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author:("mensa, Fiona")
1.  Study protocol: the Childhood to Adolescence Transition Study (CATS) 
BMC Pediatrics  2013;13:160.
Puberty is a multifaceted developmental process that begins in late-childhood with a cascade of endocrine changes that ultimately lead to sexual maturation and reproductive capability. The transition through puberty is marked by an increased risk for the onset of a range of health problems, particularly those related to the control of behaviour and emotion. Early onset puberty is associated with a greater risk of cancers of the reproductive tract and cardiovascular disease. Previous studies have had methodological limitations and have tended to view puberty as a unitary process, with little distinction between adrenarche, gonadarche and linear growth. The Childhood to Adolescence Transition Study (CATS) aims to prospectively examine associations between the timing and stage of the different hormonally-mediated changes, as well as the onset and course of common health and behavioural problems that emerge in the transition from childhood to adolescence. The initial focus of CATS is on adrenarche, the first hormonal process in the pubertal cascade, which begins for most children at around 8 years of age.
CATS is a longitudinal population-based cohort study. All Grade 3 students (8–9 years of age) from a stratified cluster sample of schools in Melbourne, Australia were invited to take part. In total, 1239 students and a parent/guardian were recruited to participate in the study. Measures are repeated annually and comprise student, parent and teacher questionnaires, and student anthropometric measurements. A saliva sample was collected from students at baseline and will be repeated at later waves, with the primary purpose of measuring hormonal indices of adrenarche and gonadarche.
CATS is uniquely placed to capture biological and phenotypic indices of the pubertal process from its earliest manifestations, together with anthropometric measures and assessment of child health and development. The cohort will provide rich detail of the development, lifestyle, external circumstances and health of children during the transition from childhood through to adolescence. Baseline associations between the hormonal measures and measures of mental health and behaviour will initially be examined cross-sectionally, and then in later waves longitudinally. CATS will make a unique contribution to the understanding of adrenarche and puberty in children’s health and development.
PMCID: PMC3852285  PMID: 24103080
Puberty; Hormones; Adrenarche; Gonadarche; Adolescent; Cohort studies; Public health; Protocol; Epidemiology
2.  Correction: Family and Neighbourhood Socioeconomic Inequalities in Childhood Trajectories of BMI and Overweight: Longitudinal Study of Australian Children 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):10.1371/annotation/f7e5e1f3-77f6-4c56-b0ba-53b54a86df14.
PMCID: PMC3761042
3.  Family and Neighbourhood Socioeconomic Inequalities in Childhood Trajectories of BMI and Overweight: Longitudinal Study of Australian Children 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e69676.
Socioeconomic inequalities in longitudinal patterning of childhood overweight could cause marked differentials in total burden by adulthood. This study aims to determine timing and strength of the association between socioeconomic status (SES) and children’s body mass index (BMI) in the pre- and primary school years, and to examine socioeconomic differences in overweight trajectories across childhood.
Participants were 4949 children from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. BMI was measured at four biennial waves starting at age 4–5 years in 2004. Developmental trajectories of childhood overweight were identified with latent class analyses. Composite variables of family and neighbourhood SES were used.
Socioeconomic differences in mean BMI z-scores already present at age 4–5 more than doubled by age 10–11 years, reflecting decreasing mean BMI among advantaged rather than increasing means among disadvantaged children. Latent class analysis identified children with ‘stable normal weight’ (68%), and with ‘persistent’ (15%), ‘late-onset’ (14%), and ‘resolving’ overweight (3%). Risks of persistent and late-onset childhood overweight were highest among low SES families (e.g. most disadvantaged quintile: ORpersistent = 2.51, 95%CI: 1.83–3.43), and only partly explained by birth weight and parental overweight. Relationships with neighbourhood SES were weaker and attenuated fully on adjustment for family SES. No socioeconomic gradient was observed for resolving overweight.
Childhood has become the critical period when socioeconomic inequalities in overweight emerge and strengthen. Although targeting disadvantaged children with early overweight must be a top priority, the presence of childhood overweight even among less-disadvantaged families suggests only whole-society approaches will eliminate overweight-associated morbidity.
PMCID: PMC3720589  PMID: 23936075
4.  Probiotics to improve outcomes of colic in the community: Protocol for the Baby Biotics randomised controlled trial 
BMC Pediatrics  2012;12:135.
Infant colic, characterised by excessive crying/fussing for no apparent cause, affects up to 20% of infants under three months of age and is a great burden to families, health professionals and the health system. One promising approach to improving its management is the use of oral probiotics. The Baby Biotics trial aims to determine whether the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938 is effective in reducing crying in infants less than three months old (<13.0 weeks) with infant colic when compared to placebo.
