Vital Record http://news.tamhsc.edu Your source for health news from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Fri, 31 Jul 2015 13:00:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Teach your children about school bus safety http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=teach-your-children-about-school-bus-safety http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=teach-your-children-about-school-bus-safety#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 13:00:19 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?p=11320 With the start of a new school year, school bus safety is something parents should discuss with their children, says the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health]]>
Little girl looking out of a school bus window

Teach your children to stand three giant steps (about six feet) away from the curb as they wait for the bus.

With the start of a new school year, school bus safety is something parents should discuss with their children.

Adam Pickens, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, recommends the following safety precautions to help keep your children safe.

Help your children arrive at the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive and remind them to stay away from the street while waiting on the bus. Remind them that as the bus approaches, stand at least three giant steps (six feet) from the curb until the bus comes to a complete stop and to watch for cars.

Emphasize to your children they should stay seated and not put their head, arms, papers or anything else out the window. Also, remind them to wait until the bus comes to a complete stop before getting up.

“Once your child exits the bus, they should always walk in front of the bus where the driver can see them,” says Dr. Pickens. “Staying five giant steps (10 feet) ahead of the bus is a good rule of thumb. Remind your child to never bend down in front of the bus to tie shoes or pick up objects, as the driver may not see them before starting to move.”

There are many good information resources to help keep your child safe this school year, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

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Addressing public health abroad: Aggies team up to provide health services in Ecuador http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=addressing-public-health-abroad-aggies-team-up-to-provide-health-services-in-ecuador http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=addressing-public-health-abroad-aggies-team-up-to-provide-health-services-in-ecuador#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 15:00:44 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=24050 This summer, an interdisciplinary group of Aggies - composed of students from the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, College of Medicine, College of Nursing and College of Pharmacy - spent a week abroad providing basic health services to residents of Guamaní, Ecuador. ]]>

This summer, an interdisciplinary group of Aggies – composed of students from the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, College of Medicine, College of Nursing and College of Pharmacy – spent a week abroad providing basic health services to residents of Guamaní, Ecuador.

A small community of about 39,000 residents, Guamaní lies on the southern outskirts of the country’s capital, Quito. A relatively new, incorporated community, Guamaní deals with many public health issues including water, sewer, transportation, safe recreation and reliable trash removal. The students wasted no time getting to work, and within the first two hours, created:

  • a triage center for medical and dental attention;
  • a pharmacy center for filling prescriptions after seeing a doctor, nurse and/or dentist;
  • an education center to teach positive nutrition and health routines;
  • a child care center;
  • and a public health training and interview center.

Throughout the week, students worked with community residents and leaders to implement a community health assessment, conducted focus groups and visited with families to discuss what public health means to them. Additionally, residents participated in a photo voice exercise, walking the community, photographing and simultaneously commenting on health conditions in Guamaní.

“Being on the ground and learning directly from residents about the public health challenges in Guamaní really allowed us to apply what we’ve learned in the classroom,” said Evelia Castillo, a student in the Master of Public Health program. “Despite the challenges, the people are resilient and resourceful. They are already working to address many of the challenges that were documented. I hope the work we completed in collaboration with Guamaní residents can be used to amplify their current efforts.”

The data will be consolidated in a report and sent to Guamaní leaders and participants for their use in creating and implementing future community health development projects.

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Back to school: How to encourage healthy dental habits away from home http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=back-to-school-how-to-encourage-healthy-dental-habits-away-from-home http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=back-to-school-how-to-encourage-healthy-dental-habits-away-from-home#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 13:00:08 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=23529 School is just around the corner, which means backpacks and packed lunches await your children. Whether it’s their first year at school or they’re already climbing the ranks, you want to ensure they are making healthy choices when it comes to lunch. However, one aspect you may not have considered when it comes to lunch options is dental health]]>
young girl brushing her teeth in front of a bathroom mirror

Participate in your child’s morning and nightly teeth cleaning rituals, and teach them the tools to keep those pearly whites healthy and happy.

School is just around the corner, which means backpacks and packed lunches await your children. Whether it’s their first year at school or they’re already climbing the ranks, you want to ensure they are making healthy choices when it comes to lunch. However, one aspect you may not have considered when it comes to lunch options is dental health.

