In The News
The rate of autism in children of all races is on the rise; however, students who are black, Hispanic, or American Indian are less likely to be identified with an autism spectrum disorder compared to white and Asian students. This is according to a new study published in The Journal of Special Education.
In the study, researchers figured out a risk index — a percentage of all enrolled students from a racial group with a specific disability. The index was based on data collected by the federal government from 1998 to 2006 regarding students in special education.
The overall risk of being categorized as having autism increased for all racial groups over that time period, from 0.09 percent to 0.37 percent.
However, white students were twice as likely to be identified as having an autism spectrum disorder as students who were Hispanic or American Indian/Alaska Native.
For Hispanic and American Indian students, the likelihood of autism diagnosis dropped behind the rate for students overall for every year during the study period.
In 1998 and 1999, black students were actually more likely than the overall student population to be identified as having autism.
But for the rest of the years in the research, they became less likely than the overall student population to carry that diagnosis. So, although every group’s rate was going up, the rates of groups other than black students were increasing much faster.
That switch from over-representation to under-representation was “pretty remarkable,” said study lead author Jason Travers, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Although it remains unclear why this is happening, some hypotheses are that minority students are being diagnosed with disabilities other than autism or they may be getting identified later than their white peers.
The likelihood of Asian students being diagnosed with autism was also higher than that of the overall student population for all of the years that were studied, coming very close to the risk index for white students.
Potential under-representation matters, Travers said, because early identification and treatment of autism is considered essential for best outcomes.
Identifying minority students “requires a great deal of cultural competence, to ensure disadvantaged children are not restricted from early intervention services,” he said.
Source: The Journal of Special Education
Patients with schizophrenia aren’t the only ones who hear voices.
According to international research, approximately five percent of the population hears voices, even though they are otherwise healthy.
So what is the difference — in terms of brain activity — between those who are healthy and hear voices and those who suffer from mental illness? How can understanding the differences help those suffering from schizophrenia?
These are some of the questions behind current research being conducted at the University of Bergen in Norway.
For a five-year period, researchers from the Bergen fMRI Group have been studying the brain processes that cause people to hear voices. A recent report published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience shows some of the group’s startling results.
“We have found that the primary auditory cortex of healthy people who hear voices responds less to outside stimulus than the corresponding area of the brain in people who don’t hear voices,” said lead author Kristiina Kompus, Ph.D., from the Department of Biological and Medical Psychology.
The primary auditory cortex is the region of the brain that processes sound.
The findings show that healthy people who hear voices share some attributes with schizophrenia patients, as the cortical region in both groups reacts less to outside stimulus.
However, there is an important difference between the two groups: those with schizophrenia have a reduced ability to regulate the primary auditory cortex using cognitive control, while those who hear voices but are healthy are able to do so.
“Because of this cognitive control, healthy people who hear voices are able to direct their attention outwards. This sets them apart from schizophrenics, who have a tendency to direct their attention inwards due to their decreased ability to regulate their primary auditory cortex,” said Kompus.
“These discoveries have brought us one step closer to understanding the hallucinations of schizophrenics and why the voices become a problem for some people but not for others.”
“We will do further research on the brain structure of people with auditory hallucinations. In particular, we wish to look at the brain’s networks that process outside voices.
“This is to establish whether these voice hallucinations and the outside voices occur in the same parts of the brain. We also wish to establish if hearing voices is a genetic trait,” she said.
Source: University of Bergen
Is it OK to harm one person to save many others? Those who tend to say “yes” when faced with this classic dilemma are likely to be deficient in a specific kind of empathy, according to a newly released study.
In their new study, co-authors Liane Young, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Boston College, and Ezequiel Gleichgerrcht, Ph.D., of Favaloro University, found that there is a “key relationship” between moral judgment and empathic concern, specifically feelings of warmth and compassion in response to someone in distress.
“A number of recent studies support the role of emotions in moral judgment, and in particular a dual-process model of moral judgment in which both automatic emotional processes and controlled cognitive processes drive moral judgment,” said Young.
Young said when people must choose whether to harm one person to save many, emotional processes typically support one type of non-utilitarian response, such as “don’t harm the individual,” while controlled processes support the utilitarian response, such as “save the greatest number of lives.”
“Our study showed that utilitarian judgment may arise not simply from enhanced cognitive control, but also from diminished emotional processing and reduced empathy,” she said.
In a series of experiments, utilitarian moral judgment was revealed to be specifically associated with reduced empathic concern, according to the researchers.
The study of 2,748 people consisted of three experiments involving moral dilemmas. In two of the experiments, a scenario was presented to participants in both “personal” and “impersonal” versions, according to the researchers.
In the first experiment’s “personal” version, participants were told they could push a large man to his death in front of an oncoming trolley to stop the trolley from killing five others in its path. In the “impersonal” version, participants were told they could flip a switch to divert the trolley.
In the second experiment’s “impersonal” scenario, participants were given the option of diverting toxic fumes from a room containing three people to a room containing only one person. In the “personal” scenario, participants were asked whether it was morally acceptable to smother a crying baby to death to save a number of civilians during wartime.
The final experiment included both a moral dilemma and a measure of selfishness.
The researchers asked participants if it was permissible to transplant the organs of one patient, against his will, to save the lives of five patients. To measure selfishness, researchers asked participants if it was morally permissible to report personal expenses as business expenses on a tax return to save money.