Design: Double-blind, placebo-controlled randomised trial in Melbourne, Australia. Participants: 160 breast and formula fed infants less than three months old who present either to clinical or community services and meet Wessel’s criteria of crying and/or fussing. Intervention: Oral once-daily Lactobacillus reuteri (1x108 cfu) versus placebo for one month. Primary outcome: Infant crying/fussing time per 24 hours at one month. Secondary outcomes: i) number of episodes of infant crying/fussing per 24 hours and ii) infant sleep duration per 24 hours (at 7, 14, 21, 28 days and 6 months); iii) maternal mental health scores, iv) family functioning scores, v) parent quality adjusted life years scores, and vi) intervention cost-effectiveness (at one and six months); and vii) infant faecal microbiota diversity, viii) infant faecal calprotectin levels and ix) Eschericia coli load (at one month only). Analysis: Primary and secondary outcomes for the intervention versus control groups will be compared with t tests and non-parametric tests for continuous data and chi squared tests for dichotomous data. Regression models will be used to adjust for potential confounding factors. Intention-to-treat analysis will be applied.
An effective, practical and acceptable intervention for infant colic would represent a major clinical advance. Because our trial includes breast and formula-fed babies, our results should generalise to most babies with colic. If cost-effective, the intervention’s simplicity is such that it could be widely taken up as a new standard of care in the primary and secondary care sectors.
Trial Registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN95287767
PMCID: PMC3508922  PMID: 22928654
Colic; Crying; Infant; Probiotics; Randomised controlled trial; Health care costs; Postpartum depression; Mental health; Quality of life; Biota
5.  Baby Business: a randomised controlled trial of a universal parenting program that aims to prevent early infant sleep and cry problems and associated parental depression 
BMC Pediatrics  2012;12:13.
Infant crying and sleep problems (e.g. frequent night waking, difficulties settling to sleep) each affect up to 30% of infants and often co-exist. They are costly to manage and associated with adverse outcomes including postnatal depression symptoms, early weaning from breast milk, and later child behaviour problems. Preventing such problems could improve these adverse outcomes and reduce costs to families and the health care system. Anticipatory guidance-i.e. providing parents with information about normal infant sleep and cry patterns, ways to encourage self-settling in infants, and ways to develop feeding and settling routines before the onset of problems-could prevent such problems. This paper outlines the protocol for our study which aims to test an anticipatory guidance approach.
750 families from four Local Government Areas in Melbourne, Australia have been randomised to receive the Baby Business program (intervention group) or usual care (control group) offered by health services. The Baby Business program provides parents with information about infant sleep and crying via a DVD and booklet (mailed soon after birth), telephone consultation (at infant age 6-8 weeks) and parent group session (at infant age 12 weeks). All English speaking parents of healthy newborn infants born at > 32 weeks gestation and referred by their maternal and child health nurse at their first post partum home visit (day 7-10 postpartum), are eligible. The primary outcome is parent report of infant night time sleep as a problem at four months of age and secondary outcomes include parent report of infant daytime sleep or crying as a problem, mean duration of infant sleep and crying/24 hours, parental depression symptoms, parent sleep quality and quantity and health service use. Data will be collected at two weeks (baseline), four months and six months of age. An economic evaluation using a cost-consequences approach will, from a societal perspective, compare costs and health outcomes between the intervention and control groups.
To our knowledge this is the first randomised controlled trial of a program which aims to prevent both infant sleeping and crying problems and associated postnatal depression symptoms. If effective, it could offer an important public health prevention approach to these common, distressing problems.
Trial registration number
PMCID: PMC3292472  PMID: 22309617
6.  Can improving working memory prevent academic difficulties? a school based randomised controlled trial 
BMC Pediatrics  2011;11:57.
Low academic achievement is common and is associated with adverse outcomes such as grade repetition, behavioural disorders and unemployment. The ability to accurately identify these children and intervene before they experience academic failure would be a major advance over the current 'wait to fail' model. Recent research suggests that a possible modifiable factor for low academic achievement is working memory, the ability to temporarily store and manipulate information in a 'mental workspace'. Children with working memory difficulties are at high risk of academic failure. It has recently been demonstrated that working memory can be improved with adaptive training tasks that encourage improvements in working memory capacity. Our trial will determine whether the intervention is efficacious as a selective prevention strategy for young children at risk of academic difficulties and is cost-effective.
This randomised controlled trial aims to recruit 440 children with low working memory after a school-based screening of 2880 children in Grade one. We will approach caregivers of all children from 48 participating primary schools in metropolitan Melbourne for consent. Children with low working memory will be randomised to usual care or the intervention. The intervention will consist of 25 computerised working memory training sessions, which take approximately 35 minutes each to complete. Follow-up of children will be conducted at 6, 12 and 24 months post-randomisation through child face-to-face assessment, parent and teacher surveys and data from government authorities. The primary outcome is academic achievement at 12 and 24 months, and other outcomes include child behaviour, attention, health-related quality of life, working memory, and health and educational service utilisation.
