Adolescence/Teens9

Biofeedback relaxation app may help kids during medical procedures

April 19, 2018

Science Daily/Wiley

A new study indicates that biofeedback-assisted relaxation may help manage pain and anxiety in children undergoing medical procedures.

 

BrightHearts is a biofeedback mediation relaxation app designed for mobile phones and tablet computers that responds to changes in heart rate and can be used to teach children biofeedback assisted relaxation.

 

In the study of 30 children aged 7 to 18 years undergoing a medical procedure (peripheral blood collection, botulinum toxin injections, or intravenous cannula insertion), BrightHearts was acceptable to patients, their parents, and their healthcare providers. The pilot study also demonstrated that the use of BrightHearts did not impede the administration of medical procedures and in some cases was perceived to facilitate the procedure. The majority of patients, parents and healthcare providers indicated that they would use BrightHearts again during a procedure.

 

"BrightHearts taps into children's interest in devices like smart phones and tablets," said co-author Dr. Angela Morrow, of The Children's Hospital at Westmead and the University of Sydney, in Australia. "Biofeedback is a modality that we hope will empower children and help them to manage their pain and anxiety without the need for medications."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180419100207.htm

Adolescents' cooking skills strongly predict future nutritional well-being

Confidence in cooking ability led to fewer fast food meals, more meals as a family, and more frequent preparation of meals with vegetables in adulthood

April 17, 2018

Science Daily/Elsevier

Evidence suggests that developing cooking and food preparation skills is important for health and nutrition, yet the practice of home cooking is declining and now rarely taught in school. A new study found that developing cooking skills as a young adult may have long-term benefits for health and nutrition.

 

"The impact of developing cooking skills early in life may not be apparent until later in adulthood when individuals have more opportunity and responsibility for meal preparation," said lead author Jennifer Utter, PhD, MPH, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand. "The strength of this study is the large, population-based sample size followed over a period of 10 years to explore the impact of perceived cooking skills on later nutritional well-being."

 

Data were collected as part of the Project Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults longitudinal study conducted in Minneapolis-Saint Paul area schools. Participants reported on adequacy of cooking skills in 2002-2003 when they were 18 to 23 years old. Data was then collected in 2015-2016 on nutrition-related outcomes when participants were 30 to 35 years old. Questions assessed the perceived adequacy of cooking skills, how often they prepared a meal that included vegetables, how often they ate meals as a family, and how often they ate at a fast food restaurant.

 

Most participants perceived their cooking skills to be adequate at age 18 -- 23, with approximately one quarter of adults reporting their cooking skills to be very adequate. There were no differences in perceived cooking skills by sex, race or ethnicity, educational attainment, or age. Perceived adequacy of cooking skills predicted multiple indicators of nutrition outcomes later in adulthood including greater odds of preparing a meal with vegetables most days and less frequent consumption of fast food. If those who perceived their cooking skills as adequate had families, they ate more frequent family meals, less frequent fast food meals, and had fewer barriers to food preparation.

 

"Opportunities to develop cooking skills by adolescents may result in long-term benefits for nutritional well-being," said Dr. Utter. "Families, health and nutrition professionals, educators, community agencies, and funders can continue to invest in home economics and cooking education knowing that the benefits may not be fully realized until young adults develop more autonomy and live independently."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180417181125.htm

Education, not income, the best predictor of a long life

April 16, 2018

Science Daily/International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Rising income and the subsequent improved standards of living have long been thought to be the most important factors contributing to a long and healthy life. However, new research has shown that instead, the level of education a person has is a much better predictor of life expectancy.

 

In 1975, Samuel Preston developed the Preston Curve, which plotted the GDP per person on the horizontal axis against life expectancy on the vertical axis. The curve shows a clear but flattening upward trend in life expectancy with increasing GDP. The curves also shift upwards over time which has been explained by better healthcare.

 

In 1985, John Caldwell and Pat Caldwell suggested instead that lowered mortality resulted from better female education. In their new paper, Lutz and Kebede used global data from 174 countries from 1970-2015 to test the two hypotheses. Whether income or education is more important for improving health and life expectancy is an important question for policymakers deciding where to direct funding.

 

Lutz and Kebede also plotted life expectancy against the mean years of schooling of the adult population. The curve created is much more linear, suggesting that education is a much better predictor. There is no upward shift of the curve requiring explanation by other factors. Data was subject to multivariate analyses to validate the findings. The same link was found when the curves were adjusted for child mortality.

 

The researchers point out that better education leads to improved cognition and in turn to better choices for health-related behaviours. Recent decades have seen a shift in the disease burden from infectious to chronic diseases, the latter of which are largely lifestyle-related. As time goes on, the link between education and better health choices, and therefore life expectancy, will become even more apparent.

 

"This paper is more radical than previous analyses in terms of challenging the ubiquitous view that income and medical interventions are the main drivers of health. It even shows that the empirical association between income and health is largely spurious," says Lutz.

 

Previous lines of research at the Wittgenstein Centre, a collaboration between IIASA, WU and the Vienna Institute of Demography, have emphasised the importance of improving education for poverty eradication and economic growth, as well as the ability to adapt to climate change. These findings further back up the call for improved access to education.

 

The apparent link between health and income found by Preston can be explained by the fact that better education results in both better health and higher incomes.

 

"The findings matter for the entire global health research community, and they matter for everybody in global development and deciding on funding allocations for the different aspects of development," says Lutz, adding that funding quality education for all around the world should be a much higher priority.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180416103428.htm

School-based yoga can help children better manage stress and anxiety

Researchers worked with a public school to add yoga and mindfulness activities to help third-graders screened for anxiety at the beginning of the school year

April 10, 2018

Science Daily/Tulane University

Participating in yoga and mindfulness activities at school helps third-graders exhibiting anxiety improve their wellbeing and emotional health, according to a new Tulane University study published in the journal Psychology Research and Behavior Management.

 

Researchers worked with a public school in New Orleans to add mindfulness and yoga to the school's existing empathy-based programming for students needing supplementary support. Third graders who were screened for symptoms of anxiety at the beginning of the school year were randomly assigned to two groups. A control group of 32 students received care as usual, which included counseling and other activities led by a school social worker.

 

The intervention group of 20 students participated in small group yoga/mindfulness activities for eight weeks using a Yoga Ed curriculum. Students attended the small group activities at the beginning of the school day. The sessions included breathing exercises, guided relaxation and several traditional yoga poses appropriate for children.

 

Researchers evaluated each group's health related quality of life before and after the intervention, using two widely recognized research tools. The Brief Multidimensional Students' Life Satisfaction Scale-Peabody Treatment Progress Battery version was used to assess life satisfaction, and the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory was used to assess psychosocial conditions and emotional well-being at the beginning, middle and end of the study.

