Young children who have talkative parents, and hear a lot of adult speech tend to develop better cognitive skills than their peers, a study has found. The study, led by researchers at the University of York in the UK, identified a link between kids who heard high quantities of adult speech and their non-verbal abilities such as reasoning, numeracy and shape awareness. The researchers gained unprecedented insight into the secret lives of pre-schoolers by fitting tiny audio recorders into the clothing of children aged two to four. The experiences of 107 children and their interactions with parents and other caregivers were recorded in the home environment over three days for up to 16 hours per day.
Parents were also asked to complete activities with their children – involving drawing, copying and matching tasks – designed to test their child’s cognitive skills. It was found that the quantity of adult spoken words that children hear is positively associated with their cognitive ability. However, further research is needed to explore the reasons behind this link – it could be that greater exposure to language provides more learning opportunities for children, but it could also be the case that more intelligent children evoke more words from adults in their environment.
The researchers also found that high quality adult speech may have benefits for children’s linguistic development, as children in the study who interacted with adults who used a diverse vocabulary knew a greater variety of words themselves. The study also analysed the recordings to look at the impact different parenting styles might have on the children’s behaviour. It was found that positive parenting – where parents are responsive and encouraging of exploration and self-expression – was associated with children showing fewer signs of restless, aggressive and disobedient behaviours.
Drug that Let Us Eat Anything without Gaining Weight
Scientists might have just found a way to let you stuff your face without putting on weight. It’s got to do with a single gene known as RCAN1 which, when disabled in mice, allowed them to gorge on high fat foods for prolonged periods of time without gaining calories. Researchers think a similar approach might also work for humans, and they’re hoping to develop a pill that could be used to combat obesity.
“We know a lot of people struggle to lose weight or even control their weight for a number of different reasons,” said lead researcher Professor Damien Keating of Flinders University, as reported by Science Daily . “The findings in this study could mean developing a pill which would target the function of RCAN1 and may result in weight loss.”
Those findings were published last month in the EMBO Reports science journal, with researchers from Flinders University and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center concluding that, “Mice deficient for RCAN1 have an elevated metabolic rate and are resistant to diet-induced obesity.” That’s because RCAN1 acts as a feedback inhibitor for certain metabolic processes: notably, something called “non-shivering thermogenesis” (NST) which essentially “expends calories as heat rather than storing them as fat.” NST is “championed as an effective way to combat obesity and metabolic disease”, the study notes. So when RCAN1 is taken out of the equation, calories that would have otherwise been stored as fat get burned away instead.
To put it another way, Damien explains that blocking RCAN1 helped the body transform white fat-the fat that stores energy and leads to obesity-into brown fat-which produces heat and burns calories, FierceBiotech reports.
“Removing RCAN1 had two major effects,” said Damien. “It reduced the storage of fat in dangerous areas around the belly, for example. And then in muscle it actually [caused] muscles to burn more calories at rest.”
The study’s authors point out that there’s a time and place for RCAN1’s role in preventing calories from being burned: namely, back when food was scarce and calories weren’t so readily available. In the modern world of “caloric abundance”, however, too much fat is being stored and real health problems are ensuing as a result. The researchers suggest that “These adaptive avenues of energy expenditure [such as RCAN1] may now contribute to the growing epidemic of obesity.”
“We looked at a variety of different diets with various time spans from eight weeks up to six months,” said Damien, “and in every case we saw health improvements in the absence of the RCAN1 gene. “Mice on a high-fat diet that lacked this gene gained no weight.”
The National Health and Medical Research Council has provided funding to extend the research and “continue to explore viable options”, The Australian reports. As far as Damien’s concerned, the research shows that “we can potentially make a real difference in the fight against obesity.”
“The ideal would be to take some sort of pill that didn’t require you to watch your diet, that didn’t require you to exercise,” he says. “Now, that might seem like a pipe dream, but the findings that we have out of this mouse study at least indicate a novel pathway that we might be able to target.”
Overweight in Childhood increases risk of Cancer
Heavier and taller children are at greater risk than their average-sized peers, of developing renal cell carcinoma (RCC) as adults, the latest findings suggest.
RCC is the most common form of kidney cancer found in adults. Although it often occurs in men between the ages of 50 and 70, cancer can be diagnosed throughout adulthood. Medical experts don’t know the exact causes of RCC.
“We know that overweight in adulthood is associated with an increased risk of RCC. We also know that cancers take many years to develop. We, therefore, had a theory that already being overweight in childhood would increase the risk of RCC later in life,” explains lead author Britt Wang Jensen.
To tease out the relationships between childhood body size and the risk of RCC in adulthood, the team of researchers used data from the Copenhagen School Health Records Register (CSHRR). The CSHRR is an electronic database of health examination information with data from 372,636 children born in Copenhagen in the years 1930 to 1989 (and aged 30 to 89 years now).
