Category Archives: Wellness

When one New Zealand school tossed its playground rules and let students risk injury, the results were surprising

Sarah Boesveld:

It was a meeting Principal Bruce McLachlan awaited with dread.

One of the 500 students at Swanson School in a northwest borough of Auckland had just broken his arm on the playground, and surely the boy’s parent, who had requested this face-to-face chat with its headmaster, was out for blood.

It had been mere months since the gregarious principal threw out the rulebook on the playground of concrete and mud, dotted with tall trees and hidden corners; just weeks since he had stopped reprimanding students who whipped around on their scooters or wielded sticks in play sword fights.

He knew children might get hurt, and that was exactly the point — perhaps if they were freed from the “cotton-wool” in which their 21st century parents had them swaddled, his students may develop some resilience, use their imaginations, solve problems on their own.

The parent sat down, stone-faced, across from the principal.

“‘My son broke his arm in the playground, and I just want to make sure…” he began.

“And I’m thinking ‘Oh my God, what’s going to happen?’” Mr. McLachlan recalled, sitting in his “fishbowl” of an office one hot Friday afternoon last month.

The parent continued: “I just wanted to make sure you don’t change this play environment, because kids break their arms.”

The Drugging of the American Boy

By Ryan D’Agostino:

By the time they reach high school, nearly 20 percent of all American boys will be diagnosed with ADHD. Millions of those boys will be prescribed a powerful stimulant to “normalize” them. A great many of those boys will suffer serious side effects from those drugs. The shocking truth is that many of those diagnoses are wrong, and that most of those boys are being drugged for no good reason—simply for being boys. It’s time we recognize this as a crisis.

If you have a son, you have a one-in-seven chance that he has been diagnosed with ADHD. If you have a son who has been diagnosed, it’s more than likely that he has been prescribed a stimulant—the most famous brand names are Ritalin and Adderall; newer ones include Vyvanse and Concerta—to deal with the symptoms of that psychiatric condition.

The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies stimulants as Schedule II drugs, defined as having a “high potential for abuse” and “with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” (According to a University of Michigan study, Adderall is the most abused brand-name drug among high school seniors.) In addition to stimulants like Ritalin, Adderall, Vyvanse, and Concerta, Schedule II drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, Demerol, and OxyContin.

Reports of a Drop in Childhood Obesity Are Overblown

Mike Derer:

It is no secret that the United States has a weight problem. Roughly 30 percent of American adults are clinically obese, or have a body mass index of at least 30. That’s more than 175 pounds for someone who’s 5 foot 4, the average height of an American woman; or more than 203 pounds for someone who’s 5 foot 9, the average height of an American man. Obesity is associated with a whole host of health issues — diabetes, sleep apnea, stroke, heart attack and on and on — meaning that for many of us, diet is the real killer.

Obesity rates have risen over time, especially in children. The disease we now refer to as Type 2 diabetes used to be called “adult-onset diabetes.” One of the main reasons for the name change is that the onset became increasingly common in children, caused by obesity.

With this backdrop, the headlines last month about declines in childhood obesity were remarkable and encouraging. Here’s how The New York Times described it: “Obesity Rate in Young Children Plummets 43% in a Decade.” This and other articles went on to describe a huge decrease — from 13.9 percent to 8.4 percent — in the obesity rate for children between the ages of 2 and 5. The articles cited all sorts of reasons for the drop, including that kids are drinking less soda and that more mothers are engaged in breastfeeding. First lady Michelle Obama’s push for kids to exercise more and eat healthier foods also got credit.

Autism ‘begins long before birth’

Helen Briggs:

Scientists say they have new evidence that autism begins in the womb.

Patchy changes in the developing brain long before birth may cause symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), research suggests.

The study, in the New England Journal of Medicine, raises hopes that better understanding of the brain may improve the lives of children with autism.

It reinforces the need for early identification and treatment, says a University of California team.

The boy whose brain could unlock autism

Maia Szalavitz:

SOMETHING WAS WRONG with Kai Markram. At five days old, he seemed like an unusually alert baby, picking his head up and looking around long before his sisters had done. By the time he could walk, he was always in motion and required constant attention just to ensure his safety.

“He was super active, batteries running nonstop,” says his sister, Kali. And it wasn’t just boyish energy: When his parents tried to set limits, there were tantrums—not just the usual kicking and screaming, but biting and spitting, with a disproportionate and uncontrollable ferocity; and not just at age two, but at three, four, five and beyond. Kai was also socially odd: Sometimes he was withdrawn, but at other times he would dash up to strangers and hug them.

Things only got more bizarre over time. No one in the Markram family can forget the 1999 trip to India, when they joined a crowd gathered around a snake charmer. Without warning, Kai, who was five at the time, darted out and tapped the deadly cobra on its head.

The Future of Brain Implants

Gary Marcus & Christoph Koch:

What would you give for a retinal chip that let you see in the dark or for a next-generation cochlear implant that let you hear any conversation in a noisy restaurant, no matter how loud? Or for a memory chip, wired directly into your brain’s hippocampus, that gave you perfect recall of everything you read? Or for an implanted interface with the Internet that automatically translated a clearly articulated silent thought (“the French sun king”) into an online search that digested the relevant Wikipedia page and projected a summary directly into your brain?
 Science fiction? Perhaps not for very much longer. Brain implants today are where laser eye surgery was several decades ago. They are not risk-free and make sense only for a narrowly defined set of patients—but they are a sign of things to come.
 Unlike pacemakers, dental crowns or implantable insulin pumps, neuroprosthetics—devices that restore or supplement the mind’s capacities with electronics inserted directly into the nervous system—change how we perceive the world and move through it. For better or worse, these devices become part of who we are.
 Neuroprosthetics aren’t new. They have been around commercially for three decades, in the form of the cochlear implants used in the ears (the outer reaches of the nervous system) of more than 300,000 hearing-impaired people around the world. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first retinal implant, made by the company Second Sight.

Stop the Glorification of Busy


I didn’t realize it was time for finals until I read the Facebook status updates. My newsfeed was littered with posts discussing immense sleep deprivation; pictures of meals comprised of Hot Cheetos, Red Bulls, and 5-Hour Energy drinks; and extensive lists of extracurricular activities that needed to be accomplished, alongside finals, in a ridiculously short amount of time. I’m no longer in college, so I was able to look at this with an outsider’s lens and what I saw astounded me. It was ridiculous. I was bothered by how the practices, and consequences, of busyness were glorified. Students wrote about them as if they were embarking on a fruitful challenge: maxing out the total credits they could take, being involved in every club, not sleeping. They would reap the rewards of A’s today and impressive resumes later, the health of their bodies not even considered. Several months ago, I was doing the exact same thing.
 In fact, I was probably the perfect illustration of the situation I am describing. By my senior year, I was managing student government, acting in a play, teaching a class, taking 20 credits, being in a research program, trying to bring about revolution…you get the idea. My mind was proud of my accomplishments, but my body suffered the consequences. It became so difficult to sleep that I required sleeping pills. I had panic attacks, which I never had before. My back and head were constantly hurting from tension. The food I was eating did not feel good in my body.
 Maybe it was my overachieving self. Maybe it was my inferiority complex as a poor womyn of color who doubted whether she was good enough. Who was trying to ensure she was a good job candidate to help her family pay rent they couldn’t afford. Who dreamed of graduate school, but was unsure of what it looked like or how to get there. Who tried to shout, “Fuck you!” to stereotypes and barriers. Who was trying to bring change NOW because she was impatient and tired of experiencing oppression.

Passive smoking ‘damages children’s arteries’

Michelle Roberts:

Passive smoking causes lasting damage to children’s arteries, prematurely ageing their blood vessels by more than three years, say researchers.
 The damage – thickening of blood vessel walls – increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes in later life, they say in the European Heart Journal.
 In their study of more than 2,000 children aged three to 18, the harm occurred if both parents smoked.
 Experts say there is no “safe” level of exposure to second-hand smoke.
 “This study goes a step further and shows it [passive smoking] can cause potentially irreversible damage to children’s arteries increasing their risk of heart problems in later life”
 The research, carried out in Finland and Australia, appears to reveal the physical effects of growing up in a smoke-filled home – although it is impossible to rule out other potentially contributory factors entirely.

A.D.H.D. Seen in 11% of U.S. Children as Diagnoses Rise

Alan Schwarz and Sarah Cohen
Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These rates reflect a marked rise over the last decade and could fuel growing concern among many doctors that the A.D.H.D. diagnosis and its medication are overused in American children.
The figures showed that an estimated 6.4 million children ages 4 through 17 had received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis at some point in their lives, a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 41 percent rise in the past decade. About two-thirds of those with a current diagnosis receive prescriptions for stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall, which can drastically improve the lives of those with A.D.H.D. but can also lead to addiction, anxiety and occasionally psychosis.
“Those are astronomical numbers. I’m floored,” said Dr. William Graf, a pediatric neurologist in New Haven and a professor at the Yale School of Medicine. He added, “Mild symptoms are being diagnosed so readily, which goes well beyond the disorder and beyond the zone of ambiguity to pure enhancement of children who are otherwise healthy.”

Read more here.
A thoughtful (and personal) commentary here.

The Competition Drug

Roger Cohen
THIS is America’s college town par excellence. Kids from all over the world flock to Boston to learn. I have a son who is a freshman here. Last autumn, as he entered school, I listened to warnings about the dangers of binge drinking. I think they missed the point. The real epidemic involves so-called smart drugs, particularly Adderall, an amphetamine prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.) but so freely available as to be the pill to take whenever academic pressure requires pulling an all-nighter with zero procrastination to get a paper done.
“Just popped an Addie, so I’m good to go” — this sort of pretest attitude has become pervasive. Conversations with several students suggested Adderall was always available, costing from $2 to $5 a pill. Adderall has become to college what steroids are to baseball: an illicit performance enhancer for a fiercely competitive environment. What to say to doctors to get a prescription is now so widely known among students — “It’s like my thoughts are channel-surfing and I can’t stop” — as to have become a kind of joke.
“If there are no A.D.H.D. symptoms prior to college I have a very hard time writing a prescription,” Jill Kasper, a pediatrician, told me. “But if somebody wants a prescription for Adderall, they can find someone to give it to them.” The problem is that Adderall is dangerous, a Class 2 controlled substance like cocaine. While it has helped countless A.D.H.D. sufferers, it can also lead down a dark road of dependency, ever higher doses, fight-or-flight anxiety levels, sleeplessness and depression.
Here, in his own words, is the Adderall story of Steven Roderick, 24, a smart, soft-spoken, lost senior studying health science at the University of Massachusetts Boston:

