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Health Capsules- June 22

Getting babies to sleep

The “cry it out” method of getting infants to sleep does not seem to cause the emotional, behavioral, or parent-child attachment problems some parents worry about, according to a study published in this month’s issue of Pediatrics.

Researchers at Flinders University in Australia put to the test on 43 infants two popular sleep training interventions for babies experiencing sleeping difficulties after 6 months of age. One method tested was graduated extinction, also known as “The Ferber Method,” in which parents ignore children’s bedtime cries for progressively increasing intervals. The other was the bedtime fading method, which calls for parents to gradually delay their child’s nightly bedtime with the hope that a sleepy infant will have an easier time dozing off.

Results of the study showed that compared to babies in a control group, those whose parents used the graduated extinction method fell asleep, on average, 13 minutes sooner and awakened significantly less frequently during the night. What’s more, there was no measurable difference in babies’ stress levels, which was determined by their salivary cortisol readings, or measurements of parent-child attachment or parental stress/mood. During a one-year follow-up, researchers found no significant differences in emotional and behavioral problems or attachment styles.

Babies whose parents used the bedtime fading method fell asleep 10 minutes sooner than those in the control group but experienced a number of nighttime awakenings equal to that of infants in the control group.

Noting that many parents understandably find it difficult to sit back while their babies “cry it out,” Flinders University sleep expert and psychologist Michael Gradisar said trying bedtime fading first and later moving on to graduated extinction might be a good approach.

“We hope parents of children 6-16 months can become more aware of bedtime fading, which helps babies fall asleep at the start of the night,” Gradisar said. “It may not resolve awakenings during the night, so if a child is waking up several times a night, then there is now some more evidence that graduated extinction is a technique that may not be harmful to their child.”

Gradisar said more trials are needed to confirm his research findings.


Autism rate unchanged

New information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show essentially no change in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) since its last report, issued in 2014. CDC officials said it still is too early to confirm whether ASD prevalence has started to stabilize.

According to the CDC’s latest report, the autism rate is one in 68 children. The report used data from 2012 gathered in 11 U.S. communities, including in Missouri; the previous report used data from 2010.

“What we know for sure is that there are many children living with autism who need services and support, now and as they grow into adolescence and adulthood,” CDC spokesperson Stuart K. Shapira, M.D. said. “The most powerful tool we have right now to make a difference in the lives of children with ASD is early identification.”

ASD is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.

The CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early” program offers parent-friendly, researched-based milestone checklists for children as young as 2 months of age and information about what to do if there is a developmental concern.

For more information, visit cdc.gov/actearly.


Window of opportunity

Middle-aged adults take note: The exercise you get today may play a significant role in preventing you from having a stroke after age 65.

Results of a new study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke emphasize the importance of being physically fit at midlife.

“We all hear that exercise is good for you, but many people still don’t do it,” said Ambarish Pandey, M.D., cardiologist and first author of the study. “Our hope is that this objective data on preventing a fatal disease such as stroke will help motivate people to get moving and get fit.”

For the study, researchers assessed the fitness levels of nearly 20,000 adults aged 45-50, 79 percent of whom were male and 90 percent of whom were Caucasian. Looking at exercise tolerance during standardized treadmill tests conducted from 1999-2009, researchers categorized each participant as having either a low, middle or high level of physical fitness, based on their heart and lung exercise capacity.

After the age of 65, participants determined to have the highest physical fitness levels had a 37 percent lower risk of stroke than those with the lowest fitness levels.

The connection between fitness level and stroke risk existed even when researchers took into account high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and atrial fibrillation, which are considered risk factors for stroke.

In fact, the relationship between physical fitness and stroke risk was found to be so strong that researchers suggested that doctors add low physical fitness level to their list of risk factors for stroke.

“Low fitness is generally ignored as an actual risk factor in clinical practice,” Pandey said. “Our research suggests that low fitness in midlife is an additional risk to target and help prevent stroke later in life.”

American Heart Association guidelines call for 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.

The American Heart Association and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center funded the study.


Preventing cancer

Adhering to a healthy lifestyle potentially could prevent as many as 40 percent of cancer cases and roughly half of cancer deaths, results of a large-scale study suggest.

Physicians from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health came to that conclusion after looking at data on more than 135,000 people, comparing those in a “low risk” group to those in a “high risk” group.

Those in the low risk group were those identified as having a healthy lifestyle pattern, defined as never or past smoking; no or moderate alcohol consumption (one or fewer daily drinks for women and two or fewer daily drinks for men); a body mass index of at least 18.5 but less than 27.5; and aerobic physical activity of at least 150 minutes moderate intensity or 75 minutes vigorous intensity per week.

Participants not meeting all four criteria were considered high risk.

Because all study participants were white, the study authors noted that their estimates may not apply to other ethnic groups, although risk factors considered in their analysis are risk factors for people of diverse ethnicities.

They concluded that lifestyle factors are an important factor in cancer risk, and prevention should be a priority for controlling the disease.

JAMA Oncology published the study online.


Car windows, cataracts and cancer

A doctor in California has a suggestion for automobile manufacturers: Increase ultraviolet A (UV-A) light protection in the driver’s side windows of vehicles.

Motivated by reports of increased rates of cataracts in left eyes and skin cancers on the left side of people’s faces, Brian Boxer Wachler, M.D., measured UV-A radiation in the windshields and driver’s side windows of 29 cars from 15 manufacturers.

On average, he found, UV-A blockage on front windshields was 96 percent, compared to 71 percent on side windows. Side window UV-A blockage greater than 90 percent was found in only 14 percent of the vehicles.

UV-A radiation is associated with increased cataract and skin cancer risks.

“Automakers may wish to consider increasing the degree of UV-A protection in the side windows of automobiles,” Boxer Wachler said.

JAMA Ophthalmology published the study online.


Extending shelf life

“When in doubt, throw it out” is a common-sense approach to food safety, but unfortunately, it results in massive amounts of food waste. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a smartphone application designed to eliminate doubt so less food is wasted.

The USDA FoodKeeper app helps consumers learn how to extend the life of foods and beverages by utilizing proper storage methods and allows them to set up automatic notifications so they know when items are nearing the recommended storage deadline. It includes information on more than 400 items, including baby foods, dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry, produce, seafood and more.

Also included is cooking advice to instruct consumers on preparation methods that eliminate foodborne bacteria.

An “Ask Karen” feature that allows users to submit food safety questions 24/7 if the information they are seeking cannot be found also is available.

The FoodKeeper app is available for Apple and Android devices.


On the calendar

Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital and Progress West Hospital present “A Day of Play” from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday, June 25 at the Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital walking path, 10 Hospital Drive in St. Peters. Fitness challenges, free cholesterol and glucose screening, bounce houses, edible art, rescue trucks and food for purchase from local food trucks are featured. Admission is free. Screenings are performed in Medical Office Building #1, Suite 117. For more information, call 928-9355.


An American Red Cross community blood drive is from 1-3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 29 at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, 10 Hospital Drive in St. Peters. For more information, call 928-9355.


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