This experiment was designed to provide the researchers with a sense of whether utilitarian responders and selfish responders are alike in having lower empathetic concern. For example, do utilitarian responders endorse harming someone to save many because they endorse harmful, selfish acts more generally?
The results suggest that the answer is no, according to the researchers. They found that utilitarians appear to endorse harming one person to save many due to their reduced empathic concern and not due to a “generally deficient moral sense.”
In each experiment, those who reported lower levels of compassion and concern for other people — a key aspect of empathy — picked the utilitarian over the non-utilitarian response, the researchers reported.
However, other aspects of empathy, such as being able to see the perspective of others and feel distress at seeing someone else in pain, did not appear to play a significant role in these moral decisions, according to the research team. They also found that demographic and cultural differences, including age, gender, education and religion, also failed to predict moral judgments.
The study was published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
Source: Boston College
Levels of a certain stress hormone released by the placenta may be able to predict a woman’s risk of developing postpartum depression, according to a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.
Mothers who show high levels of the hormone—called placental corticotropin-releasing hormone (pCRH)—around the middle of their pregnancies (at 25 weeks) are more likely to be depressed three months after giving birth, compared with women whose levels are lower.
“Women who show high levels of this hormone prenatally are at increased risk,” said study co-author Laura Glynn, Ph.D., a psychologist at Chapman University in Orange, Calif.
The placenta produces varying amounts of the hormone pCRH over the course of pregnancy, with a sharp increase just before birth. Experts believe the hormone plays a role in timing when women deliver their babies.
For instance, women who deliver prematurely tend to have higher levels of pCRH than those who deliver at term. “It’s been called the placental clock,” said Glynn.
For the study, researchers measured hormone levels in the blood of 170 pregnant women at 15, 19, 25, 31 and 36 weeks of gestation. (Full-term pregnancies last 40 weeks.) The researchers also assessed the women’s levels of depression at three and six months after giving birth.
Women with high levels of pCRH around the middle of their pregnancies (at 25 weeks) were more likely to suffer from depression three months after giving birth, compared with women with low levels.
The researchers didn’t find a link between pCRH levels and depression at the six-month mark.
The research could help identify women who are at risk of postpartum depression before they give birth so that health care professionals could intervene early. It’s particularly important to identify the risk early on because postpartum depression can have long term effects.
“Not only is mom suffering, but her suffering is going to influence the development of the infant in a pretty profound way,” Glynn said.
The study shows an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship, between pCRH levels and postpartum depression. It is still unclear why high pCRH levels might predict the risk of depression, but Glynn said it could be that some women’s hormonal systems take longer to return to their pre-pregnant states.
The study also suggests that postpartum depression that appears just after birth may have different causes than depression that shows up later on.
Source: American Psychiatric Association
The association between menopause and memory alterations has been debated for decades.
New research finally confirms the assertion that a woman’s change of life may be associated with memory impairments.
In the study, published online in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), researchers used objective tests to prove that when a woman is stressed by hot flashes, her memory may be transformed.
In the past, some studies showed that hot flashes were related to memory problems, and some didn’t.
Other studies showed that, even though there was a relationship between hot flashes and what women said about memory problems, objective tests didn’t confirm it.
In the new study, researchers from the University of Illinois and Northwestern University gave a battery of eight tests of attention and recall to 68 women age 44 to 62 who had at least 35 hot flashes a week.
The women also completed questionnaires about their menopause symptoms, mood, and memory.
Investigators discovered that women who said they had trouble with memory really did.
Also, those who had more trouble with hot flashes did worse on the tests, and women with more hot flashes struggled longer with memory problems than women who had fewer hot flashes.
Furthermore, women who reported more negative emotions did worse on the tests than women who had fewer.
Childhood obesity is a growing concern in America with nearly one-third of all U.S. children ages 2-17 overweight or obese, finds a new study.
Some experts believe this health trend will prevent children from living as long as their parents, and will contribute to the demise of the health care system by the cost associated with caring for premature illness.
However, despite these public health challenges, research has been lacking on the contributing factors for childhood obesity.
Rachel Kimbro, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology at Rice and study co-author, explains that very little research has been conducted to explore the impact of family structure on this epidemic.
In the new study, Kimbro and colleagues found that children living in a traditional two-parent married household are less likely to be obese (17 percent obesity rate) than children living with cohabitating parents, who have a 31 percent obesity rate.
The obesity rate is even higher for children living with an adult relative (29 percent), single mother (23 percent) and cohabitating stepparent family (23 percent).
The study did not evaluate children of same-sex couples, due to lack of available data. The higher rates for nontraditional parent families were observed even after the researchers accounted for factors associated with childhood obesity, including diet, physical activity and socio-economic status.
The exception to this finding was children living with single fathers or in married stepparent households, who had an obesity rate of 15 percent.
Study results may be found in the Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk.
“Previous research has shown that single-father households tend to have more socio-economic resources than single-mother households,” Kimbro said.
“And since socio-economic status is the single greatest predictor of health, it serves to explain why children in single-father households may be less likely to be obese.”
The study, “Family Structure and Obesity Among U.S. Children,” examined the obesity rates of children living in traditional and nontraditional family structures in the U.S.
The research sample of 10,400 children comes from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Birth Cohort, a nationally representative study of U.S. children and their families designed to provide information on children’s development.
