Physical Activity During Lessons Can Boost Learning

Students who take part in physical exercises like running in place during school lessons do better in tests than students who stick to sedentary learning.

A meta-analysis of 42 studies around the world conducted by researchers at the University College London, Leiden University, the National University of Singapore, and the University of Sydney, aimed to assess the benefits of incorporating physical activity in academic lessons. This approach has been adopted by schools that want to increase activity levels among students without reducing academic teaching time.

Typical activities include using movement to signify whether a fact is true or false, or jumping on the spot a certain number of times to answer a math question, the researchers explained.

The study concluded that incorporating physical activity had a large, significant effect on educational outcomes during the lesson, assessed through tests or by observing pupils’ attention to a given task. It also had a smaller effect on overall educational outcomes, as well as increasing the students’ overall levels of physical activity.

“Physical activity is good for children’s health, and the biggest contributor of sedentary time in children’s lives is the seven or eight hours a day they spend in classrooms,” said lead author Dr. Emma Norris of University College London. “Our study shows that physically active lessons are a useful addition to the curriculum. They can create a memorable learning experience, helping children to learn more effectively.”

“These improvements in physical activity levels and educational outcomes are the result of quite basic physical exercises,” added co-author Dr. Tommy van Steen of Leiden University in The Netherlands. “Teachers can easily incorporate these physical active lessons in the existing curriculum to improve the learning experience of students.”

For the study, researchers looked at data from 12,663 students between the ages of three and 14. Nearly half of the studies took place in the United States, with seven conducted in Australia, five in the UK, four in the Netherlands, and one in China, Croatia, Ireland, Israel, Portugal, and Sweden.

In one of the 42 studies analyzed, eight- and nine-year-olds simulated traveling the world by running in place in between answering questions relating to different countries.

The research team, also led by Norris at UCL, concluded that the children were more active and more focused on the task than peers in a control group, following teachers’ instructions more closely.

In another study in the Netherlands, primary school children who took part in physically active lessons three times a week over two years made significantly better progress in spelling and mathematics than their peers, equating to four months of extra learning gains, according to researchers.

The  study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Source: University College London

Two-Year-Olds From Poor Neighborhoods More Likely to Have Language Difficulties

Two-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds are three times more likely to develop difficulties with language than those from more affluent areas, according to a new Scottish study published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Researchers say the findings highlight the need for policy makers to address the social factors that can hinder speech, language and communication (SLC) development.

Failing to do so means children might not fully develop the language skills necessary for emotional development, wellbeing and educational and employment opportunities.

“Growing up in a disadvantaged neighbourhood where there is poverty and reduced access to services is closely associated with problems with preschool language development,” said Professor James Boardman of Neonatal Medicine at the University of Edinburgh’s MRC Centre for Reproductive Health.

“These results suggest that policies designed to lessen deprivation could reduce language and communication difficulties among pre-school children.”

For the study, a research team from the University of Edinburgh and NHS Lothian in Scotland looked at more than 26,000 records of children who had received a routine health review between 27 and 30 months between April 2013 and April 2016.

The findings show that two-year-olds living in the most economically deprived neighborhoods were three times more likely to have SLC concerns compared to those brought up in better-off areas.

It is believed that growing up in neighborhoods with low income and unemployment — which is related to problems with education, health, access to services, crime and housing — can increase the risk of setbacks.

The researchers also discovered that being born prematurely had an impact on language issues. The findings show that each week a child spent in the womb from 23 to 36 weeks was associated with an 8.8% reduction in the likelihood of the children having an SLC concern reported at 27 months.

A pregnancy is considered full term between 39 weeks and 40 weeks, 6 days, while preterm birth is defined as delivery before 37 weeks of gestation. Socioeconomic disadvantage has also been associated with a greater risk for preterm birth.

Although the research team looked at birth data from children born in the Lothians, experts say similar results might be expected across the United Kingdom.

Source: University of Edinburgh

Eczema in Children Linked to Anxiety, Depression in Parents

A new study has found that a majority of family members and caregivers of children with atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema, suffer from anxiety and depression.

For the study, researchers from the PHI University Clinic of Dermatology assessed the impact of an atopic dermatitis diagnosis on the families of 35 children between the ages of 1 and 6. The researchers, who evaluated 83 family members and caregivers,  found that all of them reported at least mild severity anxiety, with some showing moderate severity anxiety. Almost three in four — 74 percent — were also found to have depression.

