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Personal Health: News and Notes

Doctors don't seem to notice children's high blood pressure

Blood pressure, like temperature, has long been one of the quickest and most important measures of adult health. During a routine physical, it can point to chronic conditions. At a disaster scene, it can mean impending death.

The benefits of using blood pressure as a health indicator in children have been recognized more recently, due partly to a rise in pediatric hypertension. But new research suggests that this valuable diagnostic tool is not getting much use. Physicians at a Florida teaching hospital reviewed 906 ER charts, from infants through age 18, randomly selected from a 13-month period. The first surprise was that 55 percent had elevated blood pressure, defined as readings above the 90th percentile. The fact that these were emergency cases and the kids were stressed probably explains part of it, they said.

Another surprise was that only 1 percent of the elevated pressures - seven out of the 496 kids - appeared to have been noticed by practitioners. The reasons are unclear, the authors wrote in the October issue of Pediatric Emergency Care.

But parents clearly can do something: When your child's blood pressure is taken in the ER, ask what it means.
- Don Sapatkin

Children's Hospital study finds car seats protect heavier kids

When strapped into a car seat or booster seat, heavier children are no more likely than lighter ones to suffer significant injuries in a car crash.

That's the finding of a study led by researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, published this month in the journal Pediatrics. There had been some concern that these safety seats were not adequate to protect overweight kids, the study authors wrote.

The researchers looked at injury rates for 644 children who were in crashes while seated in forward-facing car seats, and for 344 older kids who were in booster seats. They found that extra pounds were not tied to serious injury.

Car seats can accommodate children who weigh up to 65 pounds. Booster seats, which elevate older children so they can use a regular seat belt, are said to be acceptable for children up to 100 pounds.
- Tom Avril

Dipping sauce a simple way to get children to eat veggies

Can't get your kids to eat their veggies?

A Temple University study suggests the problem may be a sensitivity to bitterness - and the solution may be as easy as providing a dipping sauce.

The study, in the current Journal of the American Dietetic Association, offered 152 preschool-age Head Start children a drink with increasing amounts of a bitter-tasting compound common in green vegetables. Asked whether the fluid tasted like water or "bitter or yucky," about 70 percent went with yucky.

When the 152 children were served broccoli at break time over seven weeks, the bitter-sensitive ones avoided the "snack." But when they got a few ounces of ranch dressing as a dip, their consumption increased by 80 percent.

Lead researcher Jennifer Orlet Fisher said you don't need to rely on fattening, salty dressings: "Try applesauce, hummus, or a low-fat yogurt-based dip."
- Marie McCullough

Anticoagulants like Coumadin can be self-tested, study says

A new study shows people can safely monitor their own blood when taking anticoagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin), and by doing so they decrease their risk of blood clots by almost half compared to those getting conventional monitoring.

Kits for blood self-testing are similar to finger-prick tests used by diabetics to monitor their own blood sugar.

For people on anticoagulants, conventional monitoring involves running to a clinic to get blood tests several times a week, or even daily, in order to get the dosage just right. That's "complex and labor-intensive for both the patients and the physicians," said physician Jack Ansell at New York University School of Medicine. And yet, of the three million Americans on warfarin, only about 1 percent currently use home monitoring.

The study, led by Carl Heneghan from Oxford University in Britain, analyzed 11 randomized trials. He concluded that home blood monitoring reduced clot risk without adding to the risk of bleeding complications. In elderly patients, home-testers had lower mortality rates. The study was published this month in the Lancet.

- Faye Flam