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The Health Edge

Familiarity With Television Fast Food Ads Linked to Obesity

April 29th 2012


Adolescents and young adults who recognized TV ads for quick-service restaurants more likely to be overweight. There is a long-held concern that youths who eat a lot of fast food are at risk for becoming overweight. New research shows that greater familiarity with fast-food restaurant advertising on television is associated with obesity in young people. "We know that children and adolescents are highly exposed to fast-food restaurant advertising, particularly on television. This study links obesity in young people to familiarity with this advertising, suggesting that youth who are aware of and receptive to televised fast-food marketing may be at risk for health consequences," said lead author Auden C. McClure, MD, MPH, FAAP, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Previous research has shown that watching TV is associated with obesity. Dr. McClure and her colleagues sought to determine whether recognition of fast-food ads on TV is associated with obesity in adolescents and young adults. The researchers surveyed a national sample of 3,342 youths ages 15 to 23 years. Participants were asked about their height, weight, age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, exercise, consumption of soda or sweet drinks, frequency of eating at quick-service restaurants, how many hours they watched TV each day, and whether they snacked while watching TV.

They also were shown 20 still images selected from television ads for top quick-service restaurants that aired in the year before the survey. The images were digitally edited to remove the brands. Individuals were asked if they remembered seeing the ad, if they liked the ad and if they could name the restaurant brand. In addition, they were shown 20 ads for alcohol. Results showed that about 18 percent of participants surveyed were overweight, and 15 percent were obese. The percentage of youths who were obese was significantly higher among those who recognized more ads than those who recognized few ads (17 percent vs. 8.3 percent). Even after controlling for the variables listed above, youths who recognized many ads were more than twice as likely to be obese compared with those who recognized few ads. Read more ..

Inside Africa

Banda and Sirleaf Pave Way for More African Female Leaders

April 29th 2012

Joyce Banda
Joyce Banda

Joyce Banda’s swearing in as president of Malawi this month made her the second female head of state in Africa - following Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s election victory in Liberia in 2005. Many see this as a key advance for women on a continent that has been dominated by male political figures.

John Kapito, chairman of the Malawi Human Rights Commission, has been following Joyce Banda’s career for many years. He watched in 1990 as Banda founded the National Association of Business Women, which provides training and loans to women wanting to start up small-scale businesses. 

He also followed the creation of the Joyce Banda Foundation, a charity that helps orphans and low-income children in Malawi get an education. In 1997 Banda was awarded the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger - conferred by the U.S.-based Hunger Project. Banda’s slow but steady climb to the top has not been easy. She walked away from an abusive marriage in 1981 at a time when most women stayed in such situations. Much later, as vice president of Malawi and also deputy president of the ruling party, she lost her party position after refusing to support then-president Bingu wa Mutharika in his bid to have his brother take over the presidency. So, after Mutharika died suddenly at the beginning of April, Vice President Joyce Banda became President Joyce Banda. Read more ..

South Africa on Edge

Infamous Johannesburg Minibus Taxi Drivers Trained to Behave

April 28th 2012

Taxi Driver Protest
Taxi Driver Protest

In South Africa, minibus taxis are the most used and yet the most dangerous public transport. They account for double the rate of crashes than all other passenger vehicles. It is rush hour for one of the busiest taxi stands in downtown Johannesburg. Hundreds of people zigzag through the lined-up minibus taxis. One passerby almost gets hit by a taxi as it suddenly pulls out of the parking area. South Africans have a live-hate relationship with minubus taxis. Princess has been using them for over 20 years. "I take taxis because to me, it's quick, and it’s cheaper than the bus," said Princess, who is among the 65 percent of South Africans who use minibus taxis every day. The minibus taxis came into use in the 1980s, under the apartheid, to take black workers from their restricted home communities to work and back. But now it is the most available and affordable means of transportation in the country. Despite its popularity, the minibuses have a disastrous reputation for dangerous and careless driving, posing hazards to not only all cars on the road - but the very passengers who support the taxi business. Read more ..

The Edge of Society

Can Nature's Beauty Lift Citizens From Poverty?

April 28th 2012

Hawaii bay

Using nature's beauty as a tourist draw can boost conservation in China's valued panda preserves, but it isn't an automatic ticket out of poverty for the humans who live there, a unique long-term study shows.

Often those who benefit most from nature-based tourism are people who already have resources. The truly impoverished have a harder time breaking into the tourism business, according to the paper, "Drivers and Socioeconomic Impacts of Tourism Participation in Protected Areas," published in the April 25 edition of PLoS One.

The study looks at nearly a decade of burgeoning tourism in the Wolong Nature Reserve in Southwestern China. China, like many areas in the world, banks on tourism over farming for economic viability, while attempting to preserve fragile animal habitat. But until now, no one has taken a close look at the long-term implications for people economically. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Slow-Growing Babies More Likely in Normal-Weight Women; Less Common in Obese Pregnancies

April 28th 2012


Obesity during pregnancy puts women at higher risk of a multitude of challenges. But, according to a new study presented earlier this month at the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine annual convention, fetal growth restriction, or the poor growth of a baby while in the mother’s womb, is not one of them. In fact, study authors from the University of Rochester Medical Center found that the incidence of fetal growth restriction was lower in obese women when compared to non-obese women.