All ages are at risk of developing cavities, especially if they don’t practice healthy dental habits, but “dental cavities are a prevalent disease in our childhood population,” said Kathleen Pace, D.D.S., assistant professor at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry.

Pace offers the following tips for parents to promote healthy dental habits in children:

1. Eat healthy foods at home

A healthy diet won’t just improve your child’s growth and physical health; it will also improve their dental health. Most natural foods contain lower amounts of sugars and aren’t as damaging to the teeth.

One of the easiest things you can do to ensure your child will make healthy, tooth-conscious decisions at school is to eat healthy foods at home. Aim to serve your child a balanced diet, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products and protein.

“Parents need to serve these foods at home so their children will imitate those eating habits when they are elsewhere,” Pace said.

2. Pack fruits and dairy

Natural is usually better when it comes to foods in general, and the same goes for snacks. Instead of popular snacks that may lead to unhealthy teeth or dental habits, try going the au naturel route. Packing fruit will satisfy your child’s sweet cravings and help them gain all the proper nutrients they need to grow healthy.

Milk doesn’t just help their bones grow stronger, it can also help their teeth stay healthier as well. One of the best snacks you can pack in your child’s lunch is a dairy product. Try throwing in a string cheese or a carton of milk to their lunchbox.

“Cheese or other dairies are a great way to end meals,” Pace remarked. “They can help protect tooth enamel, which is key to preventing decay.”

3. Avoid sticky and sugary foods

“In general, any food that is sticky, crunchy or has sugar can promote cavities,” Pace warned. Sticky foods like candy or gummies are not only loaded with sugar, but they can also be difficult to dislodge later. Anything that sticks to the teeth can potentially damage them or cause decay.

“Frequent sugar consumption is one of the worst things for your teeth that can cause tooth decay. Unfortunately, sugar is in almost everything,” Pace said. Avoid packing food with extra sugar like cookies, sugary beverages or candy in children’s daily lunches. Sugary, prepackaged snacks may be convenient short term, but they may also help a cavity thrive later on.

Check all the sugar content on any prepackaged foods or snacks, and opt for more natural or low-sugar foods instead. Switch out your kid’s sugar-bomb applesauce for the no sugar added variety. If you’re having trouble thinking of appropriate snacks, fruits with peels can satisfy your little one’s sweet tooth without promoting cavities.

4. Be active in their dental care

Participate in your child’s morning and nightly teeth cleaning rituals, and teach them the tools to keep those pearly whites healthy and happy. You can also take it a step further by acting as a dental advocate yourself to promote healthy habits in your children.

“Children love to imitate, so let them watch you brush your teeth and floss. Or even better, do it with them,” Pace suggested. “Really try to have your kids brush their teeth after breakfast.”

Healthy habits start at home, so try to make your child’s formative years fun and memorable. While brushing teeth, sing a favorite song or play a catchy tune on your phone to make it enjoyable, and always serve them healthy foods at home. These are habits they’ll take with them throughout their lifetime.

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“Shoppable products”—getting the best deals on health care http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=shoppable-products-getting-the-best-deals-on-health-care http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=shoppable-products-getting-the-best-deals-on-health-care#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 18:57:02 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=24036 Insured or uninsured, we all feel the pinch of higher health care costs. Get the most bang for your buck by shopping around. Comparison shopping could save you time and money on routine medical services]]>

Infographic on shoppable health care products

 

Learn more about price transparency

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Innovative preeclampsia research to identify potential biomarkers http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=innovative-preeclampsia-research-to-identify-potential-biomarkers http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=innovative-preeclampsia-research-to-identify-potential-biomarkers#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 13:00:12 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=24007 Brandie DePaoli Taylor, Ph.D. will lead a research team that will study subtypes of preeclampsia with different severity. She hopes to help clinicians get ahead of the illness through a new study to identify biomarkers of the disease with the three-year, $181,507 study funded by The Discovery Foundation]]>
Pregnant woman having blood pressure checked

Affecting at least 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies, preeclampsia is a rapidly progressive condition characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine.

