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Simplifying Science

No Breakfast, No Problem?

Whose kids don’t eat breakfast? I have one of those. Or rather, I have one who would like to be counted among the ranks of the no-food-past-my-lips-while-I’m-still-half-asleep, but I deny her the opportunity. 

That’s because in medical school and in the medical literature — all over the press actually — there’s a strong conviction that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I spent years in my practice negotiating with (okay, sometimes begging) teenagers to just get a few bites across their lips before they walked out the door. Or at the very least a couple of sips of a smoothie, ideally with protein. I was a broken record. 

Over the past several years, though, there’s emerging data that long periods of fasting are actually good for you. Really good. Life extending, weight changing good for you. Basically, you can skip breakfast or you can skip dinner (but not both!) and your body will thank you. This article summarizes the research that exists for adults and it got me thinking: should we be changing what we preach to our teens? Are the morning food-refusers actually onto something? I don’t know of any research that has looked at this population in particular (if you do, please share), but I will say that based upon everything I have read recently, I am thinking about running an experiment of my own in this new school year. I might just lay off the insistence that breakfast gets consumed and see how my daughter feels in that first class of the day, honoring her internal clock, which is apparently trying to dictate a prolonged daily fast. I will let you know how it goes. 

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Fasting is one of the biggest weight-loss trends to arise in recent years. Endorsed by A-list celebrities and the subject of a spate of best-selling books, it was the eighth most-Googled diet in America in 2018.

But fasting shouldn’t be dismissed as just another fad. At the Charité University Hospital in Berlin, I’ve employed what’s called intermittent fasting, or time-restricted eating, to help patients with an array of chronic… READ MORE



The Talk, 2019 Style

At this point in my career, I would say the most common questions I get are about The Talk. When should you start explaining the birds and the bees? How much? How in-depth? How??? One answer may be: watch this. Because The Talk we all got back in our day just doesn’t cut it anymore. 



Sexting Grown Up

A few weeks ago, a new study about teen sexting made headlines by concluding that only one out of every five teens sext. I’ll be honest: I didn’t buy their conclusions. I fully believe that in their study, only 20% of the kids they asked admitted to the behavior (even though in any informal survey I have ever taken when teaching kids or interviewing them for a project, my number would be far closer to 80%), but the conclusion seemed to be that we don’t need to worry about the issue because it’s much smaller scale than we think. What’s my beef? That regardless of whose numbers are correct, when we were kids, we never had to think about seeing Jimmy from math class in the buff. 

When I teach sixth graders, I ask them the following questions: Has anyone ever asked you or someone you know for a nude? Have you or someone you know ever received one? And I swear, 100% of the hands go up. When I drill down, it’s really that they know someone who has been solicited or on the receiving end — they themselves haven’t necessarily been asked. But still, the numbers of someone who knows someone at age 11 or 12 are impressive.

I felt somewhat vindicated when I found this article, albeit years old, making the case for nudes and sexts as common currency among adults. We know this by now, right? That our adult friends are engaging in nude swapping as often as our kids? Especially our single friends on dating sites. Don’t believe me? Go ask them and they will tell you about the currency of naked pictures, sometimes wanted but oftentimes not. When this particular article was written back in 2015, a survey of 18 - 82 year olds reported that a whopping 88% of them were part of sexting culture. 

My point here is that naked image swapping is common — more common among our kids than we want to believe and more common among adults than we often acknowledge. So instead of debating whether its happening, let’s figure out how to talk about it: how to prepare our kids for what they are going to see; how to say no if they don’t want to participate; what are the legal ramifications if they do; and what can happen to reputations when images get passed around. At any age.

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Parents of budding teens can breathe a little easier: A new study says adolescent "sexting" is not an epidemic.

On the other hand, it's not disappearing, either, despite campaigns to curb it.

"Sexting is perceived as an epidemic because the news highlights extreme cases that involve tragic outcomes, and because it goes against standards of morality and decency that are historically entrenched," said study author Sameer Hinduja, a professor of criminology at Florida Atlantic University. READ MORE



Building a Launchpad

Joy used to be the buzzword of good parenting, but that was so 2017. Next came resilience, or grit for those who wanted to trade up with a four-letter version. Now, especially as high school graduates set themselves to fly off to college, it’s launching. Or rather, failure to launch. As in: they’re all grown up but they don’t know how to navigate anything on their own.

