Tuesday, December 9, 2003; Page HE01
A Roundup of Recent Findings
on Child and Family Health
ADHD Made Visible
Researchers using advanced image-analysis techniques have pinpointed areas of the brain that look different in children who have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than in other children. Their findings, reported in the Nov. 22 issue of The Lancet, may lead to new treatments for the disorder, which affects an estimated 2 million American children.
Elizabeth Sowell, assistant professor of neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, says previous research has linked ADHD to abnormalities occurring somewhere within "large chunks" of the brain -- for instance, the frontal lobe, which Sowell calls "actually quite a large brain area." But new image analysis technology allowed her and colleagues to more precisely determine which portions of the frontal lobe and other parts of the brain are involved.
Sowell's study further found that the children with ADHD had an excess of gray matter in their temporal lobes, the part of the brain responsible for language, memory and emotions. "As we have been learning from our studies of other types of neuro-developmental disorders," Sowell explains, "more is not necessarily better. Too much gray matter could mean that normal cellular changes . . . [that] lead to a 'loss' of gray matter in normal children are not occurring normally in the ADHD children we studied."
Sowell's discoveries may have big implications for understanding and treating ADHD. "Having a better idea of which parts of the brain are affected may help further investigations of pharmacological and perhaps behavioral interventions," she says.
Sex Ed With 'Friends'
If the constant barrage of sex on television has you reaching for the remote every time your teen enters the room, you may want to stay tuned. Research published in the November issue of Pediatrics suggests that watching programs with sexual content may help teach adolescent viewers valuable lessons about sex -- particularly if they watch with their parents.
Researchers at Rand Health, a research organization based in Santa Monica, Calif., solicited teens' responses to an episode of the popular television series "Friends" in which two adult characters' condom-protected intercourse has resulted in a surprise pregnancy. The characters repeatedly express their shock at the pregnancy, noting that condoms -- which several characters professed to use -- are 97 percent effective. (This is true only when the devices are used correctly.)
Lead researcher Rebecca Collins and colleagues surveyed 506 teens who regularly watched "Friends" after the condom episode aired. Of the 27 percent who said they had seen the episode, about half said they had come to view condoms as more effective, and about half said they now viewed them as less effective. Forty percent of those who saw the episode reported watching it with an adult, and 10 percent of the those who watched said they had discussed condom efficacy with an adult as a result.
Collins cautions that letting children have TVs in their bedrooms hinders the communication process. "We know that families watching television together is becoming more and more rare," she says. While extra TVs increase the family's viewing options, "it's not a good choice for teens, since families will not only miss opportunities to talk about positive messages they might see, parents will also miss the chance to criticize content they don't like, change the channel or turn the television off."
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