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|Friday, April 27, 2012
|Get Those Babies Moving! Unexpected Benefits of Early Activity
|by Pediatric Perspectives at 09:38 AM
By Kyle Morrison, program manager and pediatric exercise physiologist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Healthy Weight Center
How many times do you ask parents of very young children about their development? Are they crawling? Trying to walk? Can they push a ball? Throw a ball? Skip?
Now, how many times do you ask a parent if they are teaching their child to do these activities? Actively engaging them in those activities?
If my question caught you off guard, you’re not alone. We’re primed to believe that most children just naturally develop these skills just as they naturally learn to breathe, eat and eventually become potty trained. But the reality (and what the science shows) is that while kids will likely still develop in these ways, they will do so much better if they have a parent or other adult actively engaging them in the standard physical activities of infancy and the toddler years above and beyond what naturally occurs.
While it might seem that toddlers and babies are in continual motion, that’s not true, particularly for first babies who tend to be held more during the first six to nine months of their lives compared to siblings that may follow.
The importance of physical activity during these years is so important that major national organizations like the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance have guidelines regarding infant interactions and physical activities, and recommending that toddlers engage in at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity each day.
More recently, the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) developed two sets of guidelines designed to improve the health and activity levels of infants and toddlers. The recommendations, published in the April 2012 issue of the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, call for children ages 1 to 4 to accumulate at least 180 minutes of physical activity in a variety of free play and structured settings throughout the day. The guidelines go on to recommend that parents and caregivers limit prolonged sitting for more than an hour a time, as well as limit “excessive screen time.”
So how should parents ensure their young children get this amount of physical activity? You should encourage them to deliberately engage in activities by carrying infants into new environments and putting them down on the floor to explore; standing over them when the stepping reflex kicks in, holding their hands, and helping them make practice steps; putting a ball or toy in front of them and encouraging them to scoot or crawl towards it, or littering their path with blocks or toys so they learn to circumnavigate obstacles.
As children get older, parents should engage in more active play, such as tossing a ball, riding a tricycle or scooter, going for walks. You might also recommend parents see if the Start Smart Sports Development Program is available in their community. This program, from the National Alliance for Youth Sports, is a developmentally appropriate introductory sports program for children 3 to 5 years old.
When parents participate in physical activity with young, developing children, they improve the likelihood that this modeling will help promote future activity levels. These early opportunities for physical activity also help build the skill sets and confidence kids need to be active in the later stages of childhood through adulthood.
Kyle Morrison is a program manager and pediatric exercise physiologist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital’s Healthy Weight Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
|Thursday, April 19, 2012
|Childhood Cancer Can Affect Development—What Can You Do About It?
|by Pediatric Perspectives at 08:07 AM
By Beth Kurt, MD, pediatric oncologist with the Spectrum Health Medical Group and director of the After Care and Transition program for childhood cancer survivors at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital
I was intrigued by a recent article in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology published online in early February. The article reports the results of the first prospective study of the cognitive, physical and social development of infants and toddlers undergoing cancer treatment.
The researchers conducted age-appropriate neuropsychological testing in 61 children with non-central nervous system cancers who were 42 months or younger and compared the results to similar testing in matched controls. The testing occurred while the children were in the midst of treatment.
The study sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Development, was conducted on children in Italy. Based on the test scores, the researchers found that the cancer cohort tended to have significant development deficits in cognitive aspects such as attention and memory, and in motor skills, compared to the control group (P<0.001), although there were no differences between groups in terms of social and emotional development.
This study is important because it adds to an area of research that is relatively thin: the effects of cancer and its treatment on neurocognitive development. Still, I would like to see data on these children’s neurocognitive and motor milestones after they finish their treatment, data I’m sure will be forthcoming.
Nonetheless, this study reminds us—both oncologists and primary care physicians, who provide a great deal of non-cancer-related care to young children—that we can’t ignore cognitive, motor, and social development in these children just because they are sick. We need to treat the whole child, not just the illness.
As community physicians, you play an important role in this. You can encourage parents to engage their children in non-medically related activities that they would be doing if the child weren’t sick. Reading out loud. Drawing pictures. Playing games. Taking walks. Tossing a ball. You can also connect them with community resources available to support development, including programs through Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In Michigan, the program is called Early On.
The big takeaway from this study is that we could all be better at placing emphasis on getting these kids into developmental services earlier rather than later. As the authors of the study noted: “If not addressed adequately, the effects of early problems can spread, affecting many aspects of children’s development in significant ways.”