I started taking it my first year in college. My performance had always fluctuated a lot. It was hard to pay attention, even in classes I was interested in. I was getting D’s. I felt something had to change. Adderall flies around campus. The first time I took it I wrote a paper for an astronomy class that was out of this world. I could not believe it — I was so inspired it made me want to be a doctor! I thought — oh my God! — this is the whole problem. You have the ability. You are intelligent. You just don’t have the link between intelligence and the capacity to be productive. The pill is the link. I felt literally unstoppable.
I went to the doctor, said I’d like to give Adderall a try. There were no diagnostic procedures. Doctors give in too easily. I did not think there could be a risk later on. I started on 20 milligrams. I went from D’s and F’s to straight A’s. But your brain adapts, you have to increase the dose, and by 2011 I was up to 45 milligrams. In the spring of that year I started to feel Adderall was my best friend and my worst enemy at the same time. Because I could not sleep I went to see my psychopharm, and she prescribed me Ativan to sleep. That worked O.K. for a while. But I really ran into trouble last year. I was up to 65 milligrams, and then during finals went to 80, even 120, milligrams, and I was just locked into this Adderall-Ativan cycle. My doctor seemed scatterbrained. She’d prescribe something but not follow up.
It’s a complicated dependency. I mean I never took Adderall to get high, never took it in a way that was not academically oriented; and I think there’s a distinction between dependency and addiction, taking something for a purpose or for a rush. But I feel awful. My baseline anxiety level would be most people’s highest anxiety level. The drop of a pin makes me spin around. I am living at home. My parents are clueless, and it is hard to discuss with them, although my Mom helps me now. I alternate between ‘on’ and ‘off’ states — I come off the Adderall, take Ativan and sleep for days. I miss appointments. I know I need to go to the appointments, but I wonder if I will be functional enough.
Adderall suddenly turned its back on me. It enabled me to focus, got me to a higher place academically. But then I could no longer rely on it. I was on my own. And although I have less than three credits to go, I may have to withdraw from school because I have not been able to make it to enough classes. “Look, I am in a culture that constantly justifies the means to an end. So how do we persuade people not to take it? All you hear is how impossible it will be to get a job when you get out, and you are going more and more into debt, and you think without this I won’t be top of the class. With other drugs you know you are ruining your life. But Adderall manipulates you into thinking you are doing what is needed to have a great life.

“I Was Adam Lanza”

The Daily Beast
Recently, the Huffington Post published an article titled “I am Adam Lanza’s mother” by a woman named Liza Long. The article presents a picture of a 13-year-old boy who threatened his mother, sometimes going so far as to pull a knife on her, scream obscenities at her, and leap out of cars as they’re driving down the highway.
The rest of the world has reacted to the idea of such a child with horror and incomprehension. I sympathize with the horror. I can only wish that I shared the incomprehension. I understand, intimately, how Liza Long’s son feels. I was like him.
Like the author of that piece, Liza Long, my mother had no idea what to do about my sudden transformation (in my case, around 16) into a borderline homicidal maniac. Like her son, I used knives to try and make my threats of violence seem more real. Like her son, I would leap out of our car in the middle of the road just to get away from my mother, over the most trivial of offenses. Like her son, I screamed obscenities at my mother shortly after moments of relative peace. And worse than this poor woman’s son, whose mindset toward his peers we can only guess, I will admit that I fantasized multiple times about taking ordnance to my classmates.
By the logic which leads Liza Long to say, “I am Adam Lanza’s mother,” I have to say: “I was Adam Lanza.”

This is a very honest, generous, and thought-provoking piece … and one from an important source.

Stop Subsidizing Obesity

Mark Bittman

Not long ago few doctors – not even pediatricians – concerned themselves much with nutrition. This has changed, and dramatically: As childhood obesity gains recognition as a true health crisis, more and more doctors are publicly expressing alarm at the impact the standard American diet is having on health.
“I never saw Type 2 diabetes during my training, 20 years ago,” David Ludwig, a pediatrician, told me the other day, referring to what was once called “adult-onset” diabetes, the form that is often caused by obesity. “Never. Now about a quarter of the new diabetes cases we’re seeing are Type 2.”
Ludwig, who is director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center in Boston, is one of three authors, all medical doctors of an essay (“Viewpoint”) in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association titled “Opportunities to Reduce Childhood Hunger and Obesity.”
That title that would once have been impossible, but now it’s merely paradoxical. Because the situation is this: 17 percent of children in the United States are obese, 16 percent are food-insecure (this means they have inconsistent access to food), and some number, which is impossible to nail down, are both. Seven times as many poor children are obese as those who are underweight, an indication that government aid in the form of food stamps, now officially called SNAP, does a good job of addressing hunger but encourages the consumption of unhealthy calories.

Given the role that nutrition plays — from conception onward — in brain development, learning, etc., clearly this is an achievement gap issue.

Wasting Time Is New Divide in Digital Era

Matt Richtel, New York Times
In the 1990s, the term “digital divide” emerged to describe technology’s haves and have-nots. It inspired many efforts to get the latest computing tools into the hands of all Americans, particularly low-income families. Those efforts have indeed shrunk the divide. But they have created an unintended side effect, one that is surprising and troubling to researchers and policy makers and that the government now wants to fix.
As access to devices has spread, children in poorer families are spending considerably more time than children from more well-off families using their television and gadgets to watch shows and videos, play games and connect on social networking sites, studies show. This growing time-wasting gap, policy makers and researchers say, is more a reflection of the ability of parents to monitor and limit how children use technology than of access to it.
“I’m not antitechnology at home, but it’s not a savior,” said Laura Robell, the principal at Elmhurst Community Prep, a public middle school in East Oakland, Calif., who has long doubted the value of putting a computer in every home without proper oversight. “So often we have parents come up to us and say, ‘I have no idea how to monitor Facebook,’ ” she said.
The new divide is such a cause of concern for the Federal Communications Commission that it is considering a proposal to spend $200 million to create a digital literacy corps. This group of hundreds, even thousands, of trainers would fan out to schools and libraries to teach productive uses of computers for parents, students and job seekers. Separately, the commission will help send digital literacy trainers this fall to organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Some of the financial support for this program, part of a broader initiative called Connect2Compete, comes from private companies like Best Buy and Microsoft.
These efforts complement a handful of private and state projects aimed at paying for digital trainers to teach everything from basic keyboard use and word processing to how to apply for jobs online or use filters to block children from seeing online pornography. “Digital literacy is so important,” said Julius Genachowski, chairman of the commission, adding that bridging the digital divide now also means “giving parents and students the tools and know-how to use technology for education and job-skills training.”
F.C.C. officials and other policy makers say they still want to get computing devices into the hands of every American. That gaps remains wide — according to the commission, about 65 percent of all Americans have broadband access at home, but that figure is 40 percent in households with less than $20,000 in annual income. Half of all Hispanics and 41 percent of African-American homes lack broadband.
But “access is not a panacea,” said Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft. “Not only does it not solve problems, it mirrors and magnifies existing problems we’ve been ignoring.” Like other researchers and policy makers, Ms. Boyd said the initial push to close the digital divide did not anticipate how computers would be used for entertainment. “We failed to account for this ahead of the curve,” she said.
A study published in 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children and teenagers whose parents do not have a college degree spent 90 minutes more per day exposed to media than children from higher socioeconomic families. In 1999, the difference was just 16 minutes.

Continue reading Wasting Time Is New Divide in Digital Era

Ritalin Gone Wrong

L. Alan Sroufe:

THREE million children in this country take drugs for problems in focusing. Toward the end of last year, many of their parents were deeply alarmed because there was a shortage of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall that they considered absolutely essential to their children’s functioning.
But are these drugs really helping children? Should we really keep expanding the number of prescriptions filled?
In 30 years there has been a twentyfold increase in the consumption of drugs for attention-deficit disorder.
As a psychologist who has been studying the development of troubled children for more than 40 years, I believe we should be asking why we rely so heavily on these drugs.

American school kids trash Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

Graeme Culliford and Nick Owens:

It was Jamie Oliver’s toughest challenge… getting US ­youngsters to ditch junk food and eat a healthier diet.
But six months after he ­convinced an LA school to swap fattening burgers for low-calorie salads, his ­revamped menu is – literally – being binned.
Hundreds of students at West Adams Preparatory High School, where his hit show Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution was filmed, are ­refusing to eat his cuisine.
Instead, bins are overflowing with the TV chef’s veg curries, quinoa salads, Thai ­noodles and wheatbread burgers.
Many youngsters even go without lunch altogether.

What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind?

Alison Gopnik:

“What was he thinking?” It’s the familiar cry of bewildered parents trying to understand why their teenagers act the way they do.
How does the boy who can thoughtfully explain the reasons never to drink and drive end up in a drunken crash? Why does the girl who knows all about birth control find herself pregnant by a boy she doesn’t even like? What happened to the gifted, imaginative child who excelled through high school but then dropped out of college, drifted from job to job and now lives in his parents’ basement?
If you think of the teenage brain as a car, today’s adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer and brake.
Adolescence has always been troubled, but for reasons that are somewhat mysterious, puberty is now kicking in at an earlier and earlier age. A leading theory points to changes in energy balance as children eat more and move less.

A poverty solution that starts with a hug

Nicholas Kristof
Perhaps the most widespread peril children face isn’t guns, swimming pools or speeding cars. Rather, scientists are suggesting that it may be “toxic stress” early in life, or even before birth.
This month, the American Academy of Pediatrics is issuing a landmark warning that this toxic stress can harm children for life. I’m as skeptical as anyone of headlines from new medical studies (Coffee is good for you! Coffee is bad for you!), but that’s not what this is.
Rather, this is a “policy statement” from the premier association of pediatricians, based on two decades of scientific research. This has revolutionary implications for medicine and for how we can more effectively chip away at poverty and crime.
Toxic stress might arise from parental abuse of alcohol or drugs. It could occur in a home where children are threatened and beaten. It might derive from chronic neglect — a child cries without being cuddled. Affection seems to defuse toxic stress — keep those hugs and lullabies coming! — suggesting that the stress emerges when a child senses persistent threats but no protector.
Cues of a hostile or indifferent environment flood an infant, or even a fetus, with stress hormones like cortisol in ways that can disrupt the body’s metabolism or the architecture of the brain.
The upshot is that children are sometimes permanently undermined. Even many years later, as adults, they are more likely to suffer heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other physical ailments. They are also more likely to struggle in school, have short tempers and tangle with the law.
The crucial period seems to be from conception through early childhood. After that, the brain is less pliable and has trouble being remolded.
“You can modify behavior later, but you can’t rewire disrupted brain circuits,” notes Jack P. Shonkoff, a Harvard pediatrician who has been a leader in this field. “We’re beginning to get a pretty compelling biological model of why kids who have experienced adversity have trouble learning.”
This new research addresses an uncomfortable truth: Poverty is difficult to overcome partly because of self-destructive behaviors. Children from poor homes often shine, but others may skip school, abuse narcotics, break the law, and have trouble settling down in a marriage and a job. Then their children may replicate this pattern.

Continue reading A poverty solution that starts with a hug

Soon, $1,000 Will Map Your Genes

Ron Winslow & Shirley Wang:

The quest to harness the power of DNA to develop personalized medicine is on the threshold of a major milestone: the $1,000 genome sequencing.
Life Technologies Corp., a Carlsbad, Calif., genomics company, plans to introduce Tuesday a machine it says will be able to map an individual’s entire genetic makeup for $1,000 by the end of this year. Moreover, the machine and accompanying microchip technology, both developed by the company’s Ion Torrent unit, will deliver the information in a day, the company says.

