1. Study suggests short nature intervention can bring out the best in people

    November 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus press release:

    Is it any wonder that most happiness idioms are associated with nature? Happy as a pig in muck, happy as a clam, happy camper.

    A UBC researcher says there’s truth to the idea that spending time outdoors is a direct line to happiness. In fact, Holli-Anne Passmore says if people simply take time to notice the nature around them, it will increase their general happiness and well-being.

    Passmore, a PhD psychology student at UBC’s Okanagan campus, recently published research examining the connection between taking a moment to look at something from the natural environment and personal well-being. A recent study involved a two-week ‘intervention’ where participants were asked to document how nature they encountered in their daily routine made them feel. They took a photo of the item that caught their attention and jotted down a short note about their feelings in response to it.

    Other participants tracked their reactions to human-made objects, took a photo and jotted down their feelings, while a third group did neither. Passmore explains that examples of nature could be anything not human built: a house plant, a dandelion growing in a crack in a sidewalk, birds, or sun through a window.

    “This wasn’t about spending hours outdoors or going for long walks in the wilderness,” Passmore says. “This is about the tree at a bus stop in the middle of a city and the positive effect that one tree can have on people.”

    Passmore, who studies wellness, says she was ‘overwhelmed’ not only by the response of her 395 study participants — more than 2,500 photos and descriptions of emotions were submitted — but also by the impact that simply noticing emotional responses to nearby nature had on personal well-being. And their prosocial orientation — a willingness to share resources and the value they placed on community.

    There is scientific documentation that people who live in greenspaces generally seem to be happier, and may live longer than those who don’t. Passmore is taking that research further. This study is one of a series by a research team in UBC Okanagan’s psychology department known as the “Happy Team” which is providing evidence that nature can increase happiness.

    “The difference in participants’ well-being their happiness, sense of elevation, and their level of connectedness to other people, not just nature — was significantly higher than participants in the group noticing how human-built objects made them feel and the control group.”


  2. Study suggests toxic air may affect mental health

    November 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Washington press release:

    There is little debate over the link between air pollution and the human respiratory system: Research shows that dirty air can impair breathing and aggravate various lung diseases. Other potential effects are being investigated, too, as scientists examine connections between toxic air and obesity, diabetes and dementia.

    Now add to that list psychological distress, which University of Washington researchers have found is also associated with air pollution. The higher the level of particulates in the air, the UW-led study showed, the greater the impact on mental health.

    The study, published in the November issue of Health & Place, is believed to be the first to use a nationally representative survey pool, cross-referenced with pollution data at the census block level, to evaluate the connection between toxic air and mental health.

    “This is really setting out a new trajectory around the health effects of air pollution,” said Anjum Hajat, an assistant professor of epidemiology in the UW School of Public Health. “The effects of air pollution on cardiovascular health and lung diseases like asthma are well established, but this area of brain health is a newer area of research.”

    Where a person lives can make a big difference to health and quality of life. Scientists have identified “social determinants” of physical and mental well-being, such as availability of healthy foods at local grocers, access to nature or neighborhood safety.

    Air pollution, too, has been associated with behavior changes — spending less time outside, for instance, or leading a more sedentary lifestyle — that can be related to psychological distress or social isolation.

    The UW study looked for a direct connection between toxic air and mental health, relying on some 6,000 respondents from a larger, national, longitudinal study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Researchers then merged an air pollution database with records corresponding to the neighborhoods of each of the 6,000 survey participants. The team zeroed in on measurements of fine particulate matter, a substance produced by car engines, fireplaces and wood stoves, and power plants fueled by coal or natural gas. Fine particulate matter (particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) is easily inhaled, can be absorbed into the bloodstream and is considered of greater risk than larger particles. (To picture just how small fine particulate matter is, consider this: The average human hair is 70 micrometers in diameter.)

    The current safety standard for fine particulates, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is 12 micrograms per cubic meter. Between 1999 and 2011, the time frame examined in the UW study, survey respondents lived in neighborhoods where fine particulates measured anywhere from 2.16 to 24.23 micrograms per cubic meter, with an average level of 11.34.

    The survey questions relevant to the UW study gauged participants’ feelings of sadness, nervousness, hopelessness and the like and were scored with a scale that assesses psychological distress.

