virginia, including examining their family history and conducting blood cholesterol tests. They found that more than 71% of the children met guidelines for cholesterol screening based on family history. Among children whose family history wasn't known, 9.5% had high cholesterol -- with 1.7% of those children requiring medication to treat the condition.

Screening all children for cholesterol, rather than just those with a family history, will uncover many more cases of the condition that can be treated early to prevent heart disease later in life, the authors said. Statin therapy has been shown to be safe and effective in lowering LDL cholesterol (the bad kind of cholesterol) levels in children.

Moreover, the authors wrote: "...the added and undeniable benefit of identifying and screening parents and other first-degree relatives as a result to finding elevated LDL levels in their children could lead to the prevention of premature cardiac events in adults that may have otherwise gone undiagnosed."

-- Shari Roan

Photo: More than 13 million Americans are taking statins to lower their cholesterol and stave off heart disease. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

Dentists? They're strangers to 1 in 4 California kids

July 7, 2010 | 12:14 pm

Exam It's not a pretty picture, the overall state of dental care for California's kids. That's because too many of them -- one-quarter, to be exact -- don't have it. Yep. One in 4 have never even been to a dentist.

That attention-grabbing statistic is from a dental-care study released Wednesday and published in the July issue of the journal Health Affairs. It analyzed care -- or, rather, lack thereof -- for children ages 11 and under in the so-called Golden State.

The researchers, from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California HealthCare Foundation, found that the picture is especially bleak for Latino and African American kids, regardless of whether they have private insurance or public insurance (Medicaid for the Children's Health Insurance Program). 

The abstract of the study states:

"Poor oral health has important implications for the healthy development of children. Children in Medicaid, especially Latinos and African Americans, experience high rates of tooth decay, yet they visit dentists less often than privately insured children. Even Latino and African American children with private insurance are less likely than white children to visit dentists and have longer intervals between dental visits. Furthermore, Latino and African American children in Medicaid are more likely than white children in Medicaid to have longer intervals between visits. These findings raise concerns about Medicaid’s ability to address disparities in dental care access and, more broadly, in health care."

That seems safe to say.

The full study, Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Dental Care for Publicly Insured Children, can be accessed through the California HealthCare Foundation website.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo credit: Getty Images

TV and children: Ads for fast food are up, ads for sweets and cookies are down

July 5, 2010 |  1:30 pm

Children television TV isn’t the same as it used to be, especially when it comes to children’s shows.

Though friendly faces such as Mr. Rogers and Barney the dinosaur used to be popular among kids, hyper-active animated samurais and brightly colored creatures from the Gabba gang now rule the small screen.

The same can be said about television food advertisements. Something has definitely changed…

Using television rating data from Nielsen Media Research for 2003, 2005 and 2007, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago analyzed trends in exposure to food advertising by age and race for children and adolescents, and came up with some interesting findings.

Whereas in 2003, cereal was the most frequently seen food product in kids' food advertisements, by 2007 fast food ads were the most frequently seen ads for children of all ages.

Why is this not shocking?

On a more optimistic note, however, the study found that the overall number of food ads seen daily fell rather drastically from 2003 to 2007, especially among audiences aged 2 to 5 and 6 to 11 years old. (The number of candy bar and cookie ads also fell in all age categories, a statistic that is sure to make mothers happy.)

The study, which placed viewers into one of three categories by age — 2 to 5, 6 to 11, and 12 to 15 --  also looked at their exposure to food ads by race. African American children in all age categories in all three years of ratings saw more food ads per day than their white counterparts, the scientists found.

Further troubling was the seesaw change in food advertising trends, in which a victory in one area signaled a defeat in another.  For example, although the greatest percentage increase in beverage ad exposure was for bottled water (Yay for health!), exposure to diet soft drink ads also increased significantly, just not as much.

“It’s a little disturbing,” said Lisa Powell, lead author of the study and associate professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “On the one hand, the number of advertisements selling sweets and soft drinks to kids has decreased quite substantially -- but on the other hand, you see that the number of ads for diet soda drinks, and racial targeting has also increased.”