Power of Mom’s Voice Silenced by Instant Messages

Brandon Keim:

Instant messages are ubiquitous and convenient, but something primal may be lost in translation.
When girls stressed by a test talked with their moms, stress hormones dropped and comfort hormones rose. When they used IM, nothing happened. By the study’s neurophysiological measures, IM was barely different than not communicating at all.
“IM isn’t really a substitute for in-person or over-the-phone interaction in terms of the hormones released,” said anthropologist Leslie Seltzer of the University of Wisconsin, lead author of the new study. “People still need to interact the way we evolved to interact.”

A Thing or Two About Twins

Peter Miller:

They have the same piercing eyes. The same color hair. One may be shy, while the other loves meeting new people. Discovering why identical twins differ–despite having the same DNA–could reveal a great deal about all of us.
Every summer, on the first weekend in August, thousands of twins converge on Twinsburg, Ohio, a small town southeast of Cleveland named by identical twin brothers nearly two centuries ago.
They come, two by two, for the Twins Days Festival, a three-day marathon of picnics, talent shows, and look-alike contests that has grown into one of the world’s largest gatherings of twins.
Dave and Don Wolf of Fenton, Michigan, have been coming to the festival for years. Like most twins who attend, they enjoy spending time with each other. In fact, during the past 18 years, the 53-year-old truckers, whose identical beards reach down to their chests, have driven more than three million miles together, hauling everything from diapers to canned soup from places like Seattle, Washington, to Camden, New Jersey. While one sits at the wheel of their diesel Freightliner, the other snoozes in the bunk behind him. They listen to the same country gospel stations on satellite radio, share the same Tea Party gripes about big government, and munch on the same road diet of pepperoni, apples, and mild cheddar cheese. On their days off they go hunting or fishing together. It’s a way of life that suits them.

A head start with brainwaves

Clive Cookson:

A fabric cap is fitted to my head and 32 electrodes are inserted into the cap’s sockets, each with a dose of conducting gel to make sure there is good contact with my scalp. The final touches are a pair of eye tracking sensors above each eyebrow.
Then the experiment begins, recording brainwaves as I look at film clips with different degrees of violence and romantic engagement. The half-hour session is entirely painless; the apparatus does not irradiate the brain but passively measures its electrical activity at different frequencies to assess my attention, emotional engagement and likely memory retention of each clip. The only after-effect is hair messed up by the gel.
My electroencephalography (EEG) session typifies the experience of hundreds of subjects who have their brains scanned every day in laboratories around the world, in the cause of better marketing. As they look at product prototypes, packaging designs and advertising campaigns, neuromarketing experts read their brainwaves to glean insights into their unconscious likes and dislikes, which might not appear through questioning in conventional market research.

L.A. schools’ healthful lunch menu panned by students

Teresa Watanabe:

It’s lunchtime at Van Nuys High School and students stream into the cafeteria to check out the day’s fare: black bean burgers, tostada salad, fresh pears and other items on a new healthful menu introduced this year by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
But Iraides Renteria and Mayra Gutierrez don’t even bother to line up. Iraides said the school food previously made her throw up, and Mayra calls it “nasty, rotty stuff.” So what do they eat? The juniors pull three bags of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and soda from their backpacks.
“This is our daily lunch,” Iraides says. “We’re eating more junk food now than last year.”
For many students, L.A. Unified’s trailblazing introduction of healthful school lunches has been a flop. Earlier this year, the district got rid of chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and other food high in fat, sugar and sodium. Instead, district chefs concocted such healthful alternatives as vegetarian curries and tamales, quinoa salads and pad Thai noodles.

How the Food Industry Eats Your Kid’s Lunch

Lucy Komisar:

An increasingly cozy alliance between companies that manufacture processed foods and companies that serve the meals is making students — a captive market — fat and sick while pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits. At a time of fiscal austerity, these companies are seducing school administrators with promises to cut costs through privatization. Parents who want healthier meals, meanwhile, are outgunned.
Each day, 32 million children in the United States get lunch at schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program, which uses agricultural surplus to feed children. About 21 million of these students eat free or reduced-price meals, a number that has surged since the recession. The program, which also provides breakfast, costs $13.3 billion a year.

Marijuana Use Growing Among Teenagers

Anahad O’Connor:

One out of every 15 high school students smokes marijuana on a near daily basis, a figure that has reached a 30-year peak even as use of alcohol, cigarettes and cocaine among teenagers continues a slow decline, according to a new government report.
The popularity of marijuana, which is now more prevalent among 10th graders than cigarette smoking, reflects what researchers and drug officials say is a growing perception among teenagers that habitual marijuana use carries little risk of harm. That perception, experts say, is fueled in part by wider familiarity with medicinal marijuana and greater ease in obtaining it.
Although it is difficult to track the numbers, “we’re clearly seeing an increase in teenage marijuana use that corresponds pretty clearly in time with the increase in medical marijuana use,” said Dr. Christian Thurstone, medical director of the adolescent substance abuse treatment program at Denver Health and Hospital Authority, who was not involved in the study. Medical marijuana is legal in 16 states, including Colorado, and the District of Columbia.

Cell Phones & Driving

Ed Wallace:

One drive back from Dallas on Interstate 30 is indelibly etched into my memory. I was in the center lane. And just forward of me in the right lane, a soft-top Jeep slowly started drifting across all three lanes of traffic, never slowing down. I honked my horn to alert the driver, but the Jeep left the highway and slammed into the first wooden pike in a crash barrier, throwing the vehicle’s rear end so high that I thought it might flip over.
Pulling onto the shoulder 50 or so feet ahead of the Jeep, I ran back, expecting the worst. But, while the driver was certainly going to be bruised, she was actually all right. So was her dog, in the front passenger floorboard. When I asked what had happened, she said she’d leaned over to pour some water into her dog’s bowl on the floorboard and just wasn’t paying attention. But I’d watched this accident unfold over five to seven seconds: She didn’t just lean over for a second, she was completely oblivious to her loss of control of her vehicle until it crashed. I couldn’t help but notice all the prescription bottles littering the Jeep’s interior; one, filled the day before, was for Valium.
Because I had my cell phone with me, I had called Arlington 911 before I ever made it to her wreck.

You’d think this city would back Madison Prep plan

Chris Rickert:

Appearances suggest Madisonians would be sympathetic to Madison Preparatory Academy.
Here is a citizenry known for its progressivism, inclusiveness and embrace of the disenfranchised.
And here is a five-year educational experiment aimed at helping students of darker skin and lesser means who are sometimes only a couple of years removed from failing schools in Chicago and Milwaukee.
I guess appearances can be deceiving.
On Monday, the Madison School Board is likely to go along with district administrators’ recommendation to vote down a five-year charter for Madison Prep, a project of the Urban League of Greater Madison that would aim to improve the performance and life prospects of students the district has so far failed to reach.
I suspect Madison Prep’s future wouldn’t be so dire if over the last year Madison’s supposedly liberal power structure had been willing to take up its cause.

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School, here.

The Problem Solvers

Steve Kolowich:

As a fledgling voice of reform in higher education, Salman Khan is an oddity. He cannot name any higher education accrediting agencies off the top of his head. He advocates for competency-based credentialing, but has never heard of Western Governors University. He is capable of talking on the phone for a full hour without using the word “disruptive” once. Until recently, he was an analyst for a hedge fund.
Here is what Khan does know: algebra, statistics, trigonometry, calculus, computer science, biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, economics, and finance — well enough, at least, to demonstrate the concepts via brief video tutorials on Khan Academy, his free learning website. What began in 2006 as an attempt to tutor his young cousin from afar has evolved into a 2,700-video library with millions of monthly visitors.
Many have lauded Khan’s natural skill as a teacher. Khan’s charmingly unpolished home recordings form the public face of the organization and provide a peg for media narratives about online learning and the YouTube-ification of the textbook in an era where the rising prices and demand for higher education has collided with the Internet’s culture of free.

Straight Time: The boy’s pot habit was out of control, so his parents enrolled him at The House, a nonresidential rehab facility attended by the kids of well-connected Westsiders. Now his family questions everything

Michael Angeli:

When the end finally came, it came fast. Spotting Steve’s red BMW convertible parked in the driveway, Culver City police in tactical vests and armed with assault weapons quickly deployed, swarming the front and rear entrances. Wearing a green nylon jacket with RAID splashed across the shoulders, Sergeant Jason Sims knocked on the front door, then ordered his men to break it down with a battering ram. Inside, kids screamed, cried, or just stood there trying to wrap their heads around what they were witnessing–and what their parents were witnessing. Because this was a Thursday, this was Family Night. Expecting to endure an evening of candor with impunity–Guess what, Mother? The world doesn’t revolve around you!–parents had their bean dip and decaf upended by an armed raid. Tilling the big wayward ship of their children’s adolescence had left them chronically alert to trouble, but not like this.

More kids are missing school shots

Associated Press:

More parents are opting out of school shots for their children. In eight states now, more than one in 20 public school kindergartners aren’t getting all the vaccines required for attendance, an Associated Press analysis found.
That growing trend among parents seeking vaccine exemptions has health officials worried about outbreaks of diseases that once were all but stamped out.
Take measles, for example. It can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis and death. Since 2000, one in every 250 Americans who got measles died.
The measles vaccine is so effective, 99.9% of those who get vaccinated gain immunity, said Geoffrey Swain, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and chief medical officer for the Milwaukee Health Department.
Many children cannot get the measles vaccine, though, because they aren’t old enough – the first dose of vaccine is recommended between 12 and 15 months. Or, they have medical issues or families with religious beliefs that leave them unprotected and susceptible to measles through no fault of their own, Swain said.

Taking healthcare to students

Anna Gorman:

As soon as the school day ended, the rush at the health clinic began.
Two high school seniors asked for sports physicals. A group of teenagers lined up for free condoms. A girl told a counselor she needed a pregnancy test.
The clinic, at Belmont High School near downtown Los Angeles, is part of a rapidly expanding network of school-based centers around the nation offering free or low-cost medical care to students and their families.
In California, there are 183 school health centers, up from 121 in 2004. Twelve more are expected to open by next summer, according to the California School Health Center Assn.
The centers have become a small but important part of the nation’s healthcare safety net, experts say, treating low-income patients who might otherwise not have regular medical care. Now, they add, campus clinics are serving as a model for health officials trying to reduce costs.

Korean teen held after pushy mother’s death

Christian Oliver and Song Jung-a:

South Korean police have detained a teenager suspected of murdering his mother after she allegedly beat him with a golf club to get better school grades, in a case that has raised questions about the high-pressure nature of the country’s education system.
The macabre incident has shocked the nation, with younger mothers questioning the values of previous generations who have been pushing children hard to improve their school performance.
“Children are being driven to the limit … so many of them suffer from depression, kill themselves or commit impulsive crimes out of desperation,” says Oh Sung-sook, head of the Citizens’ Council for Educational Reform, an activist group.
Psychologists argue that the educational rat-race – children are routinely forced to study late into the night seven days a week and corporal punishment is still permitted – is stunting social development.

