Don’t leave children (or yourself) alone for too long and dangerous crib bumpers

Absentee parents affect kids’ brain development;
study points finger at crib bumpers for infant mortality;
study shows loneliness can cause illness

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 November, 2015, 6:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 November, 2015, 6:00am

Parental absence affects brain development in children

Researchers in China have found that children who have been left without direct parental care for extended periods of time show larger grey matter volumes in the brain, suggesting a delay in brain development. Conducted at the Second Affiliated Hospital & Yuying Children’s Hospital of Wenzhou Medical University, the study compared MRI exams from 38 left-behind girls and boys (aged seven to 13) to MRI exams from a control group of 30 girls and boys (aged seven to 14) living with their parents. The IQ of each participant was also measured to assess cognitive function. The researchers found larger grey matter volumes in multiple brain regions, especially in emotional brain circuitry, in the left-behind children compared to children living with their parents. The mean value of IQ scores in left-behind children was not significantly different from that of controls, but the grey matter volume in a brain region associated with memory encoding and retrieval was negatively correlated with IQ score.

“Our study provides the first empirical evidence showing that the lack of direct parental care alters the trajectory of brain development in left-behind children,” says study author Yuan Xiao, PhD candidate at the West China Hospital of Sichuan University in Chengdu, Sichuan. “Public health efforts are needed to provide additional intellectual and emotional support to children left behind by parents.”

Study shows increase in infant deaths attributed to crib bumpers

A new Washington University School of Medicine study shows that the number of infant deaths and injuries attributed to crib bumpers has spiked significantly in the US in recent years, prompting the researchers to call for a nationwide ban on the bedding accessory in the US. The 23 crib-bumper deaths reported to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission between 2006 and 2012 were three times higher than the average of eight deaths reported in each of the three previous seven-year time spans. The researchers determined that most of the deaths they examined could have been prevented if crib bumpers had not been used in the cribs. Most of those infants died due to suffocation because their noses and mouths were covered by a bumper or were between a bumper and a crib mattress.

They say most bumper-related incidents were caused by poor bumper design or construction. For example, near-suffocations resulted from a lack of bottom ties or not enough ties, which allowed infants’ faces to get trapped in the bumpers. Incidents involving choking and strangulation occurred because of detached bumper ties and decorations, frayed ribbons and loose stuffing. Infant deaths and injuries occurred with thick pillow-like bumpers and thin bumpers, the latter of which some manufacturers have touted as being safer than plush ones.

Loneliness triggers cellular changes that can cause illness, study shows

Loneliness is more than a feeling: for older adults, perceived social isolation is a major health risk that can increase the risk of premature death by 14 per cent, according to a new University of Chicago story. The study involved both humans and rhesus macaques, a highly social primate species. The researchers examined gene expression in leucocytes, cells of the immune system that are involved in protecting the body against bacteria and viruses. The leucocytes of lonely humans and macaques showed a phenomenon called “conserved transcriptional response to adversity” – an increased expression of genes involved in inflammation and a decreased expression of genes involved in antiviral responses. Leucocyte gene expression and loneliness appeared to have a reciprocal relationship, suggesting that each can help propagate the other over time. Lonely primates also showed higher levels of the fight-or-flight neurotransmitter, norepinephrine, which can ultimately affect the production of white blood cells. In a monkey model of viral infection, the impaired antiviral gene expression in “lonely-like” monkeys allowed simian immunodeficiency virus (the monkey version of HIV) to grow faster in both blood and brain.