 

"The intervention improved psychosocial and emotional quality of life scores for students, as compared to their peers who received standard care," said principal author Alessandra Bazzano, associate professor of Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences at Tulane University School of Public Health. "We also heard from teachers about the benefits of using yoga in the classroom, and they reported using yoga more often each week, and throughout each day in class, following the professional development component of intervention."

 

Researchers targeted third grade because it is a crucial time of transition for elementary students, when academic expectations increase.

 

"Our initial work found that many kids expressed anxious feelings in third grade as the classroom work becomes more developmentally complex," Bazzano said. "Even younger children are experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety, especially around test time."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180410100919.htm

Later school start times really do improve sleep time

April 10, 2018

Science Daily/Oxford University Press USA

A new study indicates that delaying school start times results in students getting more sleep, and feeling better, even within societies where trading sleep for academic success is common.

 

The study aimed to investigate the short and longer-term impact of a 45-min delay in school start time on sleep and well-being of adolescents.

 

Singapore leads the world in the Programme for International Student Assessment rankings, which measures international scholastic performance in 15-year-olds. East Asian students live in a culture where the importance of academic success is deeply ingrained. This drive for academic achievement leads to high attainment in international academic assessments but has contributed to the curtailment of nocturnal sleep on school nights to well below the recommended eight to ten hours of sleep, putting students at risk of cognitive and psychological problems.

 

In Singapore, school typically starts around 7:30 AM, which is one hour earlier than the 8:30 AM or later start time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Sleep deprivation among Singaporean adolescents is rampant, and the average time in bed on school nights is 6 and a half hours.

 

In July 2016, an all-girls' secondary school in Singapore delayed its start time from 7:30 to 8:15 in the morning by restructuring its schedule in a way that did not delay school end time. Researchers investigated the impact of starting school later on students' sleep and well-being one month and nine months after the institution of the start time delay.

 

The sample consisted of 375 students in grades 7-10 from an all-girls' secondary school in Singapore that delayed its start time from 7:30 to 08:15 in the morning. Researchers assessed self-reports of sleep timing, sleepiness, and well-being (depressive symptoms and mood) before the school made the schedule change, and evaluated the measures again at approximately one and nine months after the delay. Total sleep time was also measured.

 

Later school start times have been shown to benefit sleep and well-being in Western cultures, but its usefulness in East Asian countries where students are driven to trade sleep for academic success is less clear. Most studies on later school start times have been conducted in Western countries. These studies have consistently found increased sleep duration on school nights with later start times. However, the sustainability of sleep habit improvement is not as well characterized.

 

Researchers wondered if students would continue to get more sleep if schools delayed their start times; the gains may not be sustained if students gradually delay their bedtime. For example, one study found that the sleep gained two months after a 45-minute delay in start time was no longer observed after another seven months, due to a delay in the sleep period. Delaying bedtimes, partly as a result of mounting academic workload, is a pressing reality in most East Asian households. Compounding this erosion of sleep time in East Asian societies is the resistance to changing the already packed school schedules. For example, recently, a secondary school in Hong Kong agreed to delay its start time, but only by 15 minutes. Nevertheless, a four-minute increase in time-in-bed on weekdays was found, together with gains in mental health, prosocial behavior and better attentiveness in class and peer relationships.

 

The results of this new study indicate that after one month, bedtimes on school nights were delayed by nine minutes while the times students got up were delayed by about 32 minutes, resulting in an increase in time in bed of 23 minutes.

 

Participants also reported lower levels of subjective sleepiness and improvement in well-being at both follow-ups. Notably, greater increase in sleep duration on school nights was associated with greater improvement in alertness and well-being.

 

Critically, with a later school start time the percentage of participants whose self-reported sleeping time on weekdays was at least 8 hours -- the amount generally considered appropriate for adolescents -- increased, from 6.9% to 16%. Total sleep time increased by about 10 minutes at the nine-month follow-up.

 

"Starting school later in East Asia is feasible and can have sustained benefits," said the paper's lead researcher, Michael Chee. "Our work extends the empirical evidence collected by colleagues in the West and argues strongly for disruption in practice and attitudes surrounding sleep and wellbeing in societies where these are believed to hinder rather than enhance societal advancement."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180410084223.htm

Who's smarter in the classroom -- men or women?

New study shows it's all about perception

April 4, 2018

Science Daily/Arizona State University

A first-of-its-kind study shows that in the college biology classroom, men perceive themselves as smarter, even when compared to women whose grades demonstrate they are just as accomplished. The study shows that gender greatly impacts students' perceptions of their own intelligence, particularly when they compare themselves to others.

 

If you believe it, you can achieve it.

 

You've probably heard this motivational phrase more than once. But what if your beliefs about your own intelligence compared to others come down to your gender?

 

A first-of-its-kind study shows that in the college biology classroom, men perceive themselves as smarter, even when compared to women whose grades prove they are just as smart. The study, published April 4 in the journal Advances in Physiology Education, shows that gender greatly impacts students' perceptions of their own intelligence, particularly when they compare themselves to others.

 

Katelyn Cooper, a doctoral student in the Arizona State University School of Life Sciences and lead author of the study, has talked with hundreds of students as an academic advisor and those conversations led to this project.

 

"I would ask students about how their classes were going and I noticed a trend," shared Cooper. "Over and over again, women would tell me that they were afraid that other students thought that they were 'stupid.' I never heard this from the men in those same biology classes, so I wanted to study it."

 

The ASU research team asked college students enrolled in a 250-person biology course about their intelligence. Specifically, the students were asked to estimate their own intelligence compared to everyone in the class and to the student they worked most closely with in class.

 

The researchers were surprised to find that women were far more likely to underestimate their own intelligence than men. And, when comparing a female and a male student, both with a GPA of 3.3, the male student is likely to say he is smarter than 66 percent of the class, and the female student is likely to say she is smarter than only 54 percent of the class.

 

In addition, when asked whether they are smarter than the person they worked most with in class, the pattern continued. Male students are 3.2 times more likely than females to say they are smarter than the person they are working with, regardless of whether their class partners are men or women.

 

A previous ASU study has shown that male students in undergraduate biology classes perceive men to be smarter than women about course material, but this is the first study to examine undergraduate student perceptions about their own intelligence compared to other people in the class.

 

Is this a problem?

 

"As we transition more of our courses into active learning classes where students interact more closely with each other, we need to consider that this might influence how students feel about themselves and their academic abilities," shared Sara Brownell, senior author of the study and assistant professor in the school. "When students are working together, they are going to be comparing themselves more to each other. This study shows that women are disproportionately thinking that they are not as good as other students, so this a worrisome result of increased interactions among students."

 

Brownell added that in a world where perceptions are important, female students may choose not to continue in science because they may not believe they are smart enough. These false perceptions of self-intelligence could be a negative factor in the retention of women in science.

