Author: Coleman Greene

Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today

This article originally appeared on The Washington Post here, and was written by Valerie Strauss.

The Centers for Disease Control tells us that in recent years there has been a jump in the percentage of young people diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly known as ADHD: 7.8 percent in 2003 to 9.5 percent in 2007 and to 11 percent in 2011. The reasons for the rise are multiple, and include changes in diagnostic criteria, medication treatment and more awareness of the condition. In the following post, Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and the founder of TimberNook, a nature-based development program designed to foster creativity and independent play outdoors in New England, suggests yet another reason more children are being diagnosed with ADHD, whether or not they really have it: the amount of time kids are forced to sit while they are in school. This appeared on the TimberNook blog.

A perfect stranger pours her heart out to me over the phone. She complains that her 6-year-old son is unable to sit still in the classroom. The school wants to test him for ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder). This sounds familiar, I think to myself. As a pediatric occupational therapist, I’ve noticed that this is a fairly common problem today.

The mother goes on to explain how her son comes home every day with a yellow smiley face. The rest of his class goes home with green smiley faces for good behavior. Every day this child is reminded that his behavior is unacceptable, simply because he can’t sit still for long periods of time.

The mother starts crying. “He is starting to say things like, ‘I hate myself’ and ‘I’m no good at anything.’” This young boy’s self-esteem is plummeting all because he needs to move more often.

Over the past decade, more and more children are being coded as having attention issues and possibly ADHD. A local elementary teacher tells me that at least eight of her twenty-two students have trouble paying attention on a good day. At the same time, children are expected to sit for longer periods of time. In fact, even kindergarteners are being asked to sit for thirty minutes during circle time at some schools.

The problem: children are constantly in an upright position these days. It is rare to find children rolling down hills, climbing trees, and spinning in circles just for fun. Merry-go-rounds and teeter-totters are a thing of the past. Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors due to parental fears, liability issues, and the hectic schedules of modern-day society. Lets face it: Children are not nearly moving enough, and it is really starting to become a problem.

I recently observed a fifth grade classroom as a favor to a teacher. I quietly went in and took a seat towards the back of the classroom. The teacher was reading a book to the children and it was towards the end of the day. I’ve never seen anything like it. Kids were tilting back their chairs back at extreme angles, others were rocking their bodies back and forth, a few were chewing on the ends of their pencils, and one child was hitting a water bottle against her forehead in a rhythmic pattern.

This was not a special-needs classroom, but a typical classroom at a popular art-integrated charter school. My first thought was that the children might have been fidgeting because it was the end of the day and they were simply tired. Even though this may have been part of the problem, there was certainly another underlying reason.

We quickly learned after further testing, that most of the children in the classroom had poor core strength and balance. In fact, we tested a few other classrooms and found that when compared to children from the early 1980s, only one out of twelve children had normal strength and balance. Only one! Oh my goodness, I thought to myself. These children need to move!

Ironically, many children are walking around with an underdeveloped vestibular (balance) system today–due to restricted movement. In order to develop a strong balance system, children need to move their body in all directions, for hours at a time. Just like with exercising, they need to do this more than just once-a-week in order to reap the benefits. Therefore, having soccer practice once or twice a week is likely not enough movement for the child to develop a strong sensory system.

Children are going to class with bodies that are less prepared to learn than ever before. With sensory systems not quite working right, they are asked to sit and pay attention. Children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to “turn their brain on.” What happens when the children start fidgeting? We ask them to sit still and pay attention; therefore, their brain goes back to “sleep.”

Fidgeting is a real problem. It is a strong indicator that children are not getting enough movement throughout the day. We need to fix the underlying issue. Recess times need to be extended and kids should be playing outside as soon as they get home from school. Twenty minutes of movement a day is not enough! They need hours of play outdoors in order to establish a healthy sensory system and to support higher-level attention and learning in the classroom.

In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order to pay attention, we need to let them move.

To Make Children Healthier, A Doctor Prescribes A Trip To The Park

This article originally appeared on NPR.com here, and was written by Sam Sanders.