According to the study’s findings, depression and anxiety scores were associated with the persistence and longevity of atopic dermatitis.

The researchers noted they did not find an association between scores and the severity of the disease, meaning that depression or anxiety was not observed to increase where atopic dermatitis was more severe.

Atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema, affects between 10 and 20 percent of the pediatric population of Europe. It causes the skin to become itchy, red, dry, and cracked. It is a chronic condition that most often occurs in people who have allergies and can develop alongside asthma and hay fever.

Patients with the condition are also known to suffer insomnia, anxiety, and psychosocial stress, linked to the physical manifestation of their eczema, according to the researchers.

For the study, researchers used the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS) and Hamilton Anxiety Rating scale (HAM-A).

The researchers also asked participants what their greatest concerns were. The most frequent worry was the information families and caregivers receive about the nature of the disease, since atopic dermatitis is a long-term condition that requires complex and costly medical treatments.

“The chronicity and complexity of chronic dermatitis often leads to overlooked anxiety and depression in family members and caregivers, but our results show the extent of this cannot be overstated,” said lead researcher Dr. Vesna Grivcheva-Panovska.

“In the future, we must take a widened approach to the management of atopic dermatitis, not only of the patients but of their families as well.”

The research was presented at the 2019 European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (EADV) Congress.

Source: Spink Health

Severe Morning Sickness May Be Risk Factor for Autism

A new study discovers children whose mothers had a severe form of a morning sickness during pregnancy were 53 percent more likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Kaiser Permanente researchers said the condition, known as hyperemesis gravidarum, is rare and occurs in less that 5 percent of all pregnancies.

Nevertheless, researchers believe the findings are important because the research suggests that children born to women with hyperemesis may be at an increased risk of autism. “Awareness of this association may create the opportunity for earlier diagnosis and intervention in children at risk of autism,” explains lead study author Darios Getahun, M.D., Ph.D., of Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research and Evaluation.

The study appears in the American Journal of Perinatology.

Experts explain that women with the severe form of morning sickness experience intense nausea and are unable to keep down food and fluids. This can lead to dangerous dehydration and inadequate nutrition during pregnancy.

To determine the extent of the association between hyperemesis gravidarum and autism spectrum disorder, researchers reviewed electronic health records of nearly 500,000 pregnant women and their children born between 1991 and 2014 at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. They compared children whose mothers had a diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum during pregnancy to those whose mothers did not.

Other findings from the research included:

• Exposure to hyperemesis gravidarum was associated with increased risk of autism when hyperemesis gravidarum was diagnosed during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy, but not when it was diagnosed only in the third trimester;
• Exposure to hyperemesis gravidarum was associated with risk of autism regardless of the severity of the mother’s hyperemesis gravidarum;
• The association between hyperemesis gravidarum and autism spectrum disorder was stronger in girls than boys and among whites and Hispanics than among blacks and Pacific Islanders;
• The medications used to treat hyperemesis gravidarum did not appear to be related to autism risk.

Investigators explain that the results are consistent with the hypothesis that women experiencing hyperemesis gravidarum have poor nutritional intake. This may, in turn lead to potential long-term neurodevelopment impairment in their children.

The study cannot, however, rule out other possible explanations, such as perinatal exposures to some medications and maternal smoking.

Source: Kaiser Permanente/EurekAlert

Early Prenatal Anemia May Increase Risk of Autism, ADHD

A new Swedish study suggests anemia early in pregnancy may increase the risk of autism, ADHD and intellectual disability in children. Anemia is a common condition in late pregnancy and researchers discovered anemia toward the end of pregnancy did not have the same correlation.

The findings, published in JAMA Psychiatry, underscore the importance of early screening for iron status and nutrition counseling.

An estimated 15-20% of pregnant women worldwide suffer from iron deficiency anemia — lower blood oxygen levels due to a lack of iron. By the third trimester, pregnant women have nearly 50% more blood than they did pre-pregnancy in order to provide enough oxygen for both the woman and the fetus, and their iron requirements are nearly double that of nonpregnant women. Thus, the vast majority of anemia diagnoses are made toward the end of pregnancy, when blood levels are at their highest.

In the current study, the researchers examined what impact the timing of an anemia diagnosis had on the fetus’ neurodevelopment. Investigators specifically assessed if there was an association between an earlier diagnosis in the mother and the risk of intellectual disability (ID), autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the child.