 

Cooper said: "This is not an easy problem to fix. It's a mindset that has likely been engrained in female students since they began their academic journeys. However, we can start by structuring group work in a way that ensures everyone's voices are heard. One of our previous studies showed us that telling students it's important to hear from everyone in the group could be enough to help them take a more equitable approach to group work."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180404093944.htm

Poor grades tied to class times that don't match our biological clocks

Schedules of night owls, morning larks and daytime finches may predict their educational outcomes.

March 29, 2018

Science Daily/University of California - Berkeley

It may be time to tailor students' class schedules to their natural biological rhythms. A study shows that students whose circadian rhythms were out of sync with their class schedules received lower grades due to 'social jet lag,' a condition in which peak alertness times are at odds with work, school or other demands.

 

Researchers tracked the personal daily online activity profiles of nearly 15,000 college students as they logged into campus servers.

 

After sorting the students into "night owls," "daytime finches" and "morning larks" -- based on their activities on days they were not in class -- researchers compared their class times to their academic outcomes.

 

Their findings, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, show that students whose circadian rhythms were out of sync with their class schedules -- say, night owls taking early morning courses -- received lower grades due to "social jet lag," a condition in which peak alertness times are at odds with work, school or other demands.

 

"We found that the majority of students were being jet-lagged by their class times, which correlated very strongly with decreased academic performance," said study co-lead author Benjamin Smarr, a postdoctoral fellow who studies circadian rhythm disruptions in the lab of UC Berkeley psychology professor Lance Kriegsfeld.

 

In addition to learning deficits, social jet lag has been tied to obesity and excessive alcohol and tobacco use.

 

On a positive note: "Our research indicates that if a student can structure a consistent schedule in which class days resemble non-class days, they are more likely to achieve academic success," said study co-lead author Aaron Schirmer, an associate professor of biology at Northeastern Illinois University.

 

While students of all categories suffered from class-induced jet lag, the study found that night owls were especially vulnerable, many appearing so chronically jet-lagged that they were unable to perform optimally at any time of day. But it's not as simple as students just staying up too late, Smarr said

 

"Because owls are later and classes tend to be earlier, this mismatch hits owls the hardest, but we see larks and finches taking later classes and also suffering from the mismatch," said Smarr. "Different people really do have biologically diverse timing, so there isn't a one-time-fits-all solution for education."

 

In what is thought to be the largest-ever survey of social jet lag using real-world data, Smarr and Schirmer analyzed the online activity of 14,894 Northeastern Illinois University students as they logged in and out of the campus's learning management system over two years.

 

To separate the owls from the larks from the finches, and gain a more accurate alertness profile, the researchers tracked students' activity levels on days that they did not attend a class.

 

Next, they looked at how larks, finches and owls had scheduled their classes during four semesters from 2014 to 2016 and found that about 40 percent were mostly biologically in sync with their class times. As a result, they performed better in class and enjoyed higher GPAs.

 

However, 50 percent of the students were taking classes before they were fully alert, and another 10 percent had already peaked by the time their classes started.

 

Previous studies have found that older people tend to be active earlier while young adults shift to a later sleep-wake cycle during puberty. Overall, men stay up later than women, and circadian rhythms shift with the seasons based on natural light.

 

Finding these patterns reflected in students' login data spurred researchers to investigate whether digital records might also reflect the biological rhythms underlying people's behavior.

 

The results suggest that "rather than admonish late students to go to bed earlier, in conflict with their biological rhythms, we should work to individualize education so that learning and classes are structured to take advantage of knowing what time of day a given student will be most capable of learning," Smarr said.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180329190847.htm

Music lessons improve children's cognitive skills and academic performance

Cognitive skills developed from music lessons appear to transfer to unrelated subjects, leading to improved academic performance

March 26, 2018

Science Daily/Frontiers

The first large-scale, longitudinal study adapted into the regular school curriculum finds that structured music lessons significantly enhance children's cognitive abilities -- including language-based reasoning, short-term memory, planning and inhibition -- leading to improved academic performance. Visual arts lessons were also found to significantly improve children's visual and spatial memory.

 

Structured music lessons significantly enhance children's cognitive abilities -- including language-based reasoning, short-term memory, planning and inhibition -- which lead to improved academic performance. Published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, the research is the first large-scale, longitudinal study to be adapted into the regular school curriculum. Visual arts lessons were also found to significantly improve children's visual and spatial memory.

 

Music education has been decimated in schools around the globe, due to competition with academic subjects and an increasing lack of funding. These days, the opportunity to learn an instrument is seen as more of a luxury than a necessary part of education.

 

"Despite indications that music has beneficial effects on cognition, music is disappearing from general education curricula," says Dr Artur Jaschke, from VU University of Amsterdam, who led the study with Dr Henkjan Honing and Dr Erik Scherder. "This inspired us to initiate a long-term study on the possible effects of music education on cognitive skills that may underlie academic achievement."

 

The researchers conducted the study with 147 children across multiple Dutch schools, using a structured musical method developed by the Ministry of Research and Education in the Netherlands together with an expert centre for arts education. All schools followed the regular primary school curriculum, with some providing supplementary music or visual arts classes. In these, the children were given both theoretical and practical lessons.

 

After 2.5 years, the children's academic performance was assessed, as well as various cognitive skills including planning, inhibition and memory skills.

 

The researchers found that children who received music lessons had significant cognitive improvements compared to all other children in the study. Visual arts classes also showed a benefit: children in these classes had significantly improved visual and spatial short-term memory compared to students who had not received any supplementary lessons.

 

"Children who received music lessons showed improved language-based reasoning and the ability to plan, organize and complete tasks, as well as improved academic achievement," says Dr Jaschke. "This suggests that the cognitive skills developed during music lessons can influence children's cognitive abilities in completely unrelated subjects, leading to overall improved academic performance.

 

The researchers hope their work will contribute to highlighting the importance of the music and arts in human culture and cognitive development.

 

"Both music and arts classes are supposed to be applied throughout all Dutch primary schools by the year 2020," says Dr Jaschke. "But considering our results, we hope that this study will support political developments to reintegrate music and arts education into schools around the world."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180326140244.htm

Brain is less flexible than we thought when learning

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh use brain-computer interfaces to monitor the activity of populations of neurons during learning

March 12, 2018

Science Daily/Carnegie Mellon University

Nobody really knows how the activity in your brain reorganizes as you learn new tasks, but new research reveals that the brain has various mechanisms and constraints by which it reorganizes its neural activity when learning over the course of a few hours. The new research finds that, when learning a new task, the brain is less flexible than previously thought.

 

The research, published today in Nature Neuroscience, examined the changes that take place in the brain when learning a new task. To truly see how neural activity changes during learning, we need to look bigger -- at populations of neurons, rather than one neuron at a time, which has been the standard approach to date.

 

The research team used a brain-computer interface (BCI), where subjects move a cursor on a computer screen by thought alone. As with learning to play a new sport, they found that subjects learned to control the cursor more accurately with practice. They then investigated how the activity in the brain changed during learning that enabled the improved performance. They found that, on a time scale of a few hours, the brain does not reconfigure its neural activity to maximize the speed and accuracy by which it moves the cursor.

