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Updated: 51 min 27 sec ago

Self-Criticism About Weight May Originate With Others

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 8:02am

Some overweight and obese individuals are more likely to engage in “self-stigmatization,” in which they internalize their weight stigma experiences and begin to blame and devalue themselves.

In a new study of more than 18,000 adults, researchers from Penn Medicine and the University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity wanted to better understand who is at greater risk for this type of behavior, which has been associated with poor mental and physical health.

Their findings show that participants who reported experiencing weight stigma from others — particularly from people they know such as family, friends and coworkers —  had higher levels of internalized weight bias than those who reported no experiences of weight stigma.

The study is published in the journal Obesity Science and Practice.

In addition, those who internalized weight bias the most tended to be younger, female, have a higher body mass index (BMI), and have an earlier onset of their weight struggle. Participants who were black or had a romantic partner had lower levels of internalization.

“We don’t yet know why some people who struggle with their weight internalize society’s stigma and others do not,” said the study’s lead author, Rebecca Pearl, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“These findings represent a first step toward helping us identify, among people trying to manage their weight, who may be most likely to self-stigmatize. People who are trying to lose weight may be among the most vulnerable to weight self-stigma, but this issue is rarely discussed in treatment settings.”

In this study, the researchers surveyed surveyed more than 18,000 adults enrolled in the commercial weight management program WW International (formerly Weight Watchers Inc.) in order to identify the key characteristics and experiences of people who internalize weight bias. The study is the largest investigation of weight self-stigma to date.

The participants recalled when they had experienced weight stigma from other people during their lifetime, how frequent and how upsetting the experiences were, and who it was that called them names, rejected them, or denied them an opportunity simply because of their weight.

The results show that nearly two-thirds of the participants reported experiencing weight stigma at least once in their life, and almost half reported experiencing these events when they were children or teens. The researchers looked at the relationships between these experiences and levels of self-directed stigma.

Participants who reported experiencing weight stigma from others had higher levels of internalized weight bias than those who reported no experiences of weight stigma.

This link was even stronger among participants who had weight-stigmatizing experiences early in life and who continued to have these upsetting experiences as adults. Those who experienced weight stigma from family members or friends, or from those in their workplace, community, or health care setting, also had greater evidence of weight self-stigma compared to participants who did not encounter weight stigma from those sources.

“Our findings can inform ways to support people who are experiencing or internalizing weight stigma, including opportunities to address weight stigma as part of weight management and healthy lifestyle programs,” said principal investigator Rebecca Puhl, Ph.D., a professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Connecticut.

The study sample represented only a small percentage of WW members, so the findings may not generalize to all members or to adults trying to lose weight in other ways. Some previous research has suggested that people who internalize weight bias may have worse long-term weight loss outcomes, but more research on this topic is needed.

The research team is developing a psychological intervention for weight self-stigma that can be incorporated into weight management.

Source: University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Early Puberty in Girls Tied to Greater Risk for Migraine

Mon, 07/15/2019 - 6:00am

Adolescent girls who reach puberty at an earlier age may be at greater risk of developing migraine headaches, according to a new study by the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine.

“We know that the percentage of girls and boys who have migraine is pretty much the same until menstruation begins,” said Vincent Martin, M.D., professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine and director of the Headache and Facial Pain Center at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute.

“When the menstrual period starts in girls, the prevalence goes way up, but what our data suggests is that it occurs even before that.”

Around 10 percent of school age children in the U.S. suffer from migraine, according to the Migraine Research Foundation (MRF). As adolescence approaches, the incidence of migraine increases rapidly in girls, and by age 17, around 23 percent of girls — compared to 8 percent of boys — have experienced migraine.

The 10-year study involved 761 girls from Cincinnati, New York and the San Francisco Bay area. Beginning at age 8 to 10, the girls were examined every six to 12 months during the study period.

Girls answered a headache questionnaire to find out if they suffered from migraine headache, no migraine or probable migraine; the latter is defined as meeting all the diagnostic criteria for migraine except one. The average age at which they completed the survey was 16.

Of those surveyed, 85 girls (11 percent) were diagnosed with migraine headache while 53 (7%) had probable migraine and 623 (82%) had no migraine.

Researchers found that girls with migraine had an earlier age of thelarche (breast development) and the onset of menarche (menstrual periods) than those with no migraine. On average breast development occurred four months earlier in those with migraine while menstruation started five months earlier. There was no difference in the age of pubarche (pubic hair development) between those with migraine and no migraine.

“There was a 25 percent increase in the chance of having migraine for each year earlier that a girl experienced either thelarche or menarche,” said Susan Pinney, Ph.D., professor in the UC Department of Environmental Health and lead investigator on the study. “This suggests a strong relationship between early puberty and the development of migraine in adolescent girls.”

The age of onset of thelarche, pubarche or menarche did not differ between those with probable migraine and no migraine, says Pinney.

Previous studies have shown that migraine often starts with the onset of menstrual cycles during menarche in adolescent girls. But this study looks at earlier stages of puberty such as thelarche and pubarche, said Martin.

“To suggest the origins of migraine may occur actually before menstrual periods begin is pretty novel,” he said. “At each of these stages, different hormones are starting to appear in girls. During pubarche, testosterone and androgens are present, and during thelarche, there is the very first exposure to estrogen.”

“Menarche is when a more mature hormonal pattern emerges. Our study implies that the very first exposure to estrogen could be the starting point for migraine in some adolescent girls. It may be the Big Bang Theory of migraine.”

So is there anything that one can do to prevent an early puberty?

“Studies suggest that childhood obesity is associated with early puberty,” said Martin, who is also president of the National Headache Foundation. “Keeping your weight down might prevent the early onset of puberty. Future studies will need to be done to determine if strategy will decrease also the likelihood of developing migraine.”

Martin recently presented the findings at the American Headache Society’s 61st Annual Scientific Meeting in Philadelphia.

Source: University of Cincinnati

Preterm Babies Less Likely to Have Romantic Relationships in Adulthood

Mon, 07/15/2019 - 1:06am

A new study has found that adults who were born pre-term — under 37 weeks gestation — are less likely to form romantic relationships, have sexual relations, or experience parenthood than those who were born full term.

Researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK suggests it’s partly due to pre-term birth being associated with being withdrawn, shy, socially excluded, and less likely to take risks in adolescence.

A meta-analysis by the researchers of data from 4.4 million adults showed that those born preterm are 28 percent less likely to ever be in a romantic relationship and 22 percent less likely to become parents.

Those studies that looked at sexual relations of pre-term children also found that they were 2.3 times less likely to ever have a sexual partner, according to researchers.

Adults who were born very (<32 weeks gestation) or extremely preterm <28 weeks gestation) had even lower chances of experiencing sexual relationships, finding a romantic partner, or having children at the same age as those born full term, with the extremely pre-term born adults being 3.2 times less likely to ever have sexual relations, according to the study’s findings.

