Dr. Walt’s Take on the Health Headlines – June 4, 2008

Here are my takes on some of today’s health headlines.

If Dad is not involved in child care, can we blame the mom?

Here’s one the major news outlets haven’t touched.

Mothers’ behavior often determines how involved a father will be in raising their children, says new research. Investigators interviewed 97 couples, and found that fathers were far more involved in their infants’ care when they received active encouragement from the mother.

The couples were interviewed when they were still expecting and then followed up with 3 and a half months after the child was born. The researchers found that the mother’s encouragement and avoidance of criticism determined how involved the father was, regardless of their beliefs on fathers’ involvement in raising children.

One of the researchers said, “Mothers can be very encouraging to fathers, and open the gate to their involvement in child care, or be very critical, and close the gate. This is the first real evidence that mothers, through their behavior, act as gatekeepers by either fostering or curtailing how much fathers take part in caring for their baby.”

My Take? This is a very small study for such a big conclusion, however, it concurs with everything Barb and I learned when we wrote our book, His Brain, Her Brain: How divinely designed differences can strengthen your marriage.

When a wife respects, admires, and affirms her husband, he’ll bend over backwards to please and love her.

When a husband spends time with and loves a woman’s children, she gets a rush of the hormone, oxytocin, which makes her love him all the more.

Ah, our divinely designed differences make love and marriage all the sweeter.

How Old Is Too Old for Motherhood?

This essay asks, “So, how do you feel when you see … the ‘world’s oldest mom,’ 70-year-old Adriana Iliescu? Do you get all warm inside, or are you appalled? And do you believe it is medical progress to allow women to give birth long after they’ve become pensioners?”

Ms. Iliescu was the world’s oldest mother (and oldest single mom) when she gave birth to at 66 years and 230 days old – at least until Carmela Bousada in Spain delivered twins in December 2006, at the age of 66 years and 358 days.

My Take? Kids need, whenever possible, a mother and a father. Furthermore, in my opinion, when a child is an adolescent, they don’t need their parent(s) heading into their ninth decade. When it comes to proper parenting, we need to consider first the needs of the child. But, what do you think?

Florida Disabled Woman on Feeding Tube Could Become Next Terri Schiavo

According to LifeNews.com, a Florida woman who has been disabled by a stroke and is on a feeding tube could become the next Terri Schiavo. Karen Weber’s husband wants to have her feeding tube removed because he claims she is in a persistent vegetative state and will not recover.

Like Schiavo, Weber is unable to communicate her own medical treatment wishes and left no living will instructing doctors and family members. And, like Schiavo, her husband wants to end her life, and her mother wants her to live.

My Take? Should the feeding tube be removed, Karen will suffer the same kind of painful starvation and dehydration death that Terri suffered. Feeding and hydrating a patient are not just medical therapies, they are the most basic of providing compassionate care. To remove her hydration and nutrition is not compassionate care, it is murder.

Sweet Drinks: What’s Best for Kids?

WebMD Health News reports two new studies which have analyzed children’s drinking habits. One study shows that children and adolescents are drinking more juice and sugary drinks. The other study shows that children who drink 100% fruit juice are not more likely to be overweight than those who do not drink 100% fruit juice.

The first study shows that the number of calories children and adolescents (aged 2 to 19) get from sugar-sweetened drinks and 100% fruit juices is on the rise. Now, children and adolescents get 10% to 15% of total calories from sugar-sweetened beverages and 100% fruit juice.

The study also shows that many of these drinks are drunk in the home. On a typical weekday, 55% to 70% of sugar-sweetened drinks were guzzled at home.

The surprise, to me, was in the second study, which found that 100% fruit juice drinkers who drank more than 6 ounces had higher levels of carbohydrates, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, potassium, magnesium, and iron than those who did not drink 100% fruit juice.

Those who drank more than 6 ounces of 100% fruit juice also ate more whole fruit and less fat and added sugar than those who didn’t drink 100% juice.

My Take? Until there is more data on 100% fruit juice, I still back the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics which advises that children and adolescents limit 100% fruit juice to 4 to 6 ounces of fruit juice a day for children aged 1 to 6 and 8 to 12 ounces of fruit juice a day for children aged 7 to 18.

In addition, I recommend emphasizing whole fruits over 100% fruit juice. You get the juice plus the nutrients in the flesh of the fruit.

Are Food Dyes Fueling Kids’ Hyperactivity?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is calling on the Food and Drug Administration to ban artificial coloring in all U.S. foods based on a controversial claim that artificial coloring is behind the rise in kids’ behavioral problems, like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

A study published in 2007 found a slight increase in activity level linked to food dyes. In Britain, the government is so concerned about the perceived connection that it has pressured food companies to switch to natural colors. However, this study did not look at ADHD.