When Dr. Robert Zarr wanted a young patient to get more exercise, he gave her an unusual prescription: Get off the bus to school earlier.

“She has to take a bus to the train, then a train to another bus, then that bus to her school,” says Zarr, a pediatrician at Unity Health Care, a clinic that serves low-income and uninsured families in Washington, D.C. So the prescription read: “Walk the remaining four blocks on the second bus on your route to school from home, every day.”

Kelssi Aguilar, his 13-year-old patient, wasn’t exactly excited about the change at first. “He told me about the four blocks and I told him it was a 40-minute walk and I was too lazy,” she said. “I was thinking, am I really doing this? I’m going to be late for school.”

Kelssi was actually 10 minutes early the first day she tried the modified route. Kelssi has kept up the walking. And Zarr says she’s moved from obese to just overweight — which is very good.

About 40 percent of Zarr’s young patients are overweight or obese, which has led the doctor to come up with ways to give them very specific recommendations for physical activity. And that has meant mapping out all of the parks in the District of Columbia — 380 parks so far.

The parks, mapped and rated based on facilities and in a searchable database by zip code, can be linked to patients’ electronic medical records. Zarr did it with help from the National Park Service and volunteers from George Washington University’s School of Public Health, park rangers and other doctors. Zarr also received some funding for the project from the National Recreation and Park Association, the National Environmental Education Foundation, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Zarr writes park prescriptions on a special prescription pad, in English and Spanish, with the words “Rx for Outdoor Activity” on top, and a schedule slot that asks, “When and where will you play outside this week?”

But it’s not just about the parks. It’s about what the patients want, too.

“I like to listen and find out what it is my patients like to do,” Zarr says, “and then gauge the parks based on their interests, based on their schedules, based on the things they’re willing to do.”

There are other park prescriptions projects getting started across the country, but none have matched the level of detail in Zarr’s parks database.

To Get Kids Exercising, Schools Are Becoming Creative
Many children aren’t used to going to parks, notes Dr. Steven Pont, medical director for the Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity in Austin.

“If you didn’t grow up in a family that went camping or experienced outdoors and if you’re more from an urban environment, then going out to a park and experiencing nature might seem a little daunting,” Pont says.

A program like Zarr’s can help reduce that discomfort, Pont says. “The park prescriptions really help kids and families engage and get to those parks and say, ‘Hey, I belong here too.’ ”

The CDC would be happy with these guys, who were playing in Birmingham, Ala., in July 2013. Teenage boys say basketball is their favorite activity.
Shots – Health News
Most Teens Aren’t Active Enough, And It’s Not Always Their Fault
Of course, not every park is safe, especially in the District. The neighborhood next to one of the parks Zarr discussed with Kelssi, Kingman Island, had 30 incidents of violent crime over the past year.

“The more parks are used, the more people are there, the safer and the better they are,” Zarr says. “We want people first and foremost to be safe, and be active and be part of the solution to fixing parks that aren’t quite what they should be.”

Ultimately, Zarr says, he wants his parks database to exist in an app, on your smartphone, where doctors and patients alike can use it. And, one day he’d like to be able to track his patients’ activity in parks, to find out exactly how much good a little green space can do.

Sqord and Gear Up & Go! mentioned on Seattle’s NBC News

This post originally appeared on King5.com here with video included.

Wearable technology is exploding in popularity because more people want to use fitness trackers to keep them motivated. A number of products are developed here in Western Washington, like the Nike FuelBand, which was developed by Seattle company Synapse.

Redmond-based Sensoria makes shirts, socks and bras with sensors that are sewn into the clothing. The sensors in the socks send signals to a smartphone or smartwatch and coaches you on proper foot position. The fitness bra can track your heart rate. Because the heart rate monitor is built into the bra, you don’t have to worry about it moving around or getting loose.

Thousands of fifth graders in Snohomish County are wearing the Sqord PowerPod. As the student moves, the wristwatch translates that activity into digital points. They’re using the fitness trackers as part of the “Gear Up & Go” campaign. The more they move, the more points they earn. It’s turned into a friendly social competition for the kids.