Recipe for a revolution in school lunches Healthful offerings like saffron rice, Jerusalem salad and free-range chicken are a low-cost hit with low-income students.

Monica Eng:

For lunch, Josh Rivera chose a plate of saffron rice, Jerusalem salad and a Greek-marinated kebab of free-range chicken raised without antibiotics.
“Last year I used to get a burger and pizza, but they were really greasy,” the high school sophomore said. “This is a lot tastier than before.”
Lynn Vo, a sophomore who was eating organic fruit salad along with penne in a Bolognese sauce made with grass-fed beef, agreed. “Last year the pasta tasted like sweat,” she said. “But this year it’s really good.”
It’s astonishing enough that notoriously picky high schoolers would have something nice to say about their cafeteria, in this case the one at Niles North High School in Skokie, Ill., just north of Chicago. But these meals containing premium ingredients are provided free to low-income students or sold for $2.25 at most.

The Two Year Window: The new science of babies and brains–and how it could revolutionize the fight against poverty.

Jonathan Cohn:

A decade ago, a neuroscientist named Charles Nelson traveled to Bucharest to visit Romania’s infamous orphanages. There, he saw a child whose brain had swelled to the size of a basketball because of an untreated infection and a malnourished one-year-old no bigger than a newborn. But what has stayed with him ever since was the eerie quiet of the infant wards. “It would be dead silent, all of [the babies] sitting on their backs and staring at the ceiling,” says Nelson, who is now at Harvard. “Why cry when nobody is going to pay attention to you?”
Nelson had traveled to Romania to take part in a cutting-edge experiment. It was ten years after the fall of the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, whose scheme for increasing the country’s population through bans on birth control and abortion had filled state-run institutions with children their parents couldn’t support. Images from the orphanages had prompted an outpouring of international aid and a rush from parents around the world to adopt the children. But ten years later, the new government remained convinced that the institutions were a good idea–and was still warehousing at least 60,000 kids, some of them born after the old regime’s fall, in facilities where many received almost no meaningful human interaction. With backing from the MacArthur Foundation, and help from a sympathetic Romanian official, Nelson and colleagues from Harvard, Tulane, and the University of Maryland prevailed upon the government to allow them to remove some of the children from the orphanages and place them with foster families. Then, the researchers would observe how they fared over time in comparison with the children still in the orphanages. They would also track a third set of children, who were with their original parents, as a control group.

Tantrum Tamer: New Ways Parents Can Stop Bad Behavior

Shirley Wang:

Forget everything you may have read about coping with children’s temper tantrums. Time-outs, sticker charts, television denial–for many, none of these measures will actually result in long-term behavior change, according to researchers at two academic institutions.
Instead, a set of techniques known as “parent management training” is proving so helpful to families struggling with a child’s unmanageable behavior that clinicians in the U.S. and the U.K. are starting to adopt them.
Aimed at teaching parents to encourage sustained behavior change, it was developed in part at parenting research clinics at Yale University and King’s College London.
Even violent tantrums, or clinging to the point of riding on a parent’s leg, can be curbed, researchers say.

Reading, Writing And Roasting: Schools Bring Cooking Back Into The Classroom

Allison Aubrey:

Lots of kids have tried lentils. But what about Ethiopian-style lentils, accompanied by injera bread, couscous and cucumber salad?
Fourth graders in Santa Fe, N.M. prepared this lunch feast themselves as part of a nutrition education program called Cooking with Kids. And nutrition experts say programs like this one are not just about expanding timid kids’ palates.
Even as home economics classes have been phased out in recent years, some schools are bringing cooking back. And a new study that evaluates cooking curriculum says these hands-on classes do more than just prepare students to cook a decent meal.
“Teachers and principals are seeing how the classroom cooking experience helps support critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving skills,” says study author Leslie Cunningham-Sabo, a nutrition researcher at Colorado State University. The study appears this week in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Banning Sugary Soda From School Fails to Cut Teen Consumption, Study Finds

Nicole Ostrow:

Banning sugar-filled sodas from American schools as an effort to combat childhood obesity doesn’t reduce overall consumption levels of sweetened beverages, research found.
In U.S. states that banned only soda, about 30 percent of middle-school students still purchased sugary drinks like sports and fruit beverages at school, similar to states that had no policy, according to a study released online today in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. In states that banned all sugar-sweetened beverages, students still consumed the drinks outside of school, the researchers said.
Over the past 25 years, children have gotten more of their calories from sugary beverages and consumption of the drinks has been associated with childhood obesity and weight gain, the authors said. Today’s study is the first to look at whether efforts by states to curb these drinks really works, said Daniel Taber, the lead study author.

Scientists and autism: When geeks meet

Simon Baron-Cohen:

In the opening scene of The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg portrays a cold Mark Zuckerberg getting dumped by his girlfriend, who is exasperated by the future Facebook founder’s socially oblivious and obsessive personality. Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg is the stereotypical Silicon Valley geek — brilliant with technology, pathologically bereft of social graces. Or, in the parlance of the Valley: ‘on the spectrum’.
Few scientists think that the leaders of the tech world actually have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which can range from the profound social, language and behavioural problems that are characteristic of autistic disorder, to the milder Asperger’s syndrome. But according to an idea that is creeping into the popular psyche, they and many others in professions such as science and engineering may display some of the characteristics of autism, and have an increased risk of having children with the full-blown disorder.

Does Inequality Make Us Unhappy?

Jonah Lehrer:

Inequality is inevitable; life is a bell curve. Such are the brute facts of biology, which can only evolve because some living things are better at reproducing than others. But not all inequality is created equal. In recent years, it’s become clear that many kinds of wealth disparity are perfectly acceptable — capitalism could not exist otherwise — while alternate forms make us unhappy and angry.
The bad news is that American society seems to be developing the wrong kind of inequality. There is, for instance, this recent study published in Psychological Science, which found that, since the 1970s, the kind of inequality experienced by most Americans has undermined perceptions of fairness and trust, which in turn reduced self-reports of life satisfaction:

Parents Outsource the Basics

Sophia Hollander & Melanie Grayce West:

Some New York City children take after-school classes in dance, pottery or softball. Once a week, Gillian and Hunter Randall add an unusual activity to the list: lessons on how to shake hands.
It’s a class taught by SocialSklz:-), a company founded in 2009 to address deteriorating social skills in the age of iPhones, Twitter and Facebook friends.
“It’s hard to have a real conversation anymore. And you know what? I’m guilty of it too,” said the Randalls’ mother, Lisa LaBarbera, noting that her 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son both have iPod touches and handheld videogame devices. “You get carpal tunnel, but you’re not building those communication

Too much too soon about birds and bees

China Daily:

Recently there has been a significant move among Chinese educators to provide better sex education to students in college, primary schools and even kindergartens.
The Ministry of Education recently issued a circular requiring colleges to make courses on reproductive physiology and sex psychology part of the standard curriculum.
This kind of education as a rule is included in courses known as physiology and hygiene in middle schools, but in actual practice some more sensitive topics are either not addressed or glossed over by instructors who consider them embarrassing and not essential.
In the past, this kind of information about sexuality was generally passed on informally outside the schools, by young people.
One of the many stated reasons for offering formal, medically accurate instruction is to protect children from sex abuse, and to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Neuroscience vs philosophy: Taking aim at free will

Kerri Smith:

Scientists think they can prove that free will is an illusion. Philosophers are urging them to think again.
The experiment helped to change John-Dylan Haynes’s outlook on life. In 2007, Haynes, a neuroscientist at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, put people into a brain scanner in which a display screen flashed a succession of random letters1. He told them to press a button with either their right or left index fingers whenever they felt the urge, and to remember the letter that was showing on the screen when they made the decision. The experiment used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to reveal brain activity in real time as the volunteers chose to use their right or left hands. The results were quite a surprise.
“The first thought we had was ‘we have to check if this is real’,” says Haynes. “We came up with more sanity checks than I’ve ever seen in any other study before.”
The conscious decision to push the button was made about a second before the actual act, but the team discovered that a pattern of brain activity seemed to predict that decision by as many as seven seconds. Long before the subjects were even aware of making a choice, it seems, their brains had already decided.

We Petition the Obama Administration to promote legislation to prevent public schools from starting earlier than 8 a.m.

Terra Snider, via a kind JH Snider email:

Considerable research confirms the relationship between school start times, sleep deprivation, and student performance, truancy, and absenteeism, as well as depression, mood swings, impulse control, tobacco and alcohol use, impaired cognitive function and decision-making, obesity, stimulant abuse, automobile accidents, and suicide. Mounting evidence about the biology of adolescent sleep, and about the impact of later start times, shows that starting school before 8 a.m. not only undermines academic achievement but endangers health and safety. Because logistical and financial issues prevent local school systems from establishing safe and educationally defensible hours, however, federal legislation mandating start times consistent with student health and educational well-being is essential.

Terra Snider:

As the parent of two former and one current Severna Park High School student, I’ve been living with the issue of early high school start times for years. Although the consensus of scientific opinion is that teenagers (and young adults) would be better off if school hours were better aligned with their biological clocks, the possibility of changing school hours inevitably sparks raging controversy, both here and across the country.
Changing school hours costs money, and we all know school systems don’t have a lot of that on hand. It also means changing the way we do things, and most of us don’t like doing that much either. On the other hand, Moses didn’t come down from Mount Sinai with commandments that schools must start at 7:17 a.m. and end at 2:05 p.m.
Surely if we know students learn better, and are healthier and safer, with different hours, we should make that our number one priority. Shouldn’t we?
The Severna Park High School CAC (and the now defunct countywide CAC) have been working on the issue of high school start time for years, decades even – to no avail. Many of us have become convinced that the only solution to the problem is a national mandate. That’s why I created a petition on We the People on, a new platform that allows anyone to create and sign petitions asking the Obama Administration to take action on a range of issues.

Parents Urged Again to Limit TV for Youngest

Benedict Carey:

Parents of infants and toddlers should limit the time their children spend in front of televisions, computers, self-described educational games and even grown-up shows playing in the background, the American Academy of Pediatrics warned on Tuesday. Video screen time provides no educational benefits for children under age 2 and leaves less room for activities that do, like interacting with other people and playing, the group said.
The recommendation, announced at the group’s annual convention in Boston, is less stringent than its first such warning, in 1999, which called on parents of young children to all but ban television watching for children under 2 and to fill out a “media history” for doctor’s office visits. But it also makes clear that there is no such thing as an educational program for such young children, and that leaving the TV on as background noise, as many households do, distracts both children and adults.
“We felt it was time to revisit this issue because video screens are everywhere now, and the message is much more relevant today that it was a decade ago,” said Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician in Austin, Tex., and the lead author of the academy’s policy, which appears in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Why do we still vary?

