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Source: Toniht at Wikimedia Commons

Phthalates are a class of chemicals that have been shown to disrupt the endocrine system. They’re used in all kinds of consumer products including flooring, cars and cosmetics.

A new study published today finds a significant link between pregnant women’s exposure to phthalates and negative impacts on their children’s development.

Robin Whyatt is a professor in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, and she’s the lead author of the study. She and her team have an ongoing study of more than 700 mothers and their children that began in 1998.

For this particular study, they looked at about half of those mother-child pairs. They measured phthalate levels in the mothers’ urine and compared those levels to several developmental tests on their children, who are now three years old.

“As levels in the mothers' urine went up, the child’s motor development went down significantly.”

She says the types of phthalates they studied appear to affect the babies’ brain development while they’re still in utero.

“Three of the phthalates were significantly associated with behavioral disorders, or behavioral problems: anxious, depressed behaviors, emotionally reactive behaviors, withdrawn behavior.”

Whyatt says they controlled for a long list of factors. They looked at tobacco smoke, lead, pesticides, and other toxic substances.

“We controlled for race and ethnicity, gestational age. We looked at marital status, we looked at a number of different indicators of poverty and also how much hardship a woman was going through.”

And she says still, there was a significant link between the mothers’ phthalate levels and their children’s development.

“Our findings are concerning because saw a two to three fold increase in the odds that the child would have motor delays and or behavioral problems.”

But she says more research is needed. And parents should keep in mind that any individual child’s risk is low.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

When something big happens in your life, sometimes you just have to get it out.

Talk to a friend. Share it with your family, or just shout it out loud.

You know, express yourself a little.

Expression through song writing and production are skills that the organizers of Studio on the Go hope to teach kids in Michigan.

Kyle Norris reports the program "travels to schools and community centers in Flint, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo":

Kids use computers and keyboards to make music and beats and then they write lyrics about their lives, and finally record the songs. Kids are given a topic to write about, like "education," “making it” and "family"... The results are songs about their personal struggles along with heartfelt tributes. Some kids sing about what it’s like to have someone they love die or to have a family member in jail. Instructors say the kids learn a combination of technical skills along with life skills.

Michigan Radio's Multimedia Producer Mercedes Mejia and Reporter Kyle Norris put this video together about the program:

 

 

 

 

If Studio on the Go came to your town, what would your "making it" or "family" song be about?

Yesterday, we learned that Michigan has more than half a million kids in families whose incomes are below the poverty level. Half a million. That’s according to reliable figures provided by the non-partisan, non-profit Michigan League for Human Services.

Every year, they bring us something called the Kids Count Data Book, a demographic survey of children’s well-being, funded by the reputable Annie E. Casey Foundation.

This year’s study shows that almost one in four Michigan kids is poverty-stricken. That’s as of two years ago, and the situation probably worsened last year. That’s more significant than it seems: Poverty-stricken children all too often grow up to be poor, unemployed and sometimes unemployable adults. They seldom get the education they need to be successful in the modern economy.

Additionally, kids who live under economic stress also tend to have more health problems, according to Jane Zehnder-Merrell, the director of the Kids Count in Michigan project.

That should bother you even if you have a heart of stone, because society is going to end up paying a tremendous economic as well as human cost as a result. We won’t see the full effect of the recession on our children for years.

And, there are things we could do to cushion the blow. Unfortunately, according to the experts, we seem to be choosing policies guaranteed to do exactly the opposite. Michigan, by the way, isn’t the worst state in the nation when it comes to child poverty, though we are worse than most.

We’ve fallen a few notches to thirtieth out of fifty states. But while child poverty went up nationally by 18 percent since two thousand, it increased in Michigan by a staggering 64 percent.

Teen deaths are on the decline in Michigan. That’s according to an annual report that compares indicators on the wellbeing of children.

According to the report, Michigan ranks better than the national average for the death rate among teens. Jane Zehnder-Merrell is the “Kids Count” project director at the Michigan League for Human Services. She says teens are getting into fewer fatal car accidents. But she says Michigan is experiencing a national trend toward more teen murders. 

“It’s troubling to see that as we push down one rate another rates starts going up; the homicide rate. Suicide rate has remained relatively stable, but we may see increases in that as well with the stress.”

There has been a 64 percent increase in the child poverty rate in Michigan over the past decade, according to the report.

Zehnder-Merrell says increases in unemployment and home foreclosures affect the wellbeing of children.

 “Very stressful, very difficult times for families, even though in Michigan I think part of it too is we’re used to having a lot more people living a middleclass life and having access to housing and good jobs and good health insurance, and the world is changing.”

Zehnder-Merrell says many budget and program cuts and made in the Legislature have exacerbated child poverty issues. That includes a proposed four-year cap on cash assistance that is set for a final vote when lawmakers return to Lansing next week.

Every year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases its estimate of how much it costs to raise a child from birth to seventeen years of age.