Other fitness trackers can also track your sleep patterns and remind you to keep moving.

Synapse says wearable technology has come a long way in just a few short years.

“Well I think a funny fact is in 2004, McDonalds was giving away free pedometers in their salad meal, so today’s wearables are definitely smarter and a little bit more expensive. And a lot of them you see are on your wrist, but where they’re going is in your shoes, shirt and in your jewelry,” said Russel Stromberg, account director for Synapse.

Stromberg is working on way to use wearable technology to make your life easier. By using biometrics, the technology will allow you to someday start your car, help you order at restaurants or tell you when to stand up from your computer at work.

“The thing about wearables is, if I know what you are doing, I just do those things for you without you having to reach out to do them,” said Stromberg.

 

 

Columbia sweeps field in Gear Up & Go competition

This article originally appeared in the Mukilteo Beacon here

The students at Columbia Elementary are the school district champions in a friendly competition this year called Gear Up & Go, a county-wide initiative to get students active.

A large number of fifth graders throughout Snohomish County have been wearing a device on their wrists that looks something like a watch with a milky-white band. The device, called a Sqord PowerPod, has been measuring the activity of the students as they run, jump and play games.

In weekly head-to-head competition between Mukilteo elementary schools during the past eight weeks, Columbia swept the field with the highest percentage of students to sync their PowerPod, the highest average points earned during the week, and the greatest improvement in physical activity levels compared with the previous week.

Columbia was one of only two schools in Snohomish County to sweep all three categories within a school district and was the only school in the county to be undefeated in each of its eight match-ups with other schools.

Gear Up & Go was created by the Snohomish County Health Leadership Coalition to encourage healthy habits among fifth graers and to reverse a decline in healthy youth activity by coupling fitness with innovative technology that engages and entertains the students.

More than 95 percent of the elementary schools in Snohomish County are participating in the program.

Students wear the Sqord PowerPod like a wristwatch and, as the student moves, the pod translates that activity into digital points. The students can sync their PowerPods at their school, at any Snohomish County YMCA, or at other sites throughout the county.

With their points uploaded to Sqord’s online game platform, students can compare points and encourage their classmates with virtual High Fives.

Points are easy to earn. One step equals about three points, but there are any number of ways for a student to earn points. Doing the dishes or throwing a ball can earn points.

Students who earn 40,000 points per day are getting the recommended level of daily physical activity.

“The school match-ups provided PE and health teachers with the framework to motivate and energize their students,” said Scott Forslund, executive director of the Snohomish County Health Leadership Coalition. “What’s great about this is that we’re seeing variation in the numbers from district to district. Now we want to dive into the efforts behind those numbers to identify best practices.”

In winning the competition among Mukilteo elementary schools, an average of 71 percent of Columbia students synced their PowerPods. During the competition, they earned an average of 61,781 points per day, and had 49 students improve their points week over week.

 

Getting Your Kids Off the iPad Is Worth the Fight

This article first appeared on yahoo.com

Any parent who knows the particular hell of child tantrums in response to a set of screen-time rules may eventually begin to wonder: Is it really worth the fight? But a new study wants to assure you that yes, it really is. So stand your ground, moms and dads. The research, published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, found that parents who set limits can count on some seriously positive results for their kids — including improved sleep, better grades, less aggressive behavior, and lower risk of obesity. 

“Parents often feel out of control when it comes to screen time — like they’re either taking a shot in the dark or should just give up,” lead researcher Douglas Gentile, a developmental psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State, tells Yahoo Shine. “But what this study shows is that even that shot in the dark is really powerful. Parents have a much more of a profound effect on their child’s wellbeing than they realize.”

For the study, researchers analyzed the media habits of more than 1,300 Iowa and Minnesota schoolchildren already participating in an obesity-prevention program. They collected data from students, parents, teachers, and nurses on topics including screen-time limits, exposure to violent media, bedtimes, behavior, grades, and height and weights data — first at the start of the study and then again seven months later. “What we saw was this kind of ripple effect,” Gentile says, explaining that limits on screen time — specifically, watching shows or movies in any form, and playing video games — improved kids’ sleep, academics, pro-social behavior, and even body mass index. That seven months wound up being a sufficient amount of time to see differences between kids who had screen-time limits and those who did not was a happy surprise to researchers, particularly since the effects were small. 

