Tag Archives: child health

The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy — August 2014


The August issue of The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy does not have a specific theme. The nine articles address a number of quite interesting issues, among them:

  • How existential psychotherapy can offer powerful insights to patients recovering from severe mental disorders such as psychosis
  • How a preference in athletics for natural talent over artificial enhancements (such as doping) may reflect “unsavory beliefs about ‘nature’s aristocracy’ ”
  • How rich, educated, white males may be just as, if not more, vulnerable to threats posed by physician-assisted suicide and voluntary active euthanasia than members of marginalized groups
  • When the decision is made not to administer artificial hydration and nutrition, can the responsibility for the patient’s death be attributed to the underlying pathology, even when that is not the cause of death
  • The right to procreate: Is it possible for prospective mothers to wrong prospective fathers by bearing their child

Note that the articles in this journal are not open access and that I have added the emphasis in the following extracts and abstracts. Read more


Overdiagnosed and overprotected children

Helicopter parentsThere’s been much discussion for years now on whether children are overmedicated for behavioral problems. A very thoughtful report was just published by The Hastings Center: “Troubled Children: Diagnosing, Treating, and Attending to Context.” It asks the underlying question: Are increased rates of diagnosis and treatment with drugs appropriate or are healthily children simply being labeled as sick and given drugs to alter their moods and behavior? (The report is available online as a PDF file.)

With that on my mind, I was struck by a comment from Tanya Byron, an English psychologist, writer, and child therapist,

[W]e have to really listen and think about why a child is telling us something. The behaviour of children and young people is fundamental to a well-functioning society, because they can tell us what is going on more honestly than we tell ourselves.

If there really is an increase in mental disorders among children, what does this tell us? If there isn’t, what does giving psychopharmaceuticals to four-year-olds tell us about ourselves? And could we be honest about what it says?

Stigma: We are afraid to lose the competition of life

Byron also made a good point about the stigma of mental health: (emphasis added in the following quotations)

[I]t would be helpful if we could accept that mental illness and physical illness all lie on a continuum, and sometimes bits of our physical body don’t work very well, and sometimes bits of our mental body don’t work very well – and that that’s OK, and it’s actually not an indication of failure. If you break your leg, you are not going to suddenly be seen as less successful than you were before you had broken your leg. So why do we have this stigma around mental health?

… We are scared of people seeing us as somehow not the person they thought we were, as if life is a competition and the only way that you win it is by being completely invincible and robust and never being fragile or vulnerable. That is just ludicrous. That is why I like kids: because they remind us that life really isn’t like that.

On not letting children be children

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Baby RB, Baby Isaiah, Baby Joseph

Baby Joseph MaraachliThese days, both the oldest and the youngest die in hospitals.

Baby RB suffered from a rare subtype of a genetic neuromuscular condition, congenital myasthenic syndrome, and spent his entire life – he was not yet two – on a respirator. After a protracted legal dispute between his health care providers in the UK and his parents (who disagreed on what should be done), he was allowed to die

Baby Isaiah was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck after 40 hours of labor. He suffered severe and irreversible brain damage. He was kept alive for four and a half months. Following a legal dispute with health care providers in Canada, his parents agreed to allow their child to die.

The current case in the spotlight is Baby Joseph Maraachli. He suffers from a “progressively deteriorating neurological condition” of unknown origin and is in a permanent vegetative state. He is 13 months old. A court in Ontario ruled that the health center treating Baby Joseph could remove the breathing tube keeping him alive. The parents have transferred the child to a hospital in St. Louis, where he will receive a tracheotomy. The story has received extensive coverage in Canada and is just beginning to show up in the US press.

According to Reuters:

Rebecca Dresser, a professor of law and medical ethics at Washington University in St. Louis, said U.S. courts generally side with families in such cases that want to continue treatment for loved ones even in seemingly hopeless medical cases.

Dresser said similar end-of-life cases will likely become more common.

“Because of the growing concerns about costs, we’re going to see more of this,” she said.