Researchers, led by senior study author and high-risk pregnancy expert Loralei Thornburg, M.D., conducted the study because a wealth of data shows that obese women are at greater risk of fetal death or stillbirth. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, doctors don’t know why. Thornburg’s team wanted to determine if fetal growth restriction – which increases the likelihood of stillbirth – might play a role. She says growth restriction may go undiagnosed in obese women because it can be difficult to get an accurate measure of mom’s belly size, which is a tool used to gauge the baby’s growth – or lack of growth.

“We wondered if the increased risk of stillbirth could be due to a high level of undiagnosed growth restriction – the idea being that if the physician doesn’t know that the baby is too small then they don’t know that mom and baby need additional monitoring, which is essential to prevent fetal death,” said Thornburg, an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Medical Center whose research focuses on obesity in pregnancy.

The team, including lead study author and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Fellow Dzhamala Gilmandyar, M.D., found that growth restriction was significantly lower in obese and diabetic women; it was higher in women with preeclampsia, or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, and smokers – a finding in line with past research. Of the babies that had growth restriction, they determined how many moms were given an accurate diagnosis before birth and found that the rate was the same for obese and non-obese women, suggesting that missed diagnoses are not a major problem in obese pregnancies. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Unlike their Fathers, Generation X Adults Show involvement in Buying and Preparing Food

April 27th 2012

Delucas Market boston ma by electric porcupine

Generation X adults prepare an average of 10 meals a week, and eat out or buy fast food an average of three times a week, according to a University of Michigan report that details the role food plays in the lives of Americans born between 1961 and 1981.

GenX men are surprisingly involved in shopping for food and cooking, the report shows. They go grocery shopping more than once a week, on average, and cook an average of about eight meals a week—much more often than their fathers did. "I was surprised to see how often GenX men shop and cook," said Jon Miller, author of The Generation X Report. "Women, particularly married women, are still doing more cooking and shopping. But men are much more involved in these activities than they used to be. The stereotype that men can't do much more in the kitchen than boil water just can't hold water, as it were."

Using data from about 3,000 young adults collected as part of the ongoing Longitudinal Study of American Youth funded by the National Science Foundation, the report details where GenXers look for information about food, how often they entertain at home and how they feel about organic and genetically modified foods. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Genes Shed Light on Spread of Agriculture in Stone Age Europe

April 27th 2012

Human Skull

One of the most debated developments in human history is the transition from hunter‑gatherer to agricultural societies. This week's edition of Science presents the genetic findings of a Swedish‑Danish research team, which show that agriculture spread to Northern Europe via migration from Southern Europe. "We have been able to show that the genetic variation of today's Europeans was strongly affected by immigrant Stone Age farmers, though a number of hunter-gatherer genes remain," says Assistant Professor Anders Götherström of the Evolutionary Biology Centre, who, along with Assistant Professor Mattias Jakobsson, co-led the study, a collaboration with Stockholm University and the University of Copenhagen.

"What is interesting and surprising is that Stone Age farmers and hunter-gatherers from the same time had entirely different genetic backgrounds and lived side by side for more than a thousand years, to finally interbreed," Mattias Jakobsson says. Agriculture developed in the Middle East about 11,000 years ago and by about 5,000 years ago had reached most of Continental Europe.

How the spread of agriculture progressed and how it affected the people living in Europe have been debated for almost 100 years. Earlier studies were largely based on small amounts of genetic data and were therefore unable to provide univocal answers. Was agriculture an idea that spread across Europe or a technique that a group of migrants took with them to different regions of the continent?

"Many attempts, including using genetics, have been made to come to terms with the problem since the significance of the spread of agriculture was established almost 100 years ago," Anders Götherström says. "Our success in carrying out this study depended on access to good material, modern laboratory methods and a high level of analytical expertise." Read more ..

The Spiritual Edge

Analytic Thinking Can Decrease Religious Belief

April 26th 2012

Praying under a Purple Sky

A new University of British Columbia study finds that analytic thinking can decrease religious belief, even in devout believers. The study finds that thinking analytically increases disbelief among believers and skeptics alike, shedding important new light on the psychology of religious belief.

"Our goal was to explore the fundamental question of why people believe in a God to different degrees," says lead author Will Gervais, a PhD student in UBC's Dept. of Psychology. "A combination of complex factors influence matters of personal spirituality, and these new findings suggest that the cognitive system related to analytic thoughts is one factor that can influence disbelief." Researchers used problem-solving tasks and subtle experimental priming – including showing participants Rodin's sculpture The Thinker or asking participants to complete questionnaires in hard-to-read fonts – to successfully produce "analytic" thinking. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Better Patient Screening Needed to Prevent Surgical Outpatient Blood Clots

April 26th 2012


A University of Michigan Health System study examined who’s having outpatient surgery in the U.S. today, and showed 1 in 84 highest-risk patients suffers a dangerous blood clot after surgery. Hospitalized patients are often warned of the possibility of venous thromboembolism, which include blood clots that can form in the veins and travel to the lungs.

However these warnings have not necessarily been extended to the outpatient surgery population, says U-M surgeon and lead study author Christopher J. Pannucci, M.D. With more than 60 percent of procedures now being done in the outpatient setting, the U-M study revealed a need for better patient screening of the large and growing group of patients having outpatient surgery.