“It was long enough for us to see the effect and also long enough for parents not to notice it,” Gentile explains, which is why moms and dads can be quick to dismiss the importance of monitoring screen time. “As parents, we don’t even see our children get taller and that’s a really noticeable effect. With media, what we’re often looking for is the absence of a problem, such as a child not gaining weight, making it even more difficult to notice,” Gentile says. But even tiny controls can make an impact, considering that children spend an average of 40-plus hours a week in front of a screen — not even counting time spent on their school computers. Also, according to a recent Common Sense Media study, 72 percent of children under 8 have used a mobile device — while 38 percent of children under 2 have used one — signaling a dramatic uptick since the group’s last such study, in 2012. 

Other recent studies have yielded similar findings regarding links between excessive screen time andobesitysleep, and aggression — but not necessarily all in one fell swoop. The new research also jibes with the recently revised guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which suggest less than two hours of passive screen time daily for all kids and teens and no screen time for kids younger than 2 (though, recently a doctor has suggested that active, rather than passive, screen time for kids under 2 might actually be beneficial).

Some tips for parents needing advice on how, exactly, to set limits, include:

Control the content. Let your child watch a DVD that you’re familiar with, for example, rather than something on TV or the computer. “That way, you’re not surprised by the content, and you know exactly how much time they’ll be watching for,” Gentile says.  

Model good behavior. “When kids are around, set an example by using media the way you want them to use it,” suggests Common Sense Media’s vice president of research, Seeta Pai. “If we’re on our phones at dinner, why will our kids listen to us when we tell them to turn theirs off?”

Set up an allowance or token economy system. Allot, say, 10 hours of screen time a week, and let your kids spend it whenever they want. Maybe they’ll use it in small increments, or maybe they’ll save up a binge for the weekend — but either way, they won’t want to waste it. “It helps them learn to manage their screen time, just like with a monetary allowance,” Gentile explains. “Plus it gives them some control and takes the fight away from the parent.”

 

Price tag for Child Obesity: $19K per kid

This article originally appeared in the USA Today

Over a lifetime, the medical costs associated with childhood obesity total about $19,000 per child compared with those for a child of normal weight, a new analysis shows.

The costs are about $12,900 per person for children of normal weight who become overweight or obese in adulthood, according to the analysis by researchers at the Duke Global Health Institute and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore and published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

The $19,000 estimate reflects direct medical costs such as doctors’ visits and medication but not indirect costs such as absenteeism and lost productivity into adulthood. The cost is “large, although perhaps not as large as some people would have guessed,” says lead author Eric Finkelstein, a health economist.

“In the case of childhood obesity, the real costs do not occur until decades later when these kids get adult health problems at a greater rate,” he says.

Obesity is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and a wide range of other diseases. About one in three adults and nearly one in five children in the United States are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The estimates highlight “the financial consequences of inaction and the potential medical savings from obesity prevention efforts that successfully reduce or delay obesity onset,” Finkelstein says.

The study notes that when multiplied by the number of all obese 10-year-olds in the U.S. today, the lifetime medical costs for this age alone reaches roughly $14 billion. That’s nearly twice the Department of Health and Human Services’ $7.8-billion budget for the Head Start program in fiscal year 2012, the analysis says.

To determine the estimates, researchers evaluated and updated existing research on lifetime costs of childhood obesity, focusing on six published studies.

The per-child estimates are valuable when looking at cost effectiveness, says John Cawley, co-director of the Institute on Health Economics, Health Behaviors and Disparities at Cornell University. He was not involved in the latest study.

If a new school-based intervention program is developed to decrease the probability of childhood obesity by a certain percentage, “you can use the numbers in the study to figure out what kind of savings that applies to the health care system,” Cawley says.

The $19,000 estimate is more than the roughly $16,930 the College Board says one year of college costs at a public four-year institution, including tuition, fees, books, room and board and other expenses.