Overall, very few women are diagnosed with anemia early in pregnancy. In this study of nearly 300,000 mothers and more than half a million children born in Sweden between 1987-2010, less than 1% of all mothers were diagnosed with anemia before the 31st week of pregnancy. Among the 5.8% of mothers who were diagnosed with anemia, only 5% received their diagnosis early on.

The researchers found that children born to mothers with anemia diagnosed before the 31st week of pregnancy had a somewhat higher risk of developing autism and ADHD and a significantly higher risk of intellectual disability compared to healthy mothers and mothers diagnosed with anemia later in pregnancy.

Among the early anemic mothers, 4.9% of the children were diagnosed with autism compared to 3.5% of children born to non-anemic mothers, 9.3% were diagnosed with ADHD compared to 7.1%, and 3.1% were diagnosed with intellectual disability compared to 1.3%.

After considering other factors such as income level and maternal age, the researchers concluded that the risk of autism in children born to mothers with early anemia was 44% higher compared to children with non-anemic mothers. The risk of ADHD was 37% higher and the risk of intellectual disability was 120% higher.

Even when compared to their siblings, children exposed to early maternal anemia were at higher risk of autism and intellectual disability. Importantly, anemia diagnosed after the 30th week of pregnancy was not associated with a higher risk for any of these conditions.

“A diagnosis of anemia earlier in pregnancy might represent a more severe and long-lasting nutrition deficiency for the fetus,” says Renee Gardner, project coordinator at the Department of Public Health Sciences at Karolinska Institutet and the study’s lead researcher.

“Different parts of the brain and nervous system develop at different times during pregnancy, so an earlier exposure to anemia might affect the brain differently compared to a later exposure.”

The researchers also noted that early anemia diagnoses were associated with infants being born small for gestational age while later anemia diagnoses were associated with infants being born large for gestational age.

Babies born to mothers with late-stage anemia are typically born with a good iron supply, unlike babies born to mothers with early anemia.

Although researchers could not specify whether iron deficiency anemia is more detrimental than anemia caused by other factors, iron deficiency is by far the most common cause of anemia. Investigators say the findings may thus support regular iron supplementation in maternity care.

Scientists emphasize the importance of early screening for iron status and nutrition counseling but note that more research is needed to find out if early maternal iron supplementation could help reduce the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in children.

Adult women 19 to 50 years old typically need 18 mg of iron per day, though needs increase during pregnancy. Since excessive iron intake can be toxic, pregnant women should discuss their iron intake with their midwife or doctor.

Source: JAMA

Kids Bullied by Siblings May Have Mental Health Issues in Early 20s

UK researchers have discovered that kids bullied at home and at school are more likely to have mental health issues in young adulthood. Investigators found that depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation are more prominent in young adults if they were bullied.

Notably, even sibling bullying can be harmful as it often leads to peer bullying and then issues later in life. Experts stress that education of parents and mental health professionals is necessary to mitigate what may have previously been viewed as harmless banter between siblings.

The new findings are not without precedent as previous studies have identified that sibling bullying has an effect on mental health in adolescence. However, University of Warwick researchers Professor Dieter Wolke and Dr. Slava Dantchev have now found that children who were bullied by siblings and friends are more likely to harm themselves.

The paper appears in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry. The research shows that sibling bullying can lead to on self-harm, suicide attempts and depression at 24 years of age.

Using the Children of the 90s study, they were able to show that children who were bullied by siblings had more mental health issues in adulthood. If they were also bullied by peers this risk increased further.

The participants were asked to self-report bullying when they were 12 years old; depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and self-harm were assessed at 24 years old.

Of 3,881 youths studied it was found that 31.2% experienced bullying by a sibling. Of those who both became victims and bullied siblings 15.1% were diagnosed with clinical depression, 35.7% experienced suicidal ideation and 16.1% self-harmed with a further 4.9% with the intent of suicide.

Those who experienced sibling bullying and peer bullying had double the odds of developing clinical depression and consider suicide.

Dantchev said this is the first study to show that being bullied by siblings has adverse effects on mental health into adulthood, when the siblings are not living together anymore. “Those bullied at home are also more likely to be bullied by peers and have no safe space at school or at home. This further increased their torment and affected their mental health.”

Wolke also commented, “As sibling bullying often starts when children are young it will be important to educate and help parents to deal and reduce bullying between siblings in early childhood. This is an area which has been completely overlooked in mental health provision and parent support.”

Source: University of Warwick