A successful start to formal learning in school sets the stage for future academic, psychological and economic well-being. If this preventive intervention can be shown to be efficacious, then we will have the potential to prevent academic underachievement in large numbers of at-risk children, to offer a ready-to-use intervention to the Australian school system and to build international research partnerships along the health-education interface, in order to carry our further studies of effectiveness and generalisability.
PMCID: PMC3141506  PMID: 21682929
7.  Study protocol: the sleeping sound with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder project 
BMC Pediatrics  2010;10:101.
Up to 70% of children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) experience sleep problems including difficulties initiating and maintaining sleep. Sleep problems in children with ADHD can result in poorer child functioning, impacting on school attendance, daily functioning and behaviour, as well as parental mental health and work attendance. The Sleeping Sound with ADHD trial aims to investigate the efficacy of a behavioural sleep program in treating sleep problems experienced by children with ADHD. We have demonstrated the feasibility and the acceptability of this treatment program in a pilot study.
This randomised controlled trial (RCT) is being conducted with 198 children (aged between 5 to 12 years) with ADHD and moderate to severe sleep problems. Children are recruited from public and private paediatric practices across the state of Victoria, Australia. Upon receiving informed written consent, families are randomised to receive either the behavioural sleep intervention or usual care. The intervention consists of two individual, face-to-face consultations and a follow-up phone call with a trained clinician (trainee consultant paediatrician or psychologist), focusing on the assessment and management of child sleep problems. The primary outcome is parent- and teacher-reported ADHD symptoms (ADHD Rating Scale IV). Secondary outcomes are child sleep (actigraphy and parent report), behaviour, daily functioning, school attendance and working memory, as well as parent mental health and work attendance. We are also assessing the impact of children's psychiatric comorbidity (measured using a structured diagnostic interview) on treatment outcome.
To our knowledge, this is the first RCT of a behavioural intervention aiming to treat sleep problems in children with ADHD. If effective, this program will provide a feasible non-pharmacological and acceptable intervention improving child sleep and ADHD symptoms in this patient group.
Trial Registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN68819261.
PMCID: PMC3022790  PMID: 21192797
8.  Treating infant colic with the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri: double blind, placebo controlled randomised trial 
Objective To determine whether the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938 reduces crying or fussing in a broad community based sample of breastfed infants and formula fed infants with colic aged less than 3 months.
Design Double blind, placebo controlled randomised trial.
Setting Community based sample (primary and secondary level care centres) in Melbourne, Australia.
Participants 167 breastfed infants or formula fed infants aged less than 3 months meeting Wessel’s criteria for crying or fussing: 85 were randomised to receive probiotic and 82 to receive placebo.
Interventions Oral daily L reuteri (1×108 colony forming units) versus placebo for one month.
Main outcomes measures The primary outcome was daily duration of cry or fuss at 1 month. Secondary outcomes were duration of cry or fuss; number of cry or fuss episodes; sleep duration of infant at 7, 14, and 21 days, and 1 and 6 months; maternal mental health (Edinburgh postnatal depression subscale); family functioning (paediatric quality of life inventory), parent quality adjusted life years (assessment of quality of life) at 1 and 6 months; infant functioning (paediatric quality of life inventory) at 6 months; infant faecal microbiota (microbial diversity, colonisation with Escherichia coli), and calprotectin levels at 1 month. In intention to treat analyses the two groups were compared using regression models adjusted for potential confounders.
Results Of 167 infants randomised from August 2011 to August 2012, 127 (76%) were retained to primary outcome; of these, a subset was analysed for faecal microbial diversity, E coli colonisation, and calprotectin levels. Adherence was high. Mean daily cry or fuss time fell steadily in both groups. At 1 month, the probiotic group cried or fussed 49 minutes more than the placebo group (95% confidence interval 8 to 90 minutes, P=0.02); this mainly reflected more fussing, especially for formula fed infants. The groups were similar on all secondary outcomes. No study related adverse events occurred.
Conclusions L reuteri DSM 17938 did not benefit a community sample of breastfed infants and formula fed infants with colic. These findings differ from previous smaller trials of selected populations and do not support a general recommendation for the use of probiotics to treat colic in infants.
Trial registration Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN95287767.
PMCID: PMC3972414  PMID: 24690625
9.  Impact of a behavioural sleep intervention on symptoms and sleep in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and parental mental health: randomised controlled trial 
Objective To examine whether behavioural strategies designed to improve children’s sleep problems could also improve the symptoms, behaviour, daily functioning, and working memory of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the mental health of their parents.
