Research Spotlights: March 2018

research spotlight

Parent’s technology obsession contributes to behavioral problems in kids

Parents who are interrupted by technology are more likely to report child behavior problems according to a recent study funded by NICHD and NIDA.

The study included 183 heterosexual couples with a young child under 5 years of age. Each parent completed an online survey that assessed problematic digital technology use of the parent, perceived technology interference in the parent–child relationship, child’s externalizing and internalizing behavioral problems, child screen time, co-parenting quality, and depressive symptoms.

Approximately 90 percent of parents perceived technology interfered in their interactions with their child at least once a day, with 48 percent reporting three or more distractions a day. Over one-third of parents indicated that they used their mobile phone in a problematic way, with mothers perceiving their phone use as more problematic than fathers. Greater interference of mobile devices during mother–child interactions significantly predicted greater child externalizing and internalizing behavior reported by both parents. Technology interruptions during father–child interactions was not associated with behavioral problems reported by either parent.

These findings suggest that when parents are distracted by technology, it negatively impacts the child resulting in behavioral problems. Future studies should further investigate the impact of technological disruptions on family dynamics.

McDaniel BT, Radesky JS. 2018. Technoference: parent distraction with technology and associations with child behavior problems. Child Dev 89(1):100-9.

Prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders higher than previously thought

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is a group of physical, behavioral, and cognitive conditions that result from prenatal alcohol exposure. Previous studies estimated FASD occurred in 1 percent of children, however, these studies were constrained by small sample study populations. A new NIAAA-funded study indicates the prevalence of FASD may be substantially higher, occurring in at least 5 percent of first grade children.

The study used convenience sampling to recruit 6,639 first grade children enrolled in either public- or private-school from four communities located in the Pacific Southwest, Rocky Mountain, Midwest, and Southeast of the United States. Four domains of FASD were assessed: physical growth, dysmorphology, neurodevelopment, and prenatal alcohol exposure.

A total of 222 children were classified as having FASD, yet only two had previously been diagnosed. Conservative estimates, assuming no other cases of FASD in the population, ranged from 1.1–5 percent. Weighted prevalence rates (i.e., the rate of FASD is the same among all children) were higher, ranging from 3.1–9.8 percent.

These findings indicate that prenatal alcohol exposure and their resulting deleterious effects on children have been significantly underestimated and misdiagnosed. Public health efforts are needed to expand the screening, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of FASD in children.

May PA, Chambers CD, Kalberg WO, Zellner J, Feldman H, Buckley D, Kopald D, Hasken JM, Xu R, Honerkamp-Smith G, Taras H, Manning MA, Robinson LK, Adam MP, Abdul-Rahman O, et al. 2018. Prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in 4 US Communities. JAMA 319(5):474-82.

Having depressive symptoms before head and neck cancer treatment increases mortality risk

Head and neck cancer patients with depression symptoms prior to treatment are more likely to have shortened survival according to a recent NCI-funded study.

The study included 134 patients with biopsy confirmed head and neck cancers.

During a treatment planning clinic visit, participants completed intake forms and a depression assessment. Clinical, pathological, and radiographic data was used to determine cancer staging, viral status of oropharyngeal cancers, and tumor location. Medical records were reviewed after treatment to assess the following: treatment received and tumor response to treatment, appointment attendance, treatment interruption, and mortality.

Results revealed depressive symptoms prior to chemoradiation treatment were significantly associated with greater 2-year mortality rates (hazard ratio: 0.87; P < 0.001), higher rates of treatment interruptions (odds ratio: 0.86; P = 0.01), and poorer treatment response (odds ratio: 0.88; P = 0.005). Treatment response also partially mediated the relationship between 2-year survival and depressive symptoms.

Depressive symptoms may be a clinically meaningful indicator of prognosis for head and neck cancer. These results highlight the need for screening of depressive symptoms as well as the development of behavioral interventions to complement current head and neck cancer treatment.

Zimmaro LA, Sephton SE, Siwik CJ, Phillips KM, Rebholz WN, Kraemer HC, Giese-Davis J, Wilson L, et al. 2018. Depressive symptoms predict head and neck cancer survival: examining plausible behavioral and biological pathways. Cancer 124(5):1053-60.