Preeclampsia is a potentially dangerous complication facing pregnant women and a major cause of maternal morbidity and mortality worldwide. The disorder is characterized by newly acquired high blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy. Despite decades of research, the ability of doctors to predict preeclampsia has not improved significantly.

Brandie DePaoli Taylor, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, hopes to help clinicians get ahead of the illness through a new study to identify biomarkers of the disease. In the three-year, $181,507 study funded by The Discovery Foundation, Taylor will lead a research team that will study subtypes of preeclampsia with different severity.

Brandie Taylor, Ph.D.

Brandie Taylor, Ph.D.

Thorough identifying biomarkers in maternal blood during the first trimester of pregnancy, researchers hope to better understand differences in immunological responses between women who will develop early-onset and late-onset preeclampsia as compared to women who go on to have healthy pregnancies. This information will be used for new studies focused on predicting specific subtypes of the disease.

“Preeclampsia is a complex disease that may have several subtypes with different causes, which complicates prediction and clinical management efforts,” Taylor said. “To better understand the role of cellular stress and immunity in developing preeclampsia subtypes, we will examine biomarkers in maternal blood that are present prior to disease onset.”

Preeclampsia is a major public health burden and can lead potentially to fatal damage to a woman’s kidney, liver and brain. To date, the only treatment for preeclampsia is delivery of the placenta. Delivery is often premature leading to health risk for the baby and increasing the possibility of infant mortality. Health issues for the mother extend beyond pregnancy with an increased risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease later in life.

“There is a critical need to identify biomarkers to better understand preeclampsia subtypes for improved prediction and clinical management,” Taylor said. “Given the immediate and long-term risks, advances in preeclampsia research will ultimately lead to healthier moms, babies and adults.”

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You are what you eat? Food fights disease http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=you-are-what-you-eat-food-fights-disease http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=you-are-what-you-eat-food-fights-disease#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 13:00:01 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=19208 Dashwood explores how to take the most beneficial parts of food and use them to fight cancer, heart disease and other ailments]]>
image of broccoli and pills

“Then, instead of eating four cups of broccoli every day, hoping to stave off cancer, you could take a supplement that contains the most beneficial and efficacious compounds,” says Rod Dashwood.

With his arrival at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) Institute of Biosciences and Technology (IBT) in September 2013, Rod Dashwood, Ph.D., brought an entirely new approach to the old adage, “You are what you eat.”

It’s a simple premise: the food we consume is made of substances that can affect our bodies in positive or negative ways. Dashwood, a world-renowned expert in cancer prevention and epigenetics, takes that idea a step further. Through epigenetics—the study of how alterations in gene expression can be caused by mechanisms other than changes in the DNA sequence—Dashwood explores how to take the most beneficial parts of food and use them to fight cancer, heart disease and other ailments.

Dashwood and his team work to identify how beneficial substances in food can be isolated, replicated in the laboratory and used to prevent diseases. They look for phytochemicals—naturally occurring plant compounds—and other compounds in whole foods that inhibit disease or have other protective qualities beneficial to humans and animals. Such compounds would then be used to develop medicines and preventive treatments.

“We want to refocus the approach to cancer and other diseases,” Dashwood said. “Instead of creating therapeutic medicines to treat a disease once you have it, we want to get to the heart of chemoprevention, using these naturally occurring compounds to reverse, halt or prevent disease expression.”

“If we know, for example, that broccoli is a good source of phytonutrients, let’s replicate them in a controlled and focused way,” Dashwood explained. “Then, instead of eating four cups of broccoli every day, hoping to stave off cancer, you could take a supplement that contains the most beneficial and efficacious compounds.”

To explore this concept, Dashwood serves as director of the Center for Epigenetics & Disease Prevention (CEDP) in Houston, which was recently given the stamp of approval by the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents. He also has joint faculty appointments in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Nutrition & Food Science, the College of Medicine Department of Molecular & Cellular Medicine, and the Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention at MD Anderson Cancer Center. With preeminent, multi-disciplinary and cross-institutional collaborations that include the Texas A&M IBT, four colleges, and components of AgriLife Research and the Texas Medical Center, Dashwood and his team focus their efforts on preventing diseases rather than merely treating them, thus, shifting the standard model of disease treatment.