My Take? As I wrote in my book, ADHD Doesn’t Mean Disaster, there is no harm to a parent trying a diet free of artificial dyes, excess sugar, and junk foods. If it helps, great. If not, no harm done. I added, “While it is highly unlikely that ADHD is either caused or worsened by junk foods, there are plenty of other health reasons to restrict these foods.”

Parents make a mistake allowing children to ‘brush teeth alone’

A British survey finds more than one in five under-fives were being left to brush their teeth unsupervised.

A quarter of parents wrongly thought children did not need to brush twice a day, and 67% thought brushing for one minute was enough – two is recommended.

My Take? Teaching children how to brush their teeth is a vital part of raising healthy children. Here are the recommendations I give to my patients:

  • Start brushing children’s teeth as soon as they erupt
  • Brush twice a day using fluoride toothpaste
  • Brush using small circular motions, making sure that all tooth surfaces are cleaned
  • Select a brush with a small head and medium strength bristles
  • For children up to three years of age brush the teeth yourself, using a B-B sized smear of fluoride paste
  • For children aged between three and six, encourage the child to brush themselves but supervise their brushing. Use a pea-sized blob of fluoride paste

Kids’ Low Vitamin D Worries Doctors

This study, at Children’s Hospital Boston, found that 12 percent of infants and toddlers were deficient in vitamin D and 40 percent had below-optimal levels.

Worse yet, one-third of children who were vitamin D deficient had changes in bone density seen on X-rays of the wrist and knee. A few even had signs of rickets, or softening of the bones caused by severe deficiency of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is crucial for bone growth and calcium absorption in the intestine. It also plays a role in regulating the immune system.

The sun is the best source of vitamin D; as ultraviolet rays trigger its production in the skin.

However, parents routinely cover young children with sunscreen, blankets or additional layers of clothing to protect them from harmful UV rays, so children may not have enough sun exposure to produce sufficient levels of vitamin D.

Diet is another source of the vitamin. Few foods naturally contain vitamin D, but milk products, bread and cereals are often fortified with it.

As expected, infants fed with enriched formulas and toddlers who routinely drank milk were more protected from vitamin D deficiency, and breast-fed infants who did not receive vitamin D supplements were at a higher risk.

My Take? I agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends that infants and children receive a minimum of 200 international units of vitamin D daily, starting during the first two months of life and continuing through childhood and adolescence.

Most formulas provide the daily recommended value, but breast milk does not. To compensate, breast-fed infants can be given a liquid multivitamin drop that contains vitamin D.

Heavy marijuana use shrinks brain parts: study

Brain scans showed that two areas of the brain, the hippocampus and amygdala, are smaller in men who were heavy marijuana users compared to nonusers. The men had smoked at least five marijuana cigarettes daily for on average 20 years.

The hippocampus regulates memory and emotion, while the amygdala plays a critical role in fear and aggression.

The marijuana users were more likely to exhibit mild signs of psychotic disorders, but not enough to be formally diagnosed with any such disorder, the researchers said.

My Take? For the last several weeks, I’ve been excerpting my chapter on marijuana from my book Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook, in which I outline the potential dangers of marijuana — to which this one can be added.

I agree with the researcher who said, “These findings challenge the widespread perception of cannabis as having limited or no harmful effects on (the) brain and behavior.”

Abstinence Education Proponents Prepare One Million Parent March

Backers of abstinence education are preparing a new campaign to counteract the media bias and attacks from abortion proponents on Capitol Hill. They’re hoping to organize a national march and rally featuring one million parents to support abstinence education for teens and young adults.

The pro-abstinence group hopes the march will result in parents stepping up efforts on the state level to lobby for more abstinence funding and support and increased pressure on local schools to adopt pro-abstinence curriculum.

My Take? When it comes to abstinence education, I agree with those who conclude, “Parents are being misled. They are told the content of the curricula in their children’s classrooms stress abstinence and just have information to make decisions in case they become sexually active … (However,) most of these programs provide explicit how-to information that give teens a green light for activities that put them at risk.”

A May 2007 Zogby poll shows that an overwhelming number of parents want their kids to practice abstinence until marriage and support abstinence education programs that drive that point home.

The poll found that 83% of parents want their children to save sex until marriage and a majority of families believe that programs should reinforce the abstinence message when broaching sex ed in the classroom.

Once they understand what abstinence education actually teaches, 6 out of 10 parents would rather their child receive abstinence education vs. comprehensive sex education. Only 3 out of 10 prefer comprehensive, Zogby showed.