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February 2019 Archives

Teenagers Say Depression and Anxiety Are Major Issues

February 22, 2019

From The New York Times:

Most American teenagers -- across demographic groups -- see depression and anxiety as major problems among their peers, a new survey by the Pew Research Center found.

The survey found that 70 percent of teenagers saw mental health as a big issue. Fewer teenagers cited bullying, drug addiction or gangs as major problems; those from low-income households were more likely to do so.

The consistency of the responses about mental health issues across gender, race and income lines was striking, said Juliana Horowitz, an associate director of research at the center.

The survey also asked respondents if they considered alcohol consumption or teen pregnancy to be major problems among their peers. Half of the teenagers from households earning less than $30,000 said alcohol was a major problem; that number decreased to 43 percent among teenagers in households earning more than $75,000.

Teenagers diverged most drastically across income lines on the issue of teen pregnancy. Fifty-five percent of teenagers in lower-income households said it was a major problem among their peers. Just 22 percent of teenagers in wealthier households agreed.

The survey of 920 teenagers ages 13 to 17 in the United States was conducted online and by phone in the fall. In their report, the researchers broke down results by income level and gender but not race or ethnicity, citing the small sample size.

Some psychologists have tied a growth in mental health issues among teenagers to increased social media use, academic pressure and frightening events like terror attacks and school shootings.

Teenagers who grew up in the post-9/11 era, and amid many school shootings, may have anxiety tied to an environment filled with dire warnings about safety, said Philip Kendall, director of the Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Temple University in Philadelphia.

For more from The New York Times, click here.

Medical Anthropologist Explores 'Vaccine Hesitancy'

February 22, 2019

From NPR:

Distrust of vaccines may be almost as contagious as measles, according to medical anthropologist Elisa Sobo.

More than 100 people have been infected with measles this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Over 50 of those cases have occurred in southwest Washington state and northwest Oregon in an outbreak that led Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency on Jan. 25.

Some public health officials blame the surge of cases on low vaccination rates for this highly infectious disease.

Clark County, Wash. -- the center of the current spate of cases -- has an overall vaccination rate of 78 percent, but some schools in the county have rates lower than 40 percent.

Washington is one of 17 states that allows a parent to send his or her child to public school not completely vaccinated because of a "philosophical or personal objection to the immunization of the child."

What makes some families reluctant to vaccinate their children? Sobo, a professor at San Diego State University, says it may be driven in part by the desire to conform in a community where many parents are skeptical of vaccines.

To better understand how parents decide not to vaccinate, Sobo interviewed families at a school with low vaccination rates in California. She found that skepticism of vaccines was "socially cultivated."

Parents who believe that vaccines are dangerous persuaded other parents to believe the same thing by citing fears of "mainstream medicine" harming their children. Enrolling in the school even seemed to change the beliefs of some parents who had previously followed the state-mandated vaccine schedule: They started to refuse vaccines.

For NPR's interview with medical anthropologist Elisa Sobo, click here.

Snow Closing

February 20, 2019

Due to the snowstorm, the office will be closing at 12:00 PM on Wednesday, February 20, 2019.

On Perinatal Depression

February 12, 2019

From The New York Times:

As many as one in seven women experience depression during pregnancy, or in the year after giving birth, and there has never been any method scientifically recommended to prevent it.

On Tuesday a government panel of health experts reported that it had found one method that works. Some kinds of counseling can ward off perinatal depression, the panel said, and it urged it for women with certain risk factors.

The guidelines marked the first time a national health organization has recommended anything to fend off the most common complication of pregnancy, and they amounted to a public call for health providers to seek out at-risk women and guide them to treatment. The panel, the United States Preventive Services Task Force, gave its recommendation, published in the journal JAMA, a "B" rating, meaning that under the Affordable Care Act, counseling should be covered without co-payments for women.

"We really need to find these women before they get depressed," said Karina Davidson, a task force member and senior vice president for research for Northwell Health.

"We're so excited to be the first to have this recommendation on preventing a really devastating, prevalent disease that causes such harm to the parent, the child and the family, both psychologically and physiologically," she continued. "All those consequences of this very very prevalent, stigmatizing disease can be averted by effective behavioral counseling."

Perinatal depression, as it is called, is estimated to affect between 180,000 and 800,000 American mothers each year and up to 13 percent of women worldwide. Its consequences can be serious for both mothers and their babies. Perinatal depression increases a woman's risk of becoming suicidal or harming her infant, the panel reported. It also increases the likelihood that babies will be born premature or have low birth weight, and can impair a mother's ability to bond with or care for her child. The panel reported that children of mothers who had perinatal depression have more behavior problems, cognitive difficulties and mental illness.

The panel emphasized that perinatal depression is "should not be confused with the less severe postpartum 'baby blues,' which is a commonly experienced transient mood disturbance consisting of crying, irritability, fatigue, and anxiety that usually resolves within 10 days of delivery."

Read more at The New York Times.

Germs In Your Gut

February 4, 2019

From The New York Times, here's an article about new research into the human microbiome and what implications gut bacteria might have in diseases like autism and dementia.

In 2014 John Cryan, a professor at University College Cork in Ireland, attended a meeting in California about Alzheimer's disease. He wasn't an expert on dementia. Instead, he studied the microbiome, the trillions of microbes inside the healthy human body.

Dr. Cryan and other scientists were beginning to find hints that these microbes could influence the brain and behavior. Perhaps, he told the scientific gathering, the microbiome has a role in the development of Alzheimer's disease.

The idea was not well received. "I've never given a talk to so many people who didn't believe what I was saying," Dr. Cryan recalled.

A lot has changed since then: Research continues to turn up remarkable links between the microbiome and the brain. Scientists are finding evidence that microbiome may play a role not just in Alzheimer's disease, but Parkinson's disease, depression, schizophrenia, autism and other conditions.

For some neuroscientists, new studies have changed the way they think about the brain.

One of the skeptics at that Alzheimer's meeting was Sangram Sisodia, a neurobiologist at the University of Chicago. He wasn't swayed by Dr. Cryan's talk, but later he decided to put the idea to a simple test.

"It was just on a lark," said Dr. Sisodia. "We had no idea how it would turn out."

He and his colleagues gave antibiotics to mice prone to develop a version of Alzheimer's disease, in order to kill off much of the gut bacteria in the mice. Later, when the scientists inspected the animals' brains, they found far fewer of the protein clumps linked to dementia.

Just a little disruption of the microbiome was enough to produce this effect. Young mice given antibiotics for a week had fewer clumps in their brains when they grew old, too.

"I never imagined it would be such a striking result," Dr. Sisodia said. "For someone with a background in molecular biology and neuroscience, this is like going into outer space."

Following a string of similar experiments, he now suspects that just a few species in the gut -- perhaps even one -- influence the course of Alzheimer's disease, perhaps by releasing chemical that alters how immune cells work in the brain.

He hasn't found those microbes, let alone that chemical. But "there's something's in there," he said. "And we have to figure out what it is."

Read more at The New York Times.