The main thrust is disease prevention via a “field-to-clinic” initiative. By defining the main active constituents of food from the field, the researchers hope to derive medicines and supplements that can be used in health care settings. Essentially, the fruits of their labor may, in fact, come from fruits.

“Through its partnerships across the A&M System, the new ‘field-to-clinic’ initiative transforms health care by integrating nutrition, chemistry and medicine to radically change the approach to preventing cancer, metabolic disorders like diabetes, and chronic conditions like heart disease,” said Cheryl Walker, Ph.D., director of the Texas A&M IBT. “Beyond patient care, this research aims to reduce health care costs and improve quality of life.”

Dashwood sites more than 30 years of education and experience that prepared him for his new role with Texas A&M Health Science Center, where he is also the John S. Dunn Chair for Disease Prevention. Previously he served as the director of the Cancer Chemoprotection Program and as the Helen P. Rumbel Professor for Cancer Prevention at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. Originally from England, Dashwood received his bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences with a specialization in Cellular Toxicology and Immunology in 1982 from the University of Plymouth. In 1983 he earned a master’s degree in Toxicology from Surrey University, and he earned his Ph.D. in Genetic Toxicology from the University of Portsmouth in 1986. He completed four years of post-doctoral research in the Department of Food Science and Technology at Oregon State University in 1990. Career opportunities also took him to the University of Hawaii, and the National Cancer Center in Tokyo, Japan.

With such specialized training, Dashwood is well positioned at the intersection of nutrition, molecular biology and disease prevention.

“The link between the food we consume and the long-term health of our bodies is undeniable,” he said. “By identifying and reproducing the best parts of what we eat, we have the opportunity to stop cancer and other diseases before they even start.”

Read more information about the processes involved in taking food from “field-to-clinic” as a means of preventing cancer and other diseases on Vital Record.

Story by Lindsey Bertrand

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Breast milk or formula: What’s best for baby? http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=breast-milk-or-formula-whats-best-for-baby http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=breast-milk-or-formula-whats-best-for-baby#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 20:37:58 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=23930 Parenting is no walk in the park, it’s filled with daily decisions – some large, some small - many of which can affect the well being of your child for years to come. One of the most important decisions new moms must make is what they will feed their new bundle of joy: breast milk or formula]]>

Welcome to parenthood, where the decisions come by the dozen and Google becomes an even better friend than it was pre-baby. All joking aside, parenting is no walk in the park, it’s filled with daily decisions – some large, some small – many of which can affect the well being of your child for years to come. One of the most important decisions new moms must make is what they will feed their new bundle of joy: breast milk or formula?

Baby sleeps on mom's chest.

One of the most important decisions new moms must make is what they will feed their new bundle of joy: breast milk or formula?

Shelley White-Corey, M.S.N., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing, outlines several options available to new moms, including: exclusive breastfeeding, exclusive pumping, a mix of the two or formula.

Exclusive Breastfeeding

“Breastfeeding is a special experience for new moms and promotes bonding through skin-to-skin contact,” White-Corey said. “It can also give the newborn a sense of security.”

Not only is breastfeeding comforting to baby, breast milk is made by nature, meaning it has all the necessary nutrients that a baby needs, as well as antibodies to build up their immune system. It’s also easily digestible.

The most evident advantages though, White-Corey pointed out, are that it is (mostly) free and readily available.

“While breastfeeding is considered “free,” there is a little extra cost in food for mom to consider because she needs to eat 500 more calories per day in order to produce quality milk,” White-Corey said.

Breastmilk is also readily available – no need to tote around bottles and bottle bags – and requires no prep, as it’s already the perfect temperature, making it especially convenient for nighttime feedings.

Obvious disadvantages of breastfeeding include time and commitment.

“Newborns who are breastfed are going to need to be fed more often, around eight to 12 times per day, since the milk is easily digested,” White-Corey said.

While most will agree that breast milk is a good source of nutrition for the baby, many people are uncomfortable seeing mothers breastfeeding in public.

“This can deter new moms from choosing to breastfeed because they may only feel comfortable feeding their baby at home,” White-Corey said. “However, it is important to remember that breastfeeding is a natural thing and it shouldn’t be an issue.”