Close and intimate relationships have been shown to increase happiness and well-being both physically and mentally. However, studies also show that forming those relationships is harder for pre-term born adults, as they are usually timid, socially withdrawn, and low in risk-taking and fun seeking.

Despite having fewer close relationships, the meta-analysis also revealed that when preterm born adults had friends or a partner, the quality of these relationships was at least as good as those in full term born adults.

“The finding that adults who were born pre-term are less likely to have a partner, to have sex, and become parents does not appear to be explained by a higher rate of disability,” said Dr. Marina Goulart de Mendonça from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick and first author of the paper. “Rather preterm born children have been previously found to have poorer social interactions in childhood that make it harder for them to master social transitions, such as finding a partner, which in turn is proven to boost your wellbeing.”

“Those caring for preterm children, including parents, health professionals, and teachers, should be more aware of the important role of social development and social integration for pre-term children,” added Professor Dieter Wolke, also of the University of Warwick and senior author. “As preterm children tend to be more timid and shy, supporting them making friends and be integrated in their peer group will help them to find romantic partners, have sexual relationships and to become parents — all of which enhances wellbeing.”

The study was published in JAMA Network Open.

Source: University of Warwick

Exercise May Improve Mood, Anxiety in Older Adults Getting Chemotherapy

Sun, 07/14/2019 - 7:26pm

Older chemotherapy patients who engage in low- to moderate-intensity exercise at home may experience improved anxiety, mood and social and emotional well-being, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS).

Previous research has shown that exercise can improve anxiety and mood issues in younger cancer patients, but few studies have looked at the effects of exercise on older adults with cancer. Since most new cancer cases occur in adults over age 60, a research team from the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York and other institutions designed a study to learn more.

In general, having cancer increases the risk of anxiety and mood issues, all of which can affect emotional and social well-being. In turn, this may lead people to discontinue cancer treatments, which can mean shortening their survival.

In addition, older adults undergoing chemotherapy often experience higher rates of dangerous side effects as well as anxiety and other mood disorders; and treating these problems with medications can cause potentially dangerous side effects. In fact, many anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines and antidepressants are listed in the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) Beers Criteria as being potentially inappropriate for older adults.

This is why it is desirable to seek safe non-medication treatments that can help improve anxiety, mood disturbances and emotional and social well-being in older cancer patients. Several studies have looked into the association between exercise and mood in cancer survivors and most have shown positive results.

In the new study, the researchers looked at the effectiveness of the Exercise for Cancer Patients (EXCAP) program, a home-based, low- to moderate-intensity aerobic and resistance exercise program. Patients who were assigned to the EXCAP program received an exercise kit containing a pedometer, three exercise bands (medium, heavy, extra heavy), and an instruction manual.

During the program, participants increased the length and intensity of their workouts over time. For example, participants received an individually tailored, progressive walking routine, and they wore a pedometer and recorded their daily steps over six weeks, starting on their first day of chemotherapy treatment.

Participants were given individually tailored workout plans that encouraged them to perform 10 required exercises (such as squats and chest presses) and four optional exercises daily. They were also encouraged to gradually increase their steps by five to 20 percent every week.

For resistance exercise, they worked with therapeutic exercise bands and were encouraged to increase the intensity and number of repetitions on a gradual basis throughout the program.

Overall, the findings suggest that a low- to moderate-intensity home-based exercise program may improve anxiety, mood, and social and emotional well-being in older cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

Notably, the patients who benefited the most from the exercise program were those who started off with worse anxiety, mood, and social and emotional well-being.

Source: American Geriatrics Society

Just Seeing Green Space May Ease Cravings for Alcohol, Cigarettes, Junk Food

Sun, 07/14/2019 - 8:10am

A new study shows a link between being able to see green spaces from your home and reduced cravings for alcohol, cigarettes, and harmful foods.

The study is the first to demonstrate that passive exposure to nearby green space is linked to both lower frequencies and strengths of cravings, according to researchers at the University of Plymouth in the U.K., who led the study.

“It has been known for some time that being outdoors in nature is linked to a person’s well-being,” said Leanne Martin, who led the research as part of her Master’s degree.

“But for there to be a similar association with cravings from simply being able to see green spaces adds a new dimension to previous research. This is the first study to explore this idea, and it could have a range of implications for both public health and environmental protection programs in the future.”

Researchers add the findings add to evidence that points to the need to protect and invest in green spaces in towns and cities to maximize the public health benefits they may afford.

For the research, participants completed an online survey that explored the relationships between various aspects of exposure to nature exposure, cravings for a range of substances, and experiencing negative emotions or feelings.

Among other things, it measured the amount of green space in an individual’s neighborhood, the presence of green views from their home, their access to a garden or rented growing plot, and their frequency of use of public green spaces.

The results showed that having access to a garden or allotment was associated with both lower craving strength and frequency, while residential views incorporating more than 25 percent green space evoked similar responses.

The study also measured physical activity undertaken within the same time frame that cravings were assessed. It found that reduced cravings occurred irrespective of physical activity level.

“Craving contributes to a variety of health-damaging behaviors such as smoking, excessive drinking, and unhealthy eating,” said Dr. Sabine Pahl, an associate professor in psychology. “In turn, these can contribute to some of the greatest global health challenges of our time, including cancer, obesity, and diabetes.

“Showing that lower craving is linked to more exposure to green spaces is a promising first step. Future research should investigate if and how green spaces can be used to help people withstand problematic cravings, enabling them to better manage cessation attempts in the future.”

The study was published in the journal Health & Place.

Source: University of Plymouth

Photo: The Drake’s Place Gardens offer a green outlook for various locations on the University of Plymouth campus. Credit: University of Plymouth.

Study: Mentally Stimulating Activities Lower Risk/Delay Memory Loss

Sun, 07/14/2019 - 8:00am

A new study suggests mentally stimulating activities like using a computer, playing games, crafting and participating in social activities are linked to a lower risk or delay of age-related memory loss. Moreover, the time of life (middle-age and older) and the number of stimulating activities may influence retention of memory and cognitive skills.

Memory and cognitive loss common with aging is called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). While MCI is linked to problems with thinking ability and memory, it is not the same as dementia. People with MCI have milder symptoms.

For example, they may struggle to complete complex tasks or have difficulty understanding information they have read. In contrast, people with dementia have trouble with daily tasks such as dressing, bathing and eating independently.

However, there is strong evidence that MCI can be a precursor of dementia.

“There are currently no drugs that effectively treat mild cognitive impairment, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, so there is growing interest in lifestyle factors that may help slow brain aging believed to contribute to thinking and memory problems – factors that are low cost and available to anyone,” said study author Yonas E. Geda, M.D., M.Sc., of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“Our study took a close look at how often people participated in mentally stimulating activities in both middle-age and later life, with a goal of examining when such activities may be most beneficial to the brain.”

For the study, which appears online in Neurology®, researchers identified 2,000 people with an average age of 78 who did not have mild cognitive impairment. At the start of the study, participants completed a questionnaire about how often they took part in five types of mentally stimulating activities during middle-age, defined as ages 50 to 65, and in later life, age 66 and older.

