By Dr. Anthony Policastro

We know that a significant portion of children in this country live with food insecurity. They do not have enough to eat on a daily basis. Things like school lunch programs help make up for some of that.

That leads to the question of the reason for them not getting enough food. It could be due to the overall money available to the household. It could be due to poor budgeting by the family. It could be due to other things.

A recent study looked at this. It was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The title was Baby’s First Years.

The purpose of the study was to see if a monthly stipend given to mothers would result in improved long-term development in their infants. 

One group of mothers had a monthly $333 stipend added to a debit card. Another group had $20 a month added to a debit card. The mothers lived in either New York City, New Orleans, Minneapolis-St. Paul or Omaha.

They followed the infants of these mothers from birth to one year of age. At that time they did EEG studies on the infants.

The results showed differences in the EEG between the high stipend and low stipend children. The high stipend group had evidence of changes that were associated with better scores on later tests of language, cognition and social-emotional development in older children. The low stipend group had findings that have been linked to behavior, attention and learning problems. The plan is to continue studying the children until they reach four years of age.

It was not a real surprise that the findings showed general differences. Some of the children whose mothers had the high stipend did not have better EEG’s. Some of the children whose mothers had a low stipend did have better EEG’s. 

This indicates that money is only part of the equation. There are many other parental factors at work. However, providing the stipend at least removes that portion of the problem.

Since food in the first year of life represents mostly breast milk/formula and baby foods, purchasing those items with a stipend might be affected.

There are still three more years worth of investigations to be completed. However, in the interim, this type of information helps support those programs that are aimed at getting food to infants and mothers who cannot easily afford it.

COVID update- Sussex County remains in the low range for COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Nationally the number of new cases went from 254,000 up to 346,000 this week. Sussex County remained relatively stable going from 213 new cases last week to 227 this week.

For previous approvals of COVID-19 vaccines by the CDC there were predictable steps. Independent advisory panels at the CDC and FDA would both make recommendations that the vaccine be approved.

For the most recent second booster dose, that particular step was skipped. The panels met after the CDC decision was made to recommend the second booster.

The FDA panel met later and agreed that the second booster was a “reasonable” step as we prepare for the next steps in the fall.

The CDC panel met last week also after the recommendation had been in place. They felt that the additional protection offered by the second booster was not enough to warrant a recommendation for it.

This is consistent with my suggestion that the best move at this point for those with the basic series plus one booster is to get early testing and antiviral medication if the test is positive. Everyone needs a home testing kit for this to work most effectively.

As the stages of the pandemic change so should our approach to it. Early on, mask mandates and lockdowns made sense. That was to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients.

The next step was to get the vaccine. That was to protect the high-risk population. Then the age limit for vaccine was lowered to include more of the population being protected.

Next came the booster. That was to prevent the individuals with the initial two doses from developing serious infections if they got breakthrough infections.

Now that a significant portion of the population has the basic series and one booster, we have the antiviral drugs. Each stage has required a different approach.

In the fall we will likely move to an annual booster aimed at the prevailing strain at the time. Then it will become like the annual flu booster. It is likely that there will be a combined COVID-19/flu vaccine at some point. As the level of infection changes so should our approach to it.

The 2021 formal mortality statistics are in. As usual heart disease killed the most people with 693,000 deaths. Cancer was second with 605,000 deaths. In third place was COVID-19. It caused 415,000 deaths in 2021.

We keep hearing a lot about variants because there are so many of them. To date there have been about 100 variants of the original strain. However, only Delta and Omicron have been really significant.