Razib Khan:

I notice that last summer Karl Smith asked “Why Are There Short People?” His logic is pretty good, except for the fact that the fitness variation seems to be much starker in males than females (there is some evidence I’ve seen that shorter women can be more fertile, though that’s balanced by the fact that larger women seem to be able to manage gestation better). In any case, height seems to be a fitness enhancing trait which is highly heritable, and yet the variation in height remains!
Karl’s readers offered some reasons. What do you think? Mind you, something which immediately comes to mind is that the logic presented for why everyone should be tall and vary only a touch is logic. Not all the assumptions need to hold. For example, has the advantage to height been invariant at all times and places? I have posited for example that the fact that humans became smaller after the Ice Age may have something to do with increased morbidity and declining mortality, where agricultural settlements “hugged” the Malthusian boundary more consistently than hunter-gatherers. In this sort of environment smaller individuals may have gained a fitness advantage because they required fewer resources to make it through the inevitable “starving times.”*

Finger Scan Devices Coming to Washington County School Buses

Bryan Anderson:

Roll call is a thing of the past in Washington County Schools. Students now check in with finger scanning devices.
School Superintendent Sandra Cook said the old method just wasn’t cutting it.
“We got to talking about attendance in our district and how it was inconsistent,” said Cook.
The systems have been up and running for two months inside the schools, but since the majority of students ride the bus every day, district officials decided to move the devices there.
But the transition hasn’t been easy. One of the biggest challenges they’ve faced is where to put the devices on the buses. State safety codes require the isles to be kept completely clear, so one of the ideas they’ve discussed is to put a laptop on one side of the steering wheel and the finger scan system on the other.


The Ritalin Wars: Understanding America’s Adderall Obsession

Lawrence Diller:

I’ve prescribed Ritalin type drugs to children for 33 years. In the early 1990s I began feeling ethically uneasy about my professional role. I went public with my concerns in a book called “Running on Ritalin.” In the process I was involuntarily enlisted into what has been called, “The Ritalin Wars,” an often-polemical public debate about whether psychiatric drugs are good or bad for children.
Recently I published an article on The Huffington Post called “The United States of Adderall.” I mentioned that we are 4 percent of the world’s population but produce 88 percent of the world’s legal amphetamine (Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, etc.) virtually all for the treatment of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adults. I tried to maintain a balanced view on ADHD and medication. The article generated over 200 mostly extreme comments from my point of view.

The irrational use of antibiotics is accelerating the trend of bacteria becoming resistant to the drugs we rely on to keep diseases at bay. And without a plan to tackle the problem, we risk a global health crisis

Dr Shin Young-soo:

The outbreak of scarlet fever in Hong Kong earlier this year caught the attention of specialists at the World Health Organisation. We think of scarlet fever in developed societies as a disease that was pretty well vanquished decades ago. So the emergence of a scarlet fever outbreak in a modern city like Hong Kong and in mainland China was something of an unexpected event. But more disquieting was the suggestion that the bacteria causing the disease had become resistant to certain antibiotics. Happily, the worst of the outbreak is over, but the global problem of drug resistance is definitely not.
The discovery early last century of penicillin and antimicrobial drugs changed the course of history. Science began to gain the upper hand in the war on disease, and, at last, scourges such as leprosy, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, syphilis and many more could be mastered. But now many of those miracle drugs and the generations of others that followed could finish up in the rubbish bin as increasing levels of drug resistance threaten their effectiveness.

Zero-tolerance policies pushing up school suspensions, report says

Rick Rojas:

The National Education Policy Center finds that districts, including L.A. Unified, have increasingly suspended minority students, mostly for nonviolent offenses, over the last decade.
In the decade since school districts instituted “zero tolerance” discipline policies, administrators have increasingly suspended minority students, predominantly for nonviolent offenses, according to a report released Wednesday.
The National Education Policy Center found that suspensions across the country are increasing for offenses such as dress code and cellphone violations. Researchers expressed concerns that the overuse of suspensions could lead to dropouts and even incarceration.
Suspensions are falling mostly on black students; nearly a third of black males in middle school have been suspended at least once, researchers from the University of Colorado-based group found.

Diet soda linked to weight gain

Edward Martin:

If the FDA won’t go after diet sodas for all the dangerous chemicals they contain, maybe the FTC can take action for false advertising.
There’s nothing “diet” about diet sodas. After all, studies have linked them to metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart problems, and more.
And now, yet another study confirms that people who drink the most diet soda have the biggest bellies.
Researchers from the University of Texas medical school examined data on 474 seniors who took part in the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging, and found that the waistlines of those who drank diet soda grew 70 percent more than those who didn’t drink the stuff during the average follow-up of nearly 10 years.
And the more they drank, the more they grew: The researchers say those who drank two or more diet sodas a day had five times the increase in belly size than those who drank no soda, according to the study presented at a recent American Diabetes Association meeting.

Denmark taxes fatty products

Richard Orange:

Denmark is to impose the world’s first “fat tax” in a drive to slim its population and cut heart disease.
The move may increase pressure for a similar tax in the UK, which suffers from the highest levels of obesity in Europe.
Starting from this Saturday, Danes will pay an extra 30p on each pack of butter, 8p on a pack of crisps, and an extra 13p on a pound of mince, as a result of the tax.
The tax is expected to raise about 2.2bn Danish Krone (£140m), and cut consumption of saturated fat by close to 10pc, and butter consumption by 15pc.
“It’s the first ever fat-tax,” said Mike Rayner, Director of Oxford University’s Health Promotion Research Group, who has long campaigned for taxes on unhealthy foods.

Fewer students walk to school

Bob Shaw:

It’s 9 a.m., and the rush is on.
Buses disgorge hundreds of students at one side of Bailey Elementary School in Woodbury. On the other side, parents line up in SUVs to drop off their kids.
“Bye-bye,” says Silva Theis of Woodbury, kissing her fourth-grade daughter.
In the hubbub, no one notices what’s missing – the dying practice of walking to school. Of 620 students at Bailey, not one walks – not even those who live one block away.
Managers of a 6-year-old federal program think they know why.

The destructive nature of power without status

Nathanael J. Fast, Nir Halevy, Adam D. Galinsky:

The current research explores how roles that possess power but lack status influence behavior toward others. Past research has primarily examined the isolated effects of having either power or status, but we propose that power and status interact to affect interpersonal behavior. Based on the notions that a) low-status is threatening and aversive and b) power frees people to act on their internal states and feelings, we hypothesized that power without status fosters demeaning behaviors toward others. To test this idea, we orthogonally manipulated both power and status and gave participants the chance to select activities for their partners to perform. As predicted, individuals in high-power/low-status roles chose more demeaning activities for their partners (e.g., bark like a dog, say “I am filthy”) than did those in any other combination of power and status roles. We discuss how these results clarify, challenge, and advance the existing power and status literatures.

A New Law on School Fitness Data Faces Obstacles

Morgan Smith:

Texas children are fat — and getting fatter.
It is something state policy makers have known and have struggled to address for years. In the last decade, the Legislature has passed laws that set nutritional standards for school meals, required body mass index screenings for children and adolescents, and instituted physical activity requirements.
The latest effort came during this year’s legislative session with a bill passed by Senator Jane Nelson, Republican of Flower Mound, that allows a deeper study of schools’ fitness data.
Under the new law, researchers can access unidentified individual student data, which they say will help bolster aggregate analyses that already show correlations between physical fitness and academic performance, gang activity and absenteeism.

Teenage Brains

David Dobbs:

To see past the distracting, dopey teenager and glimpse the adaptive adolescent within, we should look not at specific, sometimes startling, behaviors, such as skateboarding down stairways or dating fast company, but at the broader traits that underlie those acts.
Let’s start with the teen’s love of the thrill. We all like new and exciting things, but we never value them more highly than we do during adolescence. Here we hit a high in what behavioral scientists call sensation seeking: the hunt for the neural buzz, the jolt of the unusual or unexpected.
Seeking sensation isn’t necessarily impulsive. You might plan a sensation-seeking experience–a skydive or a fast drive–quite deliberately, as my son did. Impulsivity generally drops throughout life, starting at about age 10, but this love of the thrill peaks at around age 15. And although sensation seeking can lead to dangerous behaviors, it can also generate positive ones: The urge to meet more people, for instance, can create a wider circle of friends, which generally makes us healthier, happier, safer, and more successful.

Recess Making Comeback in Chicago Schools

Rebecca Vevea:

As more Chicago public schools cash in on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s longer-day financial incentives by adding 90 minutes to their school day, the previous votes by a dozen schools to add about a half hour to the day by bringing back recess are going unnoticed.
Restoring recess is part of a broader health push by parents, advocacy groups and some city officials to bring more exercise and better nutrition to both schoolchildren and preschoolers.
Beginning in November, the city’s Department of Public Health will require children who attend preschool or day care centers in Chicago to spend less time in front of television or computer screens — 60 minutes or less — and more time, at least an hour a day, participating in physical activity. At snack or meal time, milk cannot have a fat content higher than 1 percent, unless a child has written consent from a doctor. Only 100 percent juice can be served.
In Chicago, 22 percent of children are overweight before they enter school, more than twice the national average, according to research compiled by the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children, a group of organizations and health advocates.

Alabama public schools turn to Wii to help fight childhood obesity

Marie Leech:

Ask most third-graders whether they’d rather run laps in hundred-degree temperatures or play a video game, and it doesn’t take a genius to correctly predict their answer.
What did take some brainpower, however, was figuring out how use that fondness for electronic games to get some of the same benefits as running.
Wee Can Fight Obesity is a fitness program for third-graders in Alabama public schools, and uses the Wii Fit Plus Bundle and EA Sports Active video games to improve physical fitness three days a week during P.E. class.
The one-year program is in 30 schools this year, and was in 30 different schools last year. The goal is to eventually offer the program to every elementary school.

Unvaccinated Students Denied School Attendance, California

The State Column:

Middle school and high school students who have not received the required whooping cough vaccine are denied attendance at some California schools. This comes as a result of a law passed last year, after a spike in potentially fatal diseases swept through schools. Last year, there were 70 reported cases for whooping cough.
This law, passed in September 2010, required all students entering grades seventh through twelfth grade to be vaccinated by the start of 2011-2012 school year. Even after a 30 day extension period before the law went into effect, students were still unable to meet the deadline for the vaccination.

Family Pioneers in Exploration of the Genome

Amy Dockser Marcus:

A group of researchers said that by examining the whole genome of a family of four, they were able to make unusually specific findings, including the daughter’s risk of blood clots, and suggestions for preventive care.
The study, published Thursday in the journal PLoS Genetics, was led by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, Calif., but also listed as co-authors John and Anne West, a father and daughter who were researching their own genetic make-up at home in Silicon Valley and met the Stanford team in the process. The research is part of scientists’ continuing quest to extract truly useful information from the genome, a person’s complete genetic code.
This is the second time a paper has been published about a family’s whole genome. In the earlier paper, published last year in Science Express by a different group of researchers, the two children in the family had rare genetic conditions, and researchers were searching for the genes that caused them. The goal in the current study was to better predict the disease risk of a family and how family members might respond to medications.