Data collection for the study began in 2001. The primary caregivers of the children participated in the first wave of the in-home interviews when their children were approximately 9 months old. Data was subsequently collected when the children were 2 years old, in preschool (approximately age 4) and in kindergarten.
The sample included children from diverse socio-economic, racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as an oversample of Asian, Pacific Islander, Alaska Native, American Indian, twins and low-birth-weight children. Forty-six percent of the children were racial or ethnic minorities, 25 percent were poor and 16 percent of the children had mothers without high school diplomas.
The interviews included assessments of the children’s height, weight and other measures of development, such as cognitive functioning. The children were organized in eight mutually exclusive categories designed to account for the children’s current family structure and the one they were born into.
The authors hope their research will inspire future studies of nontraditional family structures and their impact on health and weight.
“For reasons we cannot fully measure, there appears to be something about people who marry and have a child that is fundamentally different than the other groups, and these factors are also linked to children’s weight,” Kimbro said.
“Our hope is that this research will encourage further exploration of this topic,” said Kimbro’s co-author, Jennifer Augustine.
“There is substantial research on how family structure matters to other domains of children’s development, yet little research on why marriage and other family structure types might matter for children’s obesity.”
Kimbro and Augustine have already begun to lead this charge with a new project that examines the household-level processes associated with different family structures that may explain differences in young children’s risk of obesity.
Source: Rice University
,Researchers have discovered that people with high IQ’s have brains that are more efficient allowing them to have better visual perception.
That is, people with high IQ scores aren’t just more intelligent, they also process sensory information differently.
The study findings, published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology, explains that the brains of people with high IQ are automatically more selective when it comes to perceiving objects in motion.
As such, they are specifically more likely to suppress larger and less relevant background motion.
“It is not that people with high IQ are simply better at visual perception,” said Duje Tadin, Ph.D., of the University of Rochester.
“Instead, their visual perception is more discriminating. They excel at seeing small, moving objects but struggle in perceiving large, background-like motions.”
The discovery was made by asking people to watch videos showing moving bars on a computer screen.
Their task was to state whether the bars were moving to the left or to the right. The researchers measured how long the video had to run before the individual could correctly perceive the motion.
The results show that individuals with high IQ can pick up on the movement of small objects faster than low-IQ individuals can. That wasn’t unexpected, Tadin says.
The surprise came when tests with larger objects showed just the opposite: individuals with high IQ were slower to see what was right there in front of them.
“There is something about the brains of high-IQ individuals that prevents them from quickly seeing large, background-like motions,” Tadin adds.
In other words, it isn’t a conscious strategy but rather something automatic and fundamentally different about the way their brains work.
Researchers believe the ability to block out distraction is a significant advantage – especially in our information-overloaded environment. It helps to explain what makes some brains more efficient than others.
An efficient brain “has to be picky,” Tadin says.
Source: Cell Press
New research suggests that anxious people perform poorly in job interviews, with men having much more trouble than women.
“Most job applicants experience interview anxiety prior to and during interviews,” said University of Guelph psychology professor Dr. Deborah Powell, who conducted the study with Ph.D. student Amanda Feiler.
Anxiety often shows up as nervous tics, difficulty speaking and trouble coming up with answers, all of which are known to influence hiring outcomes, she said.
While men are no more anxious than women during job interviews, they experience significantly greater impairments from anxiety, find the authors.
The study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, involved 125 undergraduate students who participated in a mock interview: 43 men and 82 women.
Participants rated their own anxiety levels and had their anxiety and interview performance evaluated by an interviewer.
Overall, anxious men and women were rated lower on interview performance than their less-nervous counterparts. But nervous men were penalized the most, ranking far below equally nervous women in post-interview measures.
The researchers have several theories to explain the results.
“It could simply be that people have stereotypes about anxiety and that it’s more socially acceptable for a woman to be anxious,” Powell said, “while for men, it may look out of character. They may be expected to be less emotional and more assertive.”
Another reason could be that women and men might deal differently with anxiety, with women more likely to use effective coping strategies.
“They may practice being interviewed with a friend or seek emotional support by talking about their fears,” said Feiler.
“On average, men tend to engage more in avoidance. As a result men do less to prepare for the interview and perform worse.”
But what is clear, the researchers said, is that anxiety impairs candidates’ ability to perform in the job interview.
“It would be advantageous for both men and women to learn to effectively deal with their interview anxiety,” Feiler said.
More awareness among interviewers would also help, Powell added.
“Employers need to remember that interviews are anxiety-provoking. If people are feeling anxious, they might do more poorly in an interview than they would otherwise, and employers may be missing out on good candidates.”
Telling job candidates what to expect during the interview, including the types of questions to be asked, may reduce anxiety, Powell said.
The next stage of the research is to explore possible treatments.
“We know that interview anxiety is detrimental to performance in the job interview, so the logical next step for me is to discover strategies that are empirically based that would help,” Feiler said.
In the meantime, Powell has a few tips for job candidates to help reduce interview anxiety:
- Learn as much as you can about the company and about the selection procedures you’ll go through so that you’re not surprised on the day of the interview. Taking some of the uncertainty away from the selection process and interview might lower interview anxiety.
- Practice employment interviews by having a friend interview you. Trying to anticipate interview questions would be helpful and spend some time thinking about your past work experiences (so you’re not fretting about recalling past job experiences in the moment).
