Children’s Health


How California’s Mentally Ill Children Suffer — Few Hospital Beds Statewide

 (Debora Bogaerts/Flickr)

(Debora Bogaerts/Flickr)

CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, the original version of this story incorrectly identified John Muir Medical Center, Concord as the facility where Maria Ramirez’s granddaughter was taken. We regret that error.  The post has been edited so that it no longer contains the incorrect information.

By Elaine Korry

Maria Ramirez began caring for her granddaughter when the girl was just a toddler. Her granddaughter began hurting herself — cutting her arms and swallowing things — before she was 10. Soon, says Ramirez, she couldn’t let the girl out of her sight. “She was running in front of cars, just really impulsive,” says Ramirez. “It was out of control, and I was really scared.”

Ramirez has a job and health insurance, so she did what any parent or guardian would do: she took her granddaughter to her local hospital for treatment. But instead of finding help, she always got the same reply, “No beds, no beds.”

Ramirez, a Bay Area artist who loves gardening, says she knew early on that her granddaughter was going to need help. “She was a hard child to make smile. She was very serious,” says Ramirez. Continue reading

UC Berkeley Research: Yes, Your Toddler Really Is Smarter Than a 5-Year-Old

Children under age 2 can reason abstractly, UC Berkeley researchers show. (Getty Images)

Children under age 2 can reason abstractly, UC Berkeley researchers show. (Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

Parents, does your 18-month-old seem wise beyond her years? Science says you’re not fooling yourself.

Very small children can reason abstractly, researchers say, and are able to infer the relationships between objects that elude older children who get caught up on the concreteness of things.

In experiments at the U.C. Berkeley, children as young as 18 months were able to figure out the relationship between colored blocks.

The child would watch a researcher put two blocks on top of a box. If the blocks were identical, the box would play music. The majority of children were able to figure out the pattern after they were shown it just three times. They would then help the researcher pick the correct block. Continue reading

Even California’s Pre-School Age Kids Eating Fast Food Regularly



Two-thirds of children between the ages of two to five years old eat fast-food at least once a week in California, according to a study released Monday by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

The study gathered data from the 2007 and 2009 California Health Interview Survey and found that 60 percent of children are eating fast food at least once a week, and one in 10 is eating three fast food meals a week.

“That’s too high for me,” says Susan Holtby, the lead author of the study and a senior researcher at the Public Health Institute in Oakland. “To have that many children that young eating fast food every week calls for attention. Those are the years where you really set the pace and set the tone for what a child’s diet will be like going forward to teens years.” Continue reading

Last Phase of Transition: Rural Californians Move to Medi-Cal Managed Care

(Ben Ramirez: Flickr)

(Ben Ramirez/Flickr)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

Rural Californians already have challenges accessing health care and changes to Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, could further complicate matters.

Rural areas have fewer physicians and facilities and services are spread out over greater distances than they are in urban and suburban areas. Rural areas also have a disproportionately high number of lower-income, Medi-Cal-eligible residents which creates a challenging situation for state health officials charged with providing medical coverage in rural settings.

“The rollout has gone relatively smoothly, but the access to providers — that’s a real question still.”

On Nov. 1, the state launched an ambitious plan to transition Medi-Cal beneficiaries in rural areas from fee-for-service care arrangements to managed care plans. The move shifts 28 rural counties to the financial model the state is using throughout the rest of the state.

Also on Nov. 1, the state launched the last phase of its Healthy Families transition — moving children in rural counties to Medi-Cal managed care. Healthy Families is California’s Children’s Health Insurance Program. Continue reading

Study Finds Girls Entering Puberty Younger; Obesity Implicated

Retailer J.C. Penney features a Girls Plus clothing department tailored to overweight girls in this April, 2004 photo. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Retailer J.C. Penney features a Girls Plus clothing department tailored to overweight girls. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Building on earlier research a major new study has found that girls are starting puberty at even younger ages. The most significant changes were seen in Caucasian girls and in girls who are overweight or obese. Still, girls who were not overweight were also entering puberty younger, the study found.

Researchers at three sites around the country — including the San Francisco Bay Area — followed 1,239 ethnically diverse girls from 2004 to 2011. They looked at breast development, a key marker for the start of puberty.

Girls who mature earlier are at risk for lower self-esteem and higher rates of depression.
Earlier studies had shown that African-American girls had reached this milestone at younger ages. “Now it looks like it’s happening earlier for Caucasian girls,” said Dr. Louise Greenspan, a pediatric endocrinologist with Kaiser San Francisco and one of the authors of the study. “Particularly, the overweight Caucasian girls are developing earlier than they have in the past.”

Researchers looked at a number of factors, but the “obesity epidemic appears to be a prime driver in the decrease in age at onset of breast development,” the authors wrote.  Continue reading

Recipe For Strong Teen Bones: Exercise, Calcium and Vitamin D

Exercise helps build strong bones for a lifetime, says one expert. (KG Sand Soccer/Flickr)

Exercise helps build strong bones for a lifetime, says one expert. (KG Sand Soccer/Flickr)

By Patti Neighmond, NPR

It’s really only a sliver of time when humans build the bulk of their skeleton. At age 9, the bones start a big growth spurt. And by the time puberty ends, around 14 or 15 years old, the adult-sized skeleton is all but done, about 90 percent complete.