Read more


It’s better not to have children

A research article in the journal Think enumerates the reasons it’s better not to have children.

Most people assume that having children is a rewarding exercise, even a necessary ingredient of a complete and happy life. But a cold hard look at the facts suggests otherwise.

Children rarely make a net contribution to a parent’s (self-assessed) levels of happiness (and remember, people tend to overestimate their happiness levels). In anonymous surveys, most parents report regretting having children. Seventy percent of people would not have had children if they knew what it would be like …. Only five percent of men and a third of women said having children improved their happiness levels ….

Studies have shown that while people’s happiness goes up when they are expecting a baby it sharply declines once the child is born. And the evidence is, the more children you have the more unhappy you are likely to be …. Happiness levels only start going back up after the last child leaves home ….

Some might think that after a lifetime of offspring-induced unhappiness you can at least look forward to an old age where your children care for you. But in the West the number who care full-time for their elderly parents is comparatively small. Not having children is probably a much better pension plan. When they reach old age ‘[t]he childless are more financially secure and in better health [than parents]’ ….

None of this makes child creation and rearing sound like a recipe for flourishing. It sounds like a major obstacle to a happy life, at least in the majority of cases.

Happy mother and child Read more


A doomed and dysfunctional medical culture

Newborn babyJ.D. Kleinke is a medical economist, health information industry pioneer, and author of the forthcoming Catching Babies. In a dramatic, powerful, and beautifully written post on The Health Care Blog, he captures the essence of what’s wrong with modern medicine.

Kleinke tells the story of Hannah, a family member. She is 39 weeks pregnant (a typical pregnancy is 38 weeks) and has been losing weight. Her baby is small, at the 7th percentile for fetal weight.

Hannah could be experiencing something called intrauterine growth restriction. If she is – and if she continues the pregnancy – her baby could suffer developmental delay and retardation. On the other hand, if she allows the hospital to induce labor, she could end up with a c-section and the numerous complications that often follow this procedure. “The blessing and the curse of modern medicine,” Kleinke writes, “from the NICU to the oncology unit, is its ability to stimulate its own demand, and obstetrical practice is the quintessence of this cost-curve-sustaining paradox.”

Medicalization, patient preference, and provider prejudice

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Wakefield study of vaccine/autism link is a fraud

Andrew Wakefield autism vaccines fraudThe British Medical Journal (BMJ) has published the first part of special series on Andrew Wakefield’s claim that vaccines cause autism. Turns out the whole thing was a fraud.

This is big news. There were over 1,300 stories in Google news by the end of the day today, and that’s just the beginning of the comments this story will attract. It’s not just the facts that make this big news: It appears Wakefield was employed by a lawyer who — before the study even began — planned a highly lucrative lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. (The facts, BTW, are backed up in 124 footnotes.) It’s also the highly emotional views of those who oppose vaccines, the tragedy that there’s no explanation for the increasing prevalence of autism, and the questions raised about whether we can trust published medical research.

That last one’s a biggie. And it comes in the wake of Jonah Lehrer’s New Yorker article on how medical researchers are increasingly unable to replicate the results of important studies. These are studies that determine medical practices. Outright fraud may be rare, but it’s a bit unnerving to confront a rampant lack of scientific evidence for matters that could determine life and death. Read more


Why the increase in mental health problems for college students?

Depressed college studentIn a recent NY Times article on the rising number of college students with mental health problems, there’s an interesting comment on why the numbers are increasing.

Experts say the trend is partly linked to effective psychotropic drugs (Wellbutrin for depression, Adderall for attention disorder, Abilify for bipolar disorder) that have allowed students to attend college who otherwise might not have functioned in a campus setting.

There is also greater awareness of traumas scarcely recognized a generation ago and a willingness to seek help for those problems, including bulimia, self-cutting and childhood sexual abuse.