Research also suggests that when people are anxious, they appear less warm and enthusiastic, two key determinants are of interview performance, Powell said. “It is important that job candidates’ nerves do not affect the impression they are giving to interviewers.”
People should also remember that interview anxiety is not necessarily transparent, she added. “You may not look as nervous as how you feel. Try not to think too much about how nervous you appear to the interviewer.”
Source: University of Guelph
Depressed parents often have trouble relating to a child’s emotional state.
Dads are especially challenged to recognize a child’s developmental stage and abilities, and notice whether the child is getting frustrated or needs help.
But researchers from the University of Illinois found the effect of a dad’s depression is mitigated when fathers report a high level of emotional intimacy in their marriage.
“When a parent is interacting with their child, they need to be able to attend to the child’s emotional state, be cued in to his developmental stage and abilities, and notice whether he is getting frustrated or needs help. Depressed parents have more difficulty doing that,” said researcher Nancy McElwain, Ph.D.
But if a depressed dad has a close relationship with a partner who listens to and supports him, the quality of father-child interaction improves, she noted.
“A supportive spouse appears to buffer the effects of the father’s depression. We can see it in children’s behavior when they’re working with their dad. The kids are more persistent and engaged,” said Jennifer Engle, doctoral student and the study’s lead author.
Researchers evaluated data from a subset of 606 children and their parents who participated in the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.
When their child was 4½ years old, parents ranked themselves on two scales: one that assessed depressive symptoms and another that elicited their perceptions of emotional intimacy in their marriage. Parents were also observed interacting with their child during semi-structured tasks when the children were 4½, then 6½ years old.
“At this stage of a child’s development, an engaged parent is very important. The son’s or daughter’s ability to focus and persist with a task when they are frustrated is critical in making a successful transition from preschool to formal schooling,” Engle said.
Interestingly, the benefits of a supportive spouse did not help depressed mothers.
That may be because men and women respond to depression differently, she added.
“Men tend to withdraw; women tend to ruminate. We think that high emotional intimacy and sharing in the marriage may encourage a woman’s tendency to ruminate about her depression, disrupting her ability to be available and supportive with her children.”
Depressed men, on the other hand, are more likely to withdraw from their partners.
“This makes emotional intimacy in the marriage an important protective factor for fathers,” McElwain said.
The study emphasizes the need for depressed parents to seek support, if not from their spouses, from friends, family, and medical professionals, she added.
The article was published in the journal Developmental Psychology and is available online.
Source: University of Illinois
Emerging research suggests a link between insomnia and dysfunctional emotional regulation.
Investigators discovered neurobiological evidence for dysfunction in neural circuitry, a finding that may have implications for relationship between insomnia and depression.
As many as 10 to 15 percent of adults have an insomnia disorder with distress or daytime impairment, and nearly 7 percent of the U.S. adult population suffers from major depressive disorder.
Both insomnia and depression are more common in women than in men.
“Insomnia has been consistently identified as a risk factor for depression,” said lead author Peter Franzen, Ph.D.
“Alterations in the brain circuitry underlying emotion regulation may be involved in the pathway for depression, and these results suggest a mechanistic role for sleep disturbance in the development of psychiatric disorders.”
Researchers followed 14 individuals with chronic primary insomnia without other primary psychiatric disorders, as well as 30 good sleepers who served as a control group.
Participants underwent an functional magnetic resonance imaging scan during an emotion regulation task in which they were shown negative or neutral pictures.
They were asked to passively view the images or to decrease their emotional responses using cognitive reappraisal, a voluntary emotion regulation strategy in which you interpret the meaning depicted in the picture in order to feel less negative.
Researchers discovered that the primary insomnia group had significantly higher activity in the amygdala brain region during reappraisal than during passive viewing.
Located deep within the temporal lobe of the brain, the amygdala plays an important role in emotional processing and regulation.
In analysis between groups, amygdala activity during reappraisal trials was significantly greater in the primary insomnia group compared with good sleepers. The two groups did not significantly differ when passively viewing negative pictures.
“Previous studies have demonstrated that successful emotion regulation using reappraisal decreases amygdala response in healthy individuals,” said Franzen. ”Yet we were surprised that activity was even higher during reappraisal of, versus passive viewing of, pictures with negative emotional content in this sample of individuals with primary insomnia.”
Parents have long urged kids to finish their food. But new research suggests parents’ best intentions may be feeding bad habits.
Brigham Young University sociology professors Drs. Ben Gibbs and Renata Forste found that clinical obesity at 24 months of age strongly traces back to infant feeding.
“If you are overweight at age two, it puts you on a trajectory where you are likely to be overweight into middle childhood and adolescence and as an adult,” said Forste. “That’s a big concern.”
The BYU researchers analyzed data from more than 8,000 families and found that babies predominantly fed formula were 2-1/2 times more likely to become obese toddlers than babies who were breastfed for the first six months.
But, the study authors argue, this pattern is not just about breastfeeding.
“There seems to be this cluster of infant feeding patterns that promote childhood obesity,” said Gibbs, lead author of the study.
As presented in the journal Pediatric Obesity, putting babies to bed with a bottle increased the risk of childhood obesity by 36 percent.
And introducing solid foods too soon – before four months of age – increased a child’s risk of obesity by 40 percent.
“Developing this pattern of needing to eat before you go to sleep, those kinds of things discourage children from monitoring their own eating patterns so they can self-regulate,” Forste said.