“Once a setting for those having simple procedures, outpatient surgery now includes a greater variety of procedures from plastic surgery to cancer operations and orthopedic surgery, and not all patients are young, healthy individuals,” says Pannucci, a resident in the U-M Section of Plastic Surgery. Read more ..

The Health Edge

Small 'Neural Focus Groups' Predict Anti-Smoking Ad Success

April 25th 2012

cigarette burning

Brain scans of a small group of people can predict the actions of entire populations, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Michigan, the University of Oregon and the University of California at Los Angeles. The findings are relevant to political advertising, commercial market research and public health campaigns, and broaden the use of brain imaging from a diagnostic to a predictive tool. As opposed to the wisdom of the crowd, the study suggests that the neurological reactions of a few—reactions that people are not even consciously aware of and that differ from the opinions they express—can predict the responses of many other people to ad campaigns promoting specific behaviors. "Brain responses to ads forecasted the ads' success when other predictors failed," said Emily Falk, director of the U-M Communication Neuroscience Lab and lead author of the study. "Our findings could help design better health campaigns. This is a key step in reducing the number of smokers and reducing deaths from cancer, heart disease and other smoking-related illnesses."

The findings, she said, might also help produce more effective political campaign ads and provide a neural roadmap to why some videos, fashions, behaviors and ideas go viral, moving from one person to many thousands of others via social media. Read more ..

The Health Edge

Intense light Prevents, Treats Heart Attacks

April 25th 2012

Baby Boomer

There are lots of ways to treat a heart attack – CPR, aspirin, clot-busters and more. Now CU medical school researchers have found a new candidate: Intense light. "The study suggests that strong light, or even just daylight, might ease the risk of having a heart attack or suffering damage from one," says Tobias Eckle, MD, PhD, an associate professor of anesthesiology, cardiology, and cell and developmental biology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. "For patients, this could mean that daylight exposure inside of the hospital could reduce the damage that is caused by a heart attack." What's the connection between light and a myocardial infarction, known commonly as a heart attack? The answer lies, perhaps surprisingly, in the circadian rhythm, the body's clock that is linked to light and dark. The circadian clock is regulated by proteins in the brain. But the proteins are in other organs as well, including the heart. Eckle and Holger Eltzschig, MD, a CU professor of anesthesiology, found that one of those proteins, called Period 2, plays a crucial role in fending off damage from a heart attack. With an international team of expert scientists, including collaborators from CU's Division of Cardiology and the mucosal inflammation program. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Shedding Light on Southpaws

April 25th 2012

baseball glove bat ball

Sports data help confirm theory explaining left-handed minority in general population. Lefties have always been a bit of a puzzle. Representing only 10 percent of the general human population, left-handers have been viewed with suspicion and persecuted across history. The word "sinister" even derives from "left or left-hand." Two Northwestern University researchers now report that a high degree of cooperation, not something odd or sinister, plays a key role in the rarity of left-handedness. They developed a mathematical model that shows the low percentage of lefties is a result of the balance between cooperation and competition in human evolution. Professor Daniel M. Abrams and his graduate student Mark J. Panaggio -- both right-handers -- are the first to use real-world data (from competitive sports) to test and confirm the hypothesis that social behavior is related to population-level handedness. "The more social the animal -- where cooperation is highly valued -- the more the general population will trend toward one side," said Abrams, an assistant professor at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. Read more ..

Health Edge

Advances Made in Understanding Alzheimer's

April 25th 2012

glowing neuron

Changes in the epigenome, a structure that controls the function of genes, were found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

These epigenetic changes can be caused by exposure to environmental toxicants or lifestyle behaviors, according to a study out of the University of Michigan School of Public Health. If researchers can establish a causal link between epigenetic changes and toxicants, it could lead to new treatments, or even the prevention of Alzheimer's disease. This paper did not look at specific toxicants, but future studies in this body of research will, said Laura Rozek, assistant professor in the SPH and study co-author.

Further, these epigenetic changes, which cause genes to behave differently over a person's lifetime, could be reversible. The researchers found higher rates of a kind of an epigenetic change called methylation in genes located in the brains of people with Alzheimer's, said Rozek, who also has an appointment in the Department of Otolaryngology at the U-M Health System.

"Our next step is to look at exposures that occurred earlier in life and try to link those exposures to the epigenetic changes we saw in the brain," Rozek said. "That way we may find evidence that toxicants are linked to the epigenetic changes that are present in the brains in the people with Alzheimer's." Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

'Inhabitants Of Madrid' Ate Elephants’ Meat And Bone Marrow 80,000 Years Ago

April 25th 2012

Elephant Bone
Elephant Bone with Cuts

Humans that populated the banks of the river Manzanares (Madrid, Spain) during the Middle Palaeolithic (between 127,000 and 40,000 years ago) fed themselves on pachyderm meat and bone marrow. This is what a Spanish study shows and has found percussion and cut marks on elephant remains in the site of Preresa (Madrid). In prehistoric times, hunting animals implied a risk and required a considerable amount of energy. Therefore, when the people of the Middle Palaeolithic (between 127,000 and 40,000 years ago) had an elephant in the larder, they did not leave a scrap. Humans that populated the Madrid region 84,000 years ago fed themselves on these prosbocideans' meat and they consumed their bone marrow, according to this new study. Until now, the scientific community doubted that consuming elephant meat was a common practice in that era due to the lack of direct evidence on the bones. It is still to be determined whether they are from the Mammuthus species of the Palaleoloxodon subspecies. The researchers found bones with cut marks, made for consuming the meat, and percussion for obtaining the bone marrow. "There are many sites, but few with fossil remains with marks that demonstrate humans' purpose" Jose Yravedra, researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) in the points out to SINC. This is the first time that percussion marks that showed an intentional bone fracture to get to the edible part inside have been documented. These had always been associated with tool manufacturing but in the remains found, this hypothesis was discarded. The tools found in the same area were made of flint and quartzite. Read more ..