 

"In this experimental paradigm, we're able to track all of the neurons that can lead to behavioral improvements and look at how they all change simultaneously," says Steve Chase, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition. "When we do that, what we see is a really constrained set of changes that happen, and it leads to this suboptimal improvement of performance. And so, that implies that there are limits that constrain how flexible your brain is, at least on these short time scales."

 

When we're learning a new task, we can't instantaneously learn it to proficiency, in part due to the way in which the neurons are wired up in the brain. Learning takes time, and there are mechanisms by which neurons can change the way they communicate with each other to enable learning -- some of which can be fast, and some of which can take longer. The team found that the brain operates under a more stringent set of constraints than originally thought, resulting in good learning on the short term, but nevertheless suboptimal performance in controlling the BCI cursor.

 

Imagine a tennis player whose friends have asked her to play squash. When she picks up the squash racket, it's lighter than the tennis racket she is used to, and it has a slightly different balance point. But since she's a good tennis player, this difference in rackets doesn't cause her to miss the ball completely. She adjusts quickly, but she hasn't immediately picked up the swing form of a squash player. To really become an expert, it will require a long period of training with the new equipment. However, her experienced squash-playing friends will quickly see that she is a tennis player, because until she's learned the proper technique, she'll be swinging the squash racket the same as she would a tennis racket.

 

"Just as it takes time to train a person to swing a squash racket like an expert, it takes time to train one's neurons to produce the ideal activity patterns," says Byron Yu, associate professor of biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon. "When faced with a new task, we're finding that the brain is constrained to take the neural activity patterns that it's capable of generating right now and use them as effectively as possible in this new task."

 

"When we learn, at first the brain tends to not produce new activity patterns, but to repurpose the activity patterns it already knows how to generate," says Aaron Batista, an associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. "Learning over the course of a few hours is suboptimal. When first learning something new, our brain doesn't seem to be able to change its activity in the best possible way to allow us to be proficient at new skills.."

 

Acquiring a skill is very difficult, and it takes a lot of time and a lot of practice. But when you're first starting to learn a new skill, your brain has to adjust quickly to the new task. The researchers found that the brain is constrained to take neural activity patterns it already knows and use them for the new task. By repurposing neuron patterns the brain is already capable of generating, the brain applies a "quick and dirty fix" to the new problem it's facing.

 

"None of us predicted this outcome," says Matthew Golub, a postdoctoral researcher in electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon. "Learning is far more limited on the scale of a few hours than any of us were expecting when we started this. We were all surprised that the brain wasn't able to choose the best strategy possible."

 

The research was done in collaboration with the Center for Neural Basis of Cognition, a cross-university research and educational program between Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh that leverages each institution's strengths to investigate the cognitive and neural mechanisms that give rise to biological intelligence and behavior.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180312132937.htm

Sit, stay, heal: Study finds therapy dogs help stressed university students

March 12, 2018

Science Daily/University of British Columbia

Therapy dog sessions for stressed-out students are an increasingly popular offering at North American universities. Now, new research confirms that some doggy one-on-one time really can do the trick of boosting student wellness.

 

h published today in Stress and Health, researchers surveyed 246 students before and after they spent time in a drop-in therapy dog session. Students were free to pet, cuddle and chat with seven to 12 canine companions during the sessions. They also filled out questionnaires immediately before and after the session, and again about 10 hours later.

 

The researchers found that participants reported significant reductions in stress as well as increased happiness and energy immediately following the session, compared to a control group of students who did not spend time at a therapy dog session. While feelings of happiness and life satisfaction did not appear to last, some effects did.

 

"The results were remarkable," said Stanley Coren, study co-author and professor emeritus of psychology at UBC. "We found that, even 10 hours later, students still reported slightly less negative emotion, feeling more supported, and feeling less stressed, compared to students who did not take part in the therapy dog session."

 

While previous research suggested that female students benefit from therapy dog sessions more than male students, the researchers found the benefits were equally distributed across both genders in this study.

 

Since the strong positive effects of the therapy dog session were short-lived, the researchers concluded that universities should be encouraged to offer them at periods of increased stress.

 

"These sessions clearly provide benefits for students in the short-term, so we think universities should try to schedule them during particularly stressful times, such as around exam periods," said Frances Chen, the study's senior author and an assistant professor of psychology at UBC. "Even having therapy dogs around while students are working on their out-of-class assignments could be helpful."

 

The therapy dog sessions were organized in partnership with UBC's Alma Mater Society and Vancouver ecoVillage, a non-profit organization that provides therapeutic services, including therapy dog sessions, and mental health wellness services.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180312085045.htm

Depression, anxiety high in graduate students

March 7, 2018

Science Daily/University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

Graduate students are more than six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety as compared to the general population, according to a comprehensive survey of 2,279 individuals conducted via social media and direct email.

 

The survey included clinically validated scales for anxiety and depression. Nine of 10 respondents were Ph.D. students while 10 percent were master's degree students.

 

The disparity between graduate students and the general population proved to be about equal for both mental health conditions. On the respective scales utilized to test anxiety and depression, 41 percent of graduate students scored as having moderate to severe anxiety while 39 percent scored in the moderate to severe depression range. This compared with 6 percent of the general population as tested previously with those same scales.

 

The study found that female graduate students were more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than male graduate students. The transgender and/or gender-nonconforming population also scored significantly higher.

 

Forty-three percent of female respondents scored in the moderate to severe anxiety range and 41 percent in the depression range. This compared to 34 percent and 35 percent, respectively, for the male respondents. For transgender/gender-nonconforming graduate students, the totals were 55 percent and 57 percent.

 

A developing problem

 

"There is a growing cry for help from graduate students across the globe who struggle with significant mental health concerns," Dr. Evans, Dr. Bira and the other authors wrote. "Despite increased discussion of the topic, there remains a dire need to resolve our understanding of the mental health issues in the trainee population."

 

These issues, as identified in the study, include work-life balance and trainee-adviser relationship.

 

The graduate students were asked whether they agree with the statement, "I have a good work-life balance." Fifty-six percent of graduate students experiencing moderate to severe anxiety and 55 percent of students experiencing depression said they did not agree.

 

"Work-life balance is hard to attain in a culture where it is frowned upon to leave the laboratory before the sun goes down," the authors wrote.

 

Relationships with mentors lacking

 

Likewise, 50 percent of graduate students experiencing anxiety and depression said they did not agree with the statement that their principal investigator or adviser provides "real" mentorship.

 

Many universities lack adequate career and professional development programs, the authors wrote, also noting: "Career development encompasses many skills that are vital to graduate student success, but often not included under this umbrella is mental health."

 

Dr. Evans is an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology and the founder of the Office of Workforce and Career Development within the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UT Health San Antonio.