Participants were then given thinking and memory tests every 15 months and were followed for an average of five years. During the study, 532 participants developed mild cognitive impairment.

Researchers found that using a computer in middle-age was associated with a 48-percent lower risk of mild cognitive impairment. A total of 15 of 532 people who developed mild cognitive impairment, or 2 percent, used a computer in middle age compared to 77 of 1,468 people without mild cognitive impairment, or 5 percent.

Using a computer in later life was associated with a 30 percent lower risk, and using a computer in both middle-age and later life was associated with a 37 percent lower risk of developing thinking and memory problems.

Engaging in social activities, like going to movies or going out with friends, or playing games, like doing crosswords or playing cards, in both middle-age and later life were associated with a 20 percent lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment.

Craft activities were associated with a 42 percent lower risk, but only in later life.

The more activities people engaged in during later life, the less likely they were to develop mild cognitive impairment.

Those who engaged in two activities were 28 percent less likely to develop memory and thinking problems than those who took part in no activities, while those who took part in three activities were 45 percent less likely, those with four activities were 56 percent less likely and those with five activities were 43 percent less likely.

“Our study was observational,” Geda said. “So it is important to point out that while we found links between a lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and various mentally stimulating activities, it is possible that instead of the activities lowering a person’s risk, a person with mild cognitive impairment may not be able to participate in these activities as often

“More research is needed to further investigate our findings.”

One strength of the study was the large number of participants; however a limitation was that participants were asked to remember how often they participated in mentally stimulating activities in middle-age, up to two decades before the study began, and their memories may not have been completely accurate.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

School Suspensions Tied to More Offenses Later, Not Less

Sun, 07/14/2019 - 7:33am

A new study finds that, rather than decreasing criminal behavior, school suspensions are linked to an increase in subsequent offending.

The research, published in the Justice Quarterly, took a longitudinal look at how school suspensions — which affect around 3.5 million American students a year — are related to offending behaviors such as assault, stealing, and selling drugs.

“Our findings suggest that suspending students from school can serve as a negative and harmful turning point in adolescence that increases offending over time,” said Dr. Thomas James Mowen, assistant professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University, who led the study.

“Intensifying disciplinary strategies–what some have called the criminalization of school discipline — may do more harm than good and could result in more crime in schools, neighborhoods, and communities.”

The researchers studied to what extent being suspended from middle and high school was a turning point that led to more deviant behavior. They also looked at whether school suspensions, the most common response to behavior problems at school, amplified the likelihood that adolescents would offend as they grew into young adults.

Offending was defined as attacking or assaulting someone, possessing a gun, selling illegal substances, destroying property, and stealing.

The researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 which included 8,984 adolescents (ages 12 to 18 at the start of the study) from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds from all 50 states. Information about the participants was collected annually; this study focused on the first four years of data because after four years, most of the participants had aged out of school.

Participants were asked if they had been suspended from school as well as how many times they had engaged in offending behavior. Researchers then measured the effect of school suspensions on subsequent offending.

Overall, respondents reported they had been suspended 12.3% of the time, with students who were suspended once likely to report being suspended again.

The findings show that exclusionary school discipline (i.e., suspensions) increased subsequent offending, substantially amplifying deviant behavior as the youth moved through adolescence and into adulthood. And repeated suspensions further amplified subsequent offending.

Perhaps most importantly, the study found that suspensions increased offending behaviors over time, even after accounting for prior levels of offending. This means that even among youth who reported offending behaviors prior to being suspended, exclusionary school discipline still contributed to significant increases in offending over time.

The study also found that White youth reported higher levels of offending than Black and Hispanic youth. Because Black and Hispanic youth are far more likely to be suspended than White youth, the researchers suggest that the effects of punitive school discipline may exacerbate differences in offending across racial and ethnic groups over time.

The researchers took into account several factors that can influence offending behavior, including whether youth dropped out of school, how youth felt about their schools (e.g., whether they felt safe, thought their teachers were interested in them, believed school discipline was fair), how they felt about their families, and their families’ income.

The study also considered youth’s relationships with their peers (including whether they were members of a gang) and their gender, race, and ethnicity. And it took into account prior levels of offending.

“American schools are relying increasingly on exclusionary sanctions and zero-tolerance policies to maintain control and safety,” notes Mowen. “Our findings point to the need for school officials and policymakers to recognize the negative consequences of these approaches, examine the underlying causes of students’ behavior, and change how we manage that misbehavior.”

Source: Crime and Justice Research Alliance

Imagination May Be Key to Altruistic Behavior

Sat, 07/13/2019 - 7:00am

New research shows that when we see people in trouble, we imagine how we can help before we act.

According to researchers at Boston College and the University of Albany, SUNY, the underlying process at work is referred to as episodic simulation, essentially the ability to re-organize memories from the past into a newly imagined event simulated in the mind.

Researchers said neuroimaging helped them identify multiple neural pathways that explain the relationship between imagination and the willingness to help others.

The team explored two separate brain regions with different functions: The right temporoparietal junction (RTPJ), a brain region thought to be involved in representing the minds of other people, also known as “perspective-taking,” and the medial temporal lobe (MTL) subsystem, a set of brain regions that support the simulation of imagined scenes.

The study discovered evidence for the direct impact of scene imagery on willingness to help, according to Boston College Associate Professor of Psychology Liane Young, a co-author and the principal investigator on the project.

While study participants imagined helping scenes, neural activity in the MTL predicted overall willingness to help the person in need, according to researchers.

“If we are able to vividly imagine helping someone, then we think we’re more likely to actually do it,” said Young, director of the Morality Lab at BC. “Imagining the scenery surrounding the situation can also prompt people to take the perspective of the people in the situation who need help, which in turn prompts prosocial action.”

This may be because of a phenomenon known as imagination inflation, where humans use the vividness of their imagination as a kind of cue to estimate the likelihood of an event, according to the researchers.

The research team set out to learn how the capacity to simulate imagined and remembered scenes of helping motivate individuals to form more altruistic intentions. The goal was to uncover the cognitive and neural mechanisms that explain the relationship between episodic simulation and the enhanced willingness to help those in need.

In the first experiment, which allowed the team to look at both brain regions, the researchers collected functional brain images as people imagined and remembered helping others in hypothetical scenarios.

In the second experiment, while people were imagining helping another person, the team used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to disrupt activity in their right temporoparietal junction (RTPJ), a brain region thought to be involved in representing the minds of other people.

Neuroimaging revealed that the willingness to help was also predicted by activity in the RTPJ, a critical node that’s involved in taking the perspective of other people, according to the researchers. However, in the second experiment, when the team used TMS to temporarily inhibit activity in the RTPJ, they found that the altruistic effect of vividly imagining helping remained significant, suggesting that this effect doesn’t depend exclusively on perspective-taking.

“We had initially expected that higher neural activity in the medial temporal lobe subsystem would be associated with a greater willingness to help,” the researchers reported. “Surprisingly, we found the opposite: The more activity a person had in their MTL subsystem while they were imagining helping scenes, the less willing they were to help the person in need.”

