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Lisa Fratt

medical costsCan putting a price tag on childhood obesity propel treatment and prevention efforts into comprehensive action? Perhaps, says David Ludwig, MD, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital.

Although the U.S. Task Force on Childhood Obesity set a goal of dropping obesity prevalence among youth to 5 percent by 2030, efforts have failed to make a significant dent. Recent data indicate only slight dips in obesity prevalence among 6- to 19-year-olds in some states. And other data show that the prevalence of extreme obesity in children continues to rise.

With nearly 20 percent of U.S. children tipping the scales as obese, policymakers need not only to act but also to justify the investment in childhood obesity treatment and prevention programs.

Duke University researchers offered a helping hand in a review article in the April 7 online Pediatrics, estimating the incremental lifetime direct medical cost of childhood obesity. Their economic model showed a $19,000 incremental lifetime medical cost of an obese child relative to a normal-weight youth.

Ludwig, who directs the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital, provides insights into the next steps. Full story »

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Cameron with Galina Lipton, MD

By the time Cameron Shearing arrived at the South Shore Hospital Emergency Department (ED) during a December snowstorm, he wasn’t breathing. He didn’t have much time. The two-year-old had aspirated a chocolate-covered pretzel, which sent tiny bits of material into his lungs.

The odds of a good outcome were not high. Pretzel is one of the worst foods to aspirate for two reasons: The small pieces can block multiple small airways, and the salt, which is very irritating, causes a lot of inflammation.

“Cameron was one of the sickest patients I ever cared for as an emergency physician. I did everything I could within my scope of practice, but he needed the tools and expertise of pediatric subspecialists,” recalls Galina Lipton, MD, from Boston Children’s Department of Emergency Medicine, who was staffing the South Shore Hospital emergency room that evening. Full story »

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A clinician's-eye view of a patient with spinal muscular atrophy during a telemedicine visit.

A clinician's-eye view of a patient with spinal muscular atrophy during a telemedicine visit.

The jury is still out on telemedicine. Proponents and many patients appreciate its ability to deliver virtual patient care and to extend the reach of experts beyond the brick-and-mortar setting of a hospital. But the real question about telemedicine is: Does it make it difference? Does is it improve care and if so, in what circumstances?

TeleCAPE, a small pilot project at Boston Children’s Hospital, inches the dial toward “yes” for some patients—in particular, home-ventilated patients.

Home-ventilated patients require an inordinate amount of health care resources for even minor conditions. Costs for a simple urinary tract or viral respiratory infection that might be managed without hospitalization can reach up to $83,000 because the child’s complex medical needs require ICU admission. Full story »

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heavy child running ShutterstockSchools have manned the front lines in the battle against childhood obesity. Through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama has promoted low-cal lunches, fresh produce and more. Now, she hopes to ban junk food and soda marketing in schools.

Are these efforts enough to turn the tide? Offering healthy foods and promoting physical activity at school may not be enough to negate the impact of other unhealthy influences in students’ homes and neighborhoods, according to Tracy Richmond, MD, MPH, of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Division of Adolescent Medicine.

Richmond recently published a study in PLOS One that looked at how a school’s physical activity or nutrition resources might influence fifth grade students’ body mass index (BMI).

The study focused on 4,387 students in Birmingham, Ala., Los Angeles and Houston. “We wanted to find out if certain schools look ‘heavier’ because of their composition—meaning that kids at higher risk of obesity, like African American girls or Hispanic boys, cluster within certain schools—or whether something structural in the school influences BMI, like the facilities or programs offered,” explains Richmond. Full story »

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africa trio kidsBeginnings—whether a new year or a new century—offer an optimal time for evaluating goals. Quality improvement literature reminds us that goals should be specific, measurable and timely, and that progress checks are crucial. With one year left to achieve the ambitious Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), global child health stakeholders are assessing gains and gaps.

In 2000, the United Nations set the MDGs, and homed its sights on child mortality in MDG 4, aiming to cut mortality among children younger than age 5 by two-thirds by 2015, from the 1990 base figure of 12 million.

By 2012, the figure was nearly halved to 6.6 million.

“There’s a hopeful sense,” says Judith Palfrey, MD, director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Global Pediatrics Program in the Department of Medicine. At the same time, the goal remains “seriously off target for many countries,” wrote Zulfiqar Bhutta, MB, BS, PhD, from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and Robert Black, MD, from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, in The New England Journal of Medicine in December.