The Age fo Aging

Vibrating Steering Wheel Guides Drivers While Keeping Their Eyes On The Road

April 24th 2012


A vibrating steering wheel is an effective way to keep a driver's eyes safely on the road by providing an additional means to convey directions from a car's navigation system, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and AT&T Labs have shown. The study, one of the first to evaluate combinations of audio, visual and haptic feedback for route guidance, found that younger drivers in particular were less distracted by a navigation system's display screen when they received haptic feedback from the vibrating steering wheel. For elder drivers, the haptic feedback reinforced the auditory cues they normally prefer. Though the haptic steering wheel generally improved driver performance and safety, the study findings suggest that simply giving the driver additional sensory inputs isn't always optimal.

That's particularly the case for older drivers because the additional sensory feedback can strain the brain's capacity to process it. "Our findings suggest that, as navigation systems become more elaborate, it would be best to personalize the sensory feedback system based, at least in part, on the driver's age," said SeungJun Kim, systems scientist in Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII). Vibrating steering wheels already are used by some car makers to alert drivers to such things as road hazards. But the haptic steering wheel under development by AT&T is capable of unusually nuanced pulsations and thus can convey more information. Twenty actuators on the rim of the AT&T wheel can be fired in any order. In this study, firing them in a clockwise sequence told a driver to turn right, while a counterclockwise sequence signaled a left turn. "By using these types of vibration cues, we are taking advantage of what people are already familiar with, making them easier to learn," explained Kevin A. Li, a researcher with AT&T's user interface group in Florham Park, NJ. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Whooping Cough is Making a Dangerous Come-Back in the U.S.

April 24th 2012

innoculation of child

Two population ecologists at the University of Michigan have been awarded a $1.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for a five-year study that will try to explain the changing patterns of whooping cough outbreaks, using records from several countries spanning more than 70 years.

Thanks to widespread childhood vaccination, whooping cough (pertussis) once seemed to be under control. But the bacterial illness, which in infants causes violent, gasping coughing spells, has made a comeback in the United States and some other developed countries since the 1980s. In addition, there's been a shift in who's getting sick, with fewer cases seen in preschool children and more in teenagers.

Unlike a conventional epidemiological investigation of a disease outbreak, the new U-M study will rely heavily on the use of long-term incidence reports, mathematical models of pertussis transmission and statistical methods for extracting information from data. Records from recent and historical outbreaks in several countries – including England, Wales, Sweden, Denmark, Senegal and the United States – will be analyzed. Read more ..

The Sports Edge

Over-Use Injuries from Repetitious Training Sessions Affect Women more often than Men

April 23rd 2012

Injured female soccer player

Overuse injuries – found most often in low-contact sports that involve long training sessions or where the same movement is repeated numerous times – make up nearly 30 percent of all injuries sustained by collegiate athletes.

And a majority of overuse injuries (62 percent) occurred in females athletes, according to a new study published in the current edition of the Journal of Athletic Training, the National Athletic Trainers' Association scientific publication.

"Overuse injuries may present not only physical challenges but also psychological ones that could significantly affect an athlete's recovery and performance," said study co-author Tracey Covassin, a certified athletic trainer at Michigan State University and a member of the Department of Kinesiology. "Understanding the frequency, rate and severity of overuse injuries is an important first step for designing effective injury-prevention programs, intervention strategies and treatment protocols to prevent and rehabilitate athletes with these types of injuries." Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia Rallies 'In Defense' Of Orthodox Faith

April 22nd 2012

Christ The Savior Church in Moscow
Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral

Thousands of religious believers have gathered outside Russia's main cathedral as part of what religious leaders are calling a day of prayer "in defense" of the Orthodox Christian faith. Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, led morning prayers at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral before launching a procession of supporters carrying icons and other property religious authorities say have been "defiled" by an alleged wave of attacks against the Church. In particular, the church has pointed to a stunt by the girl punk band Pussy Riot, which in February entered Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral to perform a song about the church's support for Vladimir Putin ahead of the country's presidential election. Similar events will be held at Orthodox churches throughout the country. 

In Moscow, some defenders of the church began gathering as early as April 21, including members of the "Night Wolves" motorcycle club. Aleksandr Zaldostanov, one of the leaders of the Night Wolves, said the group wanted to show its support for the pro-Orthodox initiative, which coincides with the start of motorcycle season. "We wanted to, at the same time [as the opening of the motorcycle season] support the Russian Orthodox Church, to show our solidarity, and to stress that we are with them and not with those crazy [anti-church] people -- that we are with our country and with our faith," Zaldostanov said. Read more ..

