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Filed under: Children

Start your children’s good sleep habits early

Sleep is an essential part of post-exercise recovery, and good sleep habits begin in childhood. A recent Canadian report on bringing up children as athletes provides valuable input for children at various ages.

Do you know how much sleep you and your loved ones are getting—and supposed to be getting?  Keep in mind the recommendations differ by age group. According to a report from Canadian Sport for Life on optimal sleep for athletic performance at all life stages:

  • Children under the age of six need 13–16 hours of sleep daily, including longer nighttime sleep and fewer daytime naps as they get older.
  • As girls reach the ages of 6–8 and boys reach 6–9, their sleep needs drop to 10–11 hours of sleep a night.
  • Girls 8–11 and boys 9–12 need 9 ½ to 10 hours of sleep a night.
  • Girls 11–15 and boys 12–16 need around nine hours of sleep a night.
  • In addition to their nightly sleep, girls 6-15 and boys 6-16 need a 30-minute-plus nap between 2–4 pm every day.

For young children, meals—particularly breakfast—are an important part of establishing a reliable sleep routine, and as children age they should start developing a 15–30 minute routine before bedtime to get ready physically for sleep. This is also a great opportunity for some quality time between parents and children that you can all look forward to each night.

To make this goal easier, be sure your kids avoid computers and TVs (anything with electronic stimulation) for one to two hours before bedtime. Allow an hour to unwind before bed—try soothing music, reading, and dim lighting.

As children become teenagers, make sure they don’t start incurring a sleep debt by sleeping less than needed. Encourage them to keep regular sleep hours, get early morning light exposure, and carefully gauge their caffeine consumption close to bedtime.

The report mentioned above suggests using a sleep log (and provides a sample log) to get an idea of your and your child’s sleep patterns. Remember that the warrior athletes of tomorrow need to develop good sleep habits today!

Predicting body weight from childhood to adulthood

Now you can calculate your child’s risk of becoming obese with a simple online calculator.

Preventing obesity should begin at an early age, because children who are overweight often become obese as adults. And while many of us know that we need to eat right and exercise, there are also risk factors that we are born with that we can’t change. Now you can calculate your child’s risk of developing obesity with an online calculator.

The calculator was developed by a team of researchers who looked at a number of well-known biological and social risk factors for developing obesity. They were able to boil down their findings to six simple factors that provide a reasonably accurate probability of whether a child will develop obesity:

1)    The body mass indexes (BMIs) of both parents. (HPRC has a link to a calculator you can use to calculate BMI.)

2)    The number of people who live in the house.

3)    What kind of work the child’s mother does.

4)    Whether the mother smoked during her pregnancy.

5)    The birth weight of the child (in kilograms). (To convert pounds [lb] to kilograms [kg], multiply pounds by 0.45359237.)

Living a healthy lifestyle is beneficial for everyone, but tools like this can help you determine whether your child is particularly at risk for becoming an obese adult, so that you can make important health changes early in life. For ideas to help your family be physically active and healthy, check out this HPRC Healthy Tip as well as the family physical fitness and family nutrition sections of HPRC’s website.

Relaxation drinks: Problematic for teens?

Are relaxation drinks safe for children and adolescents? Recent reports highlight possible problems.

A number of relaxation beverages have been introduced into the market and are now available to consumers of any age from convenience stores, college campuses, and online vendors. There are recent reports of negative side effects in children and teens from the consumption of these drinks. There are two significant issues with relaxation drinks: First, some of their ingredients, particularly melatonin, have not gone through the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) process required for all food ingredients to be designated as safe or “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). Second, other ingredients such as valerian and caffeine do not have established serving sizes or doses for this type of use. An additional concern is that it is unknown how ingredients might interact. Parents should be concerned about this.

It also may be hard to tell the difference between these drinks and those that have been recognized as safe because their bottles and labels are sometimes similar. A typical consumer may not realize which drinks contain ingredients that might have negative effects. Therefore it’s important to be aware what is in these drinks and to read all labels carefully. Many of these drinks have warnings on their labels that they are not intended for children. For more information about relaxation drinks, their ingredients, and their effects, check out HPRC’s article. Also, visit OPSS (Operation Supplement Safety) for more information about dietary supplement safety and specific ingredients.

Remember, there’s no magic beverage for relaxing or reducing stress. Instead, address those issues in order to get to the bottom of the stress you or your teen might be experiencing. There are strategies that you or your child can use to relax and de-stress in a healthy way. For even more ideas, visit the stress control section of HPRC’s website.

Does your child lose sleep over worries?

School age children are often burdened with a lot of worries; more so if if one parent is deployed. Here's a simple strategy to help worrying minds.

Not being able to quiet your mind at night can be very frustrating— and it’s not just an “adult” problem. If your child has difficulty sleeping because of a restless mind, try setting aside some “worry time” during the day. Help your child create a “worry box” and personalize it through art. Children can write down their worries—each on a separate index card—and deposit the worry in the worry box. Doing this while getting ready for bedtime can be a good way to spend some quality time with your child every night. For more information on sleep strategies, visit HPRC’s Mind Tactics section.

Energy drinks and adolescents

Energy drink use by adolescents is on the rise, and misuse of these beverages may stem from confusion about using energy drinks for rehydration.