This contradiction may be explained by lower MTL activity reflecting greater ease of imagining episodes, and that ease of imagination means that participants are more willing to help. Consistent with this account, the team found that when participants reported finding it easier to imagine or remember helping episodes, they also tended to report being more willing to help the person in need.

Next steps in the research will further connect the lab’s neuroimaging approach with measures of real-world altruistic behavior, according to the researchers.

The study was published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Source: Boston College

Why Sex Becomes Less Satisfying as Women Age

Sat, 07/13/2019 - 6:00am

A new study has identified several psychosocial contributors to why women have less sex as they age.

Previous research has focused largely on biological causes, such as hot flashes, sleep disruption, vaginal dryness and painful intercourse.

The new study looks at the effects of  psychosocial changes that are common post-menopause, including body image concerns, self-confidence and perceived desirability, stress, mood changes, and relationship issues.

The study of nearly 4,500 postmenopausal women involved in the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS) found that before the start of annual screening, approximately half of the women were sexually active.

Researchers report a decrease in all aspects of sexual activity was observed over time: Sexual activity was less frequent, not as pleasurable, and more uncomfortable.

The primary reason for the absence of sexual activity was the lack of a partner, mainly because of widowhood.

Other commonly cited reasons for decreased activity included a partner’s medical condition, a partner’s sexual dysfunction, the woman’s own physical health problems, menopause-related symptoms, and prescribed medication.

Contributing most often to low libido were relationship problems, logistics, and perceptions of aging.

The study discovered that only 3 percent of participants described positive sexual experiences, while only 6 percent sought medical help for sexual problems.

“Sexual health challenges are common in women as they age, and partner factors play a prominent role in women’s sexual activity and satisfaction, including the lack of a partner, sexual dysfunction of a partner, poor physical health of a partner, and relationship issues,” said Dr. Stephanie Faubion, NAMS medical director.

“In addition, menopause-related problems such as vaginal dryness and pain with sex have been identified as problems affecting sexual function, yet few women seek treatment for these issues, despite the availability of effective therapies.”

The study was published in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society.

Source: The North American Menopause Society

LGBTQ Asian-Americans Seen as More ‘American’

Fri, 07/12/2019 - 9:36pm

Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in the United States but one that is consistently perceived as “foreign” by other Americans. Now a new study from the University of Washington finds that the sexual orientation of Asian Americans may affect others’ perceptions of their cultural integration. In fact,the findings show that LGBTQ Asian Americans are seen as significantly more “American” than those who are perceived as straight.

The new study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, is the latest to examine stereotypes, identity and ideas about who is “American.” Specifically, the researchers focused on how sexual orientation and race come together to influence others’ perceptions.

“Research on race is often separate from research on sexual orientation. Here we bring the two together to understand how they interact to influence judgments of how American someone is considered,” said Dr. Sapna Cheryan, a UW associate professor of psychology.

In 2017, Cheryan authored a similar study, which showed how stereotypically American traits, such as being overweight, made Asian Americans seem more “American.” The new research is a collection of four studies.

Previous work has shown that Asian Americans, and people of color in general, are seen as less American than white Americans, and face prejudice and discrimination throughout various aspects of life.

But when it comes to sexual orientation, the United States has implemented more civil rights and anti-discrimination legislation and is seen as more LGBTQ-friendly, compared to Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea.

The new UW research involved four separate, diverse groups of UW students, all of whom were asked to answer questions related to brief, written descriptions of hypothetical people or scenarios.

In the first experiment, participants were randomly assigned to read a brief descriptive phrase of a person named John, identified either as “an Asian American man” or “a gay Asian American man.”

They were then asked to rate, using a seven-point scale, how American they considered him through questions such as “How fluently do you think this person speaks English?” and “How integrated is this person in American culture?”

The results reveal that the hypothetical “gay Asian American man” was perceived as significantly more American than the hypothetical “Asian American man,” whose sexual orientation wasn’t specified.

The second study used similar questions, but included a greater variety of hypothetical people: men, women, whites and Asian Americans. Sexual orientation was noted as “gay” or wasn’t listed.

Researchers gave “American” names to the fictional people — names that were popular in the United States in the 1980s: Matt, Chris, Michael, Jessica, Jennifer and Ashley. The same results emerged: Asian Americans identified as gay were perceived to be more American than Asian Americans whose sexual orientation was not identified.

Whites were perceived as American no matter their sexual orientation.

“These studies demonstrate once again the widely-held assumption that whites are the most American. Though being gay increased perceptions of Asian Americans’ ‘Americanness,’ it was still not nearly enough to close the gap in perceptions between Asian Americans and whites,” said Linda Zou, a UW graduate student and study co-author.

The other two studies focused on perceived differences between “American culture” and “Asian culture,” and how LGBTQ-friendly the cultures appear to be. In one study, researchers wrote descriptions of fake countries that were either presented as less welcoming and accepting of gay people than the U.S. or equally welcoming and accepting.

Participants rated Asian culture as less LGBTQ-friendly, and a gay person as more American if they were associated with a country of origin that was less LGBTQ-friendly.

Source: University of Washington

Combat Veterans at Increased Risk of Mental Health Concerns

Fri, 07/12/2019 - 7:30am

New research suggests military veterans exposed to combat have an increased risk of developing depression and anxiety in later life than veterans who had not seen combat.

Oregon State University investigators explain that before the new study, the role of combat exposure on aging and in particular on the impacts of combat on mental health in late life had received scant attention.

The new findings suggest that military service, and particularly combat experience, is a hidden variable in research on aging, said Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research and one of the study’s authors.

“There are a lot factors of aging that can impact mental health in late life, but there is something about having been a combat veteran that is especially important,” Aldwin said.

The findings appear in the journal Psychology and Aging. The first author is Hyunyup Lee, who conducted the research as a doctoral student at OSU; co-authors are Soyoung Choun of OSU and Avron Spiro III of Boston University and the VA Boston Healthcare System. The research was funded by the National Institutes on Aging and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Although many aging studies ask about participants’ status as veterans, most do not investigate the differences between those who were exposed to combat and those who weren’t.

In the new review, researchers explored data from the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study. This dataset stems from a longitudinal study that began in the 1960s to investigate aging in initially healthy men. The researchers then explored the relationship between combat exposure and depressive and anxiety symptoms, as well as self-rated health and stressful life events among the veterans.

They found that increased rates of mental health symptoms in late life were found only among combat veterans. The increases were not seen in veterans who had not been exposed to combat.

Generally, mental health symptoms such as depression and anxiety tend to decrease or remain stable during adulthood but can increase in later life. The researchers found that combat exposure has a unique impact on that trajectory, independent of other health issues or stressful life events.

“In late life, it’s pretty normal to do a life review,” Aldwin said. “For combat veterans, that review of life experiences and losses may have more of an impact on their mental health. They may need help to see meaning in their service and not just dwell on the horrors of war.”

