Saturday, November 12, 2011

Talk - not TV - for your toddler

No TV for babies
Turn off the television and speak to your toddler. Talking is the best thing you could do today for your child’s psychological development. Talking is an interactive process in which your child exercises a core feature of being human - communicating through speech. Your child's vocabulary is directly proportional to the amount of time you spend talking.

Talking primes your child for independence. Speech evolves through attempts to communicate needs and feelings. Infants and toddlers are driven by evolution to master this complex process. You, the parent, play a key role in this two-way interaction. Infancy and toddler-hood are stages for developing secure bonding and attachment. The child is primed to bond with the mother or caregiver. The initial bond is secured by direct contact with the caregiver - through warmth, touch and voice. A secure attachment bond enables the infant seeks to explore the environment by attempts to crawl and later walk. The exploring toddler returns often to the parent to re-experience attachment security. It is here that talking plays a crucial role in maintaining the attachment bond at a distance. The child is then able to explore the environment away from direct contact with the parent.

Your one-year-old is psychologically unable to follow or learn from video. Some parents are convinced that certain TV channels are ‘educational’ for their toddler. The ability to comprehend video arises between 18 to 24 months of age (Pempek 2010). Prior to 2 years of age TV has little or no educational impact on the child, whatever the claims by media groups vying for their ‘eyeballs’. TV programming meant for 2-year-olds delays language and vocabulary development (AAP 2011, Zimmerman 2007).

Television is not a substitute for parenting. Parents leave the TV on to distract the child while they are engaged otherwise. Television holds the toddlers attention through its series of changing visual stimuli. This visual stimulus is powerful and distracting. While interacting with parents with the TV on in the background, the toddler is forced to shift attention to the TV once every 20 seconds. Even in adolescents, background TV adversely affects mental processing, memory and comprehension. Having the TV always on in the toddlers home interferes with unstructured play time that is critical to developing problem-solving skills and creativity. Repeated research has shown no developmental benefits for television exposure in infancy (Schmidt 2009, ).

Talk to and play with your children. Television is a medium that encourages passivity. TV delays vocabulary growth and language development in toddlers. Turn off the TV.

  1. Academy of Pediatrics. Policy Statement. Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years. Council on Communications and Media. PEDIATRICS Vol. 128 No. 5November 1, 2011. pp. 1040 -1045 (doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-1753)
  2. Pempek TA, Kirkorian HL, Richards JE, Anderson DR, Lund AF, Stevens M. Video comprehensibility and attention in very young children. Dev Psychol. 2010 Sep;46(5):1283-93. 
  3. Schmidt ME, Rich M, Rifas-Shiman SL, Oken E, Taveras EM. Television viewing in infancy and child cognition at 3 years of age in a US cohort. Pediatrics. 2009 Mar;123(3):e370-5. 
  4. Zimmerman FJ, Christakis DA, Meltzoff AN. Associations between media viewing and language development in children under age 2 years. J Pediatr. 2007 Oct;151(4):364-8. Epub 2007 Aug 7. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Diet and mental health


Mental health and diet quality are closely linked. The food choices you made as a teenager affect the development of conduct and emotional problems that continue into adulthood. Lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity are attributed to changes in diet and exercise habits. Recently there is increasing evidence that diet and exercise also have a major influence on mental health. Dieting peaks after the festival season. This post will help you avoid the 'isms' and fads and point you in the direction indicated by current research.

A good quality diet predicts better mental health

Evaluating the quality of the complete diet provides a better and more consistent picture of nutrition status than focusing on individual nutrients like magnesium or food groups like various fatty acids (omega, polyunsaturated). A traditional diet of vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, and whole grains is associated with lower risk for depression and for anxiety disorders as compared to a "western" diet of processed or fried foods, refined grains, sugary products, and beer (Jacka 2010).

Switching to a high quality diet improves mental health

Switching to a healthy diet improves mental health. Unhealthy diets are associated with lower scores on mental health tests. The best part is that improvements in diet quality are mirrored by improvements in mental health (Jacka 2011). Also the reverse, when diet quality deteriorates psychological functioning is adversely affected.

What constitutes a high quality diet?

The quality of diet is assessed using food frequency questionnaires. Points are allotted for each type and frequency of food consumed. For example one point is allotted for each of at least two fruit servings per day, at least four vegetable servings per day; using reduced fat or skimmed milk, using soy milk, consuming at least 500mL of milk per day; using high fibre, wholemeal, rye or multigrain breads; having at least four slices of bread per day; using polyunsaturated or monounsaturated spreads or no fat spread; having one or two eggs per week, using cottage cheese, using low fat cheese. Out of a maximum possible score of 74, the average is about 33.0 (+9.0).You can get some idea of your diet quality score from this chart (Collins 2008).

Preventive psychiatry

Improving diet quality improves mental health outcomes. Especially for adolescents this is an important preventive intervention. Three quarters of all long term psychiatric illness manifest during adolescence and early adulthood (Kessler 2005) . These illness are among the most disabling. They occur with a high enough frequency to contribute a major portion of life years lost due to disability. Mental health illnesses cause long-term problems at work and at home. They usually persist over the lifetime and require medication and support at various stages. Adopting a high quality diet is an important primary preventive intervention for improved mental health - easy to implement and proven to be effective.

  1. Collins CE, Young AF, Hodge A (2008). Diet quality is associated with higher nutrient intake and self-rated health in mid-aged women. J Am Coll Nutr 27: 146–157.
  2. Jacka FN, Pasco JA, Mykletun A, Williams LJ, Hodge AM, O'Reilly SL, Nicholson GC, Kotowicz MA, Berk M. Association of Western and traditional diets with depression and anxiety in women. Am J Psychiatry. 2010 Mar;167(3):305-11. Epub 2010 Jan 4.
  3. Jacka FN, Kremer PJ, Berk M, de Silva-Sanigorski AM, Moodie M, Leslie ER, Pasco JA, Swinburn BA.A prospective study of diet quality and mental health in adolescents. PLoS One. 2011;6(9):e24805. Epub 2011 Sep 21.
  4. Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, et al. (2005) Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry 62: 593–602.