Forste said that the nature of breastfeeding lends itself to helping babies recognize when they feel full and should stop. But that same kind of skill can be developed by formula-fed infants.
“You can still do things even if you are bottle feeding to help your child learn to regulate their eating practices and develop healthy patterns,” Forste said. “When a child is full and pushes away, stop! Don’t encourage them to finish the whole bottle.”
Breastfeeding rates are lowest in poor and less educated families. Sally Findley, Ph.D., a public health professor at Columbia University who was not involved in the study, said it shows that infant feeding practices are the primary reason that childhood obesity hits hardest below the poverty line.
“Bottle feeding somehow changes the feeding dynamic, and those who bottle feed, alone or mixed with some breastfeeding, are more likely to add cereal or sweeteners to their infant’s bottle at an early age, even before feeding cereal with a spoon,” said Findley.
Researchers next plan to reevaluate the link between breastfeeding and cognitive development in childhood. Forste has previously published research about why women stop breastfeeding.
“The health community is looking to the origins of the obesity epidemic, and more and more, scholars are looking toward early childhood,” Gibbs said. “I don’t think this is some nascent, unimportant time period. It’s very critical.”
Source: Brigham Young University
The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for cardiovascular health are well-known, as the American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish a week.
However, exactly how fatty fish aids heart health has been largely a mystery. New research suggests one way omega-3s may help is by counteracting the detrimental effects of mental stress on the heart.
A new study finds that volunteers who took fish oil supplements for several weeks had a blunted response to mental stress in several measurements of cardiovascular health.
Specifically, participants who took the fish oil supplements presented lower heart rates and muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) — part of the “fight or flight” response — compared to volunteers who took olive oil instead.
Researchers believe the results may explain why taking fish oil could be beneficial to the heart and might eventually help doctors prevent heart disease in select populations.
In the study, Carter and his colleagues worked with 67 adult volunteers. At the beginning of the study, each volunteer underwent a battery of tests to assess cardiovascular function, including heart rate, blood pressure, MSNA, and blood flow through the forearm and calf.
These tests were performed first when the volunteers were at rest, and then again while they were performing a mental arithmetic test while the investigator encouraged them to hurry, a situation designed to induce acute mental stress.
The study subjects were then nearly equally assigned to take either 9 grams of fish oil per day or 9 grams of olive oil, a placebo that hasn’t been shown to have the same beneficial cardiovascular effects as fish oil.
None of the volunteers were aware of which supplement they were taking. After 8 weeks of this intervention, the study subjects underwent the same tests again.
Investigators discovered test results didn’t change between the two groups of study subjects when they were at rest. But results for the volunteers who took fish oil and those who received the placebo differed significantly for some of the tests during the mental stress.
Those in the fish oil group showed blunted heart rate reactivity while they were stressed compared to those who took olive oil. Similarly, the total MSNA reactivity to mental stress was also blunted in the fish oil group.
Researchers say that future studies might focus on the effects of taking fish oil for longer time periods and examining this effect on older populations or people with cardiovascular disease.
“Overall,” the study authors say, “the data support and extend the growing evidence that fish oil may have positive health benefits regarding neural cardiovascular control in humans and suggest important physiological interactions between fish oil and psychological stress that may contribute to disease etiology.”
The study appears in the American Journal of Physiology.
Source: American Physiological Society
A new UK study finds that children who have suffered maltreatment are 36 percent more likely to be obese in adulthood compared to non-maltreated children.
Researchers from King’s College London estimate that the prevention or effective treatment of seven cases of child maltreatment could prevent one case of adult obesity.
Experts analyzed data from 190,285 individuals across 41 studies worldwide, and have published their results in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
Severe childhood maltreatment (physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect) affects approximately 1 in 5 children (under 18) in the UK and in the US.
Officials say that in addition to the long-term mental health consequences of maltreatment, there is increasing evidence that child maltreatment may affect physical health.
Dr. Andrea Danese, child and adolescent psychiatrist from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry and lead author of the study says: “We found that being maltreated as a child significantly increased the risk of obesity in adult life.
“Prevention of child maltreatment remains paramount and our findings highlight the serious long-term health effects of these experiences.”
Although experimental studies in animal models have previously suggested that early life stress is associated with an increased risk of obesity, evidence from population studies has been inconsistent.
Researchers believe the new meta review provides a comprehensive assessment of the evidence from all existing population studies.
From the analysis, the authors found that childhood maltreatment was associated with adult obesity.
This association was independent of the measures or definitions used for maltreatment or obesity, childhood or adult socioeconomic status, current smoking, alcohol intake, or physical activity.
Additionally, childhood maltreatment was not linked to obesity in children and adolescents, making it unlikely that the link was explained by reverse causality (i.e. children are maltreated because they were obese).
However, the analysis showed that when current depression was taken into account, the link between childhood maltreatment and adult obesity was no longer significant, suggesting that depression might help explain why some maltreated individuals become obese.
Previous studies offer possible biological explanations for this link.
Maltreated individuals may eat more because of the effects of early life stress on areas of the developing brain linked to inhibition of feeding, or on hormones regulating appetite.
Alternatively, maltreated individuals may burn fewer calories because of the effects of early life stress on the immune system leading to fatigue and reduced activity.
According to the study authors, future research will directly assess the link between maltreatment and adult obesity.