The Education Edge

Obama: GOP Needs To Prevent Doubling Of Student Loan Rate

April 21st 2012

Columbia U Graduation 2008

President Obama is urging Congress to extend low interest rates on federal student loans. "In America, higher education cannot be a luxury; it’s an economic imperative that every family must be able to afford," Obama said in his weekly address. "That’s why next week I’ll be visiting colleges across the country, talking to students about how we can make higher education more affordable – and what’s at stake right now if Congress doesn’t do something about it." The White House began pushing the student loans issue on Friday when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appeared at the daily press briefing, and the president will visit colleges in North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa next week.
"If Congress doesn’t act, on July 1 interest rates on some student loans will double," Obama said. "Nearly seven and half million students will end up owing more on their loan payments." The College Cost Reduction and Access Act, introduced in the Democrat-controlled Congress in 2007 and passed on bipartisan votes, halved the rate on federally subsidized Stafford loans to 3.4 percent. If Congress doesn't act, the rate returns to 6.8 percent. Republicans contend keeping the low interest rate costs too much. "Bad policy based on lofty campaign promises has put us in an untenable situation," Rep. John Kline (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, said in a Friday statement. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

American Children Exposed To High Amounts Of Harmful Background TV

April 21st 2012

Sound little boy
Just Like Background TV

Children from the age of 8 months to 8 years are exposed to nearly 4 hours of background TV per day.

The study surveyed 1,454 English-speaking households with children between the ages of 8 months to 8-years-old. Younger children and African-American children were exposed to higher amounts of background TV. Models were included to explore whether demographic variables including child gender, ethnicity, race, age, and/or family income are associated with different levels of background TV. Previous research has shown that children with high exposure to background TV have been linked to poor performance in cognitive and reading tasks. Authors Matthew Lapierre, of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, Jessica Piotrowski, Universiteit van Amsterdam, and Deborah Linebarger, University of Iowa, are the first to provide accurate estimates of background TV exposure to children.

"Considering the accumulating evidence regarding the impact that background television exposure has on young children, we were rather floored about the sheer scale of children's exposure with just under 4 hours of exposure each day," Lapierre said. "Fortunately, our study does offer specific solutions to reduce exposure in American homes namely- removing televisions from children's bedrooms and remembering to shut the television off." Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Tax on Salt Could Reduce Cardiovascular Disease Deaths by 3 Percent

April 21st 2012


Voluntary industry reductions in salt content and taxation on products containing salt in 19 developing countries could reduce the number of deaths each year from cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 2-3 per cent in these countries. The preliminary data presented today at the World Congress of Cardiology are the first findings from a new report from Harvard that will be published later this year.

The study set out to assess the cost-effectiveness of two interventions - voluntary salt reduction by industry, and taxation on salt - in 19 developing countries, that represent more than half of the world's population. The required salt reduction levels were modeled on the UK Food Standards Agency experience which set a series of targets for individual food products that have led to a net intake reduction, so far, of 9.5 per cent overall in the country. While a taxation increase of 40 per cent on industry prices (similar to tobacco), determined by previous work to lead to a 6 per cent reduction in consumption, was also evaluated. Read more ..

The Education Edge

NIH Grants $9 Million to Study and Treat Learning disabilities

April 20th 2012

school kids

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a five-year, $9 million grant to the University of Houston's Texas Center for Learning Disabilities to conduct research on the causes and treatment of learning disabilities in children and adolescents. UH is one of four universities nationally to receive funding from the NIH for a learning disability research center.

The substantial number of today's adolescents struggling with weak literacy skills presents an urgent national concern, yet little is known about reading disabilities beyond the early elementary grades. This award enables UH to address this critical gap in knowledge by funding the continuation of the multidisciplinary research center at the Texas Center for Learning Disabilities and four new research projects involving older elementary school-aged children in fourth and fifth grades with reading problems. Read more ..

Edge of El Salvador

El Salvador's Government and Catholic Church Broker Truce between Rival Gangs

April 20th 2012

mara salvatrucha

Rated as one of the most violent nations in the Americas, if not the world, El Salvador has faced an uncertain future as homicide rates have continued to rise over the last two decades, largely due to escalating warfare between enemy gangs. The Salvadoran government’s increased efforts to stamp out violence have had little effect on the nation’s homicide rate, which has almost doubled in less than a decade. In an attempt to halt the bloodshed, the local Catholic Church has been credited with recently forging a truce between Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, two of the most violent and feared criminal gangs in the Western Hemisphere.

The results have been drastic; El Salvador’s murder rate has dropped by more than 50 percent in the few weeks following the reports of a cease-fire, and for the first time in more than three years, the nation was murder-free for a full day this past Saturday, April 14. Despite the incredible developments in the Central American nation, the Salvadoran government continues to vehemently deny any involvement in securing the agreement, as local factions allege that the cease-fire was brokered with bribery and a pledge from the state to improve prison conditions for jailed leaders from the two gangs. Read more ..

Inside El Salvador

Tiny El Salvador Gets High Marks for Fundamental Education Reform

April 18th 2012

Salvadoran school kids

After just three years in office, the left of center Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) administration of President Mauricio Funes is receiving high marks for its achievements in the area of education reform. A February 2012 national poll by La Prensa Graphica Datos gives Funes a 71.4 percent approval rating. According to the poll, his administration’s principle successes include the government provision of uniforms, shoes and supplies to public school children and assistance to low income persons. In order to put these public perceptions and the initial outcomes of the education reforms in perspective, let us briefly describe the political context, the state of education back in March 2009, and the philosophy behind the education reform program.