Planning to take the study further, Powell said that she will now add 2009’s ratings into the mix. And she  wants to start monitoring the nutritional contents of products advertised to children.

The study is published online in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

-- Jessie Schiewe

Photo: By 2007, fast food ads were the most seen ads for children of all ages. Credit: Tim Boyle / Getty Images

Emergency room visits linked to underage drinking are thought to jump over the July 4th holiday

July 3, 2010 |  9:00 am

Most July 4th-centric health warnings involve fireworks and the nightmarish consequences of setting off pyrotechnics -- death, loss of limbs, severe burns, etc.

L3159anc But the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration wants to warn people that that's not the only potential danger of the weekend. Hospital visits that involve underage drinking jump over the three-day Fourth of July weekend by a lot.

On a typical day in July 2008, 502 emergency room visits in the U.S. were linked with underage drinking, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, which monitors drug-related hospital emergency department visits in the U.S.

But on the weekend of the 4th, those numbers jumped to 938 visits per day, an increase of 87%.

"Underage drinking is not a harmless right of passage," said SAMHSA administrator Pamela Hyde in a news release. "It has far-reaching consequences. In addition to emergency department visits, injuries, arrests and embarrassment, 5,000 deaths in people under age 21 are linked to alcohol each year."

The agency, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides information on how to help prevent underage drinking.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: Underage drinking can end in an emergency room visit. Credit: Oliver Lang / AFP/Getty Images

Black and Latino males twice as likely to have poor health

June 30, 2010 |  8:17 am

Black Latino Men health Given the inequality in healthcare in the United States, it's no surprise that some groups of people suffer far worse health outcomes than people with better resources. But if there is one group that has been especially overlooked in this equation, it's black and Latino boys. The major factor in their poor health, according to a new report by the California Endowment, is where they live. Growing up in poor and stressful neighborhoods with limited healthcare resources leads to poor health.

According to the findings in the report:

  • The odds of poor health outcomes for boys and men of color are more than two times higher than for white boys and men in California.
  • Latino boys are 4.1 times more likely than white boys to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • African-American boys are 2.5 times more likely.
  • Latinos are 3.1 times more likely to have limited access to health care and 4.8 times more likely to lack health insurance.
  • Asthma disproportionately affects children who live in poorer neighborhoods.
    Black young men have a homicide rate 16 times greater than that of young white men.
  • African-American and Latino children are 3.5 times more likely to grow up in poverty compared to whites.

Poorer neighborhoods mean less access to stores selling health foods, fewer parks and safe places to run and play in and fewer social networks to promote health and safety.

The California Endowment has launched a 10-year initiative, called Building Healthy Communities, to improve the health of men and boys of color by making strategic improvements in the communities and neighborhoods in which they live. In the report, the group identifies a handful of successful programs to improve the lives of men of color already in place in the state that could be applied on a larger scale -- and why implementing these programs statewide cannot wait.
-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Carlos Chavez  /  Los Angeles Times

Pregnant moms living near cellphone towers: No worries, study says

June 22, 2010 |  4:02 pm

Expectant parents may have one less thing to worry about. British researchers say a new study shows that the children of women who live near cellphone towers during pregnancy do not have an increased risk of childhood cancer.

Cell tower no risk for childhood cancer The researchers, from Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, identified all 1,926 cases of childhood cancers in Britain from 1999 to 2001. In 529 cases, either the mother’s whereabouts during pregnancy or the radio-frequency exposure from nearby cellphone towers could not be determined. Each of the remaining 1,397 cases was matched with four healthy children of the same age and gender. All of the kids had similar demographic characteristics.

The team also gathered detailed data about all 81,781 cellphone towers that were operational in the country during that time, including each tower’s location, height, output power and how many antennas it had.

Then they crunched the numbers. In virtually every permutation of their calculations, there was no correlation between the cellphone towers and the cancer cases.