Source: King’s College London
New research suggests performing simple sensory exercises at home may improve the behaviors of children with autism.
The treatment, known as environmental enrichment, led to significant gains in behaviors among autistic boys between the ages of 3 and 12. Parents used everyday items such as scents, spoons and sponges to perform the sessions, said researchers from the University of California – Irvine.
Study co-authors Drs. Cynthia Woo and Michael Leon randomly assigned 28 boys to one of two groups, balanced for age and autism severity.
For half a year, all subjects participated in standard autism therapies, but those in one group also had daily sensory enrichment exercises.
Parents of these children were given a kit containing household products to increase environmental stimulation, including essential-oil fragrances such as apple, lavender, lemon and vanilla. The boys smelled four of these scents a day and listened to classical music each evening.
In addition, the parents conducted twice-daily sessions of four to seven exercises with their children involving different combinations of sensory stimuli — touch, temperature, sight and movement among them. Each session took 15 to 30 minutes to complete.
After six months of therapy, 42 percent of the children in the enrichment group showed significant improvement in behaviors commonly affected by autism — such as relating to people, having typical emotional responses and listening — compared with 7 percent in the standard-care group.
They also scored higher in cognitive function, whereas average scores for the boys in the standard-care group decreased. Moreover, 69 percent of parents in the enrichment group reported improvement, compared with 31 percent of parents in the standard-care group.
“Because parents can give their child sensory enrichment using items typically available in their home, this therapy provides a low-cost option for enhancing their child’s progress,” said Woo, an assistant project scientist in neurobiology and behavior.
Exposing children to enriched sensory experiences builds upon previous research in other laboratories in which animals exposed to such environments had a great reduction in the behavioral and cognitive symptoms associated with a wide range of neurological disorders, including those resembling autism.
The researchers noted that most current therapies for autism must be started at a very young age to be successful, while the average age in this study was six years, six months.
“We believe that sensory enrichment can be an effective therapy for the treatment of autism, particularly among children past the toddler stage,” said Leon, a professor of neurobiology and behavior affiliated with UC Irvine’s Center for Autism Research and Treatment.
“At the same time, we need to know whether we can optimize the treatment, whether there are subgroups of children for whom it’s more effective, whether the therapy works for older or younger children, and whether it can be effective on its own.”
He and Woo are now conducting a second, larger randomized clinical trial that includes girls.
“We’ve observed case studies in which the sensory enrichment therapy was used without any other therapy, and those children were clearly responsive to it,” Leon added.
“We hope this new treatment will benefit children with autism, their parents and society as a whole.”
Study results have been published online in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience.
Source: University of California–Irvine
Many believe expanding work pressures and 24/7/365 information channels are expanding the ranks of workaholics.
Workaholics tend to live in extremes, with great job satisfaction and creativity on the one hand and high levels of frustration and exhaustion on the other hand.
A new Florida State University study provides insight to managers on how to help these employees stay healthy and effective on the job.
For the research, Wayne Hochwarter, Ph.D., and research associate Daniel Herrera studied more than 400 employees in professional and administrative occupations.
They found about 60 percent of these workers identified themselves as workaholics who characteristically “feel guilty when taking time off.” These self-identified workaholics reported positive and negative career consequences.
For example, workaholics reported they gave more effort compared to other workers, but they also experienced more tension. They were more willing to help others, yet were more likely to view co-workers as feeling entitled.
“We found that there is an optimal level of workaholism for job effectiveness and positive health,” Hochwarter said.
“However, when in excessively low or high ranges, both the company and the employee are likely to suffer.”
Identified workaholics were divided into those who had access to resources, such as personnel, rest, equipment and social support at work, and those who did not.
“We discovered that workaholics really struggle when they feel that they are alone or swimming upstream without a paddle,” Hochwarter said.
Workaholics who said they had access to resources reported:
- 40 percent higher rate of job satisfaction;
- 33 percent lower rate of burnout;
- 30 percent higher rate of perceived job importance;
- 30 percent lower rate of exclusion from others;
- 25 percent higher rate of career fulfillment;
- 20 percent lower rate of work frustration.
“Given the volatility in today’s work environment, the ability to work hard, contribute long hours and demonstrate value is at a premium,” Herrera said. “Thus, workaholism will likely remain alive and well for years to come.”
But there are ways to guide the efforts of workaholics in positive directions, researchers said.
First, leaders should meet with workaholics to determine what physical and social resources they need and then help increase their accessibility to those resources in fair and reasonable ways, according to the researchers.
Managers often assume that workaholics simply want others to get out of their way. In reality, the goal of most workaholics is to contribute to the company, achieve personal success and see how their efforts affect the bottom line — objectives that are much more likely achieved with resources.
Second, managers need to have more realistic expectations, they said. Workaholics are often the company’s most productive employees — serving as the manager’s “go-to” worker when an important project surfaces or a deadline looms.
Because of their value, managers have a tendency to run workaholics into the ground, promising a future chance to recharge that often never happens.
“Having realistic expectations that take into account both the work, and the person doing the work, is essential,” Hochwarter said.
Source: Florida State University
Emerging research suggests children who are exposed to secondhand smoke in early childhood are more likely to grow up to be physically aggressive and antisocial.
The antisocial tendencies occurred regardless of whether they were exposed during pregnancy or if their parents have a history of being antisocial, said researchers from the University of Montreal.
