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Does Having Young Children Really Build Your Immune System?

Does Having Young Children Really Build Your Immune System?

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but many moms and dads believe that having a young child or two around the house boosts their immune system.  It’s easy to see why this idea has some popular appeal.  After all, young children typically have lots of contact with other young children, often in environments where lots of germs can be spread. They then bring these same germs home, where parents’ immune systems need to fight them off over a sustained period of time. The thinking goes that this, in turn, helps make parents more resistant to them.

But what does the science actually say about this? Although there is at least one strong study and a lot of related or anecdotal evidence that suggests that the idea may be sound, more research needs to be done to see if this theory is valid.

The “strong study” is from Norway, and was published in the journal Science & Medicine. It’s important to note that the study did not specifically evaluate the immune response of parents and non-parents. Rather, this particular research was aimed at understanding the relationship between parenthood and overall health. The investigators looked into detailed medical records of more than 1.5 million men and women born between 1935 and 1968, and found that there was a strong negative correlation between being a parent and the risk of developing cancer, heart disease, becoming an alcoholic, and even dying in a car crash. The study found that the people most at risk of dying from any of these causes were those who were childless. The researchers theorized that this may be because the individuals felt less of a need to take care of their health.

Fascinatingly, the study also found that the positive health benefits or parenthood seemed to depend on the numberof children. Having only one child or having more than three children actually slightly increased the risk of dying from any of these factors, whereas having two children was “just right.” As researcher Emily Grundy of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, says: “Four-plus children might have adverse effects arising from stress, socio-economic disadvantages and lifestyles, off-setting, or even outweighing, social benefits of parenthood.”

In terms of other evidence, the strongest suggestions that having children might strengthen their parent’s immune system come from related studies that have consistently shown that having pets in the home strengthens and builds the children’s immune systems and helps to keep them healthy. For example, a 2012 study from the journal Pediatricsshowed that children who lived with dogs and cats during the first year of life tended to be significantly healthier than those who did not. The researchers theorized that the pets exposed children to a wide variety of “good germs,” some of which are beneficial for developing immunity to the “bad germs.” We may be able to infer that parents might also benefit from being exposed to a variety of germs, both from the pets and from their own children, as children pick them up at school and bring them home.

There is certainly anecdotal evidence of the latter to be found in the “common wisdom” imparted to people becoming new kindergarten and elementary school teachers. When one woman started teaching in California, her school board warned her that she should probably plan her finances for the first year of teaching based on being out sick more than her allotted number of “sick days,” and thus not being paid for them. The woman, who had always been remarkably healthy, laughed at this advice, but then spent 25% of her first year at home sick, because of all the germs she picked up from kids in the classroom.

However, this same schoolteacher rarely ever got sick again. Her exposure to a wide variety of germs transmitted by the kids did seem to boost her immune system over time, and enhanced her ability to be exposed to them in the future without getting sick herself. We can possibly infer that the same thing happens with small children in the home—they pick up germs at school and bring them home where the parents are exposed to them. This exposure then buildsimmunity over time rather than diminishing it. Dr. Jordan S. Orange, chief of immunology, allergy and rheumatology at Texas Children’s Hospital explains the simple mechanics of this “early exposure” process this way: “When you get it [immunity], you have it. So, if you get it earlier, you’re going to be immune earlier.”

Related studies have indicated that many people feel happier when they have kids. If this is actually true, then their positive mental state can also certainly contribute to staying healthy. Besides, as all parents know, there are so many other joys associated with having kids that even if there aren’t a huge number of studies proving that they keep parents healthier, they’ll feel healthier.

Want Your Kids to Be Active? Here Is Why YOU Should Be their Lifestyle Role Model

Want Your Kids to Be Active? Here Is Why YOU Should Be their Lifestyle Role Model

family-bicycling
family-bicycling

It’s not news—obesity is a growing national epidemic among young people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that obesity in children has doubled in the last 30 years and quadrupled in adolescents. Nearly 20% of children 6-11 years old are obese as are almost 23% of teenagers. This places them at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. Finally—and even more concerning—studies have shown that people who are obese as children tend to be obese as adults.

What’s happening here?  In large part, it comes down to our lifestyle choices. Record numbers of both adults and children are succumbing to the temptations of TV, computers, and video games, and many of us simply don’t get the exercise our bodies need to stay healthy.