For instance, the mothers whose children were diagnosed with cancer lived an average of 1,173 yards from a cellphone tower while they were pregnant -- statistically indistinguishable from the 1,211 yards that separated the other pregnant women from their nearest cellphone towers. Tallying up the total power output of all cellphone towers within 766 yards of each pregnant woman’s home, they found that both groups had nearly the same exposure -- 2.89 kilowatts for the mothers of cancer victims and 3.00 kilowatts for the other mothers.

Only one of their models revealed a difference that was statistically significant, though just barely. In that case, higher radio-frequency exposure was associated with a reduced risk of cancer of the brain or central nervous system. (This result calls to mind a mouse study from last year that found that electromagnetic radiation from cellphones actually protected mice from Alzheimer’s.) The results were published online Tuesday by the British Medical Journal.

The British researchers admitted their study would have been stronger if there had been some way to determine the actual radiation exposure for each pregnant woman instead of relying on mathematical models. They also would have liked to have tracked the exposure of babies after they were born, but the necessary data weren’t available. Still, they said that if the cellphone towers had doubled the risk for these childhood cancers, the odds that their study would have picked up on it were greater than 90%.

In an editorial, John Bithell of the University of Oxford’s Childhood Cancer Research Group wrote that the study was convincing.

“Clinicians should reassure patients not to worry about proximity to mobile phone masts,” they wrote. “Moving away from a mast, with all its stresses and costs, cannot be justified on health grounds in light of current evidence.”

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Cellphone towers. Credit: Sean Masterson / EPA

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Add breast-feeding to the protect-a-newborn checklist. (One Kardashian has)

June 22, 2010 | 10:18 am

InfantNewborns need adults to protect them not just from obvious risks such as car accidents, falls and well-meaning toddlers who want to carry the baby, but also less obvious risks, such as infections. That amounts to more than simply a washing of hands. Everyone might not know this, but Kourtney Kardashian? Well, she might. (More on that later.)

A study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics parses the data on more than 4,000 infants and their risk of infections.

The researchers, based in the Netherlands, write in their conclusion:

"Exclusive breastfeeding until the age of 4 months followed by partial breastfeeding was associated with a significant reduction of respiratory and gastrointestinal infectious diseases in infants. Exclusive breastfeeding until the age of 6 months tended to be more protective than exclusive breastfeeding until the age of 4 months and partially thereafter."

That is, the researchers couldn't say for sure that 6 months is better, but they're pretty sure it is. The results aren't especially surprising but rather more of an effort to gain data on the benefits of breast-feeding. And you know how we love data ...

The researchers recommend policies that encourage exclusive breast-feeding for at least four months. They're pretty sure six months would be better. 

Here's the breast-feeding study; a guide to breast-feeding, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and an explanation of the Kardashian sister reference.

Apparently, the sisters are famous, and thus people pay attention to them: The Kardashian phenomenon. So, having a baby? Note Kourtney's position; Kim's stance is still a little unclear.

— Tami Dennis

Photo: A mother lends some extra protection. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha

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Killings in the neighborhood take toll on young minds

June 18, 2010 |  8:08 pm

In the week that a homicide has occurred on their block, school-aged African American kids in predominately low-income neighborhoods suffer a steep slide in verbal and language skills that are key to reading, learning and thriving, a new study has found.

The study found that faced with similar levels of mayhem in their neighborhoods, Latino children did not appear to experience significant declines in academic performance. And slayings in study neighborhoods populated by white children were so rare the study could not discern an effect.

The effect was seen among African American children even when they were not directly exposed to the violence, suggesting that the fear and anxiety caused by proximity to an act of violence can, in some communities, ripple outward across social networks and disrupt the intellectual circuitry of entire neighborhoods. In neighborhoods where violence is endemic, the study suggests that children's academic progress can be severely stunted.

"The pattern of findings is consistent with the literature on acute stress disorder, which is defined as a response to a threatening event that induces fear, helplessness or horror," writes Patrick Sharkey, a New York University sociologist and author of the study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Among other symptoms are reduced awareness and difficulties in concentration for a period last at least two days and as long as one month after the stressor."

