November 2023 Brain Health News

Pets Attending College

Across the United States, there’s a growing trend in universities offering pet-friendly student housing to support mental health. Allowing pets on campus not only reduces stress, anxiety, and depression among students but also promotes healthier routines, increased exercise, and improved social interaction—thanks to our furry friends serving as fantastic ice-breakers.

Chemicals in Food

In recent developments, a U.S. federal appeals court overturned the EPA’s ban on chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to childhood brain damage, in food crops. Though banned in the EU since 2020, the EPA’s 2021 ban was just overturned last week. Low to moderate levels of chlorpyrifos exposure can lead to long-term changes in brain structure along with cognitive deficits in children. Common crops using chlorpyrifos include fruit trees, wheat, soybeans, broccoli, & cauliflower. To minimize exposure, consider adopting an organic diet, as evidenced by a 2019 study in the journal Environmental Research, showing an average 60% reduction in pesticide levels within just one week of making the switch.

Toddler Milk

An October report from the American Academy of Pediatrics challenges the nutritional benefits of ‘toddler formula’ or ‘toddler milk’ marketed to parents of children aged 6-36 months. Key concerns include the lack of nutritional value compared to breast milk and infant formula, acting as a ‘filler’ food that decreases appetite for more nutritious foods, the presence of added sugars, and the absence of FDA regulatory oversight.

Screen Struggles

Undoubtedly, one of the major challenges parents face today is managing their children’s relationship with screens and technology. There is certainly no handbook provided, and science is just starting to catch up to decisions that many parents had to make years ago without any guidance. Earlier this year, the US Surgeon General issued an advisory on social media and youth mental health, highlighting concerns such as increased risk of mental health challenges, contribution to eating disorders, and disruptions to sleep quality & duration.

My recommendations for parents to manage & prevent these negative effects include:

  • Delaying access to social media until kids are older and better equipped to handle the complexities of it. 

  • Having a device ‘turn-in’ time in the evening so that social media & device use don’t interfere with sleep.

  • Establishing tech-free times & zones in the household (meal time, family time etc.).

  • Considering lower tech starter phones (examples include Bark & Gabb) which have more built-in controls & safety features.

  • Modeling & teaching kids about appropriate social media use, including what is appropriate to share and how to block/filter inappropriate content.

Of course there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every family. Social media, despite its pitfalls, can offer valuable social connections. For instance, children and teens grappling with isolating medical conditions can discover a sense of community and friendship through online support groups.

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