    The UW study found that the risk of psychological distress increased alongside the amount of fine particulate matter in the air. For example, in areas with high levels of pollution (21 micrograms per cubic meter), psychological distress scores were 17 percent higher than in areas with low levels of pollution (5 micrograms per cubic meter). Another finding: Every increase in pollution of 5 micrograms per cubic meter had the same effect as a 1.5-year loss in education.

    Researchers controlled for other physical, behavioral and socioeconomic factors that can influence mental health, such as chronic health conditions, unemployment and excessive drinking.

    But some patterns emerged that warrant more study, explained primary author Victoria Sass, a graduate student in the Department of Sociology.

    When the data are broken down by race and gender, black men and white women show the most significant correlation between air pollution and psychological distress: The level of distress among black men, for instance, in areas of high pollution, is 34 percent greater than that of white men, and 55 percent greater than that of Latino men. A noticeable trend among white women is the substantial increase in distress — 39 percent — as pollution levels rise from low to high.

    Precisely why air pollution impacts mental health, especially among specific populations, was beyond the scope of the study, Sass said. But that’s what makes further research important.

    “Our society is segregated and stratified, which places an unnecessary burden on some groups,” Sass said. “Even moderate levels can be detrimental to health.”

    Air pollution, however, is something that can be mitigated, Hajat said, and has been declining in the United States. It’s a health problem with a clear, actionable solution. But it requires the political will to continue to regulate air quality, Sass added.

    “We shouldn’t think of this as a problem that has been solved,” she said. “There is a lot to be said for having federal guidelines that are rigorously enforced and continually updated. The ability of communities to have clean air will be impacted with more lax regulation.”


  3. Study suggests some natural environments more psychologically beneficial than others

    November 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Surrey press release:

    Spending time in rural and coastal locations is more psychologically beneficial to individuals than time spent in urban green spaces, a new study in the journal Environment & Behavior reports.

    During this innovative study, researchers from the University of Surrey, University of Exeter, University of Plymouth and Plymouth Marine Laboratory worked with Natural England to examine the experiences of over 4,500 people when spending time in nature and investigated for the first time how different environmental settings and their quality impacted on psychological wellbeing.

    Asking participants to describe their visit and to evaluate their overall encounter, researchers discovered that those who visited rural and coastal locations reported greater psychological contentment than those who spent time in urban green spaces, such as city gardens and parks. It was also found that visits to natural areas of protected or designated status i.e. national parks, also resulted in improved mental wellbeing.

    Researchers found these visits to nature (especially those to protected sites and to coastal and rural green settings) were associated with both greater feelings of relaxation and refreshment but also stronger emotional connections to the natural world. Interestingly it was discovered that visits longer than 30 minutes were associated with a better connection and subsequently had greater psychological benefits.

    Socio-economic status was also found not to be a factor in enjoyment of nature, demonstrating the importance of providing free/affordable entrance to sites. This will help prevent socio-economic inequality in accessing nature.

    Lead author of the paper Dr Kayleigh Wyles, who undertook the research whilst at Plymouth Marine Laboratory and now Lecturer in Environmental Psychology at the University of Surrey, said:

    “We’ve demonstrated for some time that nature can be beneficial to us, but we’re still exploring how and why. Here we have found that our mental wellbeing and our emotional bond with nature may differ depending on the type and quality of an environment we visit.

    “These findings are important as they not only help unpick the mechanisms behind these psychological benefits, but they can also help to prioritise the protection of these environments and emphasise why accessibility to nature is so important.”

    Professor Mel Austen, Head of the Sea and Society Science Area at Plymouth Marine Laboratory said: “It was surprising to learn that the extent of protection of marine environments also affects the extent of mental health benefits that people gain from their interactions with the sea.

    “People’s health is likely to become an increasingly important aspect to consider as we manage our coasts and waters for the benefit of all users.”

    The positive benefits of interaction with nature are well documented with numerous studies reporting a reduction of stress levels in participants and an increase in overall wellbeing in those spending time in nature. This is the first study of its kind which shows that different types of natural environments have more of an impact on psychological wellbeing than others.


  4. Study suggests living close to green spaces is associated with better attention in children

    October 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) press release:

    Natural surroundings, including green spaces, may be beneficial for brain development in children, but evidence is still limited. A previous ISGlobal study already indicated that green spaces within and surrounding schools could enhance cognitive development in children between 7 and 10 years of age. In the current study, the authors expanded on this finding by evaluating the impact of greenness surrounding all the residential addresses of children since birth and characterizing cognitive development at earlier stages in life.