Taking the Dread Out of Phys Ed

Sue Shellenbarger:

For many middle school students, the words “Phys Ed” are enough to provoke fear–fear of getting dressed in the locker room, of wearing a nerdy uniform, of looking clumsy, of being picked last.
Tammy Brant, a gym teacher at Selma Middle School, in Selma, Ind., is rethinking the way schools have taught girls and boys about fitness. Instead of group calisthenics and contests that favor the most athletic kids, Ms. Brant, like many other teachers nationwide, devotes class time to fitness instruction and to games structured so that more kids can play and enjoy.
Instead of pushing everyone to hit specific performance targets, she urges them to progress toward individualized “fitness zones.” She teaches the stages of a workout–warm-up, training, cool-down–and straps a heart monitor on each child. The goal is to instill healthy habits for life.

SpongeBob In Hot Water From Study Of 4-Year-Olds

The cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants is in hot water from a study suggesting that watching just nine minutes of that program can cause short-term attention and learning problems in 4-year-olds.
The problems were seen in a study of 60 children randomly assigned to either watch “SpongeBob,” or the slower-paced PBS cartoon “Caillou” or assigned to draw pictures. Immediately after these nine-minute assignments, the kids took mental function tests; those who had watched “SpongeBob” did measurably worse than the others. Previous research has linked TV-watching with long-term attention problems in children, but the new study suggests more immediate problems can occur after very little exposure — results that parents of young kids should be alert to, the study authors said.
Kids’ cartoon shows typically feature about 22 minutes of action, so watching a full program “could be more detrimental,” the researchers speculated, But they said more evidence is needed to confirm that.
The results should be interpreted cautiously because of the study’s small size, but the data seem robust and bolster the idea that media exposure is a public health issue, said Dr. Dimitri Christakis. He is a child development specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital who wrote an editorial accompanying the study published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
Christakis said parents need to realize that fast-paced programming may not be appropriate for very young children. “What kids watch matters, it’s not just how much they watch,” he said.
University of Virginia psychology professor Angeline Lillard, the lead author, said Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob” shouldn’t be singled out. She found similar problems in kids who watched other fast-paced cartoon programming. She said parents should realize that young children are compromised in their ability to learn and use self-control immediately after watching such shows. “I wouldn’t advise watching such shows on the way to school or any time they’re expected to pay attention and learn,” she said.
Nickelodeon spokesman David Bittler disputed the findings and said “SpongeBob SquarePants” is aimed at kids aged 6-11, not 4-year-olds. “Having 60 non-diverse kids, who are not part of the show’s targeted (audience), watch nine minutes of programming is questionable methodology and could not possibly provide the basis for any valid findings that parents could trust,” he said.
Lillard said 4-year-olds were chosen because that age “is the heart of the period during which you see the most development” in certain self-control abilities. Whether children of other ages would be similarly affected can’t be determined from this study. Most kids were white and from middle-class or wealthy families. They were given common mental function tests after watching cartoons or drawing. The SpongeBob kids scored on average 12 points lower than the other two groups, whose scores were nearly identical.
In another test, measuring self-control and impulsiveness, kids were rated on how long they could wait before eating snacks presented when the researcher left the room. “SpongeBob” kids waited about 2 1/2 minutes on average, versus at least four minutes for the other two groups. The study has several limitations. For one thing, the kids weren’t tested before they watched TV. But Lillard said none of the children had diagnosed attention problems and all got similar scores on parent evaluations of their behavior.
Online: Pediatrics:

The Great Candy Debate


“Motivation is part of education and classroom teachers should have input because they are the ones doing the work. ”
“Not all candy purchases are used for motivation.”
“The question becomes do we want to be the food police in the schools. ”
“Teachers and principals might not understand why this issue is being pushed so hard. ”
—Administration Response to “Candy Purchases” issue (Minutes of the Finance Committee meeting 8-22-11)

On the Size Increase in Football Players

Gregg Easterbrook:

Randy White of the Dallas Cowboys, star defensive tackle of the 1970s, member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame: What a joy it was to watch him play! White was a master of leverage, burst and anticipation. Today, he might not even make an NFL roster. If White got on the field, he’d be crushed.
White played defensive tackle at 257 pounds, across from centers weighing 240 or 250 pounds and guards who were considered huge if 265. Last year’s Super Bowl featured defensive tackles B.J. Raji (337 pounds) and Casey Hampton (330 pounds) versus guards Chris Kemoeatu (344 pounds) and Josh Sitton (318 pounds). Either guard would have steamrolled Randy White as if he wasn’t there.
As for today’s biceps: Your Honor, I call to the stand America’s leading expert on these matters, Mel Kiper Jr. Everyone assumes today’s football players are bigger, faster and stronger than those who came before. But what does the data show? No one is better suited to answer that question than Kiper.
Far, far in the past — about 1980 — the United States was not obsessed with the NFL draft. Of course that’s hard to imagine today. Once, bread did not come sliced. But I digress.

School Curriculum Falls Short on Bigger Lessons

Tara Parker-Pope
Now that children are back in the classroom, are they really learning the lessons that will help them succeed?
Many child development experts worry that the answer may be no. They say the ever-growing emphasis on academic performance and test scores means many children aren’t developing life skills like self-control, motivation, focus and resilience, which are far better predictors of long-term success than high grades. And it may be distorting their and their parents’ values.
“What are we really trying to do when we think about raising kids?” asked Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg, an expert in adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “We’re trying to put in place the ingredients so the child is going to be a successful 35-year-old. It’s not really about getting an A in algebra.”
Take the question of praising a child’s academic achievement. In his new book “Letting Go With Love and Confidence: Raising Responsible, Resilient, Self-Sufficient Teens in the 21st Century” (written with Susan Fitzgerald), Dr. Ginsburg draws a crucial distinction between hard work and simply getting an A or “being smart.”
In one set of studies, children who solved math puzzles were praised for their intelligence or for their hard work. The first group actually did worse on subsequent tests, or took an easy way out, shunning difficult problems. The research suggests that praise for a good effort encourages harder work, while children who are consistently told they are smart do not know what to do when confronted with a difficult problem or reading assignment.
“When we focus on performance, when we say ‘make sure you get A’s,’ we have kids who are terrified of B’s,” Dr. Ginsburg said. “Kids who are praised for effort, those kids learn that intelligence is something that can be built.”
Academic achievement can certainly help children succeed, and for parents there can be a fine line between praising effort and praising performance. Words need to be chosen carefully: Instead of saying, “I’m so proud you got an A on your test,” a better choice is “I’m so proud of you for studying so hard.” Both replies rightly celebrate the A, but the second focuses on the effort that produced it, encouraging the child to keep trying in the future.
Praise outside of academics matters, too. Instead of asking your child how many points she scored on the basketball court, say, “Tell me about the game. Did you have fun? Did you play hard?”
Dr. Ginsburg notes that parents also need to teach their children that they do not have to be good at everything, and there is something to be learned when a child struggles or gets a poor grade despite studying hard.

Continue reading School Curriculum Falls Short on Bigger Lessons

Parents of seven told: Your children are too fat, so you will never see them again

Jane Simpson:

Four obese children are on the brink of being permanently removed from their family by social workers after their parents failed to bring their weight under control.
In the first case of its kind, their mother and father now face what they call the ‘unbearable’ likelihood of never seeing them again.
Their three daughters, aged 11, seven and one, and five-year-old son, will either be ‘fostered without contact’ or adopted.
Torn apart: The parents, far left and right, with six of their children who they fear will be taken away from them
Torn apart: The parents, far left and right, with six of their children who they fear will be taken away from them
Either way, the family’s only hope of being reunited will be if the children attempt to track down their parents when they become adults.
The couple, who have been married for nearly 20 years and are not being named to protect their children’s identities, were given a ‘draconian’ ultimatum three years ago – as reported at the time by The Mail on Sunday.
Warned that the children must slim or be placed in care, the family spent two years living in a council-funded ‘Big Brother’ house in which they were constantly supervised and the food they ate monitored.

Team Real on Drug Abuse, via Judy Reed:

TEAM REAL is made up of students from your community that are in-the-know about drugs of abuse. The facts provided will raise awareness of the local drug trends, costs of illicit drugs, ways kids are getting high, and the use of over-the-counter and licit medications as drugs of abuse.

A larger version of this image is available here.

Why do college students love getting wasted?

Thomas Rogers:

Like many North American college students, I am an experienced binge drinker. Most weekend nights during my undergraduate years, I would “pregame” with my dorm mates, before moving to local bars, and then one of my college town’s crappy dance clubs, before staggering home, and, often, ending up with my head perched above the toilet. As part of my college’s crew team, I would celebrate our victories (and losses) by drinking half-liters of vodka straight out of the bottle. And I would often make my way to my morning classes feeling like one of the worms from “Tremors” had just tried to wedge itself into my forehead.
In retrospect, all of this sounds both obnoxious and exhausting, but when I was 18 years old, drinking held a real, magical appeal. When drunk, I would feel socially skilled, and wonderfully impulsive, and far more fun than I’d ever been before. I was drawn to alcohol because it allowed me to escape my natural shyness and bond with people I barely even knew.

At Last, A Reason Why Stress Causes DNA Damage

Duke Medicine News and Communications:

For years, researchers have published papers that associate chronic stress with chromosomal damage.
Now researchers at Duke University Medical Center have discovered a mechanism that helps to explain the stress response in terms of DNA damage.
“We believe this paper is the first to propose a specific mechanism through which a hallmark of chronic stress, elevated adrenaline, could eventually cause DNA damage that is detectable,” said senior author Robert J. Lefkowitz, MD, James B. Duke Professor of Medicine and Biochemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator at Duke University Medical Center.
The paper was published in the August 21 online issue of Nature.

New Ways to Protect Your Kids Online

Kelli Grant:

Most parents can safely assume that if their kids are at large, they’re also online. What they’re doing in cyberspace is another matter. With sexting and cyber-bullying in the headlines, a new set of programs is promising to help parents keep track.
Already some 50% of parents have installed software or another monitoring program to keep tabs on their kids’ online activities, more than double the parents who had three years ago, according to software company Symantec. But unlike the old offerings, which typically monitor only the home computer, the new programs are specifically aimed at today’s hyper-mobile, socially-networked teens. For up to $100 per month, they promise to keep track of online posts and communiqu s that show up on your kid’s social networking accounts from wherever a teen sends them — via a laptop, smartphone or even a friend’s iPad. “Parents feel overwhelmed and out-gunned with the level of social media their kids are using,” says Caroline Knorr, a spokeswoman for advocacy group Common Sense Media. “These programs can offer a measure of control and supervision.”

Schooling Kids to Wash Hands Cuts Sick Days

Ann Lukits:

Kids will be heading back to school soon and that means colds, flu and other easily shared infections are bound to pick up. But illness and school absenteeism can be significantly reduced through a program of mandatory hand hygiene, according to a recently published study in the American Journal of Infection Control.
For three months in 2007, 290 Danish schoolchildren age 5 to 15 were asked to disinfect their hands with ethanol-based gel three times a day. The children also were taught proper hand-washing techniques.
By contrast, at a nearby school, which served as a control group, parents of 362 pupils in the same age range received written information about a study of hand hygiene and absenteeism, but the kids weren’t required to alter their habits.