“Secondhand smoke is in fact more dangerous that inhaled smoke, and 40 percent of children worldwide are exposed to it. Moreover, exposure to this smoke at early childhood is particularly dangerous, as the child’s brain is still developing,” said Linda Pagani.
“I looked at data that was collected about 2,055 kids from their birth until ten years of age, including parent reports about secondhand smoke exposure and from teachers and children themselves about classroom behavior.
“Those having been exposed to secondhand smoke, even temporarily, were much more likely to report themselves as being more aggressive by time they finished fourth grade.”
The study is found in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Given that it would be unethical to exposure children to secondhand smoke, Pagani relied on longitudinal data collected by Quebec health authorities from birth onward on an annual basis.
Because parents went about raising their children while participating in the study, the data provided a natural experiment of variations in the child population of household smoke exposure throughout early childhood.
Although no direct causal link can be determined, the statistical correlation suggests that secondhand smoke exposure does forecast deviant behavior in later childhood.
The very detailed information collated for the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development enabled her to do something no other researcher has done to date: distinguish the unique contribution of secondhand smoke exposure on children’s later deviant behavior.
“Previous studies looking at groups of children have generally asked mothers whether they smoked or not, and how much at each follow-up, rather than asking whether someone smoked in the home where young children live and play,” Pagani said.
“Furthermore, few studies have looked at antisocial behavior in the parents and even fewer have investigated the subsequent influence of prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke over the long term. None have taken into account the fact that disadvantaged families are less likely to participate in a long study like this one, which of course skews the statistics.”
The statistics are backed by other biological studies into the effects of smoke on the brain.
Secondhand smoke comprises 85 percent sidestream smoke emanated from a burning cigarette and 15 percent inhaled and then exhaled mainstream smoke.
Sidestream smoke is considered more toxic than mainstream smoke because it contains a higher concentration of many dispersed respirable pollutants over a longer exposure period.
“We know that the starvation of oxygen caused by smoke exposure in the developing central nervous system can cause low birth weight and slowed fetal brain growth,” Pagani said.
“Environmental sources of tobacco smoke represent the most passive and preventable cause of disease and disability. Researchers conclude that the study shows that the postnatal period is important for the prevention of impaired neurobehavioral development.”
Source: University of Montreal
Emerging research supports the concept of “suicide contagion” as investigators discovered kids who had a schoolmate die by suicide were significantly more likely to consider or attempt suicide.
As published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal), this effect can last 2 years or more, which has implications for strategies following schoolmate suicides.
“We found that exposure to suicide predicts suicidality,” writes senior author Ian Colman, Ph.D., Canada Research Chair in Mental Health Epidemiology and lead author Sonja Swanson, from Harvard School of Public Health, Boston.
“This was true for all age groups, although exposure to suicide increased the risk most dramatically in the youngest age group, when baseline suicidality was relatively low.”
The concept that exposure to suicide can create suicidal thoughts or actions is called “suicide contagion.”
Investigators reviewed data from Canada’s National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth comprising 22,064 children aged 12 to 17 years old from across the country.
They found that the suicide of a schoolmate magnifies the risk of suicidality for a young person, regardless of whether the young person personally knew the deceased.
This risk was particularly strong among 12 to 13 year olds, who were five times more likely to have suicidal thoughts (suicide ideation) after exposure to a schoolmate’s suicide than those who had had no exposure (15 percent v. 3 percent).
In this age group, 7.5 percent attempted suicide after a schoolmate’s suicide compared with 1.7 percent without exposure.
“Suicidality is of utmost public health concern, both as a predictor of suicide and because of its own burden on individuals and society,” write the authors.
The apparent “suicide contagion” effect was less pronounced in older children, although 14 to 15 year olds exposed to suicide were still almost three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, and 16 to 17 year olds were twice as likely.
“Perhaps any exposure to a peer’s suicide is relevant, regardless of the proximity to the decedent,” they write.
“It may be best for postvention strategies to include all students rather than target close friends.”
By ages 16-17 years, 2 percent of teens — 1 in 4 — had a schoolmate die by suicide, and 20 percent personally knew someone who died by suicide.
“Given that such exposure is not rare, and appears to be strongly related to suicidality outcomes, further understanding of this association has the potential to help in the prevention of a substantial proportion of adolescent suicidal behaviors,” write the authors.
Researchers believe that broader, longer-lasting strategies are necessary to support friends and classmates.
“Our findings support school- or community-wide interventions over strategies targeting those who personally knew the decedent, suggests that allocating resources following an event may be especially important during earlier adolescence, and implies that schools and communities should be aware of an increased risk for at least 2 years following a suicide event,” the authors conclude.
In a related commentary, India Bohanna, Ph.D., of James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, said the study “provides convincing evidence that, among young people, exposure to suicide is a risk factor for future suicidal behavior.
“This is extremely important because it tells us that everyone who is exposed to suicide should be considered when post prevention strategies are developed.”
Bohanna said strategies to limit the risk of suicide contagion are critical.
“The idea that suicide is contagious has always been controversial for various reasons; however, this important study should put many, if not all, doubts to rest,” she said.
“A unified and concerted effort now needs to be directed toward developing evidence-based post-prevention strategies. We need to know what works in mitigating the risk of contagion and why.”
Researchers have discovered that men diagnosed as children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were twice as likely to be obese adults.