 

Dr. Bira is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry within UT Health San Antonio's Joe R. & Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine, where she works with the STRONG STAR research consortium studying treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder. In the larger community, Dr. Bira functions as a clinical health psychologist, offering presentations and workshops to break mental health stigma and promote emotional wellness.

 

Call to action

 

The authors caution that the study is a convenience sample in which respondents who have had a history of anxiety or depression may have been more apt to respond to the survey. Nevertheless, the data should prompt both academia and policy makers to consider intervention strategies, the authors wrote.

 

"The strikingly high rates of anxiety and depression support a call to action to establish and/or expand mental health and career development resources for graduate students through enhanced resources within career development offices, faculty training and a change in the academic culture," the paper concludes.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180307095158.htm

Preschoolers exposed to nighttime light lack melatonin

One hour lowers sleep-promoting hormone 88 percent

March 5, 2018

Science Daily/University of Colorado at Boulder

A new study found that preschoolers exposed to bright light at bedtime had an 88 percent reduction in melatonin levels. Anatomical differences in their young eyes may make them more vulnerable to adverse impacts of bright light, the researchers say.

 

Exposing preschoolers to an hour of bright light before bedtime almost completely shuts down their production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin and keeps it suppressed for at least 50 minutes after lights out, according to new University of Colorado Boulder research.

 

The study, published today in the journal Physiological Reports, is the first to assess the hormonal impact nighttime light exposure can have on young children.

 

The study comes at a time when use of electronics is rapidly expanding among this age group and adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that-because of structural differences in their eyes-children may be more vulnerable to the impact light has on sleep and the body clock.

 

"Although the effects of light are well studied in adults, virtually nothing is known about how evening light exposure affects the physiology, health and development of preschool-aged children," said lead author Lameese Akacem, a CU Boulder instructor and researcher in the Sleep and Development Lab. "In this study we found that these kids were extremely sensitive to light."

 

For the study, the researchers enrolled 10 healthy children ages 3 to 5 years in a seven-day protocol. On days one through five, the children followed a strict bedtime schedule to normalize their body clocks and settle into a pattern in which their melatonin levels began to go up at about the same time each evening.

 

On day six, Akacem's team came into the children's homes and created a dim-light environment, covering windows with black plastic and swapping out existing lights with low-wattage bulbs. This ensured that all the children were exposed to the same amount of light-which can influence melatonin timing and levels-before samples were taken.

 

That afternoon, the researchers took periodic saliva samples to assess melatonin levels at various times. The following evening, after spending the day in what they playfully referred to as "the cave," the children were invited to color or play with magnetic tiles on top of a light table emitting 1,000 lux of light (about the brightness of a bright room) for one hour.

 

Then the researchers took samples again, comparing them to those taken the night before.

 

Melatonin levels were 88 percent lower after bright light exposure. Levels remained suppressed at least 50 minutes after the light was shut off.

 

Direct comparisons between this study and studies in adults must be made with caution because of differing research protocols, the researchers stress. However, they note that in one study, a one-hour light stimulus of 10,000 lux (10 times that of the current study) suppressed melatonin by only 39 percent in adults.

 

"Light is our brain clock's primary timekeeper," explains senior author Monique LeBourgeois, an associate professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology. "We know younger individuals have larger pupils, and their lenses are more transparent. This heightened sensitivity to light may make them even more susceptible to dysregulation of sleep and the circadian clock."

 

She explains that when light hits the retina in the eye in the evening, it produces a cascade of signals to the circadian system to suppress melatonin and push back the body's entrance into its "biological night." For preschoolers, this may not only lead to trouble falling asleep one night, but to chronic problems feeling sleepy at bedtime.

 

Melatonin also plays a role in other bodily processes, regulating temperature, blood pressure and glucose metabolism.

 

"The effects of light at night exposure can definitely go beyond sleep," Akacem said.

 

The study sample size was small and it used only one intensity of light, 1,000 lux, which is far greater than the intensity of a typical handheld electronic device, she notes.

 

With a new $2.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, LeBourgeois recently launched a study in which she will expose 90 children to light of different intensities to determine how much it takes to impact the circadian clock.

 

"The preschool years are a very sensitive time of development during which use of digital media is growing more and more pervasive," Le Bourgeois said. Use of electronic media among young children has tripled since 2011. "We hope this research can help parents and clinicians make informed decisions on children's light exposure."

 

The takeaway for parents today: Dim the lights in the hours before bedtime.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180305160151.htm

Being raised in greener neighborhoods may have beneficial effects on brain development

February 23, 2018

Science Daily/University of California - Los Angeles

A new study shows for the first time that exposure to green space during childhood is associated with beneficial structural changes in the developing brain.

 

Primary schoolchildren who have been raised in homes surrounded by more greenspace tend to present with larger volumes of white and grey matter in certain areas of the brain. Those anatomic differences are in turn associated with beneficial effects on cognitive function. This is the main conclusion of a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives and led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a center supported by the "la Caixa" Foundation, in collaboration with the Hospital del Mar (Spain) and the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health (UCLA FSPH).

 

The study was performed in a subcohort of 253 schoolchildren from the BREATHE project in Barcelona (Spain). Lifelong exposure to residential greenspace was estimated using satellite-based information on the children's addresses from birth up through to the time of the study. Brain anatomy was studied using high-resolution 3D magnetic resonance images (MRI). Working memory and inattentiveness were evaluated with computerized tests.

 

"This is the first study that evaluates the association between long-term exposure to greenspace and brain structure," says Dr. Payam Dadvand, ISGlobal researcher and leading author of the study. "Our findings suggest that exposure to greenspace early in life could result in beneficial structural changes in the brain."

 

The data analysis showed that long-term exposure to greenness was positively associated with white and grey matter volume in some parts of the brain that partly overlapped with those associated with higher scores on cognitive tests. Moreover, peak volumes of white and grey matter in the regions associated with greenspace exposure predicted better working memory and reduced inattentiveness.

 

Contact to nature has been thought to be essential for brain development in children. A previous study of 2,593 children ages 7 to 10 from the BREATHE project showed that, during the 12-month course of the study, children who attended schools with higher outdoor greenspace had a greater increase in working memory and a greater reduction in inattentiveness than children who attended schools with less surrounding greenness.

 

The Biophilia hypothesis suggests an evolutionary bond of humans to nature. Accordingly, green spaces are suggested to provide children with opportunities for psychological restoration and prompt important exercises in discovery, creativity and risk taking, which, in turn, are suggested to positively influence different aspects of brain development. Furthermore, greener areas often have lower levels of air pollution and noise and may enrich microbial inputs from the environment, all of which could translate into indirect benefits for brain development.

 

"The study adds to growing evidence suggesting that early life exposure to green space and other environmental factors can exert measurable and lasting effects on our health through the life course," says co-author Michael Jerrett, department chair and professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

 

"These results also might provide clues on how such structural changes could underlie the observed beneficial effects of greenspace exposure on cognitive and behavioral development," explains Dr. Jesus Pujol, from the Radiology unit at Hospital del Mar and co-author of the study.

