Protecting Our Youth

Out of Harm’s Way: Protecting Our Youth


Health Issues Facing Young People

Young people face a different set of health challenges than those faced later in life. Many IHPI members are devoting efforts toward devising better ways to protect young people from harm by identifying risk factors and preventing acute illnesses and injuries.

Promoting dental care for the very young

Dental problems, most of which are highly preventable, are a leading cause of chronic diseases in young children. That’s why child health experts recommend that oral health care begin by age one, or when a child’s first teeth emerge. Yet according to The National Poll on Children’s Health, conducted by IHPI members within the U-M C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, only 23 percent of one-year-olds and 44 percent of two-year-olds have seen a dentist. The Mott researchers recommend that well-child visits include a discussion about oral health and a check of the child’s baby teeth by a pediatrician or other provider.

U-M researchers are also conducting a detailed evaluation of the Healthy Kids Dental program (a Michigan Medicaid demonstration project) to determine how low-income children access dental care in the state.

We need to improve the way oral health issues are addressed during well-child visits so that parents fully understand the need for good oral healthcare.
Sarah Clark, M.P.H., who co-directs the National Poll on Children’s Health

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Advocating for the appropriate use of child safety restraints

Motor vehicle collisions are a leading cause of death among children in the U.S., but many of these deaths and injuries are preventable with appropriate use of child passenger restraints. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has established guidelines for the type of restraints that are appropriate for children as they grow until they are big enough for an adult seat belt. Although these recommendations have informed legislation in many states, state laws vary widely, and many children are prematurely transitioned to less-protective restraints such as adult seat belts, increasing their chances of serious injury or death in a collision.

Among the findings of U-M researchers:

  • Parents living in states requiring child safety seats were more likely to use them.
  • A significant percentage of emergency room physicians felt they had an important role to play in educating parents on child passenger safety but indicated they would give families advice that fell short of best practice recommendations.

These and additional research results are being used by IHPI members to educate the media and state legislators to enact better strategies for increasing appropriate restraint use to reduce injury.

If our research is able to inform interventions that we can deliver to parents and also inform policy so that the legislation across the country is consistent and in keeping with national best practices, that has huge potential in terms of population health for injury prevention.Michelle Macy, M.D., M.S., who is working on programs to use opportunities in the emergency department to talk with parents about safe child restraint use

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Addressing the mental health of student athletes

Research has shown that one in three college-aged students experiences significant symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions, yet only about 30 percent of them reach out for help. The numbers are even more startling for student athletes: only about 10 percent of those experiencing issues will seek out assistance.

To improve those outcomes, a team including IHPI members from the U-M School of Public Health, Depression Center, and the Athletic Department designed a pilot program for student athletes at the University of Michigan to raise awareness and discussion about mental health issues. The program, called “Athletes Connected,” was developed to help athletes seek help for themselves or others for depression and other mental health concerns. More than 90 percent of U-M’s 900+ student athletes participated, and 96 percent of participants said they were likely to put what they learned to work.

The argument starts with why mental health can affect academic performance, by affecting concentration, optimism about the future, energy, sleep, and so on. Depression predicts a doubling in the likelihood of leaving an institution of higher learning without graduating.Daniel Eisenberg, Ph.D., who directs the Healthy Minds Network for Research on Adolescent and Young Adult Mental Health

The project, which includes compelling educational videos featuring U-M athletes, was initially supported by a research grant from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and is now being enhanced with support from donors.

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Rethinking classrooms to boost physical activity

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years, and physical inactivity is a major contributing factor. IHPI members at the Childhood Disparities Research Laboratory within the U-M School of Kinesiology are studying how and where children live, learn and play can shape their health behaviors. One of their signature programs, InPACT (Interrupting Prolonged sitting with Activity), is pairing established research methods with creative approaches to determine how elementary classrooms could be redesigned to increase movement and decrease sedentary behaviors while improving cognitive and intellectual growth. InPACT is being pilot tested in three elementary schools across the state.

I am interested in understanding both the causes and the consequences of obesity. Most researchers in our area focus primarily on physical activity, exercise, and nutrition, but we also try to use a more holistic approach by focusing on the factors that shape these behaviors, such as children’s physical, social, and cultural environment.Rebecca Hasson, Ph.D., who directs the Childhood Disparities Research Laboratory

Understanding concussion risk in student athletes

Recent media attention on brain injuries in professional sports has raised public concern about the risks faced by young athletes, and how best to prevent, diagnose and treat concussion.  

Using innovative tools including helmet sensors that measure impact magnitude, IHPI members working in the U-M School of Kinesiology’s Neurotrauma Research Laboratory are learning more about the immediate and cumulative effects of concussion. Their findings challenge many of the common assumptions about head injuries. While it is usually assumed that the harder the hit, the worse the outcome, their data show that the magnitude of impact doesn’t predict the severity of concussion. Also, contrary to popular belief, enduring a number of minor blows to the head does not appear to increase the likelihood of a concussion resulting from a lesser impact. Rather, every child, and every brain, will react differently, and one significant hit is all it takes.

In 2014, U-M was selected by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the U.S Department of Defense (DoD) to lead the $30 million Concussion Assessment, Research and Education (CARE) Consortium’s longitudinal clinical study core, a prospective, multi-institution clinical research protocol to examine the natural history of concussion among NCAA athletes. Steven Broglio, Ph.D., associate professor at the U-M School of Kinesiology and director of the NeuroTrauma Research Laboratory, is co-principal investigator of the CARE Consortium.

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