The greater awareness of trauma doesn’t surprise me, but the first explanation hadn’t occurred to me. I’d like to see the evidence. My first take on psychotropic drugs for children is that they’re overdone, but I’m willing to be convinced otherwise. If this is true – that more students can attend college because of the drugs they take — then that’s good news.

This particular article has very little information on the students themselves. It’s mostly about how difficult it is for understaffed college counseling centers to cope with the increase. Read more


Updates: Commercialization of infidelity, medical rivalry, conservatives on climate change, football concussions

Some interesting things I found today that relate to previous posts. Emphasis in quotations has been added by me.

Re: Are married people happier? Are parents?

Ashley Madison websiteAn amusing discussion by Will Davies on the economics of selling infidelity. Ashley Madison is a discreet dating service for people who are already in a relationship.

Of course infidelity is as old as fidelity. But it is interesting to consider what happens once it is administered and economised. Firstly, it must surely become considerably less fun, as its taboo is lifted. I don’t doubt that there are people many years into marriage who seek out infidelity in a mundane way, to rival the search for other consumer goods; they may be the initial target of Ashley Madison. But beyond these people, infidelity is being parcelled up as safe and predictable, for those who presumably did their best to steer clear of it, until (for whatever unforeseen reason) they couldn’t resist it. Like hipsterism, the promise of administered infidelity is to have one’s cake and eat it, to experience the rush of living on the margins without any of the risks that once went with that.

Source: the creative destruction of marriage (potlatch) Read more


Michelle Chappel – No Place Like Home


World Homeless Day is on October 10, 2010 — 10/10/10. My friend Michelle Chappel Millis has written a song and made a video to support this cause. It’s called “No Place Like Home.”

Michelle and I encourage all viewers to share the video – here’s the YouTube link – as a way to raise awareness of the problem of homelessness. If you’re so moved, please contribute to registered charities in your locality.

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Lobbying against formula for babies

Baby drinking from bottleHere’s one small example of what lobbyists can accomplish in Washington.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides formula and food to low-income mothers of small children. Unlike food stamps, WIC is not an entitement. Congress grants WIC a finite amount of money. When that money runs out, the cupboard is bare.

Formula makers are increasingly adding “functional ingredients” – omega-3s, antioxidants, probiotics – to their products. This allows them to charge more. For WIC, that increased cost means formula will cost almost $100 million more.

The budget for WIC is already inadequate. In the past, there’s only been enough money for about half the number of eligible mothers and children. If the cost of infant formula increases, that budget will buy even less, which means even fewer mothers can participate.

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Childhood obesity and will power

Childhood obesity socioeconomic classAn article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that the rate at which obesity is increasing has slowed down and may actually have plateaued. Is this good news? It would be if obesity was descreasing for everyone, at both ends of the economic spectrum. But what if obesity is decreasing for those who can afford healthy food and still increasing for those who can’t?

Research presented at the recent International Congress on Obesity showed that childhood obesity has stabilized or decreased in many countries over the last ten years. Rates are up in China, Vietnam and Germany, but have decreased or stabilized in Australia, Denmark, England, France, Greece, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland, and the US. In India, rates have stabilized for boys, but are still rising for girls.

When you dig a little deeper into the numbers, however, there’s a difference between the children of the rich and the children of the poor. An English study, for example, found that obesity was decreasing for 5-to-10-year-olds from higher socioeconomic groups, but was still increasing in lower socioeconomic groups. When the two sets of data balance each other out, it creates the appearance of a plateau.

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Teens benefit from later school start time

Teen asleep on library floorAn excellent, extended overview in the LA Times on studies that indicate a later school start time is better for teen health.

The medical reasons:

As kids approach puberty, scientists now know, there is a two-hour shift in when their bodies release melatonin, the hormone that causes sleepiness. As a result, teens and preteens find it impossible to fall asleep until about 11 p.m., even if they try to go to bed earlier. Yet teenagers still need an average of 9.25 hours of slumber each night.