    The analysis, published in Environment Health Perspectives, was based on data from 1,500 children of the INMA — Environment and Childhood Project cohort in Sabadell and Valencia, collected during 2003-2013. The ISGlobal team analysed residential surrounding greenness — at 100, 300 and 500 metres distance- at birth, 4-5 years and 7 years of age. Two types of attention tests were performed at 4-5 and 7 years of age. The research shows that children with higher greenness around their homes had better scores in the attention tests.

    Payam Dadvand, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study, emphasizes “this is the first time that the impact of lifelong residential exposure to green spaces on attention capacity in children has been studied.” These results “underline the importance of green areas in cities for children’s health and brain development,” says Dadvand.

    Jordi Sunyer, study coordinator and head of the Child Health Programme at ISGlobal, points out that “the possibility that exposure to different types of vegetation might have different impacts on neurodevelopment remains an open question.” Therefore, Sunyer considers further studies should be done in other settings with different climates and vegetation.

    Green spaces in cities promote social connections and physical activity and reduce exposure to air pollution and noise, and are therefore essential for the development of the future generations’ brains” adds the study coordinator.


  5. Study suggests air pollution exposure on home-to-school routes reduces the growth of working memory

    October 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) press release:

    A study led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), an institute supported by the “la Caixa” Banking Foundation, has demonstrated that exposure to air pollution on the way to school can have damaging effects on children’s cognitive development. The study, published recently in Environmental Pollution, found an association between a reduction in working memory and exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and black carbon during the walking commute to and from school.

    The study was carried out in the framework of the BREATHE project. Previous research in the same project found that exposure to traffic-related pollutants in schools was associated with slower cognitive development. The aim of the team undertaking the new study was to assess the impact of exposure to air pollution during the walking commute to school. The findings of an earlier study had shown that 20% of a child’s daily dose of black carbon — a pollutant directly related to traffic — is inhaled during urban commutes.

    “The results of earlier toxicological and experimental studies have shown that these short exposures to very high concentrations of pollutants can have a disproportionately high impact on health” explains Mar Álvarez-Pedrerol, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study. “The detrimental effects may be particularly marked in children because of their smaller lung capacity and higher respiratory rate,” she adds.

    The study was carried out in Barcelona and enrolled over 1,200 children aged from 7 to 10, from 39 schools, all of whom walked to school on a daily basis. The children’s working memory and attention capacity was assessed several times during the 12-month study. Their exposure to air pollution over the same period was calculated on the basis of estimated levels on the shortest walking route to their school.

    Statistical analysis of the findings revealed that exposure to PM2.5 and black carbon was associated with a reduction in the growth of working memory: an interquartile range increase in PM 2.5 and black carbon levels was associated with a decline of 4.6% and 3.9%, respectively, in expected annual growth of working memory. No significant associations were found with exposure to NO2 and none of the pollutants studied were observed to have any effect on attention capacity. In this study, boys were much more sensitive than girls to the effects of both PM2.5 and black carbon.

    “Above all, we do not want to create the impression that walking to school is bad for children’s health because the opposite is true: walking or cycling to school, which builds physical activity into the child’s daily routine, has health benefits that far outweigh any negative impact of air pollution” explains Jordi Sunyer, head of ISGlobal’s Child Health Programme and co-author of the study.

    “The fact that children who walk to school may be more exposed to pollution does not mean that children who commute by car or on public transport are not also exposed to high levels. His colleague Mar Álvarez-Pedrerol goes on to explain “The solution is the same for everyone: reduce the use of private vehicles for the school run and create less polluted and safer home-to-school routes.”

    This is the first time that a team of scientists has studied the potential impact on cognitive development of exposure to air pollution in children who walk to school.


  6. Study suggests emphasizing individual solutions to big issues can reduce support for government efforts

    June 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Stanford University press release:

    Following the shutdown of the Fukushima power plant, which endured one of the worst nuclear accidents in history in 2011 due to a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami, Japan began a national initiative that encouraged saving electricity. This created an opportunity for Seth Werfel, a graduate student in political science at Stanford University, to investigate how recognition of individual efforts to improve energy usage might affect support for government-based solutions.

    He found that the more people said they curbed energy use on their own, the less they supported a tax increase on carbon emissions.