If you want to avoid a panicked transition out of the house, or even if you are just looking to build independence (buzzword of 2020?) slowly and steadily, read this piece. And then begin to implement elements, depending upon the ages of your kids, where you live, and the realities of your logistical life. At the very least, all of our kids can get better at helping around the house (case in point: what used to be called chores are really baby steps toward doing it on one’s own... not to mention, there’s research showing big benefits to household work by the kids).

Ultimately, a successful launch means we have raised kids who can eventually take care of themselves. While getting there might take some grit, the outcome brings everyone joy.

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Sarah Clark was happy to get the call from her college teen, but couldn't believe what she was hearing.

"My kid called from college and said, 'I'm sick, what should I do?'" Clark said. "I'm like, what do you mean what do you do? You have a drug store down the street. Go have at it."

A new poll co-directed by Clark found that there are a lot of parents in the same boat. Most parents think they are doing enough to prepare their teens for adulthood, but they're…READ MORE

You Are Right, According to Confirmation Bias

Why do we believe what we believe? Not just when it comes to health and wellness, by the way. This question seeps into every corner of our lives, from past history to current politics, family lore to eye-witnessed drama. We believe what our senses tell us to be true: what we see (or think we see), hear, read, and live. And once we become believers, it’s remarkably difficult to shift perspective. READ MORE

When Kids Lose Weight

Weight loss is a touchy subject at any age. There are some people who are unhealthfully heavy, and it becomes a doctor’s job to counsel them about the risks. But that advice can feel shaming, impossibly trite, or simply unattainable. Sometimes it’s all three. Then there are people who are unhealthfully lightweight, and ironically, they experience all of the same hurdles.

If you think this is tricky territory for adults, try addressing it among kids. Self-esteem establishes itself during childhood - we can all easily flash back to a definitive moment in our youth when we were made to feel awful - so much so that comments about weight, even ones meant to be helpful and encouraging, can resonate for a lifetime. Often not in a good way.

New research about weight loss among kids suggests that even when kids would benefit from losing weight, they often don’t know how to do it safely or effectively. Although the study didn’t look at the emotional overlay, it seems obvious to me that our fear of talking about this - our parental worry about saying the wrong thing and scarring the psyche of our child - means that we often say nothing, leaving our kids to try to figure out how to take ownership of their health without adult support.  

There’s some good news: kids are absorbing many of the messages about healthy living circulated widely to adults trying to do the same. So they often use strategies like drinking more water or eating more fruits and veggies but fewer junk foods. These approaches work; they also may lead to a lifetime of better eating habits.

The best advice I can offer is three-pronged: First, have regular conversations about nutrition that focus on health, not weight (and while you’re at it, throw away the scale!). Healthfulness is the goal, after all, and so it should be the starting point. Second, don’t ignore what’s in front of you, whether it’s your own weight or your child’s. If you cannot figure out a way to have the conversation or if you simply fear it to the point of avoidance, let your pediatrician help. We would do anything for our children, so we need to help them learn to eat well whether they weigh too much, too little, or just the right amount for their height. And finally, practice what you preach. If there’s a better way for one child to eat, then everyone else in the family will benefit, too. Clear out the pantry and restock the fridge with items good for everyone at home.

Thanks to i yunmai for making this photo available freely on @unsplash

Thanks to i yunmai for making this photo available freely on @unsplash

More U.S. teens, especially girls, have been attempting to lose weight, according to newly analyzed federal survey data.

Results from the 2013-2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicated that nearly 38% of adolescents said they had attempted to lose weight within the last year, with more girls attempting weight loss than boys from 2013 to…READ MORE

What to Eat in the Heat

With summer’s rising temps come diminishing appetites. On a hot night, most of us would turn down a rich bowl of pasta in exchange for lighter options with more fresh fruits and veggies and fewer weighty carbs. That choice doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that we eat healthier diets as the outdoor thermostat rises. Ice cream shops…READ MORE