Here's what they found for their latest Expenditures on Children by Families report:

A middle-income family with a child born in 2010 can expect to spend about $226,920 ($286,860 if projected inflation costs are factored in) for food, shelter, and other necessities to raise that child over the next 17 years.

It represents a 2% increase from 2009, and the report also notes that, naturally, the more money you make, the more you spend on your child:

  • A family earning less than $57,600 per year can expect to spend a total of $163,440 (in 2010 dollars) on a child from birth through high school.
  • Similarly, parents with an income between $57,600 and $99,730 can expect to spend $226,920;
  • and a family earning more than $99,730 can expect to spend $377,040.

Housing accounts for 31% of the cost for raising a child for a family with a middle income.

The USDA first released this report in 1960 when a middle-income family could have expected to spend $25,230 to raise a child (or $185,856 in 2010 dollars).

A new poll finds parents want more physical education in school.  The U of M C-S Mott Children’s Hospital National poll asked parents of 6 to 11 year olds about their children’s access to gym classes and recess.

  A third of parents say their children get too little physical education.  

Sarah Clark is the associate director of the poll. 

(Flickr Blind Pew)

A new report says about 70% of  children in Michigan who are eligible for child support do receive the payments. An Auditor General’s report on Michigan’s child support system says about $3 billion in child support payments were collected over the last two years.    

Marilyn Stephen is the director of Child Support with the Department of Human Services. She says the number of eligible kids who receive child support payments could always be better. 

“I don’t know that I’d categorize it as either good or bad. It’s great that there are 70% of children who are receiving the support that they are entitled to, but that means that there’s 30% that we spend probably 90 percent of our time looking for and trying to identify income and assets.”

Stephen  doubts the state will never be able to make every parent pay child support.

 “I would submit that we’ll probably never be at zero, because there will probably always be individuals who lack the education and the job history and frankly the employment to pay their child support. So that’s a persistent problem, and not just in Michigan, but across the nation, and really across the world.”

Stephen says the state’s child support program is a great return on investment for taxpayers, with more than $6 in child support collected for every dollar spent.

Eric Sweet

This week, we’re changing it up a bit for our “What’s Working” series. Morning Edition Host Christina Shockley is welcoming Michigan Radio Reporter Kyle Norris into the studio to talk about a program in a Kalamazoo neighborhood that revolves around bikes.

Resident Ethan Alexander has organized a program called the Open Roads Bike Program, which teaches kids about bike maintenance. The children learn to perform a number of tasks involved in repairing and taking care of bikes. When they’ve completed all of the tasks, they are rewarded with a bike of their own.

But the bikes are not the only focus of the program. While learning how to take care of bikes provides the children with a sense of accomplishment and pride, Alexander makes sure the kids learn how to respect and get to know one another.

Kyle Norris recently attended a regularly held workshop event in the neighborhood called “Fixapalooza,” where she got to witness what the program has to offer first-hand. She says the atmosphere was similar to that of a block party, plus bikes – many, many bikes.

“It was a total party. There was Michael Jackson on a boom box, blasting. There was pizza. There was a dog running around. And there were a lot of kids, and adults, too, and bikes – bikes flipped over, adults working on bikes, kids working on bikes.”

The program got started when Edison neighborhood resident Ethan Alexander combined two things he had in excess: bikes and an understanding of how to work with children. Norris says it all got started about three years ago.

“He actually created it because he had a lot of bikes kicking around. I think he’s sort of a bike-head, so he had a lot of bikes. But he’s also a social worker, and he knows how to work with kids and get kids to work on their social skills and work on becoming better kids. So he kind of put the two loves together.”

The children who participate in the program don’t have to come very far to join in the fun, says Norris.

“Many of them come from this Edison neighborhood. They come, literally, down the street. Maybe single-family homes, maybe economically challenged.”

Alexander says the program gives the children a sense of confidence that they may not have in other areas of their lives.        

“A lot of these kids may not be successful in school. They may not be successful in other avenues. But you put a wrench in their hand, or you put a screwdriver in their hand, and that’s when they kind of light up, that’s when they get excited, and say, ‘Oh, I can do this. This is something I can do.’ And they’re valued and they start to believe in themselves and their abilities.”

After hanging out at Fixapalooza, Norris describes Mr. Alexander as a “zippy” guy. She says his leadership creates the atmosphere of respect.

There has been an increase in child abuse and neglect cases in the state, as well as increase in children living in poverty. That’s according to an annual report published by the Michigan League for Human Services.

Jane Zehnder-Merrell works on the annual Kids Count report. She says the Legislature needs to stop making cuts to important programs in the state budget that help kids:

I think that’s sort of the trouble with term limits – that the legislators who are coming to town may not realize that we’ve already cut billion, literally billions, out of the state budget, many compromising programs that serve families and children.

Zehnder-Merrell says there are some bright spots in the Kids Count report, including a decline in high school dropout rates and teen births.

She also says she is optimistic that Governor Rick Snyder will make decreasing child poverty a priority.

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