Keeping Watch Over Young Minds

. July 16, 2013.

Depression—a frightening word for what can be a crippling, lifelong condition, affecting the health of the whole person. It’s a disorder that afflicts close to ten percent of Americans, but is still
often feared and misunderstood more than it’s acknowledged. And it’s a word that no one wants to think of in connection with their child. But for those with a family history of depression, it’s a risk that must be confronted head-on.

The factors

The Michigan Psychoneuroendocrinology Affective Laboratory (MPAL) is conducting its Prodromal Factors In Child Depression Project to attempt to improve early detection of the signs of depression in young teens. Parents with children ages 12 to 14 and with a family history of depression are eligible to join the study.

“Prodromal” refers to the very early warning signs of a condition, and this study aims to determine what those early symptoms are in the case of depression, so that intervention and treatment can begin earlier. Ideally, this will allow clinicians to prevent more serious problems later. Since as many as forty percent of children with a family history will develop depression before age twenty, early detection is crucial. Requirements made easy Participants in the study are required to visit MPAL’s laboratory about twice a year. They must also fill out brief monthly questionnaires, conduct bimonthly measurements of sleep, using a portable device provided by MPAL, and to collect saliva samples. There are no significant risks, though children will have to answer questions during testing.

Warning signs

Participating families can receive as much as $175 for participating in the two-year-long study, and will receive reports from MPAL on their child’s well being. If signs of depression are detected in a study subject, MPAL does not provide treatment, but can offer referrals and resources to help parents. For more information, contact lab coordinator Meribeth Gandy Pezda, 734-647-7536, or email

A different look at a key nutrient

Proper nutrition is crucial to raising healthy kids, and vitamin D deficiency has been long been linked to illnesses like rickets and other bone deficiencies. A new study from the University of Michigan suggests a link between insufficient vitamin D and increased risk of childhood obesity. The new study, by epidemiologist Eduardo Villamor of U of M’s School of Public Health, measured vitamin D levels in children from ages five to 12 in Bogotá Columbia. Villamor then tracked the links between lowered levels of vitamin D and common indicators of body fat. The results indicated that low vitamin D was associated with increased abdominal fat, which in turn is associated with increased risk of type two diabetes and heart disease.

Most people get adequate vitamin D from direct sunlight, or from artificially fortified foods. But this new science shows one more reason to be sure that our children are getting what they need to stay on a healthy path.