The Political Context (March 2009)

In March 2009, FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes was elected President of El Salvador. Although it was a hotly contested race, the election signaled a push back against neo-liberal economic policies of the conservative National Republican Alliance (ARENA) party. In practical terms, this meant enough of the Salvadoran electorate were willing to give the left a chance to deal with extreme economic inequality, growing public insecurity, and social injustice. Read more ..

Legislative Process on Edge

ALEC Scraps Task Force behind Controversial Legislation

April 18th 2012

trayvon martin protest nyc
Martin protest, March 2012 (credit: David Shankbone)

The American Legislative Exchange Council—facing heavy pressure for backing voter ID and ‘Stand Your Ground” laws—has announced it is eliminating the task force that deals with such issues, and will focus instead on economic matters. The group’s controversial stands on voting rights and self-defense have been the subject of recent reports.

ALEC spun its announcement with a declaration that it was “refocusing our commitment to free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles.” The statement from ALEC national chair David Frizzell, an Indiana state representative, said the group was eliminating its Public Safety and Elections Task Force and “reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy.”

“While we recognize there are other critical, non-economic issues that are vitally important to millions of Americans, we believe we must concentrate on initiatives that spur competitiveness and innovation and put more Americans back to work.” The announcement said the group’s legislative board had made the decision last week. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Facebook Doesn't Make Me Lonely

April 18th 2012

Facebook page

Harping on about not being on Facebook, it has been said, is the modern-day equivalent of boasting about not having a television. And of course, there is plenty to criticize Facebook for: its dubious privacy practices, the censorship of walled gardens, and the potential threat to the open web.

But sometimes criticism of Facebook -- and criticism of social media and digital technologies in general -- falls into a familiar groove: one that has a tendency to ignore much of the empirical research on the subject, an over-reliance on whimsical anecdotal evidence, and often a projection of the author’s own foibles and predilections.

The latest article in this vein is a cover story in The Atlantic by Stephen Marche titled, "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?"

Marche contends that "We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier." "We are living in an isolation that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors, and yet we have never been more accessible," he writes. "We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information." Read more ..

The Rehab Edge

Tai Chi for Wheelchair Users Brings Mobility, Self-esteem, Better Health

April 18th 2012

wheelchair tai chi

An innovative 13-postures Tai Chi designed for wheelchair users is described in the current issue of Technology and Innovation—Proceedings of the National Academy of Inventors. The innovation has brought the traditional Chinese martial and healing arts to people with ambulatory impairment, thanks to the technology and program developed by Zibin Guo, PhD, of the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. “Too often, social and cultural barriers discourage people with physical disabilities from participating in fitness activities,” said Zibin Guo, PhD, who collaborated with the China Disabled People's Federation and the 2008 Beijing Paralympics Committee to introduce the Tai Chi Wheelchair at the 2008 Beijing Olympics & Paralympics Cultural Festival.

“Wheelchair Tai Chi can be practiced seated for those needing simple, low-impact, upper-body exercise by integrating wheelchair motion with the gentle, dynamic flowing movements of Tai Chi. It lifts the spirit and give practitioners a sense of command of space.” Read more ..

The Education Edge

Math Teachers Demonstrate A Bias Toward White Male Students

April 17th 2012

Talking girls

While theories about race, gender, and math ability among high school students have long been debated, a recent study found that math teachers are in fact, unjustifiably biased toward their white male students. This study was published in a new article released in the April 2012 issue of Gender & Society (GENDSOC), the official journal of the Sociologists for Women in Society, published by SAGE. "This speaks to the presence of a perhaps subtle yet omnipresent stereotype in high school classrooms: Math, comparatively speaking, is just easier for white males than it is for white females," wrote the authors.
Researchers Catherine Riegle-Crumb and Melissa Humphries analyzed data collected by the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) that consisted of a nationally representative group of about 15,000 students. Their data also included teacher surveys in which math teachers were asked to offer their personal assessment of individual students, indicating whether they felt that the course was too easy for the student, the appropriate level, or too difficult. The researchers compared these assessments with other data about the students such as their math GPA and their score on a standardized math test in order to determine if the teachers' perceptions of their students' abilities matched up with the students' actual scores. After analyzing this data, the researchers found disparities between teachers' favorable perceptions of the abilities of their white male students and these students' scores. Read more ..

Edge of Education

Seeking a Middle Way to Address America's Troubled Children

April 17th 2012

school kids

American children are in trouble. Each day brings increasing evidence of peer aggression (the new documentary Bully), autism spectrum disorders (the report just released by the Centers for Disease Control), and serious dependency and helplessness issues (an ongoing U.C.L.A. study). The unsurprising conclusion of the director of the C.D.C. is that children and families “need help.”

But what kind of help? With the predictable failure of No Child Left Behind to conjure higher achievement out of thin air and news from the parental front that raising children is no longer joyous, those cultivating the young have again lost their way.

No, we don’t know what leads to stronger characters and successful individuals. Parents are being told that genetic deficiencies exonerate them (to some extent) from responsibility. Yet calling the problem hard-wired is little solace if it’s your wiring. Psychoactive drugs appeal to our wish for a quick fix, but symptom suppression only defers the necessary quest for solutions. Read more ..