On top of the shift in natural sleeping and waking times, … there is also a delay in when a severe dip in alertness occurs during the early morning hours. In adults, this low point hits between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m.; in adolescents, it falls between about 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. That means that, while their alarm clocks are telling teens to get out of bed and demanding that their brains perform, their bodies are screaming at them to keep sleeping.

The melatonin shift may happen as early as age 10 or 11.

Here are the health issues of early start times:

Overtired kids, studies suggest, struggle with depression. … In addition to the mood, behavior and learning issues, scientists are starting to uncover more subtle ways that such chronic sleep loss can hurt kids. Some studies, for example, show that sleep deprivation compromises the immune system. Others suggest that, with too little sleep, the body releases higher levels of hormones that induce hunger, possibly contributing to growing rates of obesity.

Tired teens may also be more vulnerable to falling asleep at the wheel. … To stay awake, young people often turn to coffee, soda, energy drinks and other caffeinated beverages.

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Bullying, education, and compassion

Phoebe PrinceNew York Times opinion piece on bullying, stressing the importance of education to change behavior.

It’s important, first, to recognize that while cellphones and the Internet have made bullying more anonymous and unsupervised, there is little evidence that children are meaner than they used to be. Indeed, there is ample research — not to mention plenty of novels and memoirs — about how children have always victimized one another in large and small ways, how often they are oblivious to the rights and feelings of others and how rarely they defend a victim.

In a 1995 study in Canada, researchers placed video cameras in a school playground and discovered that overt acts of bullying occurred at an astonishing rate of 4.5 incidents per hour. Just as interesting, children typically stood idly by and watched the mistreatment of their classmates — apparently, the inclination and ability to protect one another and to enforce a culture of tolerance does not come naturally. These are values that must be taught.

Yet, in American curriculums, a growing emphasis on standardized test scores as the primary measure of “successful” schools has crowded out what should be an essential criterion for well-educated students: a sense of responsibility for the well-being of others. …

As an essential part of the school curriculum, we have to teach children how to be good to one another, how to cooperate, how to defend someone who is being picked on and how to stand up for what is right.

Read more


Links of Interest: Modern Reproduction

Should This Be the Last Generation? (The New York Times)

Octomom babiesA provocative essay by philosopher Peter Singer on whether we should reproduce, with David Benatar’s Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence as a starting point.

Have you ever thought about whether to have a child? If so, what factors entered into your decision? Was it whether having children would be good for you, your partner and others close to the possible child, such as children you may already have, or perhaps your parents? … Are the interests of a future child a reason for bringing that child into existence? And is the continuance of our species justifiable in the face of our knowledge that it will certainly bring suffering to innocent future human beings?

‘Last Generation?’: A Response (The New York Times)

There was a huge response to Singer’s essay, and he replies in this article.

Even if relatively few people engage in ethical thinking before deciding whether to reproduce, the decisions are important for those who do. And since public policies affect the birthrate, we ought to be giving some thought to whether it is, other things being equal, good for there to be fewer people. Of course, in our present environmental crisis other things are not equal, but the underlying question of the value of bringing human beings into the world should still play a role in decisions that affect the size of future generations.

Study: Kids of Lesbian Parents Are Well-Adjusted (WebMD)

”Contrary to assertions from people opposed to same-sex parenting, we found that the 17-year-olds scored higher in psychological adjustment in areas of competency and lower in problem behaviors than the normative age-matched sample of kids raised in traditional families with a mom and a dad.” … How to explain the good results? “These are not accidental children,” Gartrell tells WebMD.

9/11 link to rise in male foetal death rate, study says (BBC News)

The stress caused by the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center may have led to an increase in miscarriages of male fetuses. … [This] support[s] the theory of “communal bereavement” … acute mental distress related to a major national event, like 9/11, even if there is no direct connection to those who died or were involved in these events. Pregnant mothers are thought to be particularly prone to this experience, as are unborn baby boys.

