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Health Care

By Kathy Sena

 

TODAY'S KIDS ARE RACING AND ZAPPING THEIR WAY TO BETTER VISUAL SKILLS

Do your kids have a PlayStation or an Xbox 360? Are you wondering if there's any redeeming value in the hours that they spend transfixed by video games?

According to a new study published in the medical journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, regular gamers are fast and accurate information processors, not only during game play, but in real-life situations as well.

In the study, researchers from the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York looked at all of the existing literature on video gaming and found some surprising insights in the data. For example, they found that avid players got faster not only on their game of choice, but on a variety of unrelated laboratory tests of reaction time. Playing video games enhances performance on visual and spatial memory and on tasks requiring divided attention, they found.

 

CHILDHOOD VACCINATION GAPS ARE NARROWING

About three-quarters of U.S. children received all of the recommended vaccinations in 2008, up from about half in 2000, reports a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"The goal of the study was to look at trends in vaccination disparities over the last nine years to see if the differences between demographic groups are increasing or decreasing. For most of the categorizations of demographics, the disparities had gone down over the last nine years, so it's a very positive finding," says Elizabeth Luman, Ph.D., a researcher in the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC. The study appeared online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Luman and CDC colleague Zhen Zhao used 2000-to-2008 phone-survey data from parents of 167,086 U.S. children between the ages of 19 months and 35 months. In addition to race, ethnicity, poverty status and participation in national vaccine programs, parents reported whether their children received the series of shots that protects children against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, poliovirus, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae type B and varicella (chickenpox).

"Vaccination coverage in all groups has increased substantially over the last few years," Luman says. For example, coverage rose from 47.1 percent among children who received care from public providers in 2000 to 71.8 percent in 2008. As of 2008, differences in vaccination coverage rates between socio-demographic groups were "generally small," the authors note.

"Most of the disparities were smaller, but especially racial disparities were reduced to levels below statistical significance. Disparities between those living in suburban and rural areas narrowed by about 4 percent. That's good news," Luman says. "What we'd like to see is for all children to have equally high access to these life-saving vaccines."

The use of physician records to verify parent reports of vaccination coverage strengthened the authors' findings, says Bevin Cohen, an infectious-disease researcher and project coordinator at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research to Reduce Antimicrobial Resistance at Columbia University School of Nursing. She had no affiliation with the study.

One of the reasons rates went up across the board, especially for rural areas, is the existence of programs that allow people to get regular coverage, Cohen says. "Improvements in programs such as the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and Medicaid will continue to boost up these rates more than anything else."

 

TEEN BOYS, SEEKING THE "NORM," MAY TAKE RISKS WITH THEIR APPEARANCE

Teen boys are more likely to use tanning booths, take diet pills and have their bodies waxed - even if they think those activities are unhealthy - if they are influenced by their peers, according to a Baylor University researcher.

Their research also showed that boys ages 12 to 17 focused more on how their skin appears to others - tone, texture and color - than on other aspects of their appearance, including body shape, when they were influenced by peers, says researcher Jay Yoo, Ph.D.

The study will be published later this year in Adolescence, a quarterly international journal. Yoo studied 155 boys, with an average age of 14.3 years, in seven schools in the eastern U.S.

"I studied what kids are teased about," Yoo says. "If anyone looks different, people tease you. Probably boys who have acne would become really self-conscious. There are cultural differences, but smooth skin is highly desired, and that may translate into other parts of the body.

Tanning as a fashion trend is a relatively new phenomenon, notes Yoo. While tanned skin once was associated with being blue-collar, "a tan now is considered a sign of the leisure class," he says. "As a result, the incident of skin cancers has risen dramatically over the past century."

Also, the availability of over-the-counter diet pills and the advertising world's presentation of those products may make adolescents think taking them is the norm, Yoo says. Taking diet pills is merely considered, by some teen boys, as a means to achieve slimness, he explains.

Yoo says the number of teen boys receiving spa services, such as hair removal, has nearly doubled since the early 1990s. Nearly half of the almost 14,000 spas in the U.S. offer events and packages for teen boys, he notes.

"Boys used to use what was available in the bathroom cabinet," Yoo says. But now it's aromatherapy and salon products, in which brand image as well as specific information are highlighted for adolescent consumers. "I've heard a mother complaining about her son being teased in the locker room when he used to carry products that were not popular among his age group," he adds.

Here are some of Yoo's findings about adolescent boys' perceptions of what is unhealthy behavior vs. their participation in those behaviors:

PERCEPTION AS UNHEALTHY

PARTICIPATION

Using diet pills: 75.2 percent

4 percent

Using tanning booths: 73.8 percent

9.4 percent

Getting a tattoo: 67.6 percent

10.1 percent

Body piercing: 66.7 percent

13.7 percent

Sunbathing: 60.5 percent

27.7 percent

 

Kathy Sena is a freelance journalist specializing in health and parenting issues and is the mother of a 14-year-old son. Visit her blog on our site.

 

 

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