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Survey finds early childhood care and education providers creating healthier environments for kids in Minnesota

A University of Minnesota survey, in partnership with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, shows childcare providers in the state are making significant strides in fostering healthy environments compared to a similar 2010 survey. More providers are offering nutritious foods, limiting unhealthy snacks, and providing more options for physical activity.

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Commentary: School of Public Health associate professor reflects on the importance of physical education in our school systems

The following commentary was presented in December 2014 to the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education by Toben Nelson, Sc.D., associate professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota regarding graduation requirements for physical education.

“Developing minds and bodies need to be active in order to function at their best. I am here to urge you to reconsider the decision to reduce the number of physical education (PE) credits that students must take in order to graduate from a Minneapolis public school.

In my view, reducing physical education requirements is actually counter-productive to educational goals. Physical activity is critical for physical health. But it has a wide range of other benefits. Regular activity promotes mental health, reduces anxiety and depression, and improves mood. When schools provide structured time for physical activity through physical education, students respond with improved academic performance in the classroom and on standardized test scores.

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Mealtime with children: Let them feed themselves

It’s fair to say that mealtime with children may not always be the most appetizing experience. Peas all over their face. Oatmeal in their hair. Some of each course being spit back in your direction. It’s magical.

But for parents, serving a child during a family meal and watching them feed themselves can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

Now, a new understanding of children and portion control shows that in addition to letting children feed themselves, it may also be beneficial for parents to take a hands-off approach when it comes to serving their kids during mealtime.

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Recent study examining link between fever, flu and autism shouldn’t be cause for alarm

Editor’s note: Earlier this month, research examining the link between the flu and fevers in pregnant women and the risk of autism raised eyebrows across the web and in the media.  To get a better assessment, we asked University of Minnesota Physicians psychologist and autism spectrum disorders expert Amy Esler, Ph.D., for her take.  Below is what she had to say about the study, outlined well by USA Today in this article.

There is a lot of information out there about the latest autism-related study from Denmark. As a result, I’m sure people have a lot of questions.

The strength of the study in question, published recently in Pediatrics, is that it uses a large population-based sample, followed prospectively from pregnancy, before any signs of autism-spectrum disorder (ASD) would be present. Thirty-one percent of all pregnant women in Denmark between 1996 and 2002 participated in the study.

The women were asked questions about illnesses during pregnancy at two time points during the actual pregnancy and then shortly after the child was born. This helps control recall bias, which occurs when people look back with hindsight and try to find potential causes of their child’s current problems. It also reduces problems with recall in general (i.e., prevents losing data due to parents forgetting what happened during pregnancy).

But what’s important for the general public to understand is that the study and its researchers actually argue the opposite of what is now appearing in headlines.

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Is gender neutrality critical to gender equality?

From pink polka-dotted outfits and tutus to wear home from the hospital to toy cars and tool sets for birthday presents, it’s no secret that little boys and girls are quickly encouraged to play specific gender roles. But in a world increasingly focused on gender equality, some are saying it’s time to focus also on gender neutrality.

Activists in Sweden, one of the most gender equal nations of all, are now promoting a gender neutral pronoun: hen.  The idea initially surfaced years ago as a way to avoid space-consuming he/she writing. But now, some argue the concept could be key to encouraging a society where everyone is free to choose their own self, especially small children.

Walter Bockting, Ph.D., a professor in the University of Minnesota’s Program in Human Sexuality, isn’t sure the effort is necessary in terms of child development.

“Gender generally develops in very predictable ways,” Bockting says. “For the small percentage of people who don’t identify with the traditional gender categories of boy or girl, man or woman, these types of accommodations can be beneficial. But whether that identity applies is hard to determine until much closer to adolescence.”

Instead of discouraging gender-oriented play, Bockting suggests parents and caregivers provide a variety of options and activities to toddlers and young children. This allows parents to focus time and energy encouraging interests of the child while remaining open and supportive, whatever those interests may be.

“As long as the interests of the child are first at hand, it’s best to just let the child play and grow,” said Bockting. “Given space, time and an open environment, children will discover their own interests and identity.”

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