Stress Affects Kids’ Health Too – Maybe All their Lives

Last updated on August 29th, 2015 at 03:00 pm

Throughout my studies in public health I am constantly being introduced to new and interesting perspectives on the health of communities, as well as all the influences that can undermine our well-being. Right now I am taking a course on the behavioral and biological impacts of stress. Stress is integrally related to our health – not just affecting our mood or our sleep – but working at the basic level of our tissues and cells to advance early negative processes that lead to heart disease, or impair our immune systems.

And stress isn’t just an element in the adult world. Children increasingly suffer stress and stress-related disorders as well. The National Institute of Mental Health, part of the government’s National Institutes of Health, reports that 11% of teens have experienced depression at some time in their life to date, and studies have shown similar rates of anxiety disorders among youth. Furthermore, stress in childhood – particularly extreme levels related to neglect, abuse and ongoing family dysfunction – appears to have longer-term health effects. A report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The Effects of Childhood Stress on Health Across the Lifespan, highlights a range of negative outcomes from “toxic stress” such as alterations in brain development, impaired learning and memory, and immune system issues in later life.

Even everyday stresses that result from a competitive and complex society have been shown to adversely impact health, both of people and of animals such as baboons. An excellent National Geographic video – Stress, Portrait of a Killer – outlines how dealing with long-term challenges and having a low position in society (human or baboon) can undermine health. The video is about an hour long, but it’s well worth watching with a – relaxing – hot drink.

So what about kids? Do they experience everyday or ongoing stress? Personally, I’ve seen it with my son. In second grade he experienced a period of bullying and wasn’t enjoying school. It took us some time to realize the extent of his stress and anxiety but he was exhibiting some of the classic signs, such as detachment, crying spells, and self-comfort such as rocking. Click here for more on stress and the possible signs in young children. Now in 5th grade he’s talking about feeling stressed from all the homework he’s getting – and I can see how it is sometimes affecting his mood and sleep. In fact our experience is consistent with findings from a national Kid’s Health poll of 9-13 year-olds that showed the top childhood stressors to be “grades, school, and homework (36%); family (32%); and friends, peers, gossip, and teasing (21%)”.

Thankfully, both adults and children can learn to manage or reduce their stress levels – with a variety of relaxation approaches available to try – from mindfulness, to yoga, to massage and deep-breathing exercises.  In my next post I will review a resource for practicing a common stress-reduction technique “progressive muscle relaxation,” created just for kids.

The Real Danger of Chicken Pox Parties

Last updated on January 21st, 2013 at 12:38 am

Kids’ parties can be competitive (Pin the Tail, anyone?), but a little healthy competition doesn’t hurt anyone. But one party idea that gets the thumbs-down from medical experts is the “chicken pox party,” which is popular among parents who don’t want their children vaccinated against chicken pox. Party rules? Invite an infected child so kids can pick up the illness the “natural way.”

That’s wrong on so many levels, says Dr. Tara Smith, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Iowa. “Chicken pox is more than an innocuous childhood disease,” says Smith, who lost two relatives to chicken pox complications. “Most kids get a fairly mild infection, but as many as 150 kids die each year from complications, including brain swelling, pneumonia, and bacterial infections including flesh-eating disease.”

Plus, she says, there’s no guarantee that your child will be infected, and there’s every risk that adults – who have a rougher time with the disease – might be. A pox on another trend as well: sending lollipops or other items infected with saliva from a child with the disease through the mail. Parents are using Facebook to spread the word.

Shipping a biohazard is crazy (and illegal) enough, but scientifically speaking? “Chicken pox won’t even live that long outside the body,” says Smith.

Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 01-07-2013 to 01-13-2013

Last updated on March 3rd, 2018 at 10:30 am

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world.

Each day we use Twitter to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues who are not on Twitter (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 15 events & stories.

PedSafe Headline of the Week:

Facebook’s New Privacy Settings: fantastic step by step walk-thru by Internet Safety Expert Mary Kay Hoal must read for parents!

In an Emergency, It’s Best to Wait – We Will Be There!

Last updated on March 3rd, 2018 at 10:31 am

It is a beautiful Friday afternoon and my unit is dispatched on a 53 year old female having a seizure. Nothing seems out of the ordinary until we find out that the patient is a passenger in a car that is being driven by her daughter who is speeding while on the phone with 911 and ignoring the advice of the dispatcher and the police car next to her telling her to pull over or go to the closest hospital. The story ends with the daughter driving a very long way home, passing 2 hospitals, all while having a car full of hysterical family who meet us at their home and let us examine the patient only after they have carried her into the house against our advice yet again. Thankfully in the end, everyone was ok but this type of scene is not an uncommon one.

It is a normal reaction to panic when an emergency happens, but the decision to call 911 or to drive the person to the hospital yourself should be weighed very carefully. There are situations where you can calmly put a person in your car and calmly drive them to the hospital and then there are the situations like the one I described above or the one you see in movies all the time with the pregnant wife screaming and panic has taken over and all regard for safety has gone out the window and something terrible may happen. To avoid situations like these we ask you to wait. We ask you to wait for the emergency responders who will show up quickly and manage all the panic and give the best possible care and make sure everyone gets to the hospital safely. The back of a rescue truck or ambulance is a much better place to be should something change for the worse that would cause even more panic and reckless driving had you chosen not to wait.

As always I advocate when in doubt call 911. It is why we are there and it is much easier for us to find an address than it is for us to find a moving car. Please do not put the lives of you and your loved ones in jeopardy, please call and wait, we will be there!

I hope you all have a happy and safe new year.

Do Your Kids Drink Too Much Soda?

