Here's a roundup of five medical studies published this week that might give you new insights into your health, mind and body. Remember, correlation is not causation -- so if a study finds a connection between two things, it doesn't mean that one causes the other.
Parents believe their obese kids are 'very healthy'
Journal: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
We all know childhood obesity is a problem, but a recent study led by University of California, San Diego researchers suggests that parents aren't cognizant of their children's true weight.
The study looked at 202 patients age 5 to 20 at an obesity clinic; 94% of them were clinically classified as obese. Close to a third of the parents perceived their children's health as "excellent or very good," and 28% did not think their children's weight was a health issue.
The parents were more interested in improving their children's diets than encouraging the pediatrician-recommended hour of daily exercise. Two-thirds of the parents reported making healthy diet changes for their children, but only 41.1% said they were doing something to get their kids active.
Researchers were unable to find concrete evidence as to why parents did not appear to understand the importance of physical activity but said "poverty may also play a role in how much children move on a daily basis, as parents with annual incomes of less than $40,000 were also less likely to be actively engaged in ensuring their child got regular exercise."
Experts say that intervening early in childhood obesity is key, as age 14 seems to be the cutoff for successful parent involvement.
Brown fat protects us against diabetes and obesity
Is all body fat bad? White fat might be a universal scourge, but its lesser-known counterpart, brown fat, seems to have some positive effects. Researchers at the University of Texas found that people with higher levels of brown fat had "better blood sugar control, higher insulin sensitivity and a better metabolism for burning fat stores."
Brown fat (or brown adipose tissue) is typically associated with generating heat and is primarily found in babies and hibernating animals.
This study placed normal, healthy men with either high or low levels of brown fat in mildly cold temperatures for five to eight hours, or at normal temperature. The team then took samples from the two groups to detect changes in body chemistry.
"In this study we show that, when activated via mild cold exposure, brown adipose tissue can increase energy expenditure and burn calories. This is good news for overweight and obese people," study author Dr. Labros Sidossis said in a statement. "Of even greater clinical significance maybe the finding that brown fat can help the body regulate blood sugar more effectively. This is great news for people with insulin resistance and diabetes and suggests that brown fat may prove to be an important anti-diabetic tissue."
Less childbirth pain = lower depression risk
Journal: Anesthesia & Analgesia
The effects of epidural anesthesia during childbirth might be longer-lasting than you think. A Chinese study recently found that women who had epidurals and pain control during vaginal delivery had a much lower risk of postpartum depression than women who didn't have an epidural.
Dr. Katherine Wisner, a perinatal psychiatrist at Northwestern University, wrote an editorial on the Chinese study that was published in Anesthesia & Analgesia this week.
Postpartum depression affects 14.5% of women, according to the article, but prevalence rates have been estimated to be both higher and lower in multiple studies. The mechanisms and causes of postpartum depression are not well understood, but it can last up to a year after a woman gives birth.
One possible reason that an epidural led to lower depression rates, Wisner wrote, was that "pain control gets the mother off to a good beginning, rather than starting off defeated and exhausted."
Sleep deprivation may lead to false memories
Journal: Psychological Science
Researchers from the University of California say those who are sleep-deprived are more likely to remember false details than those who are not.
Their study was conducted with 104 college-age participants who were split into four groups. Two groups were asked to look at photos of a crime scene upon their arrival, while the other two groups saw the photos the following morning. Half of them went to sleep, while half of them were asked to stay up all night. All were tested on the details of the photographs the following morning.
"The researchers found that only those students who had been sleep deprived for all parts of the experiment -- that is, they viewed the photos, read the narratives, and
took the memory test after having stayed up all night -- were more likely to report the false details."
The study found that five hours of sleep or less was associated with the formation of false memories.
Of note, the group who saw the photos before they stayed awake through the night "were no more susceptible to false memories than the students who'd been allowed to sleep."
The authors put the results into the context of the courtroom, discussing how these findings might affect witness reliability.
Not enough teens are getting the HPV vaccine
Journal: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
The human papillomavirus (HPV) has been strongly linked to several types of cancer, including cervical cancer. Persistent infections of specific HPV strains are particularly dangerous.
Two vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, can prevent infection of several of those high-risk HPV forms. Yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV vaccine coverage levels for teens 13 to 17 remains low.
The organization found that only 57% of girls and 35% of boys get the HPV vaccine. In comparison, approximately 86% of teens have received the vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, called Tdap.
The CDC says physicians are not recommending the HPV vaccine often enough. "Approximately one third of parents of girls and over half of parents of boys reported that their child's clinician had not recommended that their child receive an HPV vaccination."
DCD Director Dr. Anne Schuchat said at a news briefing that "the problem is not that doctors are reluctant to give the vaccine; it's more often a problem of miscommunication. Surveys show many are actually forgetting to mention it to patients."