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Health Capsules: June 14

By: Lisa Russell

Summertime safety behind the wheel

For drivers in the St. Louis area and nationwide, particularly new teen drivers between the ages of 16 and 17, the summer travel season – often called the “100 deadliest days,” when teens are out of school – is the most hazardous time of year. Statistics from the American Automobile Association [AAA] Foundation for Traffic Safety show that teen drivers are three times more likely than adults to be involved in a deadly crash, and that risk climbs by 15 percent for them during the summer. Over the past five years, more than 1,600 people have been killed in crashes involving inexperienced teen drivers during the summer months.

According to AAA, the three factors that most commonly contribute to deadly crashes for teen drivers are:

  • Distraction: Distracted driving plays a role in nearly six out of 10 teen crashes, four times as many as official estimates based on police reports. The top distractions for teens are interacting with a smartphone and talking to other passengers in the vehicle.
  • Not buckling up: In 2015, the latest data available, 60 percent of teen drivers killed in a crash were not wearing a safety belt. Teens who buckle up significantly reduce their risk of dying or being seriously injured in a crash.
  • Speeding: Excessive speed is a factor in nearly 30 percent of fatal crashes involving teen drivers. A recent AAA survey of driving instructors found that speeding is one of the top three mistakes teens make when learning to drive.

To help reverse this alarming trend, AAA urges parents to get more involved and talk to their teens about the dangers of risky behavior behind the wheel. One of the most important things parents can do is to teach by example, eliminating their own cell phone use and other distractions while on the road. Having a driving agreement with their kids about family driving rules, and talking to kids regularly about the risks of speeding, are other important steps.


Fruit juice no longer recommended for children 

The American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP] recently issued an updated policy statement about fruit juice, saying that it offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruit and has no essential role in the healthy, balanced diets of infants and children. The statement, published in Pediatrics, is the first change in AAP recommendations on fruit juice since 2001.

While 100 percent fresh or reconstituted fruit juice can be healthy when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet for children over 1 year of age, it offers no nutritional benefit to babies younger than 1 and should not be included in their diets, according to Dr. Melvin B. Heyman of the AAP’s Committee on Nutrition.

“Parents may perceive fruit juice as healthy, but it is not a good substitute for fresh fruit and just packs in more sugar and calories. Small amounts in moderation are fine for older kids, but are absolutely unnecessary for children under 1,” Heyman said.

For children over 1 year old, the AAP policy statement recommends that daily intake of juice should be limited to:

  • 4 ounces for toddlers ages 1-3;
  • 4-6 ounces for children ages 4-6;
  • 8 ounces [1 cup] of the recommended 2-2½ cups of fruit per day for children ages 7-18.


Engaging kids when reading activates the brain 

Reading to preschoolers has many benefits, but simply speaking the words aloud to them may not be enough to improve their cognitive development. However, keeping them actively engaged and participating while reading to them may give their brains a significant cognitive boost, according to new research.

The study, led by researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, involved taking functional MRI brain scans of 4-year-olds during a mother-child reading observation and a story listening task. Children who were more highly engaged showed significantly greater brain activation in right-sided cerebellar areas of their brains, which are thought to support cognitive skill acquisition, language development and executive functioning. Their results show the value of “dialogic reading,” where the child is encouraged to actively participate, the researchers concluded.

“The takeaway for parents in this study is that they should engage more when reading with their child, ask questions, have them turn the page, and interact with each other,” said Dr. John Hutton, lead author of the study, which was published in the journal PLoS ONE. “In turn, this could fuel brain activation … or ‘turbocharge’ the development of literacy skills, particularly comprehension, in preschool-aged children.”


On the calendar

Chesterfield Parks, Recreation & Arts sponsors two fitness events for kids in June:

  • A Kids TRY-athlon for children ages 3-6 is on Saturday, June 17 beginning at 9 a.m. at Chesterfield Valley Athletic Complex, 17925 N. Outer 40 Road in Chesterfield. Kids must furnish their own bike or tricycle [with helmet]. The swimming portion will include an inflatable slide with splash pool, followed by the running and biking portions completed at each child’s own pace.
  • A Youth Triathlon for children ages 5-12 is on Saturday, June 24 beginning at 8:30 a.m. at Chesterfield Central Park, 16365 Lydia Hill Drive in Chesterfield. Events include a 25-yard swim, 1-mile bike ride and ½ mile run for ages 5-8 and a 75-yard swim, 2-mile bike ride and 1-mile run for ages 9-12. The top three male and female overall competitors in each age group will receive an award, and participation medals also will be presented.

Fees for both events vary from $10 to $20 per child based on event choice and Chesterfield residency. Discounts also are available to those who sign up for a free Get Active membership. To register for the Kids TRY-athlon, visit www.chesterfield.mo.us/try-atholon.html; to register for the Youth Triathlon, visit www.chesterfield.mo.us/youth-triatholon.html.

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