‘D’ for depression
This time of year, many people are suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that typically starts in the fall and continues through winter. Recently, researchers reviewed more than 100 articles and found a connection between SAD and low levels of vitamin D.
“Rather than being one of many factors, vitamin D could have a regulative role in the development of SAD,” researcher Alan Stewart, of the University of Georgia, said of their findings. “We believe there are several reasons for this including that vitamin D levels fluctuate in the body seasonally, in direct relation to seasonally available sunlight.”
According to Stewart and his fellow researcher Michael Kimlin, of the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, vitamin D is involved also in the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine, chemicals associated with depression.
“Evidence exists that low levels of dopamine and serotonin are linked to depression; therefore, it is logical that there may be a relationship between low levels of vitamin D and depressive symptoms,” Kimlin said. “A few minutes of sunlight exposure each day should be enough for most people to maintain an adequate vitamin D status.”
Bigger babies, better test scores
Researchers at Northwestern University have found a direct correlation between a baby’s birth weight and academic performance in elementary school and middle school.
Using merged birth and school records of all children born in Florida from 1992-2002, researchers looked at the relationship between birth weight and cognitive development for more than 1.3 million children. Their findings suggest that children who weighed more at birth had higher test scores in third through eighth grade.
The findings held true even for twins: Among the 15,000 pairs of twins included in the study, twins who were heavier at birth had higher average test scores than did lighter-birth-weight twins.
Despite the research results, children with low birth weights can and sometimes do perform better than their heavier-born peers, as other factors also come into play. For example, study co-author Jonathan Guryan said, a mother’s education can be a larger predictor of a child’s academic achievement.
“You’d rather be a low birth-weight baby with a mother who has a college degree than a heavier baby born to a high school dropout,” he said.
Calorie counts coming soon
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Nov. 25 finalized new rulings regarding calorie information on menus and vending machines.
The FDA has given food establishments that are part of a chain of 20 or more locations one year to “clearly and conspicuously display calorie information for standard items on menus and menu boards, next to the name or price of the item.” Similarly, within two years, operators of 20 or more vending machines must disclose calorie information for food sold from vending machines, with some exceptions.
According to FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, Americans consume about one-third of their calories away from home, so making calorie information available is important for public health.
Infant and child safety warnings
More than half of U.S. infants are put to bed with soft objects such as blankets, quilts and pillows – items that pose a risk for suffocation – according to a study in the January 2015 issue of Pediatrics.
Using data from the National Infant Sleep Position study, researchers found that from 1993-2010, the use of hazardous baby bedding declined but remained a common practice. The highest prevalence of unsafe bedding use was found for infants of teenage mothers, infants who slept in adult beds and infants who were placed to sleep on their sides or on a shared sleep surface.
“Parents have good intentions but may not understand that blankets, quilts and pillows increase a baby’s risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and accidental suffocation,” said study author Carrie Shapiro-Mendoza, senior scientist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
• • •
Two years ago, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) advised parents to keep single-load laundry detergent pods away from children, noting that in 2012, it had been alerted to roughly 500 incidents of children ingesting the products.
Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported on a study revealing that in 2012 and 2013, more than 17,000 children younger than age 6 were exposed to the pods, and nearly 80 percent of them were 1- and 2-year olds.
According to the AAP, children can be seriously injured or even die if they ingest or otherwise come into contact with the chemicals inside the pods.
Because the detergent packets are colorful and resemble some candies, those with young children should use traditional detergent instead, researchers recommended.
• • •
The rate of toy-related injuries to children rose nearly 40 percent from 1990 through 2011, a study from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found. Much of that increase occurred after a new type of foot-powered scooter became popular in 2000, researchers said.
“The frequency and increasing rate of injuries to children associated with toys, especially those associated with foot-powered scooters, is concerning,” said Dr. Gary Smith, the study’s senior author and a professor of pediatrics.
According to Smith, children younger than age 3 are at particular risk of choking on small toys and small parts of toys. Nearly 14 children are treated every day in U.S. emergency departments after swallowing or inhaling toys or toy parts.
As kids get older, their risk of injuries involving riding toys increases, with ride-on toy-associated injuries more than three times as likely to involve a broken bone or dislocation than injuries related to other toys. Nationwide Children’s Hospital data shows that riding toys account for more than 40 percent of toy injuries to children aged 5-17.
Falls and collisions were the most common toy-related injuries affecting children of all ages.
Sunscreen and fertility
Certain chemicals used in sunscreen might hamper a man’s ability to father a child as quickly as he might like, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study suggests.
According to a NIH news release, researchers found that men with high exposure to certain ultraviolet (UV) filters commonly used in sunscreens had a 30 percent reduction in the biological ability to reproduce, which may result in a longer time to pregnancy.
“In our study, male fecundity (biological ability to reproduce) seems to be more susceptible to these chemicals than female fecundity,” said Germaine Louis, of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “Our next step is to figure out how these particular chemicals may be affecting couple fecundity or time to pregnancy – whether it’s by diminishing sperm quality or inhibiting reproduction in some other way.”
Findings from the study, which involved about 500 couples who were trying to conceive a child, suggested that some but not all UV filters may be associated with decreased male fertility. Researchers cautioned, however, that the study had some limitations and further research is needed to confirm the findings.