Women See Value and Benefits of College; Men Lag on Both Fronts, Survey Finds

Wendy Wang & Kim Parker:

Since the early 1990s, more young women than young men have been completing college. The survey attempted to gauge the public’s reaction to this educational trend. Respondents were asked whether the fact that women are now more likely than men to get a college degree is a good thing for society, a bad thing or if it doesn’t make much difference. Slightly over half of the public (52%) say this is a good thing for society, 39% say that it doesn’t make much difference, and only 7% view this as a bad thing.
A similar share of men and women (50% and 55%, respectively) view the female advantage in college education as a good thing for society. Men are somewhat more likely than women to view this as neutral for society (45% vs. 34%), while women are nearly twice as likely as men to say it is a bad thing for society (9% vs. 5%).

Seoul School Lunch Vote to Test Sentiment on Welfare

Evan Ramstad:

A municipal vote in Seoul on Wednesday over free school lunches is shaping up as a test of South Koreans’ sentiment on government welfare spending, and the outcome is expected to influence races in parliamentary and presidential elections next year.
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, a member of the conservative Grand National Party that controls the Parliament and presidency, pushed for the referendum as a challenge to the city council’s decision to expand a free-lunch program.
The council, which is controlled by the opposition Democratic Party, earlier this year voted to provide free school lunches to all of Seoul’s 850,000 elementary and middle-school students, at a cost of about $378 million a year. Supporters of the free-lunches-for-all policy say it removes the stigma that recipients of free lunches face.

Visualized: A School Day as Data

Brandon Keim:

By putting RFIDs on children and monitoring their interactions over a single day, researchers have produced one of the most detailed analyses ever of the roiling, boiling social free-for-all that is school.
The findings, published August 16 in Public Library of Science One, document the minute-by-minute interactions and locations of 232 children aged 6 to 12 and 10 teachers.
Reconfigured as pulsing network maps and flows of color are the universal experiences of middle school: the between-class rush, playground cliques, snatched hallway conversation and the fifth-graders who are too cool for everyone else.
“We can compare different types of assumptions or modeling with a model that takes into account all interactions,” said Alain Barrat, who studies complex networks at the Institute of Scientific Interchange in Turin, Italy.

An Open Letter to Our Young, Gifted, Talented, and Black (YGTB)

The Milwaukee Drum:

Dear Young, Gifted, Talented, and Black (YGTB),
Something has occured within our Black Community which needs to be addressed and I’m going to peel the scab off of it. The chasm has been widened between those in our community who possess knowledge, resources, wisdom, creativity, and determination and those who should be moving into the fold to advance our race. It is a slow death which if prolonged, will choke off any feasible possibility for future survival and success for our people.
YGTB, I sit positioned between you and our elders… not young enough nor mature enough to be in either category. I am transitioning and this is what I want to give you now during my journey (breadcrumbs to follow). Our (some) elders have eaten of the tree of (trick)knowledge bearing the forbidden fruit integration. The false promises of this fruit tantalized those who tasted its flesh with the hope of equality to White People, justice, freedom, legacy, and political power in America (our wilderness).
YGTB, stop!!!!! I am telling you not to follow down their path! Reject this fruit and the lies which flow from its bosom. What you need only to do is observe the plight of our people and judge if the present course (last 2 generations) of our direction produced results that have uplifted the majority of our people? If you see what I do, then you agree that our condition is getting worse. Do not continue to do what has failed us.

Building character is a worthy subject in schools

Alan Borsuk:

Would you rather have someone graduate high school with good computer skills or good character traits?
I grant it’s a false choice. You ought to have both, and they’re not in conflict. But I ask this as a way of asking what our priorities are when it comes to educating children.
It’s hard to find a school that doesn’t have lots of computers these days. The intense push to load schools up with computers seems to have eased, compared with a decade ago. Money is tighter now, and many schools don’t need much more because they have a lot already.
But it’s not so easy to find schools that have good character education programs.
Schools are held accountable for teaching reading and math and so on. The pressure is always on for academic records for each student and for a school as a whole. But students’ character? Other than attendance and discipline for behavior problems, interest in that is pretty inconsistent.
Of course, many would say, it’s not the school’s job to civilize children. That’s the parents’ job. Absolutely correct, and I think more should be done to try to get more parents to do that job.

Facebook’s Privacy Issues Are Even Deeper Than We Knew

Chunka Mui:

Questions about what social networks mean for personal privacy and security have been brought to a head by research at Carnegie Mellon University that shows that Facebook has essentially become a worldwide photo identification database. Paired with related research, we’re looking at the prospect where good, bad and ugly actors will be able identify a face in a crowd and know sensitive personal information about that person.
These developments mean that we no longer have to worry just about what Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and other social sites do with our data; we have to worry about what they enable others to do, too. And it now seems that others will be able to do a lot.

At a Convention Full of Them, It’s Apparent Not All Twins Are Created Equal

Dionne Searcey:

Brothers Mike and Matt Wickert arrived at Twins Days here last weekend dressed alike. But their matching blue polo shirts and khaki shorts didn’t gain them much attention.
The 32-year-old fraternal twins from Cincinnati don’t share all that many features. Mike has blue eyes, Matt has brown. Mike’s face is angular, and Matt’s nose is more rounded. Matt’s hair is dark brown; Mike’s is blonder.
“I feel shafted here because everybody looks the same,” said Matt Wickert who was attending the festival with his brother in the town named for a set of identical twin landowners, Moses and Aaron Wilcox.
Mike Wickert chimed in: “Yeah, we’re the redheaded stepchild here, the fraternals.”

Facial recognition software could reveal your social security number

Deborah Braconnier:

According to a new study which will be presented August 4 at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, technology has made it possible to identify and gain the personal information of strangers by using facial recognition and social media profiles like Facebook.
The study, led by Alessandro Acquisti from Carnegie Mellon University, combined the use of three different technologies – cloud computing, facial recognition and public information that can be found on various social networking sites.
They used these technologies in three different experiments. In the first experiment, Acquisti and his team were able to identify members of an online dating site where members do not use their real names for identification. The second experiment allowed the research team to identify college students in real life walking on campus based solely on their face and information gathered online.

Teenagers ‘addicted’ to using smartphones

Maija Palmer:

Just under half of British children aged 12 to 15 own a smartphone, with many claiming to be “addicted” to the devices, which they use while eating, at the cinema and in bed.
Research published by Ofcom, the communications market regulator, on Thursday found that smartphone ownership was highest among younger teenagers, with 47 per cent owning a device, compared with 27 per cent of British adults.
About 60 per cent of teenagers who owned smartphones described themselves as “addicted” to their handsets and around 71 per cent of smartphone owning teens have their device switched on all the time.

Prejudice lurks even in 3-year-olds

Crystal Chui:

The seeds of prejudice are being planted in the minds of Hong Kong children as young as three, a study has revealed.
Face-to-face questioning of 152 youngsters aged between three and six discovered many hold more negative attitudes towards people with darker skin.
The results of the survey, commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission and the first of its kind to be carried out in the city, have prompted calls for better pre-school education and parenting.
The children were asked to describe their attitudes towards different skin colours by rating eight positive and negative qualities, including friendliness, beauty, honesty, courtesy, selfishness and rudeness.

Face-ID Tools Pose New Risk

Julia Angwin:

As Internet giants Facebook Inc. and Google Inc. race to expand their facial-recognition abilities, new research shows how powerful, and potentially detrimental to privacy, these tools have become.
Armed with nothing but a snapshot, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh successfully identified about one-third of the people they tested, using a powerful facial-recognition technology recently acquired by Google.

Latest counterfeit IDs are so good they’re dangerous

Ashley Halsey, III:

When the fleeing motorcycle hit the curb, scraped past a utility pole and hurled 20-year-old Craig Eney to his death, a bogus South Carolina driver’s license was in the hip pocket of his jeans.
He spent the final hours of his life trading on that phony license to buy shots for his buddies at two downtown Annapolis bars, places so popular among underage drinkers that bouncers are stationed outside to check everyone’s ID.
Yet scores of young people flash fake driver’s licenses and waltz on by to the bar.
The days when faking driver’s licenses was a cottage industry — often practiced in college dorm rooms by a computer geek with a laminating machine — have given way to far more sophisticated and prolific practitioners who operate outside the reach of U.S. law enforcement.
In an era when terrorism and illegal immigration have transformed driver’s licenses into sophisticated mini-documents festooned with holograms and bar codes, beating the system has never been easier.

McDonald’s to Make Nutrition Push

Melodie Warner:

McDonald’s Corp. plans to promote more nutritional options, such as automatically including fruit or a low-fat dairy option in every Happy Meal.
The fast-food giant said the new Happy Meal, being rolled out in September, will have about 20% fewer calories and less fat.
The company also will promote nutrition in its national kids’ advertising and Happy Meal packaging.
Childhood obesity is a growing concern in the U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama has made it her mission to promote environments that support healthy choices through her “Let’s Move” initiative.

New Tests for Newborns, And Dilemmas for Parents

Amy Dockser Marcus:

The familiar heel prick that newborns receive is revealing more about a baby’s health than ever before. But, as technology opens the possibility of screening newborns for hundreds of diseases, there is controversy over how much parents need to know.
Within days of an infant being born, a few drops of blood are taken from the baby’s heel and tested for signs of more than two dozen different conditions, including congenital hypothyroidism and sickle-cell diseases. In many places, babies also are given tests to identify the likelihood of hearing or vision disorders.
Some states have expanded their checks, including testing for amino-acid and metabolism disorders. Many of the new conditions being looked at have no definitive treatment or it isn’t clear whether immediate intervention is necessary. That can present an emotional dilemma for parents who may want to know if anything is wrong with their baby but in many cases have no therapy to pursue.

Caring for the Me Generation

Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab

During the past semester, a time where I constantly felt split between my academic life and my civic life, I became acutely aware of an attitude among undergraduates that perplexed me. I tried writing about it , describing what readers pointed out (in a far more articulate manner than I’d managed) was a notable lack of empathy among some students.
Since I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to make convince higher education institutions to prioritize their students’ needs and desires, these realizations about who some of the students seemed to be and especially what they seemed to believe, made me pretty depressed. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that I expect students to speak and act in one voice–far from it, given how much I value the democratic process. I don’t want them to share my opinions or perspectives, but rather simply want them to formulate opinions and perspectives after asking good questions and gathering and evaluating information. But what I hope for, most of all, is their recognition that they are part of a worldwide community of students, and their strength lies in that community. I hope that such a larger sense of the world will guide them to think of more than themselves, and to act for the greater good.

Ivy League to Limit Full-Contact Football Practices

Ken Belson:

The Ivy League will announce on Wednesday that, in an effort to minimize head injuries among its football players, it will sharply reduce the number of allowable full-contact practices teams can hold.
The changes, to be implemented this season, go well beyond the rules set by the N.C.A.A. and are believed to be more stringent than those of any other conference. The league will also review the rules governing men’s and women’s hockey, lacrosse and soccer to determine if there are ways to reduce hits to the head and concussions in those sports.
The new rules will be introduced as a growing amount of research suggests that limiting full-contact practices may be among the most practical ways of reducing brain trauma among football players. According to a study of three Division I college teams published last year in the Journal of Athletic Training, college players sustain more total hits to the head in practices than in games.