Investigators from the Child Study Center at New York University’s Langone Medical Center report the results of the 33-year follow-up study online in the journal Pediatrics.
“Few studies have focused on long-term outcomes for patients diagnosed with ADHD in childhood. In this study, we wanted to assess the health outcomes of children diagnosed with ADHD, focusing on obesity rates and body mass index,” said lead author Francisco Xavier Castellanos, M.D.
“Our results found that even when you control for other factors often associated with increased obesity rates such as socioeconomic status, men diagnosed with ADHD were at a significantly higher risk to suffer from high BMI and obesity as adults.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ADHD is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders, often diagnosed in childhood and lasting into adulthood.
People with ADHD typically have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors and tend to be overly active. ADHD has an estimated worldwide prevalence of five percent, with men more likely to be diagnosed than women.
The longitudinal prospective study included 207 white men diagnosed with ADHD at an average age of 8 and a comparison group of 178 men not diagnosed with childhood ADHD. Participants were matched for race, age, residence and social class.
The average age at follow up was 41 years old. The study was designed to compare body mass index (BMI) and obesity rates in grown men with and without childhood ADHD.
Results showed that, on average, men with childhood ADHD had significantly higher BMI (30.1 vs. 27.6) and obesity rates (41.1 percent vs. 21.6 percent) than men without childhood ADHD.
“The results of the study are concerning but not surprising to those who treat patients with ADHD. Lack of impulse control and poor planning skills are symptoms often associated with the condition and can lead to poor food choices and irregular eating habits,” noted Castellanos.
“This study emphasizes that children diagnosed with ADHD need to be monitored for long-term risk of obesity and taught healthy eating habits as they become teenagers and adults.”
Source: NYU Langone Medical Center
As students prepare for final exams, some will turn to a prescription amphetamine or other stimulant to gain an academic edge.
Yet a new University of Michigan poll shows only one in 100 parents of teens 13 to 17 years old believes that their teen has used a study drug.
Study drugs often include stimulant medications prescribed for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Common drugs abused for this purpose include Adderall, Concerta, Ritalin, and Vyvanse.
Researchers discovered that among parents of teens who have not been prescribed a stimulant medication for ADHD, only 1 percent believes their teen has used a study drug to help study or improve grades.
The finding stems from the latest University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.
However, recent national data from the Monitoring the Future survey indicates that 10 percent of high school sophomores and 12 percent of high school seniors say they have used an amphetamine or other stimulant medication not prescribed by their doctor.
Experts say that students without ADHD will take someone else’s medication, to try to stay awake and alert and try to improve their scores on exams or assignments.
However, taking study drugs has not been proven to improve students’ grades, and it can be very dangerous to their health, says Matthew M. Davis, M.D., M.A.P.P., director of the Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.
“Taking these medications when they are not prescribed for you can lead to acute exhaustion, abnormal heart rhythms and even confusion and psychosis if the teens get addicted and go into withdrawal,” said Davis.
“What we found in this poll is a clear mismatch between what parents believe and what their kids are reporting. But even though parents may not be recognizing these behaviors in their own kids, this poll also showed that one-half of the parents say they are very concerned about this abuse in their communities,” he said.
White parents were most likely to say they are “very concerned” (54 percent), compared with black (38 percent) and Hispanic/Latino (37 percent) parents.
Despite this concern, only 27 percent of parents polled said they have talked to their teens about using study drugs. Black parents were more likely to have discussed this issue with their teens (41 percent), compared with white (27 percent) or Hispanic (17 percent) parents.
“If we are going to make a dent in this problem, and truly reduce the abuse of these drugs, we need parents, educators, health care professionals and all who interact with teens to be more proactive about discussing the issue,” Davis said.
More than three-quarters of parents polled said they support school policies aimed at stopping abuse of study drugs in middle schools and high schools. Overall, 76 percent of parents said they believe schools should be required to discuss the dangers of ADHD medication abuse.
Moreover, 79 percent of parents support a policy to require students with a prescription for ADHD medications to keep their pills in a secure location such as the school nurse’s office.
This requirement could prohibit students from carrying such drugs which could potentially be shared with, or sold to, other students.
“We know teens may be sharing drugs or spreading the word that these medications can give their grades a boost,” Davis said.
“But the bottom line is that these prescription medications are drugs, and teens who use them without a prescription are taking a serious risk with their health.”
Sourc: University of Michigan
A new study of elite male strength athletes finds a link between use of anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) and mental health problems later in life.
This is the main conclusion of a new University of Gothenburg study recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The study included almost 700 former Swedish wrestlers, weightlifters, powerlifters and throwers who competed at the elite level sometime between 1960 and 1979.
Twenty per cent of them admitted using steroids during their active careers. The purpose of the study was to look for links between AAS use and mental problems.
“We found a clear link. AAS users were more likely to have been treated for depression, concentration problems and aggressive behavior,” said researcher and psychologist Dr. Claudia Fahlke.
Investigators also found that AAS users were more likely to have abused other illicit drugs and alcohol.
Still, it remains unclear whether the steroid use actually caused the mental health problems or the mental health problems rather caused the steroid use.
‘What we were able to show, though, is that psychiatric symptoms and use of steroids and other drugs tend to reinforce each other in a vicious cycle,” Fahlke said.
“This suggests that the anti-doping efforts remain very important, both in and outside of sports.”
Source: University of Gothenburg