But doctors say a lot of children aren’t getting what they need to do that. Calcium and vitamin D are essential, sure, but so is lots of time jumping and running.

“It’s the magic window of time when bone is built.”
“It’s the magic window of time when bone is built,” says Dr. Laura Tosi, an orthopedic surgeon who directs the pediatric bone health program at Children’s National Health system in Washington, D.C. And when it comes to bones, “bigger is definitely better,” she says. “The wider and thicker the bone, the harder it is to break or tear.”

Just about everybody knows that calcium and vitamin D are essential to build strong bones. But children and teenagers are all too often shunning the foods that would help them get enough calcium and vitamin D to build those bones.

Federal health officials recommend that children between the ages of 9 and 18 get 1,300 milligrams of calcium every day. That translates into four to five glasses of milk or the equivalent. According to Dr. Neville Golden, an adolescent medicine specialist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, most teens are not drinking anywhere near that amount. Continue reading

Just One in Three Students Deemed “Fit” in State Evaluation

Among other issues, physical education programs and recess have been cut back in recent years because of budget cuts, (Getty Images)

Among other issues, physical education programs and recess have been cut back in recent years because of budget cuts, (Getty Images)

By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource

Only one in three California students earned a “fit” rating in the annual physical fitness test given to more than 1 million fifth, seventh and ninth grade students, according to 2012-13 test results released Wednesday.

About 26 percent of fifth graders, 32 percent of seventh graders, and 37 percent of ninth graders scored in the “Healthy Fitness Zone,” a measure defined by the creators of the California Physical Fitness Test, for all six areas: aerobic capacity, body composition, abdominal strength, trunk extensor strength, upper body strength, and flexibility.

In the test, a 10-year-old boy, for example, would be evaluated on his ability to perform a minimum of 12 curl-ups and seven push-ups within a specified time and to run a mile as fast as possible, or run back and forth in a 20-meter distance for as long as possible. Students 13 and older are given the option of walking a mile as fast as possible. Continue reading

California Teens Slurping More Sugary Drinks

Arizona Green Tea is popular with teens, but this 23.5 ounce can has 51 grams -- or more than one-third of a cup -- of sugar.(Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)

Arizona Green Tea is popular with teens, but this 23 ounce can has 51 grams — or more than one-third of a cup — of sugar. (Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)

By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource

As the clock ticks toward a 2014 federal ban on the sale of sports drinks at high schools, California teenagers are showing an increasing fondness for the sugary beverages, with an alarming 23 percent spike in the consumption of sports and energy drinks since 2005, according to a new study.

At the same time, consumption of sugary drinks by young children is declining sharply, according to the study by researchers at the California Center for Public Health Advocacy and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. The study tracked youth consumption of the beverages from 2005 to 2012.

Both trends – the surge in teens guzzling sugary drinks and the drop in consumption for younger children – are tied to regulations governing the sale of the beverages in California schools, said Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

“Taking sodas out of schools contributed to a precipitous drop in consumption among younger kids,” he said, “while older kids have switched to sports drinks and energy drinks, and those products are available in schools.” Continue reading

Foster Kids, Children in Orphanages at Higher Risk for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Experts say no amount of alcohol is known to be safe during pregnancy. (Getty Images)

Experts say no amount of alcohol is known to be safe during pregnancy. (Getty Images)

By Angela Hart

Children who grow up in foster care or are adopted from orphanages are more at risk for fetal alcohol syndrome because there is a higher probability that their mothers consumed alcohol during pregnancy. An international study published Monday strongly recommends that infants and adolescents in these child welfare settings be tested for the disorder.

“It is imperative that screening be implemented in these at-risk populations,” reported the authors of the study, “Prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in Child Care Setting.” The researchers conducted a meta-analysis, where they pooled data from past studies.

Fetal alcohol syndrome can cause a cascade of problems, including physical deformities, developmental delay, learning disorders and behavior problems.

Svetlana Popova of the University of Toronto said she and three other researchers collected international data from peer-reviewed journals, government reports and books. They found that 6 percent of children who live in foster homes or similar care settings have fetal alcohol syndrome. This rate is approximately nine to 60 times higher than that in the general population internationally and up to 30 times higher than the prevalence of the disorder in the general population in the U.S., which is between 0.2 and 0.7 percent, Popova said in an interview. Continue reading

More California Parents Opting Out of Vaccines; Look Up Your School Online

By Olivia Hubert-Allen and Lisa Aliferis

Despite the overwhelming medical evidence that childhood vaccinations are exceptionally effective at preventing disease, a growing number of parents are opting out of having their children vaccinated. While state law requires that children be fully vaccinated to enter kindergarten, California parents can get around this requirement simply by filing a personal belief exemption, or PBE, a signed statement saying that vaccines are counter to their beliefs.

PBE rates vary across the state, including by county (Marin has the highest personal belief exemption rate in the Bay Area at 7.8 percent), and also by individual school. The California Department of Public Health compiles vaccination rates and PBE rates statewide. Below, we’ve made it easy for you to look up your own child’s school and see what the PBE rate is. You can also look at the data by county, city or school district. (PBE data for some schools was not provided.)

The column to the far right — “%PBE” — shows the percentage of children at a kindergarten with a personal belief exemption on file. Ideally, that number should be zero, as it is at many schools statewide. Look up your child’s school in the search box:

Continue reading