    “At first, I thought this result was counterintuitive because you’d expect people who took those actions to support government action as well,” said Werfel, whose work was published in Nature Climate Change. “But it is intuitive, just not obvious. When the surveys made people feel like they’d done enough, they said that the government shouldn’t make them do more.”

    Although his study was focused on an environmental issue, Werfel said other research suggests this reaction could be highly pervasive, affecting many other issues. He also found that the loss of support for government actions among the people who reported their personal efforts occurred regardless of political ideology.

    How surveys changed support

    Taking advantage of the energy-saving initiative, Werfel surveyed about 12,000 people in Japan. All surveys included a question about the extent to which people supported a government tax increase on carbon emissions. Half of the surveys contained a checklist that respondents used to indicate energy-saving actions they performed. On average, people who received the checklist surveys were about 13 percent less likely to support the government tax than people who did not receive a checklist.

    People who performed the checklist tasks also indicated on the accompanying survey that they felt that individual actions were more important than those of the government for achieving energy sustainability, and that conserving energy and protecting the environment shouldn’t be a top national priority.

    Werfel then sent checklist surveys to about 200 respondents who had been in non-checklist groups. Compared to how they responded in the initial, non-checklist survey, the respondents who checked the most boxes in the list of energy-saving actions in this second survey exhibited the greatest increase in their opposition to government actions. Werfel said this seems to indicate that people who perform more of these types of actions are more likely to see individual contributions as sufficient progress toward energy-saving goals.

    Additional surveys showed that a checklist containing only one very easy individual action did not affect people’s support of the carbon tax. However, people were 15 percent less likely to support the tax if they checked a box stating that they thought recycling was important — an effect that was largest among people who said they cared most about the environment. Werfel stressed that this, as with all of these results, should lead people to not assume anything about the behavior of any one person.

    “It would be way too strong to say these findings apply to someone who spends their life being environmentally conscious and advocating for government support of pro-environment initiatives,” he said.

    Werfel also tested whether making people feel morally good about themselves made them more likely to oppose government action, but the results of that survey were inconclusive.

    Striking a balance between pride and complacency

    Werfel said he believes this phenomenon likely impacts issues beyond environmentalism, such as disease prevention, economic inequality and homelessness, a hypothesis he is currently investigating. Given the evidence so far, Werfel cautions that we should be more aware about the potential downsides of celebrating every individual and private sector contribution we see as benefitting the greater good.

    “Sometimes there’s a danger to thinking you’ve done enough,” said Werfel. “We spend a lot of time encouraging people to do these things at home — to care about them and announce that they’ve done them — and there could be some backfire effect.”


  7. Culprit hidden in plain sight in Alzheimer disease development

    June 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the IOS Press press release:

    A new study by researchers at the University of Montana, Universidad del Valle de México, Instituto Nacional de Pediatría, Boise State, and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, heightens concerns over the detrimental short- and long-term impact of airborne iron-rich strongly magnetic combustion-derived nanoparticles (CDNPs) present in young urbanites’ brains. Using transmission electron microscopy, the researchers documented by abundant combustion nanoparticles in neurons, glial cells, choroid plexus, and neurovascular units of Mexico City children, teens and young adults chronically exposed to concentrations above the US-EPA standards for fine particulate matter. Residents in Mexico City are exposed from conception to harmful neurotoxic air pollutants. These findings are published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

    The detrimental impact of these tiny particles getting into the brain through the nasal and olfactory epithelium, the lungs and the gastrointestinal system is quickly recognized by extensive alterations in critical neuronal organelles including mitochondria, as well as axons and dendrites. Since these nanoparticles are in close contact with neurofilaments, glial fibers and chromatin, the researchers are very concerned about their potential for altering microtubule dynamics, accumulation and aggregation of unfolded proteins, mitochondrial dysfunction, altered calcium homeostasis and insulin signaling, and epigenetic changes.

    Mexico City children, teens and young adults have shown key markers of Alzheimer’s disease (AD): hyperphosphorylated tau and amyloid plaques along with significant brain and intrathecal neuroinflammation, dysregulated immune responses, breakdown of epithelial and endothelial barriers, extensive damage to the neurovascular unit, and brain accumulation of metals associated with combustion. Moreover, these seemingly healthy young people have olfaction deficits, dysregulation of feeding hormones, deficiencies in attention and short-term memory, and below-average scores in Verbal and Full Scale IQ compared to age, gender, and socioeconomic status-matched low air pollution residents. The cognitive problem is particularly serious for overweight female teens carrying an allele of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) ?4, the most prevalent genetic risk factor for AD.