Veterans’ homecoming experience may also color how they view their service later in life, Aldwin said. Welcoming veterans home and focusing on reintegration could help to reduce the mental toll of their service over time.

Most of the veterans in the study served in World War II or Korea. Additional research is need to understand more about how veterans’ experiences may vary from war to war, Aldwin said.

Aldwin and colleagues are currently working on a pilot study, VALOR, or Veterans Aging: Longitudinal studies in Oregon, to better understand impacts of combat exposure. The pilot study includes veterans with service in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and the post-9/11 conflicts.

The researchers have collected data from 300 veterans and are beginning to analyze it. Based on their initial findings, they are also planning a second, larger study with more veterans. They expect to see differences between veterans from different wars.

“Each war is different. They are going to affect veterans differently,” Aldwin said. “Following 9-11, traumatic brain injuries have risen among veterans, while mortality rates have lowered. We have many more survivors with far more injuries. These veterans have had a much higher levels of exposure to combat, as well.”

VALOR also offers researchers the opportunity to explore the impact of service on women veterans, whose experiences have not often been captured in previous research. About one-third of the participants in the pilot study were female veterans, Aldwin said.

Source: Oregon State University

Drinking Coffee May Help Activate the Body’s Fat-Fighting Defenses

Fri, 07/12/2019 - 7:00am

Coffee lovers everywhere can rejoice once again, as scientists may have found yet another reason to continue enjoying a morning cup of joe.

A new U.K. study suggests that drinking caffeinated coffee can help stimulate “brown fat,” the body’s own fat-fighting defenses which help regulate how quickly we burn calories as energy.

At this time, the researchers believe that caffeine is the responsible component in this activation, but they will be conducting more studies to see if other components may be involved.

Brown fat is one of two types of fat found in humans and other mammals. Initially only attributed to babies and hibernating mammals, it was discovered in recent years that adults can have brown fat too. Its main function is to generate body heat by burning calories, as opposed to white fat, which stores excess calories.

Researchers believe that brown fat could play a key role in tackling obesity and diabetes. In fact, people with a lower body mass index (BMI) have a higher amount of brown fat.

“Brown fat works in a different way to other fat in your body and produces heat by burning sugar and fat, often in response to cold,” says Professor Michael Symonds from the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham.

“Increasing its activity improves blood sugar control as well as improving blood lipid levels and the extra calories burnt help with weight loss. However, until now, no one has found an acceptable way to stimulate its activity in humans.”

“This is the first study in humans to show that something like a cup of coffee can have a direct effect on our brown fat functions. The potential implications of our results are pretty big, as obesity is a major health concern for society and we also have a growing diabetes epidemic and brown fat could potentially be part of the solution in tackling them.”

The researchers began with a series of stem cell studies to see if caffeine would stimulate brown fat. Once they had found the right dose, they moved on to humans to see if the results were similar.

The team used a thermal imaging technique, which they’d previously pioneered, to trace the body’s brown fat reserves. The non-invasive technique helped the team locate brown fat and assess its ability to produce heat.

“From our previous work, we knew that brown fat is mainly located in the neck region, so we were able to image someone straight after they had a drink to see if the brown fat got hotter,” said Symonds.

“The results were positive and we now need to ascertain that caffeine as one of the ingredients in the coffee is acting as the stimulus or if there’s another component helping with the activation of brown fat. We are currently looking at caffeine supplements to test whether the effect is similar.”

“Once we have confirmed which component is responsible for this, it could potentially be used as part of a weight management regime or as part of glucose regulation programme to help prevent diabetes.”

The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Source: University of Nottingham


Study: Midlife Sleep Problems May Up Risk of Alzheimer’s

Fri, 07/12/2019 - 6:30am

A new study suggests that people who report a declining quality of sleep as they age from their 50s to their 60s have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life. The study appears online in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley discovered a link between insufficient sleep and the presence of beta-amyloid protein in their brains — a biomarker associated with the development of Alzheimer’s.

Experts believe the new finding highlights the importance of sleep at every age to maintain a healthy brain into old age.

“Insufficient sleep across the lifespan is significantly predictive of your development of Alzheimer’s disease pathology in the brain,” said the study’s senior author, Matthew Walker, a sleep researcher and professor of psychology.

“Unfortunately, there is no decade of life that we were able to measure during which you can get away with less sleep. There is no Goldilocks decade during which you can say, ‘This is when I get my chance to short sleep.'”

Walker and his colleagues, including graduate student and first author Joseph Winer, found that adults reporting a decline in sleep quality in their 40s and 50s had more beta-amyloid protein in their brains later in life, as measured by positron emission tomography, or PET.

Those reporting a sleep decline in their 50s and 60s had more tau protein tangles. Both beta-amyloid and tau clusters are associated with a higher risk of developing dementia, though not everyone with protein tangles goes on to develop symptoms of dementia.

Based on the findings, the authors recommend that doctors ask older patients about changes in sleep patterns and intervene when necessary to improve sleep to help delay symptoms of dementia.

Proactive measures to improve sleep could include treatment for apnea, which leads to snoring and frequent halts in breathing that interrupt sleep, and cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).

CBT is a highly effective way to develop healthy sleep habits. Individuals may benefit from simple sleep counseling to convince patients to set aside time for a full eight hours of sleep and simple sleep hygiene tricks to accomplish that.

“The idea that there are distinct sleep windows across the lifespan is really exciting. It means that there might be high-opportunity periods when we could intervene with a treatment to improve people’s sleep, such as using cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia,” Winer said.

“Beyond the scientific advance, our hope is that this study draws attention to the importance of getting more sleep and points us to the decades in life when intervention might be most effective.”

The 95 subjects in the study were part of the Berkeley Aging Cohort Study (BACS), a group of healthy older adults — some as old as 100 years of age — who have had their brains scanned with PET, the only technique capable of detecting both beta-amyloid tangles and, very recently, tau tangles, in the brain.

The team also made a second discovery. They found that people with high levels of tau protein in the brain were more likely to lack the synchronized brain waves associated with a good night’s sleep. The synchronization of slow brain waves throughout the cortex of the sleeping brain, in lockstep with bursts of fast brain waves called sleep spindles, takes place during deep or non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.

The investigators discovered that the more tau protein older adults had, the less synchronized these brain waves were. This impaired electrical sleep signature may therefore act as a novel biomarker of tau protein in the human brain.

“There is something special about that synchrony,” given the consequences of this tau protein disruption of sleep, Walker said.

“We believe that the synchronization of these NREM brain waves provides a file-transfer mechanism that shifts memories from a short-term vulnerable reservoir to a more permanent long-term storage site within the brain, protecting those memories and making them safe.

But when you lose that synchrony, that file-transfer mechanism becomes corrupt. Those memory packets don’t get transferred, as well, so you wake up the next morning with forgetting rather than remembering.”

Indeed, last year, Walker and his team demonstrated that synchronization of these brain oscillations helps consolidate memory, that is, hits the “save” button on new memories.