It contains serial measurements of height and weight as well as birth weight from 1942 onwards reported by the parents. In their study, the researchers included 301,422 individuals (152,573 men) from the CSHRR, born from 1930 to1985.
The weights and heights were measured at annual school health examinations at the ages 7-13 years, and body mass index (BMI) was used to categorise the children as normal-weight or overweight, based on age- and sex-specific cut-offs suggested by the International Obesity Task Force. Cases of RCC were identified by linkage to the Danish Cancer Registry.
To analyse the data, the researchers used a statistical technique known as the Cox proportional hazards regression. The procedure relates several factors or exposures — considered simultaneously — to measure the risk of an outcome, in this case, the risk of developing RCC.
During a median of 32 years of observation, 1,010 individuals (680 men) were diagnosed with RCC. Among men and women significant and positive associations were observed between childhood BMI and height, respectively, and RCC risk.
When comparing two 13-year old children with one z-score difference in BMI (equivalent to 5.9 kg for boys and 6.8 kg for girls), but with similar height, the heaviest boy or girl had, in each case, a 14 per cent higher risk of RCC than the leaner child.
For height, one z-score difference in two 13-year old children (equivalent to 8.0 cm for boys and 6.9 cm for girls) was associated with a 12 per cent increased risk of RCC later in life for the taller boy or girl.
Compared to children with a normal-weight at 7 and 13 years, children with overweight at both ages did not have increased risks of RCC, whereas children with normal-weight at 7 years and overweight at 13 years had a 67 per cent greater risk of developing this cancer.
Compared to children with an average height at 7 and 13 years, children who were 0.5 z-score taller than average at age 7 years (equivalent to 2.6 cm for boys and girls) and remain taller than average until age 13 years have a 6 per cent increased risk of RCC.
Children who grew from average to above average height (0.5 z-score change is equivalent to 4.0 cm additional growth in height for boys and 3.5 cm for girls) had an 8 per cent increased risk of RCC.
“We have found in other studies that childhood height is positively associated with several cancer forms. Therefore, we did expect to find that tall children have a higher risk of RCC than average-sized children,” authors of the study asserted.
According to them, the findings open the door to new ways to explore the causes of kidney cancer.
UNICEF report says 2.9 million children in India miss first dose of measles vaccine
India has 2.9 million children who have missed out on the first dose of measles vaccine between 2010 and 2017 despite over 80 per cent of immunisation coverage, the UNICEF said on Thursday.
India, with its large annual birth cohort of 25 million, is followed by Pakistan and Indonesia – 1.2 million each, and Ethiopia 1.1 million, it said, adding that the situation is “critical” in low and middle-income countries.
In 2017, for example, Nigeria had the highest number of children under one year of age who missed out on the first dose of vaccine, at nearly 4 million, the United Nations child health body said.
The United States topped the list of high-income countries with most children not receiving the first dose of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2017 at more than 2.5 million.
It is followed by France and the United Kingdom, with over 600,000 and 500,000 unvaccinated infants, respectively, during the same period.
An estimated 169 million children missed out on the first dose of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2017, or 21.1 million children a year on an average, the UNICEF said.
Widening pockets of unvaccinated children have created a pathway to the measles outbreak around the world. “The ground for the global measles outbreaks we are witnessing today was laid years ago,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said.
“The measles virus will always find unvaccinated children. If we are serious about averting the spread of this dangerous but preventable disease, we need to vaccinate every child, in rich and poor countries alike,” Fore said.
In the first three months of this year, more than 1,10,000 measles cases were reported worldwide – up nearly 300 per cent from the same period last year. An estimated 1,10,000 people, most of them children, died from measles in 2017, a 22 per cent increase from the year before, the body said in a statement.
Two doses of measles vaccine are essential to protect children from the disease. However, due to lack of access, poor health systems, complacency, and in some cases fear or skepticism about vaccines, the global coverage of the first dose of the measles vaccine was reported at 85 per cent in 2017, a figure that has remained relatively constant over the last decade despite population growth.
Global coverage for the second dose is much lower at 67 per cent. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a threshold of 95 per cent immunisation coverage to achieve so-called ‘herd immunity’. “Worldwide coverage levels of the second dose of the measles vaccines are even more alarming. Of the top 20 countries, with the largest number of unvaccinated children in 2017, nine have not introduced the second dose,” it said in the statement.
Twenty countries in sub-Saharan Africa have not introduced the necessary second dose in the national vaccination schedule, putting over 17 million infants a year at higher risk of measles during their childhood.
“Measles is far too contagious,” said Fore, adding that “it is critical not only to increase coverage, but also to sustain vaccination rates at the right doses to create an umbrella of immunity for everyone”
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