 

"This study adds to the existing evidence about the benefits of transforming our cities by increasing access to the natural environment," says Prof. Jordi Sunyer, an ISGlobal researcher and last author of the study.

 

Further studies are needed to confirm the results in other populations, settings and climates, evaluate other cognitive and neurological outcomes and examine differences according to the nature and quality of greenspace and children's access to and use of them.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180223100626.htm

Quality of children's sleep may affect eating habits and weight

Poor sleep is associated with obesity, which can increase cancer risk

January 26, 2018

Science Daily/American Association for Cancer Research

Several measures of poor sleep quality were associated with higher body mass index (BMI) in children, according to new data.

 

About one in five children between the ages of 6 and 19 is obese, according to recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentage of U.S. children with obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s, with significant immediate and long-term effects.

 

"Childhood obesity very often leads to adult obesity," said the study's lead author, Bernard Fuemmeler, PhD, MPH, professor and associate director for cancer prevention and control at Virginia Commonwealth University's Massey Cancer Center. "This puts them at greater risk of developing obesity-related cancers in adulthood."

 

Fuemmeler explained that previous research has shown that sleep patterns play a role in obesity in adults, but most research exploring the connection between sleep and obesity in children has focused on the duration of sleep, rather than the way quality of sleep or circadian patterns affect eating behaviors and weight.

 

In this study, Fuemmeler and colleagues enrolled 120 children whose mothers had participated in the Newborn Epigenetic Study, a federally funded project that examines how environmental exposures and nutrition, both pre-birth and during early childhood, affect how genes work. The average age of the children was 8. Researchers controlled for age, sex, race, and maternal education as an indicator of socioeconomic status.

 

To track the sleep-wake cycle, the children wore accelerometers continuously for 24 hours per day for a period of at least five days. To gauge eating habits, children completed the "eating in the absence of hunger test." Children ate a meal and reported when they were full; the researchers then tracked how much food they ate once they had reached the point of satiety.

 

The researchers found:

 

·     Shorter sleep duration, measured in hours, was associated with a higher BMI z-score (body mass index adjusted for age and sex). Each additional hour of sleep was associated with a .13 decrease in BMI z-score, and with a 1.29 centimeter decrease in waist circumference.

·     More fragmented rest-activity rhythms and increased intradaily variability, a measure of the frequency and extent of transitions between sleep and activity, were also associated with greater waist circumferences.

·     Earlier onset of the most active period during daytime, diurnal activity, was associated with higher intake of calories once the children had reached the point of satiety.

 

Overall, Fuemmeler said, the study results indicate that while sleep duration is important, examining markers of sleep quality may also be useful in designing childhood obesity prevention strategies.

 

"Today, many children are not getting enough sleep," Fuemmeler said. "There are a number of distractions, such as screens in the bedroom, that contribute to interrupted, fragmented sleep. This, perpetuated over time, can be a risk factor for obesity. Because of the strong links between obesity and many types of cancer, childhood obesity prevention is cancer prevention, in my view."

 

Fuemmeler said that while further research is necessary to understand more about the way poor sleep affects weight, families would benefit from following guidelines established by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

 

The study's primary limitation is that it did not include prospective data that might have helped researchers assess whether sleep quality influences weight gain or weight in children affects their sleep. Fuemmeler said that data will be encompassed in future studies.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180126085445.htm

Screen-addicted teens are unhappy

A new study finds that more screen time is coincides with less happiness in youths

January 22, 2018

Science Daily/San Diego State University

Researchers found that teens who spent a lot of time in front of screen devices -- playing computer games, using more social media, texting and video chatting -- were less happy than those who invested time in non-screen activities like sports, reading newspapers and magazines, and face-to-face social interaction. The happiest teens used digital media for less than an hour per day. But after a daily hour of screen time, unhappiness rises steadily along with increasing screen time.

 

Happiness is not a warm phone, according to a new study exploring the link between adolescent life satisfaction and screen time. Teens whose eyes are habitually glued to their smartphones are markedly unhappier, said study lead author and San Diego State University and professor of psychology Jean M. Twenge.

 

To investigate this link, Twenge, along with colleagues Gabrielle Martin at SDSU and W. Keith Campbell at the University of Georgia, crunched data from the Monitoring the Future (MtF) longitudinal study, a nationally representative survey of more than a million U.S. 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders. The survey asked students questions about how often they spent time on their phones, tablets and computers, as well as questions about their in-the-flesh social interactions and their overall happiness.

 

On average, they found that teens who spent more time in front of screen devices -- playing computer games, using social media, texting and video chatting -- were less happy than those who invested more time in non-screen activities like sports, reading newspapers and magazines, and face-to-face social interaction.

 

Twenge believes this screen time is driving unhappiness rather than the other way around.

 

"Although this study can't show causation, several other studies have shown that more social media use leads to unhappiness, but unhappiness does not lead to more social media use," said Twenge, author of "iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy -- And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood."

 

Total screen abstinence doesn't lead to happiness either, Twenge found. The happiest teens used digital media a little less than an hour per day. But after a daily hour of screen time, unhappiness rises steadily along with increasing screen time, the researchers report today in the journal Emotion.

 

"The key to digital media use and happiness is limited use," Twenge said. "Aim to spend no more than two hours a day on digital media, and try to increase the amount of time you spend seeing friends face-to-face and exercising -- two activities reliably linked to greater happiness."

 

Looking at historical trends from the same age groups since the 1990s, the researchers found that the proliferation of screen devices over time coincided with a general drop-off in reported happiness in U.S. teens. Specifically, young people's life satisfaction, self-esteem and happiness plummeted after 2012. That's the year that the percentage of Americans who owned a smartphone rose above 50 percent, Twenge noted.

 

"By far the largest change in teens' lives between 2012 and 2016 was the increase in the amount of time they spent on digital media, and the subsequent decline in in-person social activities and sleep," she said. "The advent of the smartphone is the most plausible explanation for the sudden decrease in teens' psychological well-being."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180122091249.htm

Students more engaged and attentive following outdoor lesson in nature

Following an outdoor lesson in nature, students were more engaged with their schoolwork, and their teachers could teach uninterrupted for almost twice as long.

January 11, 2018

Science Daily/Frontiers

A study has found that children are significantly more attentive and engaged with their schoolwork following an outdoor lesson in nature. Teachers could teach uninterrupted for almost twice as long during a subsequent indoor lesson. Outdoor lessons may be an inexpensive and convenient way to improve student engagement.

 

Scientists have known for a while that natural outdoor environments can have a variety of beneficial effects on people. People exposed to parks, trees or wildlife can experience benefits such as physical activity, stress reduction, rejuvenated attention and increased motivation. In children, studies have shown that even a view of greenery through a classroom window could have positive effects on students' attention.