Several years ago, Walker and his colleagues initially showed that a dip in the amplitude of slow wave activity during deep NREM sleep was associated with higher amounts of beta-amyloid in the brain and memory impairment. Combined with these new findings, the results help identify possible biomarkers for later risk of dementia.

“It is increasingly clear that sleep disruption is an under-appreciated factor contributing to Alzheimer’s disease risk and the decline in memory associated with Alzheimer’s,” Walker said. “Certainly, there are other contributing factors: genetics, inflammation, blood pressure. All of these appear to increase your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. But we are now starting to see a new player in this space, and that new player is called insufficient sleep.”

The brain rhythms were recorded over a single eight-hour night in Walker’s UC Berkeley sleep lab, during which most of the 31 subjects wore a cap studded with 19 electrodes that recorded a continual electroencephalogram (EEG). All had previously had brain scans to assess their burdens of tau and beta-amyloid that were done using a PET scanner, operated by study co-author William Jagust, professor of public health and a member of Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute.

Experts are investigating if sleep is a biomarker for dementia. Physicians have been searching for early markers of dementia for years, in hopes of intervening to stop the deterioration of the brain. Beta-amyloid and tau proteins are predictive markers, but only recently have they become detectable with expensive PET scans that are not widely accessible.

Yet, while both proteins escalate in the brain in old age and perhaps to a greater extent in those with dementia, it is still unknown why some people with large burdens of amyloid and tau do not develop symptoms of dementia.

“The leading hypothesis, the amyloid cascade hypothesis, is that amyloid is what happens first on the path to Alzheimer’s disease. Then, in the presence of amyloid, tau begins to spread throughout the cortex, and if you have too much of that spread of tau, that can lead to impairment and dementia,” Winer said.

Walker added that, “A lack of sleep across the lifespan may be one of the first fingers that flicks the domino cascade and contributes to the acceleration of amyloid and tau protein in the brain.”

The hypothesis is supported in part by Jagust’s PET studies, which have shown that higher levels of beta-amyloid and tau protein tangles in the brain are correlated with memory decline, tau more so than amyloid. Tau occurs naturally inside the brain’s neurons, helping to stabilize their internal skeleton.

With age, tau proteins seem to accumulate inside cells of the medial temporal lobe, including the hippocampus, the seat of short-term memory. Only later do they spread more widely throughout the cortex.

While Jagust has run PET scans on the brains of many healthy people, as well as those with dementia, many more subjects are needed to confirm the relationship between protein tangles and dementias like Alzheimer’s disease. Because PET scanners are currently expensive and rare, and because they require injection of radioactive tracers, other biomarkers are needed, Walker said.

The new study suggests that sleep changes detectable in a simple overnight sleep study may be less intrusive biomarkers than a PET scan.

“As wearable technology improves, this need not be something you have to come to a sleep laboratory for,” said Walker.

“Our hope is that, in the future, a small head device could be worn by people at home and provide all the necessary sleep information we’d need to assess these Alzheimer’s disease proteins. We may even be able to track the effectiveness of new drugs aimed at combating these brain proteins by assessing sleep.”

“I think the message is very clear,” Walker added. “If you are starting to struggle with sleep, then you should go and see your doctor and find ways, such as CBT-I, that can help you improve your sleep. The goal here is to decrease your chances of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Source: University of California Berkeley/EurekAlert
Photo: Greater levels of pathological tau protein, primarily in the brain’s medial temporal lobe (orange and yellow at bottom in cross section of the brain), were associated with weaker synchrony of slow waves (red) and sleep spindles (orange), two brain waves important for storing memories while we sleep. Credit: UC Berkeley image by Matthew Walker and Joseph Winer.

Bystanders Will Intervene to Help Victims of Aggression and Violence

Fri, 07/12/2019 - 6:00am

A new study finds that bystanders will intervene in nine out of 10 public fights to help victims of aggression and violence.

The findings, from the study of real-life conflicts captured by CCTV, overturn the idea that we live in a “walk-on-by society” where victims are ignored by bystanders.

A team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen, the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement, and Lancaster University in the UK examined video recordings of 219 arguments and assaults in the inner cities of Amsterdam, Lancaster, and Cape Town in South Africa.

The research team found that at least one bystander — but typically several — did something to help. And with increasing numbers of bystanders, there is a greater likelihood that at least someone will intervene to help, the study discovered.

“According to conventional wisdom, non-involvement is the default response of bystanders during public emergencies,” said lead author Dr. Richard Philpot of Lancaster University and the University of Copenhagen. “Challenging this view, the current cross-national study of video data shows that intervention is the norm in actual aggressive conflicts. The fact that bystanders are much more active than we think is a positive and reassuring story for potential victims of violence and the public as a whole. We need to develop crime prevention efforts which build on the willingness of bystanders to intervene.”

Security cameras in the three cities captured aggressive public conflicts. According to researchers, in 91 percent of situations, bystanders watching the incident intervened in several ways, including:

  • Physically gesturing for an aggressor to calm down;
  • Physically blocking an aggressor or pulling an aggressor away; and
  • Consoling the victim.

The research also showed that a victim was more likely to receive help when a larger number of bystanders was present.

“The most important question for the potential victim of a public assault is ‘will I receive help if needed?’ While having more people around may reduce an individual’s likelihood of helping (i.e., the bystander effect), it also provides a larger pool from which help-givers may be sourced,” Philpot said.

The study also found no difference in the rates of intervention between the three cities, even though inner-city Cape Town is generally perceived to be less safe. Researchers suggest that it is not the level of perceived danger that sets the overall rate of helping. Instead, it is any signal that the situation is a conflict and requires intervention, they said.

Source: Lancaster University

Photo: 1. On the bottom right-hand side, a man dressed in a white shirt assaults another man who is on the ground. Some bystanders observe. 2. To the bottom left-hand side, two bystanders leave their standing positions and approach the conflict parties. 3. The two bystanders are joined by others. A male bystander in a dark shirt and jeans pulls the main aggressor from his target, while a female bystander steps between the conflict parties and extends both arms out in a blocking motion. Credit: Lancaster University.

Some Schizophrenia Brains Show Abnormal Protein Buildup Similar to Alzheimer’s

Fri, 07/12/2019 - 5:30am

In a new study, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers unveiled new evidence showing that some schizophrenia brains are marked by a buildup of abnormal proteins similar to those found in the brains of people with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Huntington’s diseases.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, are based on brain tissue samples of deceased human donors (average age 49). The researchers analyzed 42 samples from schizophrenia patients as well as 41 brain samples from healthy controls. Around 75 percent of the brains came from men, and 80 percent were from white subjects.

Based on their experience with schizophrenia and neurodegenerative disorders, the research team wanted to determine if the features of schizophrenia brains could also be seen in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other illnesses.

“The brain only has so many ways to handle abnormal proteins,” says Frederick Nucifora Jr., DO, PhD, MHS, the leader of the study and an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“With schizophrenia, the end process is mental and behavioral, and doesn’t cause the pronounced physical neural cell death we see with neurodegenerative diseases, but there are clearly some overall biological similarities.”

