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Posts for: February, 2013

February 22, 2013
Category: In the News
Tags: Untagged

How Advertising Targets Our Children

Source:  New York Times,  By Perri Klass, M.D.

I always wanted somewhat cynical children, at least where advertising and proselytizing are concerned. That is, I wanted my children to grow up alert to the silken, studied salesmanship of those who want your trust but are not really your friends.  I grew up in the era of unfettered television advertisements for tobacco. I remember all the jingles — but I also remember the welcome cynicism of Mad Magazine parodies in which gravestones discussed the great taste of cigarettes and Hitler endorsed them as terrific mass murderers.  In serious discussions of advertising today, I sometimes miss that harsh humor. Researchers have long focused on the effects of cigarette and alcohol ads on children — and more recently, on the effects of subtler marketing through product placement in movies and TV shows. Studies show that advertising does help push children and adolescents toward unhealthy behaviors, but also that it is increasingly difficult to shield them as marketers exploit the Internet and social media.

In a study published last month in the journal Pediatrics, Jerry L. Grenard, a health researcher at Claremont Graduate University, and his colleagues followed almost 4,000 students from seventh through 10th grades, assessing their exposure to alcohol advertising on television and asking about their alcohol use.  A large body of literature shows that advertising does increase the odds of underage drinking, Dr. Grenard noted. But his new results take the concerns a step further. “This study linked exposure to alcohol advertising to an increase in alcohol use among adolescents and then that in turn is associated with higher level of problems with drinking alcohol, getting drunk, missing school, getting into fights,” he said.  Adolescents who see alcohol advertising are being sold something that we would prefer them not to consume in any amount. Food advertising raises different issues, since children will certainly eat and will certainly have — and express — food preferences.

Jennifer Harris, the director of marketing initiatives at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, told me that television advertising remains very important in the ways that foods are marketed to children. According to the center’s data, every day on average in the United States, children and teenagers see 12 to 14 food ads on television.  But parents may not realize that their children are also subjected to messages from advertisers coming in from other directions.  “They have Web sites with reward programs. They’re advertising on other Web sites, social media — Facebook is huge — Twitter, mobile marketing, mobile apps,” Dr. Harris said. Many children are playing “advergames” online, for example, intended to promote products. Parents may be completely unaware, she said.

And what are they marketing to children? According to Dr. Harris, the top four products are fast foods, sugared cereals, sugary drinks and candy.  Thomas Robinson, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford University and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, has studied childhood obesity and its links to screen time. In experiments with preschoolers, he told me, “even a 30-second exposure to a novel product, one that you’ve never seen before, changes their preferences for brand.”

In another study, researchers looked at the effects of branding by giving 3- to 5-year-olds two portions of identical foods, one set out on a McDonald’s wrapper. The children were asked to point to which foods tasted better and, Dr. Robinson said, “overwhelmingly, for hamburgers, French fries, baby carrots, milk or juice in a cup, kids would say the one on the McDonald’s wrapper tastes better.”

Up to the age of 7 or 8, children are thought to be unable to understand the nature of advertising — developmentally, they can’t identify the underlying persuasive intent.  Older children may have a better understanding of commercials, but they are vulnerable in other ways.  “Coke is the most popular brand on Facebook,” Dr. Harris said. “It has 58 million fans.” When adolescents “like” Coke, they receive posts every day, which they may then “share” with friends.  “That whole tapping into the peer relationship that kids of that age have is, we think, very deceptive,” Dr. Harris said. “They don’t necessarily recognize that it’s advertising and also very manipulative.”

What can parents do? With young children, the most important strategy is probably to reduce screen time, and the number of messages, and to keep track of what they’re seeing when they do watch TV.  And when a child asks for something, parents should not simply refuse. “Respond, ‘Well, why do you want that? Where did you hear about it?’ ” said Dr. Robinson. And if the answer is that the child saw it on TV or on the Internet, “Say, ‘Well, they want you to want it, they’re trying to sell you that.’ And then have a discussion.”

And what about my aspirations of nurturing young cynics? Though teaching critical viewing skills does enhance children’s awareness, Dr. Robinson told me that relying too much on notions of media literacy can actually play into the hands of the advertisers.  “That takes the responsibility away from them and puts it on the kids to be educated consumers,” he said.  Know what your children are watching. Watch with them. Talk about what you see — the images on billboards or on touchscreens, the Super Bowl commercials, the Web sites they visit.