    “In the context of serious continuous exposures to high concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) and ozone, our current electron microscopy findings and the extensive literature associating air pollutants with brain damage, the issue of who is at risk of neurodegeneration at an early age should be an urgent public health concern,” said Dr. Lilian Calderon-Garcidue?as. “The effects of poverty, urban violence and urban stress on impaired cognitive skills are also very important for the developing brain and can’t be ignored. We know gender, BMI, and APOE influence children’s cognitive responses to air pollution.”

    According to the researchers, the problem of having combustion-derived nanoparticles in children’s brains — developing brains — is very serious. These particles are ubiquitous and present in high concentrations in children as young as 3 years old. The particles contain transition neurotoxic metals and they are certainly causing extensive brain damage in key organelles. “The predominant combustion particles in young brains have properties that enable them to cause oxidative damage because these nanoparticles are capable of crossing all barriers. No barrier is spared,” Dr. Calderón-Garcidue?as emphasized.

    Angélica González-Maciel added, “People with children and teens struggling in school and facing a significant increase of violence in school, streets, parks, and public transportation are deeply concerned about the impact these particles have on children’s behavioral patterns and academic performance and parents question what they can do to protect their families.”

    All involved researchers agreed that in spite of the driving restrictions policies [that are clearly ineffective (Davis LW. Sci Rep 7: 41652, 2017)], millions of Mexico City residents continue to be exposed to very unhealthy concentrations of both PM 2.5 and ozone, both known risk factors for AD.

    “Our results,” said Dr. Calderón-Garcidue?as, “highlight the urgent need for significantly decreasing the concentrations of fine particulate matter and ozone in Mexico City and the adjacent polluted states. Multidisciplinary intervention strategies could provide paths for prevention or amelioration of air pollution targeted cognitive deficits and possible long-term AD progression.”

    The combined effects of combustion-derived nanoparticles, residency in a highly-polluted city, poor nutrition, obesity, metabolic syndrome, urban stress, lower brain and cognitive reserves, and APOE ?4 could lead to an acceleration of neurodegenerative changes among precarious young brains.

    The authors concluded: highly oxidative, combustion nanoparticles entering young developing brains — the culprit hidden in plain sight in Alzheimer’s disease development — constitute a very serious public health issue, with grave social and economic consequences.

    Efforts should also be aimed to identify and neuroprotect high risk young populations. Unfortunately, to date that is not happening.


  8. Exposure to specific toxins and nutrients during late pregnancy and early life correlate with autism risk

    June 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine press release:

    Using evidence found in baby teeth, researchers from The Senator Frank R. Lautenberg Environmental Health Sciences Laboratory and The Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Mount Sinai found that differences in the uptake of multiple toxic and essential elements over the second and third trimesters and early postnatal periods are associated with the risk of developing autism spectrum disorders (ASD), according to a study published June 1 in the journal Nature Communications.

    The critical developmental windows for the observed discrepancies varied for each element, suggesting that systemic dysregulation of environmental pollutants and dietary elements may serve an important role in ASD. In addition to identifying specific environmental factors that influence risk, the study also pinpointed developmental time periods when elemental dysregulation poses the biggest risk for autism later in life.

    According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ASD occurs in 1 of every 68 children in the United States. The exact causes are unknown, but previous research indicates that both environmental and genetic causes are likely involved. While the genetic component has been intensively studied, specific environmental factors and the stages of life when such exposures may have the biggest impact on the risk of developing autism are poorly understood. Previous research indicates that fetal and early childhood exposure to toxic metals and deficiencies of nutritional elements are linked with several adverse developmental outcomes, including intellectual disability and language, attentional, and behavioral problems.

    “We found significant divergences in metal uptake between ASD-affected children and their healthy siblings, but only during discrete developmental periods,” said Manish Arora, PhD, BDS, MPH, Director of Exposure Biology at the Senator Frank Lautenberg Environmental Health Sciences Laboratory at Mount Sinai and Vice Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Specifically, the siblings with ASD had higher uptake of the neurotoxin lead, and reduced uptake of the essential elements manganese and zinc, during late pregnancy and the first few months after birth, as evidenced through analysis of their baby teeth. Furthermore, metal levels at three months after birth were shown to be predictive of the severity of ASD eight to ten years later in life.”