In neurodegenerative disorders, certain abnormal proteins are churned out but don’t assemble into properly functioning molecules; instead they end up misfolded, clumping up and leading to disease.

For the study, the team broke open the cells from the brain tissue samples and analyzed their contents by looking at how much of the cell’s contents could be dissolved in a specific detergent. The more dissolved contents, the more “normal” or healthy the cell’s contents.

On the other hand, less dissolved cell contents indicated that the cell contains a high volume of abnormal, misfolded proteins, as found in other brain diseases.

The team discovered that slightly less than half (20) of the schizophrenia brains had a greater proportion of proteins that couldn’t be dissolved in detergent, compared to the amount found in the healthy samples.

These same 20 samples also showed elevated levels of a small protein ubiquitin that is a marker for protein aggregation in neurodegenerative disorders. Elevated levels of ubiquitin weren’t seen in the healthy brain tissue samples.

Importantly, the team wanted to confirm that the antipsychotic medications the patients were taking before they died didn’t cause the accumulation of abnormal proteins. To clarify this, they examined the proteins in the brains of rats treated with the antipsychotic drugs haloperidol or risperidone for 4.5 months compared to control rats treated with plain water.

The results reveal that treatment with antipsychotic medications didn’t cause an accumulation of undissolvable proteins or extra ubiquitin tags, suggesting that the disease — and not the medication — caused the abnormal protein build-up in some of the brains with schizophrenia.

Next, the researchers used mass spectroscopy to determine the identity of these undissolvable proteins. They found that many of these abnormal proteins were involved in nervous system development, specifically in generating new neurons and the connections that neurons use to communicate with one another.

Nucifora says the main finding of abnormal proteins in nervous system development is consistent with theories that trace schizophrenia’s origins to brain development and to problems with neural communication.

“Researchers have been so focused on the genetics of schizophrenia that they’ve not paid as much attention to what is going on at the protein level and especially the possibility of protein aggregation,” says Nucifora. “This may be a whole new way to look at the disorder and develop more effective therapies.”

Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine

Parenting Style May Increase Risk of Teen Victimization

Thu, 07/11/2019 - 11:30am

A unique longitudinal investigation reveals that adolescent bullying and victimization may have origins in the home. The new study suggests a derisive parenting style increases the risk that a teen may be bullied or victimized or become a bully or perpetrator.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University, Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, and Uppsala University in Sweden discovered many bullies have parents who are hostile, punitive and rejecting.

Specifically, investigators discovered a parenting approach that contributes to peer difficulties: those who direct derision and contempt at their children.

Derisive parents use demeaning or belittling expressions that humiliate and frustrate the child, without any obvious provocation from the child. These parents respond to child engagement with criticism, sarcasm, put-downs and hostility, and rely on emotional and physical coercion to obtain compliance.

The study emphasizes the emotional underpinnings of peer difficulties. The researchers followed 1,409 children for three consecutive years from grades 7 to 9 (ages 13-15 years). The findings, which appear in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, show that derisive parenting fosters dysregulated anger in adolescent children.

Dysregulated anger is indicative of difficulties regulating emotion, which typically result in negative emotions, verbal and physical aggression, and hostility. Increases in dysregulated anger, in turn, place adolescents at greater risk for bullying and victimization, and for becoming bully-victims (bullies who also are victimized by other bullies).

The latter finding is noteworthy given that past research indicates that bully-victims are at the greatest risk for poor mental health, behavioral difficulties, and suicidal thoughts when compared to “pure” victims, “pure” bullies, or non-victims. Identification of the family-specific origins of bully-victim status may be a key step in limiting or preventing such poor outcomes.

Importantly, these findings held after controlling for parenting behaviors implicated in child adjustment, such as warmth, control and physical punishment. This study suggests that derisive behavior is a unique form of parenting that increases the risks that adolescent children will adopt inappropriate anger management strategies that increases their risk for peer difficulties.

“Inappropriate interpersonal responses appear to spread from parents to children, where they spawn peer difficulties. Specifically, derisive parenting precipitates a cycle of negative affect and anger between parents and adolescents, which ultimately leads to greater adolescent bullying and victimization,” said Brett Laursen, Ph.D., co-author and FAU a professor of psychology.

“Our study is important because it provides a more complete understanding of how parents’ belittling and critical interactions with adolescents thwart their ability to maintain positive relationships with peers.”

Daniel J. Dickson, Ph.D., a senior author of the study, said, “Implications from our study are far-reaching: practitioners and parents should be informed of the potential long-term costs of sometimes seemingly harmless parenting behaviors such as belittlement and sarcasm.

“Parents must be reminded of their influence on adolescents’ emotions and should take steps to ensure that adolescents do not feel ridiculed at home.”

Source: Florida Atlantic University

Family Chaos, Depression May Make It Harder to Manage Kids’ Asthma

Thu, 07/11/2019 - 11:10am

A chaotic household as well as child and parent depression are risk factors for worse asthma outcomes in urban minority children, according to a new paper published in the journal Pediatrics.

“Higher levels of chaos — lack of organization or set routines, among other things — seems to be a pathway linking parental depression and worse child asthma control,” said Dr. Sally Weinstein, associate professor of clinical psychiatry from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Medicine and first author on the paper.

“When a parent is depressed, it’s harder to keep the family routines running smoothly, and it’s also harder to manage the daily demands of caring for their child’s asthma, which can require multiple medications and avoidance of triggers.”

Minority urban youth have higher rates of asthma and are more likely to have poor outcomes or even die of asthma compared to the general population. While most research has focused on medications and prevention, researchers are just starting to understand how psychosocial factors affect asthma and how they might contribute to disparities.

Several studies have shown that children with depression and anxiety have worse asthma outcomes, including more severe asthma and more use of rescue medications. Some studies have linked parents’ depression with worse asthma outcomes in their children, while others have shown that family conflict is linked to higher levels of asthma severity.

In the new study, the researchers wanted to look at the interplay between parent, child and family functioning and child asthma control in urban minority youth with uncontrolled asthma. Uncontrolled asthma occurs when children have excessive asthma symptoms and rescue medication use. The consequences of uncontrolled asthma can be severe.

The researchers looked at the association between parental depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms; child depression and PTSD symptoms; and child asthma control among 223 children between the ages of 5 and 16 years and one of their parents.

The team collected data on depression, PTSD and family chaos via in-person interviews before the parents and children started the study intervention.

Family chaos was assessed using a 15-item questionnaire that asked participants to rate statements such as the following: “No matter how hard we try, we always seem to be running late;” “We can usually find things when we need them;” “We always seem to be rushed;” and “Our home is a good place to relax.”

They discovered that parental and childhood depressive symptoms (but not PTSD symptoms) were linked to worse child asthma control. Higher levels of family chaos were also associated with worse child asthma control even when the researchers controlled for parent and child depression. Overall, the findings show that family chaos can explain, at least in part, how parental depression affects child asthma control.

“Our findings highlight the role of family chaos in worse asthma outcomes for children in these families,” said Dr. Molly Martin, associate professor of pediatrics in the UIC College of Medicine and the study’s principal investigator.