In an information-rich world, we need to know the messages children are receiving, and help them decode and understand what the world is trying to sell them.

NAP concurs, and encourages parents to limit screen time to no more than 2 hours a day. Watch together with your children, and talk about the messages onscreen and online. To help limit and monitor all that media, as well as to help sleep, we highly recommend: "No TV in the Bedroom"


February 14, 2013
Category: In the News
Tags: Untagged

Close to Half of Kids Late Receiving Vaccines According to Study

Source:  Reuters Health

More and more babies and toddlers aren't getting their recommended vaccines on time, a new study suggests.  Of more than 300,000 U.S. kids born between 2004 and 2008, almost half were "under-vaccinated" at some point before their second birthday - in some cases because parents chose to forgo shots recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers said that trend is cause for concern because if enough kids skip their vaccines, whole schools or communities may be at higher risk for preventable infections such as whooping cough and measles.  "When that happens, it can create this critical mass of susceptible individuals," said Saad Omer, from the Emory Vaccine Center in Atlanta.  "For some vaccinated kids, their risk of getting the disease also goes up," Omer, who wasn't involved in the new study, told Reuters Health.  That's because no vaccine protects recipients perfectly from infection. So public health officials rely, in addition, on so-called "herd immunity" to keep vaccine-preventable diseases from spreading.

For their report, Jason Glanz from Kaiser Permanente Colorado in Denver and his colleagues analyzed data from eight managed care organizations, including immunization records for about 323,000 kids.  During the study period, the number of kids who were late on at least one vaccine - including their measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP) shots - rose from 42 percent to more than 54 percent. Babies born toward the end of the study were late on their vaccines for more days, on average, than those born earlier.

Just over one in eight kids went under-vaccinated due to parents' choices. For the rest, it wasn't clear why they were late with their shots. Some could have bounced in and out of insurance coverage, Glanz suggested, or were sick during their well-child visits, so doctors postponed vaccines.  Recent studies have shown many parents are asking to delay or skip certain vaccines, often citing safety concerns such as a link between vaccines and autism - a theory which scientists now agree holds no water.

"We don't really know if these 'alternative schedules' as they're called are as safe, less safe or more safe than the current schedule," Glanz told Reuters Health.  "What we're worried about is if (under-vaccination) becomes more and more common, is it possible this places children at an increased risk of vaccine-preventable diseases? It's possible that some of these diseases that we worked so hard to eliminate come back," he said.

Glanz said any parents who are considering an alternative vaccination schedule should talk with their child's doctor first - and be especially careful about what they read online.  "We don't have any evidence that there are any safety concerns with the current recommended schedule, and right now the best way to protect your child from infection is to get your child vaccinated on time," he said.

February 05, 2013
Category: In the News
Tags: Untagged

2012-2013 Influenza Season.  Updated February 5, 2013


Influenza (“the flu”) is more dangerous than the common cold for children. Each year, many children get sick with seasonal influenza; some of those illnesses result in hospitalization and death. Some children are at greater risk of experiencing severe outcomes from influenza infection. This includes: children younger than 5 and children of any age with certain chronic health conditions, including asthma, diabetes, a weakened immune system for any reason and neurological or neurodevelopmental disorders.

Current Situation

The 2012-2013 influenza season began early and most of the country is experiencing high or widespread influenza activity at this time.

The CDC continues to recommend influenza vaccination for children who have not been vaccinated at this time and vaccination of high risk children is especially important. Providers should continue vaccinating patients at this time. **At NAP, we are still offering the flu vaccine to children of all ages, 6 months and older. A recently published MMWR “Early Estimates of Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness — United States, January 2013” found estimated overall vaccine effectiveness (VE) of 62% for preventing laboratory-confirmed influenza virus infection.

Influenza prevention

In addition to vaccination against influenza, there are a few simple steps everyone should take to protect yourself and your family from getting sick:

1) Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Use a tissue or your inner elbow, not your hands.

2) Wash your hands often with soap and warm water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

3) Stay home if you are sick.

For more information about flu, flu vaccine, and other ways that you and your family can stay healthy this flu season, please visit or call the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Immunization Program at 617-983-6800.

“Flu facts” are available at the website at the following link:

Please call 413-584-8700 and follow the voice prompts to "appointments" in order to schedule a nurse visit for your child's flu vaccine.


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