Read more


Links of Interest: Sperm donors, egg donors, and surrogates

Are Sperm Donors Really Anonymous Anymore? (Slate)

Egg and sperm fertilizationIn an age of sophisticated genetic testing, the concept of anonymity is rapidly fading. With some clever sleuthing—tests that can track down ancestral origins, donor numbers, and bits of biographical information—parents and offspring can find out the donors. “With DNA testing and Google, there’s no such thing as anonymity anymore,” says Wendy Kramer, the founder of the Donor Sibling Registry. “Donors are choosing anonymity because they’re not educated. If they were properly educated on the consequences, then many would choose not to donate.” …

[I]t will become increasingly difficult for a donor to hide, which means the moral decision of whether to trace him and ignore his request for anonymity will rest less on the banks and more on the parents and offspring. If DNA testing does become more ubiquitous, it may be that even a very few traits will make the men traceable. What will they do then? wonders Kramer. “Create men without DNA?”

Mapping the God of Sperm (Newsweek)

[Kirk] Maxey, 51, happens to be one of the most prolific sperm donors in the country. Between 1980 and 1994, he donated at a Michigan clinic twice a week. He’s looked at the records of his donations, multiplied by the number of individual vials each donation produced, and estimated the success of each vial resulting in a pregnancy. By his own calculations, he concluded that he is the biological father of nearly 400 children, spread across the state [Michigan] and possibly the country.

Doctor Accused of Inseminating Patient with Own Sperm (WPIX)

A fertility doctor based in Connecticut is accused of using his own sperm – instead of a patient’s husband’s – to impregnate a woman who ultimately gave birth to twins. … According to court records, after the child was born both parents – one of whom is African American and the other Caucasian – were shocked at the baby’s fair complexion. … “DNA testing performed at the suggestion of the twins’ pediatrician showed that [the wife] was the mother but that [the husband] was not the biological father.” … Dr. Ramaley claims the whole ordeal was an accident.

Sperm Banks Can Be Sued Under Product Liability Laws, Federal Judge Rules (Law.com)

In the first decision of its kind, a federal judge has ruled that a sperm bank may be sued under product liability laws for failing to detect that a sperm donor had a genetic defect. … Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas N. O’Neill Jr. cleared the way for a 13-year-old mentally retarded girl from Pennsylvania to sue a New York sperm bank under the theory that the sperm used to conceive her had a defect known as “Fragile X,” a mutation known to cause a syndrome of maladies that include mental retardation and behavioral disorders. … [In response to the mother’s inquiries,] doctors at [sperm bank] Idant continued to assure her that Brittany’s developmental problems were not related to Fragile X and couldn’t possibly be the result of the sperm that was purchased through Idant.

$35,000 for One of My Eggs? (Hastings Center Bioethics Forum)

My eggs are ripe for the taking – I am a 22-year-old female Yale graduate. On a semi-regular basis in college, I opened the school newspaper to find advertisements soliciting my demographic to donate. … Nearly all offered high sums of money for prospective donors, ranging from $5,000 to $35,000. … High payments could lead to “undue inducement and exploitation” that cause women to discount the physical and emotional risks associated with donation. Such payments could also lead prospective donors to conceal medical information relevant to their biological offspring, make donor oocytes available only to the very wealthy, commodify gametes and devalue human life, or promote the birth of persons with traits deemed “socially desirable.” … In addition to physical risks, young women [donors] face psychological ones, such as stress caused by feelings of attachment to the eggs or resulting offspring.

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My Daddy’s name is donor

My Daddy's name is donorWhat’s it like to have an anonymous sperm donor for a father?

Many people think that because these young people resulted from wanted pregnancies, how they were conceived doesn’t matter to them. But … when they are adults, sperm donor offspring struggle with serious losses from being purposefully denied knowledge of, or a relationship with, their sperm donor biological fathers.

That’s the conclusion of a provocative research study that compared adults fathered by sperm donors with adults adopted as infants or raised by biological parents. It’s estimated that 30,000 to 60,000 children each year are fathered by sperm donors, and another 6,000 children are conceived by egg donation. By now there may be as many as a million American adults with a sperm donor for a genetic dad.

