Time to change the diapers on Pediatrics Journal

Pediatrics cries wolf so often that it would be difficult to identify any real threats to child health within those pages. Not only do they construct visions of disaster out of little more than phone polls (that third hand smoke lunacy), generalize from ambiguous results (as will be elaborated on here) or just plain mislead (as in child poisonings from new nicotine products), this journal, as we have opined before, gives The Onion a good run for the money. For instance, where else would anyone take seriously the idea that paternal smoking around pregnant women could lead to subsequent obesity in the to-be-born children?

Just paging through the last couple of issues I found this article on the effect of breastfeeding on later academic achievement with the conclusions in the abstract as:

Predominant breastfeeding for 6 months or longer was positively associated with academic achievement in children at 10 years of age. However, the effectiveness of breastfeeding differed according to gender; the benefits were only evident for boys.

Notice that the result is just as much one of “predominant breastfeeding is not positively associated with academic achievement in girls”. I do not have access to the whole article so for all I know it actually negatively impacts females however the point is that a specific conclusion is being generalized without reason. It might be an interesting question as to why boys and not girls and the conclusion should have mentioned that.

But to the matter at hand, the latest movies cause smoking “evidence”. And let’s just state those conclusions right up front:

These findings imply that, beyond direct influences, the relationship between adolescents’ sensation seeking and parental R-rated movie restrictions in explaining smoking onset is bidirectional in nature. Finally, these findings highlight the relevance of motivating and supporting parents in limiting access to R-rated movies.

Note the word “bidirectional”. The definition for that is “moving or operating in two usually opposite directions” Not really the sort of thing you would want to encourage when suggesting behaviors. So what the conclusion actually is saying is that “we don’t know what causes what, we think they might both cause each other, but we have no problem using this to give advice”. But let’s delve just a little deeper into this intriguing study. And I quote:

We found that adolescents with lower levels of sensation seeking and those who reported R-rated movie restrictions were at lower risk for trying smoking. The results also revealed negative associations between adolescents’ levels of sensation seeking and later R-rated movie restrictions, which indicates that sensation-seeking adolescents are at higher risk for starting to smoke not only directly but also indirectly through changes in parenting. Sensation-seeking adolescents seem to influence their parents to become more indulgent regarding their movie viewing, which subsequently is related to higher risks for smoking.

Now, forgive me if I am wrong but I do see this being reprinted in the Journal of Results So Obvious That Only a Fool Needing to Pad the CV Would Submit It. And the results are: kids who are curious about things are more likely to act on that curiosity than kids who are not, and they are also more likely to pester their parents, and those parents are more likely to give in than parents who had never been pestered. (If following form, the next Pediatrics article about smoking precursors should encourage parents to administer growth inhibitors since aging is probably the single greatest determiner for later smoking).

But now, and I do apologize for going on and on about this, Pediatrics has turned its attention to caffeine consumption in youth. (I know, yes, these articles do not share the same authors but they do all get printed at this journal so I think it is not unfair to suggest that the journal is to blame, hence the title about changing diapers; the authors may provide the food but it is the journal that puts out the crap).

In this case, the study is not quite as bad as the media reports that follow though the authors do flap their lips a little more loosely as well once in the spotlight. The study reported that the findings indicated either that caffeine consumption led to disrupted sleep patterns or that children consumed caffeine in response to not sleeping well the night before. They were not sure which way this went but it still led to concluding that caffeine should be restricted, not because it was harmful but on the basis that the beverages had “detectable pharmacologic effects”. It does not sound like a bad idea in general not to ply your kids with pots of coffee or coke but I really do not see the above as actually supporting that.

By the way, the other grand finding in the study was (and they took pride in that this had not been widely documented) that children’s sleep patterns on the weekends varied from that of the school week. (Maybe this is what they mean when they talk about the great work of science being built up one small brick at a time!)

But come the media and we have the headline Caffeine Can Harm Children. And the quote:

“Parents should be aware of the potentially negative influence of caffeine on a child’s sleep quality and daily functioning,” Dr. Warzak asserts.

And as we know, when you put in the word potentially anything after is quite true. We could potentially fall into the sun tomorrow. Absolutely true.

Or more to the point: Pediatrics Journal could potentially tighten up their editorial policies. The journal has been around long enough to move on to potty training.

– Paul L. Bergen

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