Forget Those Old Wives’ Tales
Pediatricians set the record straight
By Terri Akman

You’ve heard the same advice for years. Your mother told you, because her mother passed the wisdom on to her. But over time, medical science has proven that some advice handed down over time isn’t all that great. Usually, it’s just flat-out wrong.

Lee Lerch, DO

Lee Lerch, DO

Myth: Cold weather causes colds

This past winter is proof that colds are not caused by cold weather. Snow days at the beginning of the year kept kids home from school – and out of the doctor’s office.

“If you ask pediatricians what their office was like in January and February, they’ll tell you there were not as many kids making appointments for disease and sickness, because they weren’t as sick as they had been the previous year,” says pediatrician Lee Lerch, DO, of Advocare Lerch & Amato Pediatrics. “They were home and not passing disease around. Viruses and bacteria from other people are what make you sick.”

Myth: Feed a cold, starve a fever

David Chasen, MD

David Chasen, MD

“This medical myth is probably the oldest myth we still hear, having been traced back to the late 1500s,” says David Chasen, MD. “The belief is that eating food may generate warmth during a cold to help fight it, and by extension, avoiding food may help cool you down when you have a fever. This hypothesis is wrong.”

In fact, food is necessary to help the body fight both colds and fevers, explains Chasen, a pediatrician at Advocare The Farm Pediatrics. The invading organism can’t live in high temperatures, so the immune system fights by increasing the body’s metabolic rate, causing a fever. That process actually requires more food to fuel the body.

“However, when you’re sick, you often lose your appetite, making eating a more a difficult task – especially if you are a picky eater to start with,” says Chasen. “If you can’t get your child to eat, getting him to drink is even more important.”

While at least half of your child’s liquid intake should be water, you can also encourage her to eat and drink other things, like soup, water ice or Jello.

“If the child is younger than age 2 you can give him Pedialyte. For older kids you can give some Gatorade, juice or flat soda, but not too much of any one thing because they are all high in sugar,” says Chasen.

Myth: Green mucus means your child has an infection

John B. Tedeschi, MD

John B. Tedeschi, MD

Many a parent and preschool teacher warn that a child’s green mucus means there’s an infection. Not true, insists pediatrician John B. Tedeschi, MD. “Color really doesn’t matter, and new research shows that green can actually be a good thing, because it’s caused by your immune system response. It doesn’t mean you have a sinus infection or the mucus is infected.”

The rule of thumb to determining an infection is having 10 to 14 days of unresolved congestion, regardless of color. At that point, it’s time to see the doctor, says Tedeschi of Advocare South Jersey Pediatrics.

Myth: Sugar causes hyperactivity

“Who hasn’t viewed the wreckage after a birthday party and not wanted to blame the cake, ice cream and juice?” asks Chasen. But in fact, sugar has no effect on children’s behavior, according to a 1995 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“The fact is that sugar may only be an innocent victim of guilt by association,” says Chasen. “It has been shown that if a parent believes their child has had sugar, they will perceive a difference in behavior that is not really there by objective measures. From a nutritional standpoint, it won’t hurt any of us to limit our sugar intake, but it won’t really help our behavior.”

Myth: Baby videos improve brain development

Research shows that baby videos might actually slow word learning.

“It’s all about the personal relationship you have with your child,” says Lerch. “It’s hard work and parental input that creates more educated and developed children.”

Babies learn from the people around them, and time spent in front of a video takes away from personal contact. Your time is better spent playing with your baby and paying attention to your little one’s interests to foster curiosity. Loving and nurturing your child are far better ways to increase baby’s brain power, Lerch says.

August 2014
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