The Education Edge

Reasons For Suspension And Expulsion Complex, Race Still Central

April 16th 2012

Father and son reading

An Indiana University study shows that race continues to be an important factor in determining who receives out-of-school suspension and expulsion, and that racial disparities in school discipline are most likely due more to school characteristics than to the characteristics of behaviors or students. Russ Skiba, professor in counseling and educational psychology at the Indiana University School of Education, led the study, exploring factors affecting disproportionate rates of suspension and expulsion for African-American students. "For overall rates of suspension and expulsion, the study found that discipline is not just a function of difficult students receiving punishment but is more complex," Skiba said. Type of misbehavior, student characteristics including race and socioeconomic status, and school characteristics, such as the principal's views on school discipline, all predict which students will be suspended or expelled. In particular, the study found race to be a key factor. "It continues to be a powerful predictor of the severity of school punishment, independent of poverty status or the type of behavior students engage in," Skiba said. "In particular, schools with more African-American students are more likely to use more exclusionary forms of discipline such as suspension or expulsion." Read more ..

The Way We Are

Beanballs and the Psychology of Revenge

April 16th 2012

baseball glove bat ball

A new study finds that baseball fans exhibit a high moral tolerance for a form of revenge not otherwise practiced in most of contemporary society: avenging a teammate who has been hit by a pitch by aiming a pitch at an opposing batter who was not previously involved. The research suggests that such systems of vicarious retribution, found throughout history, may not depend on an underlying assignment of moral responsibility.

Last week, as tens of millions of Americans awaited the baseball season’s first pitches, Brown University psychologist Fiery Cushman was watching more warily for the first beanballs. As someone who studies moral judgment, Cushman recognizes that the intentional targeting of an innocent player to avenge a hit batsman could be a telling exception within American culture, even if the rest of the game is a national institution.

Cushman and collaborators A.J. Durwin of Hofstra University and Chaz Lively of Boston University put the question to scores of baseball fans mingling outside Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park last season: A pitcher on the Chicago Cubs intentionally throws at and hits a batter on the St. Louis Cardinals. An inning later, the Cardinals’ pitcher retaliates by throwing at and hitting a previously uninvolved batter for the Cubs. Read more ..

Racial Tolerance

Pride And Prejudice: Pride Impacts Racism And Homophobia

April 15th 2012

Serbia/Croatia victims

A new University of British Columbia study finds that the way individuals experience the universal emotion of pride directly impacts how racist and homophobic their attitudes toward other people are. The study offers new inroads in the fight against harmful prejudices such as racism and homophobia, and sheds important new light on human psychology. "These studies show that how we feel about ourselves directly influences how we feel about people who are different from us," says Claire Ashton-James. "It suggests that harmful prejudices may be more flexible than previously thought, and that hubristic pride can exacerbate prejudice, while a more self-confident, authentic pride may help to reduce racism and homophobia." The findings build on research by UBC Psychology Prof. Jessica Tracy who has previously shown that pride falls into two categories:. Read more ..

Edge of China

Evolution of Surnames reveals Ancient Chinese Secrets

April 14th 2012

Terracotta warriors of Xian

What can surnames tell us about the culture, genetics and history of our society? That is the question being answered by Chinese researchers who have traced the evolution of surnames across China. The research, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, reveals how surnames can act as a genetic stamp, allowing scientists to trace lineage and understand the migrations and historical events which shaped modern China.

The research was led by Dr. Jaiwei Chen, from Beijing Normal University, and Professor Yida Yuan fromthe Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"When it comes to surnames the Chinese people are unique. 1.28 billion people share 7,327surnames. In fact the 100 most common names account for 85 percent of the population," said Dr Chen. "This means Chinese surnames include more cultural and genetic information than in most other countries."

Dr. Chen and the team analysed data from China's National Citizen Identity Information, using isonymy theory which provides a method of exploring population structure by studying the distribution of surnames. This included measuring Genetic distance, the genetic divergence between populations within a species." Read more ..

Macedonia On Edge

Murders Have Macedonia Nervous

April 14th 2012

Macedonia Police

Ethnic tensions have resurfaced in Macedonia following the announcement of the murder of the five men on the outskirts of the capital, Skopje. The killings have aggravated relations between Macedonians and the ethnic Albanian minority. Police said the five men were shot dead execution-style near a lake outside Skopje and their bodies found by fishermen late on April 12. All of the victims were reportedly ethnic Macedonians. Angry Macedonians blocked several streets in the area on April 13, and police were deployed to prevent clashes. Authorities have so far made no statement about a possible motive for the killings. Residents of the village of Smiljkovci, where the bodies were found, expressed fears the murders could be a sign a worsening relations between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians. "What happened last night was very tragic -- young people, I feel very sorry for their families," Violeta Mitreska, of Smiljkovic, said. "I don't know what to say. I hope that this will not endanger coexistence between Macedonians and Albanians in Macedonia." Read more ..

America on Edge

Big-box Stores Associated with Formation of Hate-Groups

April 14th 2012

Walmart store

The presence of big-box retailers, such as Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Target, may alter a community's social and economic fabric enough to promote the creation of hate groups, according to economists.

The number of Wal-Mart stores in a county is significantly correlated with the number of hate groups in the area, said Stephan Goetz, professor of agricultural economics and regional economics, Penn State, and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development.

"Wal-Mart has clearly done good things in these communities, especially in terms of lowering prices," said Goetz. "But there may be indirect costs that are not as obvious as other effects."