What’s not to like about a donor daddy?

Publicity for this study – fifteen major findings that were featured — included some neutral findings (donor conception is not “just like” adoption). But the emphasis was on decidedly negative conclusions.

The study reveals that, on average, young adults conceived through sperm donation are hurting more, are more confused, and feel more isolated from their families. They fare worse than their peers raised by biological parents on important outcomes such as depression, delinquency, and substance abuse.

Among the major findings:

• Young adults conceived through sperm donation (or “donor offspring”) experience profound struggles with their origins and identities.

• Family relationships for donor offspring are more often characterized by confusion, tension, and loss.

• Donor offspring often worry about the implications of interacting with – and possibly forming intimate relationships with – unknown, blood-related family members.

• Donor offspring are significantly more likely than those raised by their biological parents to struggle with serious, negative outcomes such as delinquency, substance abuse, and depression, even when controlling for socio-economic and other factors.

Read more


The new Chinese middle class and syphilis

Chinese middle classIn his recent book on the financial crisis, John Lanchester mentions China’s unprecedented economic growth, which has created a “hugely expanding, highly consuming new middle class.”

China’s [middle class] went from 174 million to 806 million, arguably the greatest economic achievement anywhere on Earth, ever. Chinese personal income grew by 6.6 percent a year from 1978 to 2004, four times as fast as the world average. Thirty million Chinese children are taking piano lessons. … Hundreds of millions of people are measurably richer and have new expectations to match.

The combination of more wealth and Chinese regard for socially correct behavior has resulted in an increase in sexually-transmitted diseases. As a recent issue of The New England Journal of Medicine points out (emphasis added):

After China’s economy became increasingly market-based in the 1980s, the growing numbers of Chinese businessmen with money and young women without money translated into expanded demand and supply for the country’s commercial sex industry. Meanwhile, Chinese social structures influence the effectiveness of syphilis-control programs in two important but countervailing ways: although newly established advocacy organizations for marginalized groups provide a foundation for expanding such programs, the social stigma associated with high-risk behaviors is a powerful deterrent to widespread syphilis-screening efforts.

Social “deviants” don’t show up for testing

The social stigma is associated with behaviors that have the greatest risk of contracting syphilis: selling or buying sex and men having sex with men. To get tested for syphilis might suggest that one’s behavior had been less than socially acceptable.

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Is it OK to eat and drink during labor?

Woman in laborSometimes childbirth – the hours spent in labor – can last a long time. You can get thirsty. Or hungry. Is it OK to eat and drink during labor? If not, why not?

In any childbirth scenario there’s always the possibility that surgery – and general anesthesia — will be necessary. Under anesthesia there’s a risk of “aspiration” – inhaling something into the lungs other than air. That’s why US medical societies have said no, you shouldn’t eat or drink during labor.

It turns out there’s very little data on the dangers of aspiration. This has led other groups to advocate a more liberal policy, arguing that the psychological and physical benefits of food and drink outweigh the risks. Joan Tranmer, PhD, RN, coauthor of a review of the evidence, commented:

For low-risk women in labor, they should be offered the choice to eat and drink. … Now, most women in active labor are not going to want to eat, but some may find comfort in some toast or tea.

It’s a comfort thing

Before the mid-1940s, medical wisdom advocated food and fluids for the mother-to-be, since she needed to maintain all the stamina she could muster for the upcoming effort of delivery. This changed in 1946 when Dr. Curtis Mendelson first described aspiration of stomach contents during general anesthesia. This was a rare event during scheduled surgeries, since patients had been told not to eat beforehand. But going into labor is much less predictable, and problems arose more frequently with obstetric anesthesia. Offering toast was no longer an option.

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Do children really need chocolate baby formula?

Should parents use chocolate milk to bribe toddlers to eat their vegetables? Mead Johnson’s chocolate-flavored “Toddler Formula” has received a decidedly mixed reaction from blogging moms, ranging from outrage to gratitude.