    To determine the effects that the timing, amount, and subsequent absorption of toxins and nutrients have on ASD, Mount Sinai researchers used validated tooth-matrix biomarkers to analyze baby teeth collected from pairs of identical and non-identical twins, of which at least one had a diagnosis of ASD. They also analyzed teeth from pairs of normally developing twins that served as the study control group. During fetal and childhood development, a new tooth layer is formed every week or so, leaving an “imprint” of the micro chemical composition from each unique layer, which provides a chronological record of exposure. The team at the Lautenberg Laboratory used lasers to reconstruct these past exposures along incremental markings, similar to using growth rings on a tree to determine the tree’s growth history.

    “Our data shows a potential pathway for interplay between genes and the environment,” says Abraham Reichenberg, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Our findings underscore the importance of a collaborative effort between geneticists and environmental researchers for future investigations into the relationship between metal exposure and ASD to help us uncover the root causes of autism, and support the development of effective interventions and therapies.”

    Additional studies are needed to determine whether the discrepancies in the amount of certain metals and nutrients are due to differences in how much a fetus or child is exposed to them or because of a genetic difference in how a child takes in, processes, and breaks down these metals and nutrients.


  9. Study links flower pesticides to neurobehavioral effects in children

    May 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of California – San Diego press release:

    Ecuador is the third largest producer of cut flowers in the world, primarily roses, many of which are destined to be sold for Mother’s Day. The industry employs more than 103,000 people, and relies heavily on agricultural pesticides.

    In a paper published in the May 2017 issue of the journal NeuroToxicology, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Ecuador and Minnesota, have found altered short-term neurological behaviors in children associated with a peak pesticide spraying season linked to the Mother’s Day flower harvest. This study examined children who did not work in agriculture but who lived in agricultural communities in Ecuador.

    “Our findings are among the first in non-worker children to suggest that a peak pesticide use period (the Mother’s Day flower production) may transiently affect neurobehavioral performance,” said first author Jose R. Suarez-Lopez, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

    “Children examined sooner after the flower harvest displayed lower performance on most measures, such as attention, self-control, visuospatial processing (the ability to perceive and interact with our visual world) and sensorimotor (eye-hand coordination) compared to children examined later in a time of lower flower production and pesticide use.”

    “This discovery is novel because it shows that pesticide spray seasons can produce short-term alterations in neurobehavioral performance in addition to the long-term alterations that have been previously described. This is troublesome because the altered mental functions observed are essential for children’s learning, and in May-July, students typically take their end-of-year exams. If their learning and performance abilities are affected in this period, they may graduate from high school with lower scores which may hinder their ability to access higher education or obtain a job.”

    Early exposure to commonly applied agricultural pesticides is associated with neurobehavioral delays in children, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Pesticide exposure has been linked to altered development of reflexes and psychomotor and mental function in newborns. Boys appear more susceptible than girls.

    Suarez-Lopez, who is principal investigator of the ESPINA study, an on-going, long-term study of environmental pollutants and child development in Ecuador, said past animal research had suggested that fluctuating levels of pesticide exposure might also produce corresponding, short-term neurobehavioral effects.

    He and colleagues tested 308 children, ages four to nine, living in floricultural communities in Ecuador (but who did not actually work in agriculture themselves) prior to peak Mother’s Day flower production and within 100 days after harvest. Behavior and blood tests were conducted.

    Organophosphate-based insecticides, commonly used to treat flowers for pests before export, inhibit an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase (AChE) that regulates acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter vital to promoting communications between nerve cells in the brain and body. The insecticides are also directly toxic to neurons and supporting cells called glia. In previous research, Suarez-Lopez and colleagues had shown that lower AChE activity is associated with lower attention, inhibitory control and memory scores, again affecting boys more than girls.

    The authors note that the study was cross-sectional, collecting and analyzing observational data on a representative population for a specific point in time. “Our findings need to be replicated in studies of children with assessments conducted before, during and after peak exposure periods,” said Suarez-Lopez. “But given the evidence thus far, and the potential for pesticide exposure to alter both short- and long-term learning abilities, cognition, social interactions and overall well-being, taking additional precautions to shield children from exposure is certainly advised.”