 

However, many teachers may be reluctant to hold a lesson outdoors, as they might worry that it could overexcite the children, making it difficult for them to concentrate on their schoolwork back in the classroom. Ming Kuo, a scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and her colleagues set out to investigate this, and hypothesized that an outdoor lesson in nature would result in increased classroom engagement in indoor lessons held immediately afterwards.

 

"We wanted to see if we could put the nature effect to work in a school setting," says Kuo. "If you took a bunch of squirmy third-graders outdoors for lessons, would they show a benefit of having a lesson in nature, or would they just be bouncing off the walls afterward?"

 

The researchers tested their hypothesis in third graders (9-10 years old) in a school in the Midwestern United States. Over a 10-week period, an experienced teacher held one lesson a week outdoors and a similar lesson in her regular classroom, and another, more skeptical teacher did the same. Their outdoor "classroom" was a grassy spot just outside the school, in view of a wooded area.

 

After each outdoor or indoor lesson, the researchers measured how engaged the students were. They counted the number of times the teacher needed to redirect the attention of distracted students back to their schoolwork during the observation, using phrases such as "sit down" and "you need to be working." The research team also asked an outside observer to look at photos taken of the class during the observation period and score the level of class engagement, without knowing whether the photos were taken after an indoor or outdoor lesson. The teachers also scored class engagement.

 

The team's results show that children were more engaged after the outdoor lessons in nature. Far from being overexcited and inattentive immediately after an outdoor lesson, students were significantly more attentive and engaged with their schoolwork. The number of times the teacher had to redirect a student's attention to their work was roughly halved immediately after an outdoor lesson.

 

"Our teachers were able to teach uninterrupted for almost twice as long at a time after the outdoor lesson," says Kuo, "and we saw the nature effect with our skeptical teacher as well."

 

The researchers plan to do further work to see if the technique can work in other schools and for less experienced teachers. If so, regular outdoor lessons could be an inexpensive and convenient way for schools to enhance student engagement and performance. "We're excited to discover a way to teach students and refresh their minds for the next lesson at the same time," says Kuo. "Teachers can have their cake and eat it too."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180111115340.htm

Exercising at own pace boosts a child’s ability to learn

December 19, 2017

Science Daily/University of Stirling

A child’s attention and memory improves after exercise according to new research.

 

Researchers found that pupils' best responses to tests came after physical activity that was set at their own pace, as opposed to exhaustive exercise.

 

The study is part of the BBC Learning's Terrific Scientific campaign -- designed to inspire schoolchildren to pursue a career in science -- and part-funded by the University of Edinburgh and the Physiological Society.

 

In the sixth investigation of the series, more than 11,000 school pupils across the UK conducted a scientific investigation to discover the impact of taking a short break from the classroom to complete a physical activity on their mood and cognitive abilities.

 

The study was jointly led by Dr Colin Moran and Dr Naomi Brooks, of the University of Stirling's Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, and Dr Josie Booth of the University of Edinburgh's Moray House School of Education.

 

Dr Brooks explained: "Anecdotal evidence suggests that short breaks involving physical activity can boost concentration and happiness in pupils. While this is positive, the evidence is not conclusive and this is what we asked the children to help investigate.

 

"Ultimately, we found that 15 minutes of self-paced exercise can significantly improve a child's mood, attention and memory -- enhancing their ability to learn."

 

A total of 11,613 children in the UK signed up to participate in the research -- including 1,536 from Scotland -- and they were asked to answer questions about how happy and awake they were feeling, before completing attention and memory tasks on a computer. Children completed the tasks both before and after they participated in each of three outdoor activities of varying intensities:

 

· A bleep test: This was the most intense activity, where the children ran in time with bleeps, which got gradually quicker, until they felt close to exhaustion.

 

· A run/walk activity: This was of intermediate intensity where the children ran or walked at a speed of their own choice for 15 minutes.

 

· A control activity: This was the least intense activity where the children went outside to sit or stand for 15 minutes. This was used to compare whether physical activity had a greater impact than simply going outside.

 

In total, more than 7,300 children provided information on at least one of the key measurements, related to mood and cognition, and participants completed 22,349 batches of computer tasks.

 

Compared to the control, children reported feeling more awake after taking a break and doing exercise for a short time. Both the bleep test and the run/walk made participants feel more awake than the control activity, although they felt most awake after the run/walk.

 

The children also said they felt better after doing the run/walk but reported no difference in the way they felt after completing the bleep test, compared to the control activity.

 

Children responded quicker to the attention task after completing the run/walk, compared to the control and bleep test activities, and were better at controlling their responses after doing the run/walk and bleep test than they were after the control activity.

 

Following the run/walk, children's ability to remember words in sentences improved, while there was no difference between the bleep test and control activity. However, there appeared to be no real difference to their ability to remember shapes.

 

"Overall, our study concluded that exercising leads to improvements in children's mood and cognition," Dr Moran said.

 

"In most tasks, participating in a run/walk activity was more beneficial that doing the bleep test, where children should be closer to exhaustion. However, in most cases, doing the bleep test was no different from completing the control activity."

 

Dr Booth said: "This suggests that children should be encouraged to exercise at their own pace during short breaks from class. This may help children be more ready to learn when they return to the classroom."

 

"However, they should not be discouraged from doing more vigorous exercise as in most cases the effect of the bleep test was no different from the control activity.

 

"Importantly, this exercise should be in addition to normal physical education and also at a time when the class teacher thinks the class would benefit the most from a break."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171219092958.htm

Junk food, energy drinks may pose unique risks for teens

Influences on teen brain development the focus of special Teratology Society journal issue

December 18, 2017

Science Daily/Teratology Society

The popularity of energy drinks and junk food might have unique risks for teenagers who consume too much of them during the later stages of brain development. These are just two of the factors potentially affecting teen brain development examined in a new special issue of Birth Defects Research: The Teenage Brain, published by the Teratology Society with John Wiley & Sons.

 

The scientific journal issue released today (see the Overview, doi: 10.1002/bdr2.1181) includes "Taurine, Caffeine, and Energy Drinks: Reviewing the Risks to the Adolescent Brain (DOI: 10.1002/bdr2.1177)," a team at Northern Kentucky University, headed by lead author Christine Curran, PhD, and her co-author Cecile Marczinski, PhD. According to Dr. Curran, not only is the rise in energy drink consumption (often mixed with alcohol) among teens alarming, but so are animal studies showing its effects on brain development. "Our review indicates that we don't know enough about the effects of high consumption of energy drinks and the ingredients found in them at this critical time in mammalian brain development," she said. "Our recent findings in adolescent and young adult mice exposed to high taurine levels indicate there can be adverse effects on learning and memory and increased alcohol consumption in females."