It’s time to stop winking at teacher-student affairs

Bruce Macfarlane:

Universities are keen to present themselves as morally upright organisations committed to the very highest standard of conduct.
In recent years, a lot of attention has focused on ethics in research. Here, universities have introduced tight rules and approval processes for academics wanting to do research on human subjects.
But one of the most significant ethical issues in university life receives far less attention. This is how universities handle romantic and sexual relationships between faculty and students.

Where Have All the Girls Gone?

Mara Hvistendahl:

How did more than 160 million women go missing from Asia? The simple answer is sex selection — typically, an ultrasound scan followed by an abortion if the fetus turns out to be female — but beyond that, the reasons for a gap half the size of the U.S. population are not widely understood. And when I started researching a book on the topic, I didn’t understand them myself.
I thought I would focus on how gender discrimination has persisted as countries develop. The reasons couples gave for wanting boys varies: Sons stayed in the family and took care of their parents in old age, or they performed ancestor and funeral rites important in some cultures. Or it was that daughters were a burden, made expensive by skyrocketing dowries.
But that didn’t account for why sex selection was spreading across cultural and religious lines. Once found only in East and South Asia, imbalanced sex ratios at birth have recently reached countries as varied as Vietnam, Albania, and Azerbaijan. The problem has fanned out across these countries, moreover, at a time when women are driving many developing economies. In India, where women have achieved political firsts still not reached in the United States, sex selection has become so intense that by 2020 an estimated 15 to 20 percent of men in northwest India will lack female counterparts. I could only explain that epidemic as the cruel sum of technological advances and lingering sexism. I did not think the story of sex selection’s spread would lead, in part, to the United States.

Internet Use Affects Memory, Study Finds

Patricia Cohen:

The widespread use of search engines and online databases has affected the way people remember information, researchers are reporting.
The scientists, led by Betsy Sparrow, an assistant professor of psychology at Columbia, wondered whether people were more likely to remember information that could be easily retrieved from a computer, just as students are more likely to recall facts they believe will be on a test.
Dr. Sparrow and her collaborators, Daniel M. Wegner of Harvard and Jenny Liu of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, staged four different memory experiments. In one, participants typed 40 bits of trivia — for example, “an ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain” — into a computer. Half of the subjects believed the information would be saved in the computer; the other half believed the items they typed would be erased.

State bans unhealthy food sales in schools

Kay Lazar:

Sugary soft drinks, diet sodas, and artery-clogging food will be a thing of the past at Massachusetts public school snack shops, vending machines, and a la carte cafeteria lines under rules unanimously approved yesterday by state health regulators.
The nutrition standards adopted by the Public Health Council take effect in the 2012-2013 school year and are believed by advocates to be among the most comprehensive in the country.
But the council – an appointed panel of doctors, consumer advocates, and professors – delayed a ban on sweetened, flavored milk until August 2013 to give schools more time to find other ways to encourage children to drink milk.

Long live the fat American Obesity may threaten life expectancy. Or maybe not

The Economist:

AMERICA’S obesity epidemic is so called for a reason. Roughly one in three adults is obese. In 2008 close to 25m Americans were diabetic, according to a study published on June 25th. Nevertheless, Americans are living longer than ever. In 2007 the average life expectancy at birth was 78 years. This follows decades of progress. The question is whether obesity might change that.
National progress in life expectancy masks wide local disparities, according to a study published on June 15th and written by researchers at the University of Washington and Imperial College London. Men in Holmes County, Mississippi, for example, have a life expectancy of 65.9 years, the same as men in Pakistan and 15.2 years behind men in Fairfax, Virginia. Gaps between America’s counties have widened since the early 1980s. Most alarming, 702 counties, or 30% of those studied, saw a statistically significant decline in life expectancy for women from 2000 to 2007; 251 counties saw a statistically significant decline for men.

New Study Implicates Environmental Factors in Autism

Laurie Tarkan:

A new study of twins suggests that environmental factors, including conditions in the womb, may be at least as important as genes in causing autism.
The researchers did not say which environmental influences might be at work. But other experts said the new study, released online on Monday, marked an important shift in thinking about the causes of autism, which is now thought to affect at least 1 percent of the population in the developed world.
“This is a very significant study because it confirms that genetic factors are involved in the cause of the disorder,” said Dr. Peter Szatmari, a leading autism researcher who is the head of child psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at McMaster University in Ontario. “But it shifts the focus to the possibility that environmental factors could also be really important.”

Smartphone app searches other people’s Photos: Finding Your Child

Jacob Aron:

When a child goes missing at a large public event, worried parents and the police would normally search through CCTV footage of the surrounding area. In the future they might try hunting through the photos being taken by smartphone owners instead, using a new system called Theia developed by a team of US researchers.
Privacy concerns aside, searching smartphone photos is a clever idea, but constantly querying someone’s phone sounds like a great way to drain their battery – not a service that many people are likely to sign up for. That’s why Theia is designed to cleverly manage energy usage, while also paying smartphone owners for sharing their photos.
It works like this. People sign up to Theia by downloading a mobile app that can search through photos stored in a folder designated for sharing, while search requests are carried out with a separate piece of software that runs on an ordinary computer. Searchers can select a number of options, such as face and body detection, texture matching, and colour filtering. For example, the system can find pictures of people’s faces against a cloudy sky by combining face detection with a search for cloudy textures and the colour blue.

‘That’s Racist!’ How A Serious Accusation Became A Commonplace Quip

Neda Ulaby:

My editor proposed this story about “that’s racist” after hearing her young son’s friends using it as a joke. Just the night before, it had been a punchline on one of my favorite sitcoms, Parks And Recreation. (Someone calls sorting laundry into whites and darks racist.)
Our sense that “that’s racist” was evolving into a commonplace catchphrase that only occasionally had to do with racism and race was confirmed by conversations with parents, teachers and a website that tracked how it started as an online meme. A video clip from the cult TV show Wonder Showzen showed an African-American kid with the words “that’s racist” underneath. It became a virtual retort on online message boards. People started dropping it into Internet arguments, to quench or inflame them.

Charter school bill passes Delaware House

J L Miller:

Legislation to reform Delaware’s charter school system by requiring background checks for charter founders and board members and placing the schools under tighter financial oversight got a unanimous passing grade in the House Thursday.
House Bill 205, sponsored by Rep. Terry Schooley, D-Newark, was prompted by a News Journal investigation that found the state Department of Education failed to check the credentials or criminal background of the founder of Reach Academy. Reach Academy is facing closure amid serious financial problems and a fight over control of the board.
The legislation, which now moves to the Senate for consideration, would require yearly mandatory external audits for charter schools and allow the Office of Management and Budget to analyze the financial status of a struggling school and manage some of the school’s finances. It also would require that decisions to close a school be made no later than January so parents can enter their children in the school-choice program and meet deadlines to get into charter schools.

To Curb Childhood Obesity, Experts Say Keep Baby Fat In Check

Linda Thraysbule:

The number of overweight kids and adolescents in the U.S. has almost tripled since the 1980s. That’s pretty troubling, but the Institute of Medicine says we need to be paying more attention to the littlest kids: those under five.
Almost 10 percent of babies and toddlers carry too much weight for their size. And more than 20 percent of children 2 through 5 are already overweight, the IOM says, which could have pretty serious repercussions later in life.
“Contrary to the common perception that chubby babies are healthy babies and will naturally outgrow their baby fat, excess weight tends to persist,” Leann Birch, chair of the IOM’s childhood obesity prevention committee, said in a statement. The committee’s report released today makes some recommendations on what to do about it.

Generation FB

Katrin Bennhold:

“My e-mail?” The boy looks at me as if I had just suggested staying in touch by carrier pigeon. “What, you don’t have an email?” I ask, insecure now. “Sure I do. But I only use it for my parents and my grandparents,” he says. “Aren’t you on Facebook?” I am. Phew. Of course I mostly check my Facebook profile when I’m prompted by an e-mail notification, but I don’t tell him that. Trevor Dougherty is 19 and to him, I am a geriatric 36-year-old who belongs to that amorphous generation of people-who-don’t-really-get-social-networking that stretches all the way back to, well, his grandparents.
I met Trevor in January, during a dinner debate on social networking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he was by far the youngest and most eloquent speaker on the subject. I have perhaps 100 people in my life I call friends. Trevor has 1,275. At one point he tried to add someone called Trevor in every capital so he would have friends to visit across the world. He chats, posts, tweets and consults “his community” on important decisions: “I’m going to start producing/DJing electronic music. What should my stage name be? #youtellme.”
The encounter made me curious: what does it do to teenagers to be “on” all the time? Are they just doing what we did 20 years ago — gossiping, dating, escaping pubescent solitude — and simply channeling those age-old human urges through this new technology? Or is this technology changing humanity in a more fundamental way? What kind of citizens, voters, consumers, leaders will kids like Trevor grow up to be?

CDC: 1 in 4 high schoolers drink soda every day

Mike Stobbe:

A new study shows one in four high school students drink soda every day — a sign fewer teens are downing the sugary drinks.
The study also found teens drink water, milk and fruit juices most often – a pleasant surprise, because researchers weren’t certain that was the case.
“We were very pleased to see that,” said the study’s lead author, Nancy Bener of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still, a quarter have at least one soda each day. And when other sugary drinks like Gatorade are also counted, the figure is closer to two-thirds of high school students drinking a sweetened beverage every day.
That’s less than in the past. In the 1990s and early 2000s, more than three-quarters of teens were having a sugary drink each day, according to earlier research.

Sex selection and the shortage of women: is science to blame?

Richard Dawkins:

In nature, the balance of males and females is maintained by natural selection acting on parents. As Sir Ronald Fisher brilliantly pointed out in 1930, a surplus of one sex will be redressed by selection in favour of rearing the other sex, up to the point where it is no longer the minority. It isn’t quite as simple as that. You have to take into account the relative economic costs of rearing one sex rather than the other. If, say, it costs twice as much to rear a son to maturity as a daughter (e.g. because males are bigger than females), the true choice facing a parent is not “Shall I rear a son or a daughter?” but “Shall I rear a son or two daughters?”
So, Fisher concluded, what is equlibrated by natural selection is not the total numbers of sons and daughters born in the population, but the total parental expenditure on sons versus daughters. In practice, this usually amounts to an approximately equal ratio of males to females in the population at the end of the period of parental expenditure.
Note that the word ‘decision’ doesn’t mean conscious decision: we employ the usual ‘selfish gene’ metaphorical reasoning, in which natural selection favours genes that produce behaviour ‘as if’ decisions are being made.

Reinforcing Privilege

The Atlantic

This video has been all over New York-based internet sites in the past few days. But I don’t think it has yet been on any of the Atlantic’s sites, and it is worth another look for “the way we live now” purposes.
It shows a young woman passenger chewing out a train conductor who has asked her to stop talking so loudly on the phone and swearing. OK, I’ve sometimes gotten exasperated with officialdom, and I am glad that no one had a camera running when I did. But the approach the passenger takes is significant, and stunning.