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018 at 04:38 pm

When I was 9, my daughter’s age, I remember coming home from school, popping open a Pepsi can and starting my homework. I’d also have soda at dinner, and by the time I got to high school, I was drinking it at lunch too. Times may have changed, but our children’s soda habits have only gotten worse.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that consumption of sugar-filled drinks (like soda) has increased over the last 30 years, and that preteens and teens get more than 200 calories per day from the sweet stuff. “These extra calories contribute to childhood obesity and displace healthy beverages like milk, which contains the calcium and vitamin D that this age group vitally needs,” says Melinda Johnson, dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Chances are you didn’t need Johnson to tell you that soda is bad for kids’ health – and that with all that acid and sugar, it’s also pretty stinky for teeth too. But what really seems daunting is how to get your kid to cut back … or not have it become the default drink in the first place.

How to Break Your Child’s Soda Habit

My daughter got her first taste of soda at a birthday party when she was 4. The lovely staff at Chuck E. Cheese’s poured all the kids huge glasses of Sprite. Kate happily drank it all, claiming it was “the best water ever,” and then asked if we could get some for home. Thus, my battle over soda began – a lot earlier than I hoped it would. But here are the tactics I learned over the last five years (much of which seems to be backed up by a new Belgian study published in the journal Appetite):

  • Don’t give kids an ultimatum about soda (or any other food or beverage). Demanding that kids never drink soda again only seems to make them want it more. Yes, you can control whether your 6-year-olds have soda or not. But you’re probably out of luck when they reach 16. It’s more important to teach your kid that soda can have a small place in healthy diet rather than nix it altogether. “Give your kid guidance on how to fit in soda while still being healthy – maybe one or two sodas a week, for example,” says Johnson.
  • Save soda for dessert. The study also found that not offering soda at mealtimes made a huge difference in how much a child consumes. Johnson suggests offering soda as an alternative to dessert, because that’s essentially what it is. “When we serve soda with meals, it sends the message that soda is a food item, when really it’s more similar to candy,” she says. Think about it: Would you allow your kid to eat M&M’S with her dinner?
  • Finally, boot soda out of your fridge. The study found that kids whose parents kept pop in the house drank a lot more of it. (That’s a no-brainer, right?) Instead, keep milk, water and a small amount of 100 percent fruit juice in there. Our favorite family beverage: sparkling water. It has all of the fizz and none of the sugar!

Children’s Defense Fund Proposes New Gun Safety Laws: Is it Time?

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018 at 04:39 pm

Some chilling new statistics have just been released by the Children’s Defense Fund (Protect Children, Not Guns: Key Facts). A child or teen dies or is injured from guns every 30 minutes. The number of children under five who have died from guns was more than the number of law enforcement officers who died from guns in the line of duty in 2010. And between 1979 and 2010, 119,079 children and teens dies from guns…more than the total number of U.S. soldiers killed in action in the Vietnam, Korean, Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined.

These facts coupled with the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy have prompted the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) to release a new federal policy agenda aimed at protecting children from the continued rise in gun violence in America. Their goal: to “keep guns out of the hands of children and those who would use them against children”. To that end, there are four gun safety laws in CDF’s agenda:

  • Require consumer safety standards and childproof safety features for all guns. Subject guns to the same consumer product safety regulations that cover virtually every other consumer product. Currently the production and manufacture of guns is exempt from oversight by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Every gun made in this country should be childproof and equipped with child safety locks and authorized user identification technology. Federal law also is silent on child access prevention. Congress should provide incentives for states to require gun owners to store their firearms and ammunition in a manner in which children and teens cannot access them.
  • Ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Enact a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and fix the loopholes in the 1994 federal Assault Weapons Ban (which ended in 2004) that undercut its effectiveness.
  • Require background checks on anyone purchasing a gun. Close the gun show loophole. Federal law currently requires federally-licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks on every sale. A loophole in the law allows private dealers to sell guns without a license and allows buyers to avoid background checks. More than 40 percent of all guns in this country are sold with no background checks.
  • Provide resources the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and other federal agencies need to keep our children and communities safe. Establish a national federal gun registry to help officials track guns when they are produced and purchased. Get rid of legislative barriers that prevent data collection on firearm ownership by law enforcement officials. Eliminate restrictions on gun violence prevention research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies.

“The heartrending massacre of 20 six- and seven-year old children and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut must galvanize all of us to take action to protect children instead of guns,said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund. “Gun violence saturates our children’s lives. More children and teens die from guns every three days than died in the Newtown massacre. What’s it going to take…?”

But are these new gun safety laws the right answer? Some will say yes, others no. I will bring one more piece of data into the picture before leaving you to decide.

None of us will forget what happened on December 14th. It also happened to be my birthday…another reason it will not be easy to forget. But some of you may not know one other thing happened that day:

On December 14th, at Chenpeng Village Primary School in China’s Henan province a 36-year-old man by the name of Min Yongjun stabbed an elderly woman and then proceeded to break into the elementary school flailing a knife, attacking and stabbing elementary school children, severing ears and fingers.

By the end of his rampage, 23 children were wounded. There was no connection between these two tragedies – between these two men other than the date and the fact that they targeted the most innocent of victims. There was however one important distinction. Min Yonguin had only a knife…and no child died that day.

(note: story coverage provided by and the

So, I ask you once again – with what I am discovering is a less impartial heart than I thought it was. What do you think of these proposed gun safety laws? Do you think they are what we need?

Do you think they will keep our kids safe??




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For more information on the CDF Policy Agenda contact Patti Hassler, Vice President of Communications and Outreach, at (202) 662-3554 or

Follow the conversation on Twitter #ProtectChildrenNotGuns.