“Pediatricians and asthma specialists should consider and address parent and child depression and provide support to optimize household routines as a way to help improve children’s asthma control.”

Source: University of Illinois at Chicago


Exercise Improves Dopamine-Related Brain Function in Overweight Adults

Thu, 07/11/2019 - 7:36am

A new German study finds that, on top of its benefits for general health and mood, exercise can also improve dopamine-related brain function in overweight and obese adults, even before any significant weight loss occurs.

Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter for learning new motor skills and in reward-related learning.

Previous research has shown that people with obesity are prone to insulin resistance in the brain, which can lead to faster cognitive decline. In the new study, researchers from the University of Tübingen in Germany wanted to know whether exercise could improve insulin sensitivity in the brain and therefore boost cognition in overweight individuals.

The researchers observed 22 sedentary adults who were overweight or obese (an average BMI of 31). All of the participants underwent two brain scans before and after an 8-week exercise intervention, including cycling and walking.

Brain function was measured before and after using an insulin nasal spray to measure insulin sensitivity in the brain. Participants were also assessed for cognition, mood, and peripheral metabolism.

Even though the exercise intervention only resulted in marginal weight loss, brain functions important for metabolism “normalized” only after 8-weeks. The findings show that the exercise regimen boosted regional blood flow in areas of the brain important for motor control and reward processes, both of which depend on the neurotransmitter dopamine.

These findings confirm that exercise can significantly improve dopamine-related brain function.

One area in particular, the striatum, showed enhanced sensitivity to insulin after the eight weeks of exercise such that the brain response of a person with obesity after exercise training resembled the response of a person with normal-weight.

Interestingly, the greater the improvement in brain function, the more belly fat a person lost during the course of the exercise intervention. Belly fat has previously been linked to insulin resistance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

Behaviorally, participants reported an improvement in mood and task switching, which is an indicator for improved executive function.

“The bottom line is that exercise improves brain function,” said study leader Dr. Stephanie Kullmann. “And increasing insulin sensitivity in dopamine-related brain regions through exercise may help decrease the risk of a person to develop type 2 diabetes, along with the benefits for mood and cognition.”

Source: Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior

Odd Eating Habits May Aid Early Detection of Autism

Thu, 07/11/2019 - 7:00am

A new study finds that atypical eating behaviors were present in 70 percent of children with autism, 15 times more common than in neurotypical children. Researchers from Penn State College of Medicine believe the association suggests a child with unusual eating behaviors should be screened for autism.

Dr. Susan Mayes, a professor of psychiatry, said atypical eating behaviors may include severely limited food preferences, hypersensitivity to food textures or temperatures, and pocketing food without swallowing.

According to Mayes, these behaviors are present in many 1-year-olds with autism and could signal to doctors and parents that a child may have autism.

“If a primary care provider hears about these behaviors from parents, they should consider referring the child for an autism screening,” Mayes said.

Mayes said that the earlier autism is diagnosed, the sooner the child can begin treatment with a behavior analyst.

Previous studies have shown applied behavior analysis to be most effective if implemented during the preschool years. Behavior analysts use a number of interventions, including rewards, to make positive changes in the children’s behavior and teach a range of needed skills.

Dr. Keith Williams, director of the Feeding Program at Penn State Children’s Hospital, uses this form of therapy to help a variety of individuals with unusual eating behaviors. He said that identifying and correcting these behaviors can help ensure children are eating a proper diet.

“I once treated a child who ate nothing but bacon and drank only iced tea,” Williams said. “Unusual diets like these don’t sustain children.”

Williams also noted that there is a distinct difference between worrisome eating behaviors and the typical picky eating habits of young children. He explained that most children without special needs will slowly add foods to their diets during the course of development, but children with autism spectrum disorders, without intervention, will often remain selective eaters.

“We see children who continue to eat baby food or who won’t try different textures,” Williams said. “We even see children who fail to transition from bottle feeding.”

Mayes said that many children with autism eat a narrow diet consisting primarily of grain products, like pasta and bread, and chicken nuggets. She said that because children with autism have sensory hypersensitivities and dislike change, they may not want to try new foods and will be sensitive to certain textures. They often eat only foods of a particular brand, color or shape.

The research also showed that most children with autism who had atypical eating behaviors had two or more types; almost a quarter had three or more. Yet, none of the children with other developmental disorders who did not have autism had three or more.

According to Williams, this is a common, clinical phenomenon, and it has prompted him and his colleagues to recommend some children for further evaluation.

“When we evaluate young children with multiple eating problems, we start to wonder if these children might also have the diagnosis of autism,” Williams said. “In many cases, they eventually do receive this diagnosis.”

For the research, investigators evaluated the eating behaviors described in parent interviews of more than 2,000 children from two studies. They assessed the difference in the frequency of unusual eating behaviors between typical children and those with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other disorders.

Williams said the study data shows that atypical eating behaviors may help diagnostically distinguish autism from other disorders. Even though children from both groups have unusual eating habits, they are seven times more common in autism than in other disorders, according to the study data.

“This study provided further evidence that these unusual feeding behaviors are the rule and not the exception for children with autism,” Williams said.

Source: Penn State

Participating in Local Food Projects Linked to Improved Mental Health

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 7:00am

A new study U.K. study suggests that participating in local food projects may have a positive effect on well-being and psychological health.

Participation in community gardens, community supported agriculture, farmers’ markets, food cooperatives and the like have been growing, and consumers are increasingly interested in non-processed food.

Investigators have explored the physical health benefits of growing food, but systematic investigation into how local food projects may influence psychological well-being has been scarce. Discovery of a relationship between a local food scene and mental health provides a tremendous opportunity for public health workers.

Psychological well-being generates important benefits for people and societies, including good health, longevity, improved personal relationships, better productivity, and civic engagement.

Mental illness presents a growing global public health crisis in both the U.K. and U.S. In the United Kingdom, mental health contributes to 28 percent of the total financial cost of health care while in the U.S. cost of care and lost productivity result in a loss of more than $444 billion each year.

Using an online survey, researchers compared participants of local food initiatives across three English counties with members of the wider public. They found that those who participated in local food initiatives scored higher on standardized measures of well-being than those who did not participate.

They also explored why this might be the case, looking at four different mediators known to influence well-being: connection to nature, the satisfaction of basic psychological needs, better diets, and physical activity. Finally, they explored how different types of participation — longer durations or more active roles — influence well-being.

“These findings are encouraging to those of us looking at how sustainability and well-being interact,” said Dr. Zareen Bharucha, the study’s lead researcher.

“They show that we should be looking more seriously at projects such as allotments, community gardens, community supported agriculture, and farmers’ markets, which can bring people together, improve diets, improve connection to nature, and help people learn new things.

“All of these help to improve mental health, which is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time. At the same time, they help build the foundations of a really sustainable food system, which is also fundamental for the well-being of people and the planet.”

The study is slated to appear in the Journal of Public Health.

Source: Oxford University/EurekAlert