The study combined several databases to arrive at its striking findings. It cross-checked data on all reported homicides between 1984 and 2002 in Chicago neighborhoods with children's performance on cognitive tests administered in the course of two University of Michigan studies: the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, and a three-city study of welfare, children and families (of which only Chicago-based children were scrutinized). 

Chicago's 6,041 homicides recorded during that period afforded lots of opportunities to discern the effects of such violence on children who lived on the block where it took place and within the census tract of the crime. Some of those assessments of language and verbal skills took place within days of the violence. Others happened to have been administered a week or later after the event.

The result allowed Sharkey to discern not only a proximity effect of neighborhood violence -- that the cognitive function of black children closer to a killing was more significantly affected than that of children farther away. The results also showed a temporal effect -- that in the days after a homicide, the effect of the violence on cognitive performance was dramatic. But a week after a slaying, African American schoolchildren began to regain their cognitive composure.

In the days after a slaying, however, the effects on children who lived nearby was profound and far-reaching. The performance of these African American children slid dramatically on several tests that are reliable predictors of a child's academic performance in the long term. In total, data from some 1,100 African American children 5 to 17 were used in the study.

For a helpful guide to the lasting effects that witnessing a horrific event can have, check out this well-written article. If a child you know has witnessed violence, check out this site, and this helpful guide to choosing a mental health professional who can help. 

--Melissa Healy

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Jewelry seems too risky; maybe we should buy kids some string

June 17, 2010 | 11:00 am

Supplies There's much to be said for those craft-your-own friendship bracelets.

In the wake of recalls of cadmium-tainted kids'  jewelry from Wal-Mart and Claire's, Good Housekeeping has done its own tests. The magazine's research institute tested kids' jewelry from Wal-Mart and Claire's, and also Target, for heavy metal content. All topped the government's recommended lead limits. And (surprise!) cadmium was plentiful as well. Here's the Good Housekeeping report.

And here's some recent kids' jewelry advice from the chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:

We have proof that lead in children’s jewelry is dangerous and was pervasive in the marketplace. To prevent young children from possibly being exposed to lead, cadmium or any other hazardous heavy metal, take the jewelry away.

On the up side, summer has just started. With the right supplies, your kids could be doling out lead- and cadmium-free bracelets by the dozens come fall. Here's how to make a friendship bracelet.

-- Tami Dennis

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Photo credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times

Earlier school start time linked with more teen car crashes, study finds

June 9, 2010 |  5:44 pm

Extra sleep could make students more alert for class, and also for driving. Car crash rates were lower in an area where high school classes started later, according to a new study.

Kswu48nc The study, presented today at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in San Antonio, compared crash rates in two Virginia towns: Virginia Beach, where high school classes started at 7:20 a.m., and Chesapeake, where classes started at 8:40 a.m. Teen crash rates in 2008 were about 41% higher in Virginia Beach than in Chesapeake.

Car crash statistics were compiled from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. For every 1,000 teen drivers in Virginia Beach, there were 65.4 car crashes, versus 46.2 crashes for every 1,000 teens in Chesapeake. The neighboring cities share similar demographics.

When researchers broke down the accidents by the time of day they occurred, they found that afternoon crash rates were higher than morning crash rates in both cities. The school day wrapped up in Virginia Beach around 2 p.m., and the afternoon crash rate there was highest from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. School got out in Chesapeake about 3:40 p.m., and afternoon crash rates there were highest from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Overall afternoon crash rates for teens were higher in Virginia Beach than in Chesapeake.

"We believe that high schools should take a close look at having later start times to align with circadian rhythms in teens and to allow for longer sleep times," said Dr. Robert Vorona, the study's lead author. Vorona, associate professor of internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va., warned that the study shows a link between school times and crash rates but does not imply cause and effect. He added, "Too many teens in this country obtain insufficient sleep. A burgeoning literature suggests that this may lead to problematic consequences, including mood disorders, academic difficulties and behavioral issues."

— Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times


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