Here’s a comment from nutritionist Marion Nestle:

But really, aren’t you worried that your baby might be suffering from a chocolate deficit problem? Don’t you love the idea of year-old infants drinking sugar-sweetened chocolate milk? And laced with “omega-3s for brain development, 25 nutrients for healthy growth, and prebiotics to support the immune system”? What’s next, genetically modifying moms to produce chocolate breast milk?

Obesity begins before the age of two

Almost one thirDrinking from a baby bottled of children in the US over the age of two are already overweight or obese. For low-income children the statistics are even worse. Michelle Obama is promoting her admirable Let’s Move Campaign. It advocates better product labeling, improved nutrition in school lunches, more opportunities for children to be physically active, and better access to high-quality food in all neighborhoods. Unfortunately that won’t be enough.

Studies show that attempts to modify behavior and nutrition, whether at school or in the home, have very limited success in preventing weight gain in children. The New England Journal of Medicine reports (emphasis added):

At as early as 3 years of age, obese children have elevated levels of inflammatory markers that have been linked to heart disease that is manifested later in life. To be a truly comprehensive and successful program … the Let’s Move Campaign must stimulate prevention efforts targeting the youngest Americans – those under 2 years of age and pre-schoolers. Indeed, prevention must start as early as possible, since school-age children already have an unacceptably high prevalence of obesity and associated medical conditions.

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Babies are individuals: Don’t fret the milestones

Nice post on Slate about how developmental milestones can be meaningless and create needless worry.

A little less than a century ago, Arnold Gesell, a developmental scientist at Yale, proposed that motor skills were related to the maturing of the brain. This led to the pronouncement that all infants would pass through the same steps of development – sitting, walking, talking – in the same order and at the same time.

Babies are remarkably adaptable

It turns out that the theory was just plain wrong. Not only were the developmental milestones inaccurate, but so was the fundamental assumption that muscular activity is strictly a function of how the brain matures.

Human beings have a remarkable ability to adapt to their environment. That’s what has allowed humans to thrive in climates from the tropics to the Arctic. Babies develop in response to the culture and environment in which they’re raised.

One study found that mothers of different cultural backgrounds, living in the same city at the same time, could accurately predict the development of motor skills in their infants, even though the milestones for each group differed by several months.

A total of 124 mothers from three cultural groups living in the same British city were asked to give the ages at which they expected their one-month-old infants to achieve three motor milestones. Jamaican mothers expected their infants to sit and walk much earlier than their English and Indian counterparts. The Indian mothers gave later estimates for crawling than those of the other two groups. The actual ages at which the abilities were attained closely reflected the cultural differences in expectations between the Jamaican and English mothers. Jamaican mothers were particularly accurate in predicting sitting age.

Here’s a trailer from the movie Babies, which follows four babies from four different cultures from birth to their first steps.

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Padded bikini bras for seven-year-olds

Padded bikini bra for kids

Source: Fox News

A UK clothing chain, popular discount retailer Primark, reacted swiftly to criticism of its padded bikini bras designed for girls as young as seven. The product has been withdrawn, and Primark announced it would donate any profits from the inappropriately sexualizing items to a children’s charity. The bikinis were selling for £4 ($6).

The British tabloid The Sun broke the story last week and featured it prominently day after day. It congratulated itself on “a victory for The Sun” when Primark announced it would no longer sell the item. Meanwhile, its front page headlines generated considerable sales and not just among readers who were concerned with protecting the innocence of childhood. More often than not, the headlines drew one’s attention to the “Paedo” (pedophile) angle on the story (as in “Paedo bikini banned” and “Paedo Heaven on High Street.”) The Sun is known for its coverage of issues such as Don’t grow up too soon, Miley, complete with photos that encourage the very behavior the text claims to criticize.