Palfrey agrees, noting that while some countries are on track to meet the goal, some have stagnated and some have regressed. “It may be that there are some intractable issues,” she says. The countries that have failed to make progress are marked by corrupt governments, armed conflict or both. Full story »

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vent check MRAs recently as 2005, Boston Children’s Hospital’s Department of Radiology performed 25 to 30 CT studies daily to check ventricular shunts–devices placed in children with hydrocephalus and other conditions to drain fluid from the brain’s ventricles. Today, the volume of these CT scans has fallen to one exam every few days. Richard Robertson, MD, radiologist-in-chief at Boston Children’s, thinks this 77 percent drop is great news.

Neuro-imaging exams are essential for children with ventricular shunts presenting with new neurologic symptoms to help determine whether the shunt is working properly or has become blocked or disconnected. “Kids who have shunt catheters can have a large number of CT studies, in some patients up to 50 or 60 over their lifetimes. A child with an infection or shunt malfunction may have many studies even in a single month,” says Robertson.

Although the exams are necessary, exposure to ionizing radiation from even a single CT exam carries a slightly increased risk for cancer that rises with each subsequent exam. There is no known threshold below which exposure is considered safe.

During the 2005 meeting of the American Society of Neuroradiology, one of Robertson’s colleagues gave a presentation about single-slice acquisition MRI, a limited, two-minute exam that provides the basic information needed to assess the size of the cerebral ventricles. Full story »

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Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt 57357Geography can be cruel. An 8-year-old diagnosed with leukemia in Europe or North America can expect a challenging but curable course. Her care, provided by a team of pediatric specialists, includes state-of-the-art imaging, thorough infection prevention and, often, multiple options for treatment.

Her peers in the Middle East and North Africa face a dramatically different prospect. Laboratory and imaging infrastructure can be limited, so diagnoses are made at later, less curable stages. Some patients can’t access acute care because hospital beds are in short supply. Available beds may be occupied by outpatients who can’t return home or palliative patients without access to hospice care. At many hospitals, pediatric inpatients are cramped into 10- to 15-patient wards, raising the risk of infection and other complications for children with compromised immune systems.

The overall lack of medical infrastructure and dearth of providers contribute to a substantial disparity in childhood cancer survival rates between high-income countries and the developing world. While many countries in Europe and North America have achieved cure rates in the 80 percent range, survival rates hover near 20 percent in low- and moderate-income countries. Full story »

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african villageMalaria presents a formidable global challenge. It affects more than 200 million people worldwide every year, and more than 1 million people die from it, primarily pregnant women and children under the age of 5 years. Resistance to existing anti-malarial medications is a constant, and vaccines have not proven effective. But the disease also presents a unique opportunity for researchers to uncover innovative solutions. As a result, even the cash-conscious National Institutes of Health (NIH) is investing in malaria research.

Boston Children’s Hospital physician Jeffrey Dvorin, MD, PhD, recently received a High-Risk, High-Reward New Innovator Award from the NIH. The award is reserved for early-stage investigators whose research has potential for significant impact, but who may lack enough data for a traditional NIH R01 grant. Dvorin will use the $1.5 million, five-year grant to pursue research that could lead to new tools to combat malaria.

The challenges of treating malaria begin at the molecular level. To develop new anti-malarial tools, the research community needs to understand how the parasite replicates. Determining which genes are essential to parasite replication could provide the data needed to develop new medications or an effective vaccine. But scientists have not yet determined functions for more than half of the 5,500 genes in Plasmodium falciparum, which causes the majority of malaria infections in Africa. Full story »

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extended-spectrum B-lactamase

The discovery of penicillin in 1928 marked the beginning of the antibiotic era and dramatic improvements in health and medicine. With mass production of the new ‘wonder drug’ in the 1940s, threats from previously lethal diseases like bacterial infections and pneumonia waned. However, less than 100 years later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is sounding alarms about the increasing threat of antibiotic resistance.

The United States is edging closer to the cliff of a post-antibiotic era in which medications lose their effectiveness, the CDC cautioned in a September report, detailing the burden and threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Every year, more than 2 million people in the U.S. contract antibiotic-resistant infections, and at least 23,000 people die as a result. Estimates vary, but data suggest that the direct health care costs of antibiotic resistance may top $20 billion annually.

The path from remedy to resistance is rapid. “Every time antibiotics are used in any setting, bacteria evolve by developing resistance. This process can happen with alarming speed,” says Steve Solomon, MD, director of CDC’s Office of Antimicrobial Resistance. Full story »

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_InnovationSummit0106Boston Children’s Hospital convened the National Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards 2013 with an ambitious goal: to bring together thought leaders to address the toughest challenges in pediatric health care. During the two-day summit, a series of panels and town hall discussions sparked dynamic dialogue.

While the summit was designed as a forum for ongoing discussion and relationship building, five key takeaways have emerged.            Full story »

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