 

Another review (DOI: 10.1002/bdr2.1173) included in the special issue examines junk food, which is defined as "highly palatable and rewarding, but nutritionally poor." According to lead author, Amy Reichelt, PhD, at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, junk food is not only found to be bad for waist lines, but also bad for the teen brain. "Because key neurotransmitter systems in the brain responsible for inhibition and reward signaling are still developing during the teen years, existing primarily on junk food could negatively affect decision making, increase reward-seeking behavior and influence poor eating habits throughout adulthood," said Dr. Reichelt.

 

"One piece of good news is that exercise might be the answer to steer teens away from certain exposures," explained Michiko Watanabe, PhD, co-editor of the special Birth Defects Research issue. According to two other reviews included in the issue, "Exercise, Cognition, and the Adolescent Brain (DOI: 10.1002/bdr2.1178)" and "The Neurobiology of Substance Use on the Adolescent Brain and Putative Therapeutic Effects of Exercise (DOI: 10.1002/bdr2.1182)," exercise intervention may prevent long-term effects of adverse exposures in teens, but the majority of teens aren't exercising enough. "The long list of exercise benefits could motivate teens to get off the sofa," Dr. Watanabe added.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171218120400.htm

Eating together as a family helps children feel better, physically and mentally

Long-term effects of family meals in early childhood

December 14, 2017

Science Daily/University of Montreal

Children who routinely eat their meals together with their family are more likely to experience long-term physical and mental health benefits, a new study shows.

 

Université de Montréal doctoral student Marie-Josée Harbec and her supervisor, pyschoeducation professor Linda Pagani, made the finding after following a cohort of Quebec children born between 1997 and 1998.

 

The study is published today in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.

 

"There is a handful of research suggesting positive links between eating family meals together frequently and child and adolescent health," Pagani said. "In the past, researchers were unclear on whether families that ate together were simply healthier to begin with. And measuring how often families eat together and how children are doing at that very moment may not capture the complexity of the environmental experience."

 

The study looked at chilldren who had been followed by researchers since they were 5 months old as part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. At age 6, their parents started reporting on whether or not they had family meals together. At age 10, parents, teachers and the children themselves provided information on the children's lifestyle habits and their psycho-social well-being.

 

"We decided to look at the long-term influence of sharing meals as an early childhood family environment experience in a sample of children born the same year," Pagani said, "and we followed-up regularly as they grew up. Using a birth cohort, this study examines the prospective associations between the environmental quality of the family meal experience at age 6 and child well-being at age 10."

 

When the family meal environment quality was better at age 6, higher levels of general fitness and lower levels of soft-drink consumption were observed at age 10. These children also seemed to have more social skills, as they were less likely to self-report being physical aggressive, oppositional or delinquent at age 10.

 

"Because we had a lot of information about the children before age 6 -- such as their temperament and cognitive abilities, their mother's education and psychological characteristics, and prior family configuration and functioning -- we were able to eliminate any pre-existing conditions of the children or families that could throw a different light on our results," said Harbec. "It was really ideal as a situation."

 

Added Pagani: "The presence of parents during mealtimes likely provides young children with firsthand social interaction, discussions of social issues and day-to-day concerns, and vicarious learning of prosocial interactions in a familiar and emotionally secure setting. Experiencing positive forms of communication may likely help the child engage in better communication skills with people outside of the family unit. Our findings suggest that family meals are not solely markers of home environment quality, but are also easy targets for parent education about improving children's well-being."

 

"From a population-health perspective, our findings suggest that family meals have long-term influences on children's physical and mental well-being," said Harbec.

 

At a time when fewer families in Western countries are having meals together, it would be especially opportune now for psycho-social workers to encourage the practice at home -- indeed, even make it a priority, the researchers believe. And family meals could be touted as advantageous in public-information campaigns that aim to optimize child development.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171214092322.htm

Healthy eating linked to kids' happiness

December 13, 2017

Science Daily/BioMed Central

Healthy eating is associated with better self-esteem and fewer emotional and peer problems, such as having fewer friends or being picked on or bullied, in children regardless of body weight, according to a new study. Inversely, better self-esteem is associated with better adherence to healthy eating guidelines.

 

Dr Louise Arvidsson, the corresponding author said: "We found that in young children aged two to nine years there is an association between adherence to healthy dietary guidelines and better psychological well-being, which includes fewer emotional problems, better relationships with other children and higher self-esteem, two years later. Our findings suggest that a healthy diet can improve well-being in children."

 

Examining 7,675 children two to nine years of age from eight European countries -- Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Sweden -- the researchers found that a higher Healthy Dietary Adherence Score (HDAS) at the beginning of the study period was associated with better self-esteem and fewer emotional and peer problems two years later.

 

The HDAS aims to capture adherence to healthy dietary guidelines, which include limiting intake of refined sugars, reducing fat intake and eating fruit and vegetables. A higher HDAS indicates better adherence to the guidelines -- i.e. healthier eating. The guidelines are common to the eight countries included in this study.

 

The authors found that better self-esteem at the beginning of the study period was associated with a higher HDAS two years later and that the associations between HDAS and wellbeing were similar for children who had normal weight and children who were overweight.

 

Dr Arvidsson said: "It was somewhat surprising to find that the association between baseline diet and better well-being two years later was independent of children's socioeconomic position and their body weight."

 

The authors used data from the Identification and Prevention of Dietary- and Lifestyle-Induced Health Effects in Children and Infants Study, a prospective cohort study that aims to understand how to prevent overweight in children while also considering the multiple factors that contribute to it.

 

At the beginning of the study period parents were asked to report how often per week their children consumed food from a list of 43 items. Depending on their consumption of these foods, children were then assigned an HDAS score. Psychosocial wellbeing was assessed based on self-esteem, parent relations, emotional and peer problems as reported by the parents in response to validated questionnaires. Height and weight of the children were measured. All questionnaires and measurements were repeated two years later.

 

The study is the first to analyze the individual components included in the HDAS and their associations with children's wellbeing. The authors found that fish intake according to guidelines (2-3 times per week) was associated with better self-esteem and no emotional and peer problems. Intake of whole meal products were associated with no peer problems.

 

The associations were found to go in both directions; better wellbeing was associated with consumption of fruit and vegetables, sugar and fat in accordance with dietary guidelines, better self-esteem was associated with sugar intake according to guidelines, good parent relations were associated with fruit and vegetable consumption according to guidelines, fewer emotional problems were associated with fat intake according to guidelines and fewer peer problems were associated with consumption of fruit and vegetables according to guidelines.

 

The authors caution that children with poor diet and poor wellbeing were more likely to drop out of the study and were therefore underrepresented at the two-year follow-up, which complicates conclusions about the true rates of poor diet and poor wellbeing. As the study is observational and relies on self-reported data from parents, no conclusions about cause and effect are possible.

 

Dr Arvidsson said: "The associations we identified here need to be confirmed in experimental studies including children with clinical diagnosis of depression, anxiety or other behavioral disorders rather than well-being as reported by parents."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171213220122.htm

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