The number of Wal-Mart stores was second only to the designation of a county as a Metropolitan Statistical Area in statistical significance for predicting the number of hate groups in a county, according to the study. Read more ..

Heatlhy Pregnancy

Lose Body Weight before Gaining Baby Weight

April 12th 2012

Click to select Image

A new University of Illinois study contains a warning for obese women who are planning pregnancies. Even if they eat a healthy diet when they are pregnant, their babies will develop in an unhealthy environment that places the infants at risk for future health problems.

"We can see fat sequestered in the placentas of obese mothers when it should be going to the baby to support its growth. The nutrient supply region in the placenta of an obese mother is half the size of that of a normal-weight mother, even when both are eating the same healthy diet," said Yuan-Xiang Pan, a U of I professor of nutrition.

Pan blames what he calls the obesogenic environment of the mother, which includes increased triglycerides, high levels of the hormone leptin, and elevated amounts of non-esterified fatty acids (NEFAs) circulating in the obese expectant mother's body. Triglyceride and NEFA levels are nearly twice as high in obese mothers, even when they consume healthy diets during pregnancy, he said. Read more ..

Race Relations

Hispanics Are Worse Off Than Whites Under Certain University Admission Policies

April 12th 2012


Hispanics are worse off than whites under certain university admission policies. Study suggests that racial quotas for college admissions remain the most efficient way to diversify campuses. Changes to college admission policies in Texas have been detrimental to Hispanics, according to Dr. Angel Harris and Dr. Maria Tienda from Princeton University in the US. Their work shows that despite popular claims that the “top 10 percent law” has restored diversity to Texas' flagship universities, His-panics are more disadvantaged relative to whites under this policy.The top 10 percent law guarantees admission for students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

Their calculations also show that affirmative action or the use of racial quotas for college admissions remains the most efficient policy to diversify college campuses, even in highly segregated states like Texas. Hispanics are the largest and fastest growing segment of Texas' population. Recent changes to college admission policies in Texas were intended to increase college access to a wide spectrum of Texas' population by attracting the very best students of every high school to the state's flagship universities. Harris and Tienda examine the consequences of changes in college enrollment for Hispanics after affirmative action was abandoned for the top 10 percent law. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Researchers Questioning Link Between Violent Computer Games and Aggressiveness

April 11th 2012

Computer Gaming

There is a long-lasting and at times intense debate about the possible link between violent computer games and aggressiveness. A group of researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, are now questioning the entire basis of the discussion. In a recently published article, they present a new study showing that, more than anything, a good ability to cooperate is a prerequisite for success in the violent gaming environment.

One camp in the debate believes that gamers not only learn to cooperate but also to understand complex contexts, how skills can be improved, and cause and effect relationships. The opposing camp, on the other hand, is convinced that the games may foster violent and aggressive behaviour outside the gaming environment.

Complex gaming situations

The study, authored by Ulrika Bennerstedt, Jonas Ivarsson and Jonas Linderoth and titled How gamers manage aggression: Situating skills in collaborative computer games, is presented in International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning.

The Gothenburg-based research group spent hundreds of hours playing online games and observing other gamers, including on video recordings. They focused on complex games with portrayals of violence and aggressive action where the participants have to fight with and against each other. "The situations gamers encounter in these games call for sophisticated and well-coordinated collaboration. We analysed what characteristics and knowledge the gamers need to have in order to be successful," says Jonas Ivarsson, Docent (Reader) at the Department of Education, Communication and Learning. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Islam vs Football

April 10th 2012

Soccer Ball

The top-ranked football team in Spain, Real Madrid, has removed a Christian cross from its official logo as a way to strengthen its fan base among Muslims in Europe and the Middle East. According to Spain’s top sports newspaper, Marca, the change was made to “avoid any form of confusion or misinterpretation in a region where the majority of the population is Muslim.”

Real Madrid says its decision to remove the cross from its logo is simply a cost of doing business in a globalized world. But critics say the move represents yet another erosion of European culture and tradition in the face of encroaching Islam.

The cross controversy comes as Real Madrid begins to build a $1 billion sports tourist resort in the United Arab Emirates. The foundation stone for the 50 hectare Real Madrid Resort Island was laid in the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah on March 29; the complex is scheduled to open in January 2015.

Real Madrid says its resort island will be the first theme park on an artificial island to combine tourism and sports, and it will be the first recreational tourism complex built under the Real Madrid trademark. The complex will include a 450-room luxury hotel, luxury villas, a sporting harbor, and the world’s first-ever football stadium that is open to the sea. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Radiation and Obese Patients

April 10th 2012

Childhood Obesity

A group of US researchers has quantified the amount of radiation obese patients receive when undergoing routine medical scans. Results published have shown that, when undergoing a CT scan, a forced change of operation parameters for obese patients results in an increase of up to 62 per cent in organ radiation exposure compared to lower weight patients. The researchers, from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, hope this new study will help optimise CT scanning procedures to produce safe but effective medical images.

Lead author of the study, Dr Aiping Ding, said: "When a morbidly obese patient undergoes a CT scan, something known as the tube potential needs to be increased to make sure there are enough x-ray photons passing through the body to form a good image. So far, such optimization has been done by trial and error without the use of patient-specific quantitative analysis." When the researchers simulate the increase, the calculated doses of radiation reaching an obese patient's organs increase by 62 per cent in males and 59 per cent in females. Read more ..

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