Naturally, parents who read statistics like these may be—and should be—concerned about their kids. More and more often, they ask themselves questions like “What can we do to help our kids be more active and physically fit?” One answer to this question is pretty simple: To get your kids to be more active, engage in more active pursuits with them. One of the keys to getting children to exercise more is to have them see their parents exercise more. That’s the finding from a new study published in the journal Pediatrics

In the study, researchers at the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine in England fitted 554 mother-child pairs with equipment to measure how much exercise they were getting when they were together as well as when they were apart. Accelerometers tracked their exercise levels, and GPS devices measured how close they were to each other. Over the course of seven days, the findings were clear – the more physical activity the mother was engaged in while with the child, the more active the child was during the rest of the day. In fact, for every minute of moderate-to-vigorous activity the mother got, the child was likely to get ten percent more of the same activity. Conversely, for every minute the mother was sedentary, the child was 0.18 minutes more sedentary. Both of these effects were more pronounced in girls than in boys.

These findings seem to indicate that parents can be effective role models for their children by getting more active exercise themselves. But specialists emphasize that parents don’t have to drop their other priorities to do this. Physical therapist Teresa Beckman suggests, “Incorporate small changes into your daily life. For example, rather than playing a board game together, go outside and play hopscotch. Or if you’re planning a trip to your local playground, try walking instead of driving.”

Other suggestions for becoming more active with your children include playing more sports with them, walking more with them (if you take the bus, get off one or two stops early and walk the rest of the way), riding bikes together, and even playing Frisbee. Dancing is good exercise, so you can encourage your kids to take lessons in various forms of dance and then set a good example for them by attending the classes yourself. You can join exercise classes together, schedule regular pre-dinner walks or runs, or just play family games of basketball or soccer.

You are your child’s most important role model when it comes to teaching them about the importance of exercise. And exercising together is just as good for you as it is for them. So switch off that TV or computer and go out to play! You’ll both be doing something good for your health and having fun at the same time!

 

Growth Plate Injuries: What Parents Should Know

Growth Plate Injuries: What Parents Should Know

boy-with-chocolate
boy-with-chocolate

For a child, falling down is almost inevitable and generally doesn’t result in a trip to the emergency room. However, even minor falls can sometimes cause serious injuries. If you hear a cracking sound or if your child has bruising, swelling, or a limb deformity, there’s a chance your child may have broken a bone and you should seek medical attention right away if you notice these symptoms. Most types of breaks are routine (for the medical staff if not for the parent), but those involving a growth plate can present complications and require extra attention.

There is a marked difference between the bones of an adult and those of a child. Children have what are called physes—that is, growth plates. These growth plates are located at the end of long bones in the arms and legs. The growth plates, made of soft, rubbery cartilage, cause the bone to grow in length. Growth plates are found near the shoulder joint, elbow joint, hip joint, knee joint, ankle joint and wrist joint. Of the six main locations the ankles and wrists are particularly vulnerable to harm.

Growth plate damage can lead to long term problems. When a growth plate is injured, the bone may stop or slow growing. This is why it is essential to seek qualified medical treatment immediately to avoid problems later in life. If injured, a child should under no circumstances “walk it off.”

It is imperative to get the child to a doctor as soon as possible if you suspect a growth plate break. Growth plates heal quite rapidly, which gives doctors only a very short window to do non- surgical manipulations in order to set broken bones correctly. If your child has a minor, non-displaced break, the doctor may treat it like a sprain and recommend a splint, cast, or walking boot to protect the area for four to six weeks. Usually, these types of fractures do not require long-term care. Preferably, a growth plate fracture should be set within a week of injury.

When a child’s bone has moved or been displaced, an orthopedist can set the bone back in place in the emergency room without the need to operate. The child will be anaesthetized in the emergency department, and the doctor will use X-rays to determine where to correctly move the bone. Once the bone has been set, the doctor will set a cast in order to keep the bone in place. Usually the child will be allowed to go home that night, but occasionally they will be admitted to ensure the swelling is not too severe. Proper care and follow up will likely involve physical therapy and doctor’s visits for the next half a year.

Most growth plate fractures heal properly and do not result in any long-term issues. Once in a while, the bone stops growing and winds up shorter than the other appendage. For example, a fractured leg might become shorter than the opposite leg. Early detection that growth is unequal between the two limbs is essential. However, this is a true minority of cases and most children heal just fine.

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