Children’s Health


Just One Dose of Many Common Medicines Can Kill a Child

Many over-the-counter products contain acetaminophen. One dose is usually not a problem, but it's easy to lose track of how much your child is taking. An overdose can cause liver failure or death. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Many over-the-counter products contain acetaminophen. One dose is usually not a problem, but it’s easy to lose track of how much your child is taking. An overdose can cause liver failure or death. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

By Scott Hensley, NPR

Concerns about drug risks have led 28 state attorneys general to ask the Food and Drug Administration to reverse its approval of Zohydro, a long-acting narcotic painkiller, before the medicine is even put on the market.

People often underestimate the risks of individual drugs and combinations of drugs for young children.

The risks for addiction and overdose from the potent opioid outweigh the benefits of pain relief, critics say. Some point to the risk for children, in particular. A single capsule of Zohydro could kill a kid, the medicine’s instructions warn.

Other opioid painkillers, such as Vicodin and Percocet, are already fixtures in America’s medicine cabinets. And as the prescriptions for drugs like these have surged, so have the reports of overdoses and deaths — for children and adults.

But opioids are just one kind of risky medicine. Doctors have a disturbingly long list of drugs that can lead to the death of a child after just one or two doses. Continue reading

Can Marijuana Help Children with Severe Epilepsy?

(David McNew/Getty Images)

(David McNew/Getty Images)

By Danielle Venton

Mark Kohr doesn’t smoke pot. But open his freezer and among the tamales and organic chicken strips, you’ll also find four pounds of cannabis. He plans to process the cannabis, worth about $900, into an oil for his daughter.

Camille, who is 13, has a severe, sometimes fatal, form of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome. Like many kids with Dravet Syndrome, conventional medications didn’t seem to work. Kohr says that the cannabis her parents prepare for her does.

“Here we are with one of the most difficult medical things to treat — seizures,” Kohr says. “And we’re making the medicine at home. Isn’t that the weirdest thing on earth?” Continue reading

Covered California Health Plans to Include Children’s Dental Next Year



By Lisa Aliferis and April Dembosky

It was a big debate last summer. While children’s dental coverage is one of the Affordable Care Act’s 10 essential health benefits, the ACA gives states the flexibility to offer the coverage in a stand alone plan. Covered California first required insurers to include children’s dental, then told them to strip out the benefit, in favor of offering stand alone plans at an additional cost.

Now the data is in. Less than one-third of enrolled children on Covered California through 2013 also has dental coverage. Executive director Peter Lee says the additional cost appears to be on issue. “A lot of folks are low income,” he said. “They’re thinking additional coverage versus food on the table.”

Covered California’s board voted Thursday to make a change. Starting in 2015 all medical plans for children sold through the marketplace will be required to include dental coverage. Continue reading

Minority Parents Less Likely to Use Appropriate Car Seat, Study Finds

Children should always use a booster seat until they are big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. (Joshua & Amber/Flickr)

Children should always use a booster seat until they are big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. (Joshua & Amber/Flickr)

By Brian Lau, MD

Many studies have shown that parents don’t always use carseats and booster seats, and their kids could be at increased risk in a crash. A new study published this week shows that non-white children have particularly low use.

Researchers from The University of Michigan surveyed 601 parents about their car seat usage for 1 to 12-year-old children that received treatment at the emergency room. They found that non-white parents were nearly four times less likely to use appropriate child car restraints than white parents.

Doctors and policy makers have known of this disparity and attributed it to socioeconomic variables. But the new study shows that differences remained even after accounting for education and income. Continue reading

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