Energy drinks are marketed to improve physical and mental performance, mainly to “boost energy.” Adolescents are getting hold of energy drinks more often, in part due to heavy marketing of sports drinks with athletic superstars, causing adolescents to confuse energy drinks for sports drinks. Energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine and other stimulants, while sports drinks contain carbohydrates and electrolytes and are intended for use when athletes (including adolescents) are engaged in prolonged, vigorous exercise. Adolescents have already had problems combining energy drinks and alcohol, which has led to risky behavior. The American Academy of Pediatrics has guidelines for the use of energy drinks and sports drinks by adolescents.

Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) has now been launched to answer many of your questions about Dietary Supplements. Visit the OPSS section of HPRC’s website now to learn more!

Activities help kids during times of deployment

Children feel lots of different things while their parent is deployed. There are organizations that can help kids through physical activity, peer mentoring, and other social gatherings.

Having something to keep children’s minds and bodies busy can make time pass faster and give them a sense of pride while their mom or dad is away. There are various organizations to help support children of deployed parents and keep them active and involved in their community. The U.S. Army has Operation Military Kid, which connects families to local resources to achieve a sense of community. Our Military Kids specifically reaches out to dependents of the National Guard, reservists, and active-duty wounded warriors. The Department of Defense has a new campaign, Operation Live Well, which includes resources to keep military children active and resilient during their guardian’s deployments. There are also numerous non-profit organizations that offer programming for military children—check out the National Resource Directory section for children’s programs near you.

Ready, set, play!

Childhood obesity is a fast-growing issue in the United States. Preventing it can be a fun family affair!

Chubby cheeks on little ones are cute, but you want your child to outgrow them. The number of obese and overweight children has almost tripled since 1980, resulting in an increase in cardiovascular disease and other health issues—a trend reflected in the body-fat condition of today’s military trainees. Doing activities as a family not only gets kids moving, but also gets you moving! Children need at least 60 minutes a day of play involving moderate to vigorous exercise. This can be done throughout the day— at recess, during after school activities, playing at home—and doesn’t have to be done all at once. Let’s Move! has a list of simple steps you can do to encourage your child to live a healthy lifestyle. One idea: Have a house rule of doing jumping jacks during television commercials. For even more ideas, check out the CDC’s Strategies and Solutions for parents and communities.

Strength training for children and teens

Resistance training has become popular among children and teens. When performed in a safe, structured environment, this type of exercise can be very beneficial for improving their health and athletic performance.

At some point or another, your child or teen might pick up those dumbbells you have lying around the house. They’ve seen you lift weights as part of your regular exercise routine and decided they want to get stronger too. But you might wonder if strength training is safe for your kids.

Lifting the size weights you use might be too much for kids and teens, but in general strength training (also referred to as resistance training) can be a safe and healthy way to improve muscular fitness for children and teens, starting as early as seven or eight years old, when their coordination skills have developed enough. The goal should be improving muscular fitness while having fun and learning effective training methods.

As a parent you need to make sure your kids are supervised and receiving age-appropriate and skilled instructions in order to reduce the risk of injury. With proper technique and safe practices, strength training is not dangerous for growing bodies. However, light weights, exercise bands, or your child’s own body weight should be used to build his or her strength. Currently, there are no specific guidelines for exactly how much lifting they should do. However, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) one to three sets of six to 15 repetitions, two to three times per week is considered reasonable.

Resistance training is not the same as bodybuilding, weightlifting, or powerlifting, which are associated with competition, high intensity, and maximum weights. The American Academy of Pediatrics and ACSM are opposed to children using these methods or the use of "one-rep-max" (a method sometimes used to assess strength) due to the increased risk for injury.

While a medical examination is not mandatory, it is recommended for children who want to begin a strength-training program. And remember that strength training is something you can do with your children. Family fitness is a great way to keep you and your child healthy and active while you spend quality time together.

Late night studying is not worth passing up quality sleep time

Help your children optimize their learning by making sure they get enough sleep instead of cramming.

For many students, sleep is often sacrificed for studying. If it comes down to one or the other, sleep may be the better choice. According to a 2012 study, when students sacrificed sleep for studying, it was harder for them to pay attention in class and perform well on tests or assignments the following day. Warfighters are students too, as they often have to learn on the job. So help yourself and your children to optimize learning by optimizing sleep! Check out HPRC’s “Sleep Optimization” section and articles in response to “Questions from the Field” about sleep for ideas about how to do so.

Adolescents and sports drinks

For most active children and adolescents, staying hydrated is easy—drink water.

Does your child like sports drinks? A recently released report—Consumption of Sports Drinks by Children and Adolescents—states that sports drinks are not recommended for children and adolescents when engaged in normal levels of physical activity. The report’s review of research concluded that sports drinks, when consumed in limited quantities, are mainly for those participating in vigorous physical activity lasting longer than an hour. For the vast majority of children and adolescents, drinking water before, during, and after exercise is adequate for proper hydration. See also the “Issue Brief” that describes the key points of their research.

Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) is about to launch this summer and will answer many of your questions about Dietary Supplements. Watch for HPRC’s announcement coming soon.

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