    Co-authors include: Harvey Checkoway, Wael K. Al-Delaimy, Sheila Gahagan, UC San Diego; and David R. Jacobs, Jr., University of Minnesota.


  10. Study looks at socioeconomic aspects of drinking

    May 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Washington press release:

    Neighborhoods with greater poverty and disorganization may play a greater role in problem drinking than the availability of bars and stores that sell hard liquor, a University of Washington-led study has found.

    While there is evidence for the link between neighborhood poverty and alcohol use, the new twist — that socioeconomics are more powerful environmental factors than even access to the substance itself — suggests that improving a neighborhood’s quality of life can yield a range of benefits.

    “Is there something about the neighborhood itself that can lead to problems? As we learn more about those neighborhood factors that are relevant, then this might point to population-level strategies to modify or improve the environments where people live,” said Isaac Rhew, a research assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences.

    A common way to think of such broader changes is the “broken windows” theory of maintaining neighborhoods to deter crime. In other words, implementing programs, services or clean-up efforts to improve a neighborhood could help attain another goal: reducing problem drinking.

    The UW study was published online May 8 in the Journal of Urban Health.

    In examining the combination of multiple neighborhood factors on alcohol use, UW researchers turned to an ongoing research study of adults the university’s Social Development Research Group has followed for decades. They interviewed more than 500 of the adults in the study, who were first identified as fifth-graders in Seattle elementary schools and now live throughout King County. In this neighborhood study, 48 percent of participants were women; people of color made up nearly 60 percent of respondents.

    Researchers determined the U.S. Census Block Group (a geographic area of roughly 1,000 people) of each participant’s residence, along with demographic data tied to that area and the number of locations that sold hard alcohol there. Participants also answered a series of questions about their alcohol consumption and their perceptions of their neighborhood.

    This information allowed researchers to classify neighborhoods according to poverty level, alcohol availability (location of bars and liquor stores) and “disorganization,” which included factors such as crime, drug selling and graffiti.

    The ability to consider a number of neighborhood characteristics simultaneously and to identify patterns of how these characteristics grouped together to form distinct neighborhood types made this study different from others that might focus on the impact of, say, poverty alone, Rhew said.

    And while poverty and disorganization often are assumed to go hand-in-hand, that’s not always the case, added study co-author Rick Kosterman, a research scientist in the UW School of Social Work. A socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhood might also be highly organized, with strong leaders, a sense of identity and various programs and services for residents. At the same time, a low-poverty neighborhood might be highly disorganized, with a lack of resources or sense of community, or a few streets with more trouble than others.

    In this study, researchers found that residents of neighborhoods primarily characterized by high poverty and disorganization tended to drink twice as much in a typical week as those in other types of neighborhoods. Binge-drinking — generally defined as more than four drinks at a time for women, five for men — occurred in these high-poverty, highly disorganized communities about four times as frequently as in other types of neighborhoods. These findings are consistent with previous research indicating that people in lower income neighborhoods may be at greater risk for alcohol-related problems, Rhew said.

    What’s different, Rhew and Kosterman agreed, is the fact that neighborhoods characterized by greater alcohol availability showed no increased alcohol use among residents — suggesting that socioeconomic factors may pose a greater risk for substance abuse.

    “On its face, the connection between poverty and disorganization and alcohol use may not be all that surprising, but when you find that this connection may be even more important than the location of bars and liquor stores, then it’s those characteristics of a neighborhood that we want to pay attention to,” Kosterman said.

    Researchers pointed to an important change that has occurred since their original data was collected: the passage of a state law in 2011 privatizing liquor sales. The availability of liquor went from a little more than 300 state-run stores to some 1,500 pharmacies, grocery stores and warehouse clubs.

    “Prior to privatization, locations of stores that sold hard liquor were more controlled by the state, so now a neighborhood that had one store that sold liquor could have several,” said Rhew. But the evidence is mixed in terms of the impact that nearby alcohol outlets have on alcohol use, he added. People who purchase alcohol in one location, for instance, may live in another.

    “People who utilize the outlets aren’t just people from the neighborhood. We see stronger evidence of the link between where alcohol is sold and other problems such as violence, crime, and drinking and driving, but not necessarily consumption,” he added.

    The ability, thanks to recent funding, to overlay neighborhood data with the longitudinal Seattle Social Development Project — the study of 808 individuals begun in 1985 — presents opportunities for future analyses of a variety of behaviors and circumstances, the researchers said.