Design Randomised controlled trial.
Setting 21 general paediatric practices in Victoria, Australia.
Participants 244 children aged 5-12 years with ADHD attending the practices between 2010 and 2012.
Intervention Sleep hygiene practices and standardised behavioural strategies delivered by trained psychologists or trainee paediatricians during two fortnightly consultations and a follow-up telephone call. Children in the control group received usual clinical care.
Main outcome measures At three and six months after randomisation: severity of ADHD symptoms (parent and teacher ADHD rating scale IV—primary outcome), sleep problems (parent reported severity, children’s sleep habits questionnaire, actigraphy), behaviour (strengths and difficulties questionnaire), quality of life (pediatric quality of life inventory 4.0), daily functioning (daily parent rating of evening and morning behavior), working memory (working memory test battery for children, six months only), and parent mental health (depression anxiety stress scales).
Results Intervention compared with control families reported a greater decrease in ADHD symptoms at three and six months (adjusted mean difference for change in symptom severity −2.9, 95% confidence interval −5.5 to −0.3, P=0.03, effect size −0.3, and −3.7, −6.1 to −1.2, P=0.004, effect size −0.4, respectively). Compared with control children, intervention children had fewer moderate-severe sleep problems at three months (56% v 30%; adjusted odds ratio 0.30, 95% confidence interval 0.16 to 0.59; P<0.001) and six months (46% v 34%; 0.58, 0.32 to 1.0; P=0.07). At three months this equated to a reduction in absolute risk of 25.7% (95% confidence interval 14.1% to 37.3%) and an estimated number needed to treat of 3.9. At six months the number needed to treat was 7.8. Approximately a half to one third of the beneficial effect of the intervention on ADHD symptoms was mediated through improved sleep, at three and six months, respectively. Intervention families reported greater improvements in all other child and family outcomes except parental mental health. Teachers reported improved behaviour of the children at three and six months. Working memory (backwards digit recall) was higher in the intervention children compared with control children at six months. Daily sleep duration measured by actigraphy tended to be higher in the intervention children at three months (mean difference 10.9 minutes, 95% confidence interval −19.0 to 40.8 minutes, effect size 0.2) and six months (9.9 minutes, −16.3 to 36.1 minutes, effect size 0.3); however, this measure was only completed by a subset of children (n=54 at three months and n=37 at six months).
Conclusions A brief behavioural sleep intervention modestly improves the severity of ADHD symptoms in a community sample of children with ADHD, most of whom were taking stimulant medications. The intervention also improved the children’s sleep, behaviour, quality of life, and functioning, with most benefits sustained to six months post-intervention. The intervention may be suitable for use in primary and secondary care.
Trial registration Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN68819261.
PMCID: PMC4299655  PMID: 25646809
10.  Specific language impairment: a convenient label for whom? 
The term ‘specific language impairment’ (SLI), in use since the 1980s, describes children with language impairment whose cognitive skills are within normal limits where there is no identifiable reason for the language impairment. SLI is determined by applying exclusionary criteria, so that it is defined by what it is not rather than by what it is. The recent decision to not include SLI in DSM-5 provoked much debate and concern from researchers and clinicians.
To explore how the term ‘specific language impairment’ emerged, to consider how disorders, including SLI, are generally defined and to explore how societal changes might impact on use the term.
Methods & Procedures
We reviewed the literature to explore the origins of the term ‘specific language impairment’ and present published evidence, as well as new analyses of population data, to explore the validity of continuing to use the term.
Outcomes & Results and Conclusions & Implications
We support the decision to exclude the term ‘specific language impairment’ from DSM-5 and conclude that the term has been a convenient label for researchers, but that the current classification is unacceptably arbitrary. Furthermore, we argue there is no empirical evidence to support the continued use of the term SLI and limited evidence that it has provided any real benefits for children and their families. In fact, the term may be disadvantageous to some due to the use of exclusionary criteria to determine eligibility for and access to speech pathology services. We propose the following recommendations. First, that the word ‘specific’ be removed and the label ‘language impairment’ be used. Second, that the exclusionary criteria be relaxed and in their place inclusionary criteria be adopted that take into account the fluid nature of language development particularly in the preschool period. Building on the goodwill and collaborations between the clinical and research communities we propose the establishment of an international consensus panel to develop an agreed definition and set of criteria for language impairment. Given the rich data now available in population studies it is possible to test the validity of these definitions and criteria. Consultation with service users and policy-makers should be incorporated into the decision-making process.
PMCID: PMC4303922  PMID: 25142091
specific language impairment; language impairment; child language

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