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Sesame Street’s When Families Grieve

Military father and children

Source: Rough Notes

One in 20 American children under the age of 15 experiences the death of a parent. For military families, the rate is even higher.

Tomorrow night (April 14) Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, will present an hour-long special on losing a parent. It airs on PBS at 8:00 PM ET/PT (check local listings).

Katie Couric will host the special. Her daughters were two and six years old when she lost her husband 12 years ago. The program, called When Families Grieve, is designed to aid communication between adults and children on this difficult subject.

Sesame’s outreach initiatives harness the power of the Sesame Street Muppets to aid the communication between adults and children through strategies and language that are child-appropriate and useful for the whole family.

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A raffle for free (human) eggs

In vitro fertilization

Source: Babble

At a London seminar promoting American donor eggs for infertile British women, a Virginia infertility clinic offered attendees the chance to win an American woman’s eggs. Also included was a free in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle (a $23,000 value). The reaction, on both sides of the Atlantic, was mixed.

According to The Washington Post, there has been “intense criticism from infertility experts, bioethicists and others in Britain and the United States, who likened the event to a crass, commercial come-on similar to a lottery, with the prize being a human body part.”

“We strongly have the view that using a raffle to determine who will receive treatment with donor eggs is inappropriate,” said a spokesman for the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, which regulates infertility care in Britain. “It trivializes altruistic donation, whether of eggs, sperm or embryos.”

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Baby Isaiah’s parents expect second child

There is some happy news for the parents of Isaiah May, who died earlier this month after being removed from life support. Isaiah’s mother, Rebecka, reports that she is now pregnant with her second child.

Baby Isaiah was born after 40 hours of labor with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, depriving his brain of oxygen. He was unable to breathe without a ventilator, and doctors determined that he was severely brain damaged. Born on October 24, 2009, his parents’ legal battle to keep him on life support received considerable publicity, especially in Canada. In the end, his parents agreed to remove their child from life support before being forced to do so by a legal court order.

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Actions surrounding the moment of death are highly symbolic

losing-a-childIn a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine entitled “Is It Always Wrong to Perform Futile CPR?”, a doctor describes the case of a baby boy who had been born with a large encephalocele on his forehead – a neural tube defect that allows the brain and its surrounding membrane to protrude outside the skull. The child survived surgery to remove the growth, but was left effectively brain dead (“neurologically devastated”).

The doctor, Robert Truog, a professor of medical ethics, anesthesia and pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, had cared for the boy when he was repeatedly admitted to the intensive care unit. The parents had been advised to limit the boy’s care to the relief of pain, but they insisted that doctors treat the child aggressively and do everything they could to keep him alive. The boy had survived the first two years of his life.

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Baby Isaiah May, October 24, 2009 – March 11, 2010

Source: The Vancouver Sun Baby Isaiah May was allowed to die today, in the arms of his parents. The child was surrounded by 10 family members, including a grandmother who had traveled from Washington State. Today was the date set for the next court appearance in the May’s attempt to keep their child alive. In… Read more


Baby Isaiah: February update

Source: The Windsor Star Four-month-old Baby Isaiah suffered irreversible brain damage at birth when his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. Medical authorities recommended that the child be disconnected from the ventilator that keeps him alive. Isaiah’s parents have sought to keep their child on life support through the legal system. See here and here… Read more


Baby Isaiah: Ethical dilemmas of modern medicine (1)

Source: The Province Isaiah James May was born last October in a small town (population 7,000) in Alberta, Canada. For Rebecka May, age 23, this was her first child. The pregnancy was normal, and both mother and child were healthy at the time of delivery. Labor was difficult, however. It went on for 40 hours,… Read more


Courtroom dogs comfort children, calm adults

Ellen O’Neill-Stephens is an attorney in Washington state. Her background includes prosecuting crimes against children – sexual assault, neglect, abuse and other serious crimes. Back in 2003, her household included her son Sean, who has cerebral palsy, and Jeeter, a trained service dog and companion to Sean. There were days when Sean was with a… Read more