Health and Science News for Parents

A round-up: A new 9-strain HPV vaccine! The effects of debunking vaccine myths! News on phthalates, toys, IUDs, juice and breastfeeding!

written by Tara Haelle

I’ve been pretty busy the past several weeks with my HealthDay stories, my Forbes blog and my book, so I’ve neglected this blog more than I planned. However, I’d love to highlight the worthwhile studies and the stories I’ve covered elsewhere, so here’s a quick round-up of the past two weeks of my work in other places.

First, the FDA just approved Gardasil 9, an HPV vaccine that covers five more strains of the viral infection. Check out the details on my Forbes post, where you’ll learn that the new strains will prevent up to 90 percent of cervical, vulval and anal cancers.

Next, over at NPR, I discuss some new research that looked at the effects of debunking… myths about the flu vaccine. Yes, yes, I know. The irony is rich since I’m so well known for debunking exactly that vaccine, and they did test one of the misperceptions that I discuss, the false belief that the vaccine can give you the flu. I spent about an hour and a half talking to the lead researcher on that study and learned a great deal about science communication, plus some reminders of concepts I had previously learned from folks like Melanie Tannenbaum and Liz Neeley. There is actually a lot more to discuss on this topic, but I’ll be trying to get to that next week (and it’s something I’ll be frequently returning to).

Scooters led the injuries related to toys over the past decade, but wearing a helmet significantly reduces risk. Photo by Honza Soukup

Scooters led the injuries related to toys over the past decade, but wearing a helmet significantly reduces risk. Photo by Honza Soukup

Also at Forbes today, I wrote about a new BMJ study finding that press releases – GASP! – exaggerate scientific findings. It’s a duh study, to be sure, but there are some worthwhile insights I included from Gary Schwitzer of Health News Review and Matt Shipman, a PR officer at University of North Carolina. (I also wrote earlier this week about the return of Schwitzer’s with new funding.)

And then there are several HealthDay stories I think would be of interest to readers of this blog, the first of which is about prenatal exposures. (Note: HealthDay syndicates its stories, so I may share links to WebMD or CBS or other outlets that have run the story.)

While the compounds called phthalates have been banned from most children’s toys and baby products, they are still all around us and in hundreds of household products – and there is new evidence that they may play a role in your child’s development when the fetus is exposed to high levels. This is an observational study, so it can’t show that phthalates cause a lower IQ in children. It’s also only one study, and this is a new area of study, so I’m sharing the news cautiously, but it’s worthwhile to look for ways to reduce your exposure without becoming paranoid about it.

Another story I wrote had to do with a case study of a teenage football player who experienced atrial fibrillation – an irregular heart rhythm in the upper chambers of the heart – after a hard hit to the chest. This is a case study, which by definition means the circumstances are very rare, but it’s still worth drawing attention to the fact that symptoms like those described in the article shouldn’t be ignored, particularly following a hard hit in a sports game.

Another piece this week looked at rates of female contraception use over the past several years. The biggest change is that IUD use has nearly doubled, but I found the comments from Planned Parenthood about the impact of not having insurance on contraceptive choices particularly interesting.

Though these stories ran last week, they may also be of interest: breastfeeding just a few extra months might reduce risk of obesity in babies who are already at risk, and mothers who are obese during pregnancy have higher risk of poor birth outcomes.

Also last week, at Forbes, I wrote about the high rate of injuries caused by toys – which is dominated by non-motorized scooters. No, I don’t think there’s a problem with parents letting their children ride scooters, but they do need to be supervised and to be wearing protective gear (someone has pointed out that the photo on the post features one boy with a poorly fitting helmet).

I also wrote about the finding from a study in the journal of the American Dental Association that 100% juice doesn’t contribute to tooth decay. I oddly caught some pushback on this particular article from folks on social media and elsewhere who seem to think I’m promoting juice or in with Big Abbott or something. To the contrary, I think the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics of 4 to 6 oz. a day are sensible. I also recognize that 4 to 6 oz. is a very, very small amount of juice and that juice is best thought of as a treat. That doesn’t change the fact that this amount – and in fact more than double this amount, as consumed by many kids in the study – doesn’t increase the risk of caries. Yes, I would imagine that if kids were swilling 20 or 30 oz. a day, we might see different results. But alas, that’s not the study I covered.

Finally, although I didn’t write this, I want to draw your attention to an excellent post over at Science of Mom about the Tdap during pregnancy. She discusses both the flu vaccine and the pertussis vaccine, but she spends extra time discussing the safety of the Tdap during each pregnancy. Check it out.

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2 Responses to “A round-up: A new 9-strain HPV vaccine! The effects of debunking vaccine myths! News on phthalates, toys, IUDs, juice and breastfeeding!”

  1. Jonathan R

    But the CPSC rules for bicycle helmets specifically say they aren’t designed for other activities. So do they help at all?

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