Exclusive Pumping

Though one of the less common forms of breastfeeding, exclusively pumping – feeding your baby only breast milk from a bottle – may be a good choice for moms with babies that have trouble latching correctly or are not able to breastfeed for other reasons, including illness or prematurity.

Milk production depends on frequent and effective milk removal from the breasts, which can make exclusive pumping a very time-consuming option. Exclusively pumping requires that mothers pump at least eight times in 24 hours.

“Breastfeeding is all about supply and demand. The more the baby feeds or you pump the more you are going to produce,” White-Corey said. “This is especially important in order to maintain a good milk supply.”

Additionally, exclusive pumpers will need a quality breast pump, which can be pricey. White-Corey suggests calling your insurance company before purchasing a pump, as many now supply electric pumps free-of-charge to expecting mothers.

While pumping, new mothers are going to want a private, comfortable place to do so, and special arrangements may need to be made, especially when going back to work.

“Every workplace should have a designated, private room for pumping. If not, try talking to your manager about what arrangements can be made,” White-Corey said.

Breastfeeding and Pumping

The combination of breastfeeding and pumping is perhaps the most flexible of the two aforementioned options. There are many reasons women choose to both pump and nurse, including: moms who want to return to work, relieving engorged breasts and increasing milk supply.

This option offers the flexibility and ease of feeding your baby in public, along with the bonding that comes with breastfeeding.

Moms who breastfeed and want to go back to work often choose to pump at work and leave a bottle with the caregiver, this way the baby can still get the benefits of breast milk without mom having to be there.

There is the possibility of nipple confusion though, or a preference of a bottle over breast, which can hinder breastfeeding. White-Corey recommended introducing the bottle after breastfeeding is well established, around one month of age, to avoid this issue.

Formula

Formula comes with it’s own unique advantages and disadvantages.

A major advantage of using formula is that anyone can feed the baby, which can ease some of the pressure off of the new mother.

“If the newborn wakes up hungry during the night, either mom or dad can feed the baby with formula,” White-Corey said.

Using formula can also make dad feel more included because he can share the special bond that comes from feeding the baby.

Formula-fed newborns do not need to be fed as often as breastfed babies. Typically, formula-fed newborns eat every two to three hours and as they grow, that duration extends to every three to four hours.

While formula feeding does have its conveniences, there are some real disadvantages.

“The cost of formula can quickly pile up as it is something you will constantly need to buy, along with other essential supplies,” White-Corey said.

Formula requires more preparation than breastfeeding as the formula must be mixed and the bottle heated to ensure it is the right temperature for baby (unlike breast milk that is always the perfect temperature).

Formula also has the possibility of causing your little one tummy troubles, as it can be harder to digest than breast milk.

“The lack of antibodies found in formula is a major issue as newborns have immature immune systems and are more susceptible to infection until they get their vaccinations at around two months,” White-Corey said. “To protect your newborn, I would urge all moms to be up-to-date on their vaccinations and make sure everyone in close contact with the newborn is vaccinated as well.”

In the end, there is no superior option that is perfect for all women. It’s simply a personal choice, based on what is right for each individual and their family.

“I believe that women have the right and authority over their own bodies to decide what is best for both themselves and their newborn,” White-Corey said. “It should be a woman’s choice and no one has the right to judge or criticize them for making such a personal decision.”

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Let children move around, stand or walk in the classroom. You’ll see the difference http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=let-children-move-around-stand-or-walk-in-the-classroom-youll-see-the-difference-2 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=let-children-move-around-stand-or-walk-in-the-classroom-youll-see-the-difference-2#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 19:08:34 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=23978 Are standing desks the solution to the childhood obesity epidemic? Ergonomic engineer and Associate Professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health Mark Benden, Ph.D., weighs in on the topic in an editorial piece. ]]>

The question of “is sitting the next smoking” has been raised by many health experts in the past few months. Many ailments, including diabetes and heart disease, are known to be connected to an inactive lifestyle.

However, most of this attention has been focused on adult office workers and the negative health impact of sitting at work all day.Young children in a classroom using standing desks.

But, if our waistlines and even our longevity are connected to how active we are each day, is it not important to teach our children how to be more active, from an early age?

During the past few years, many researchers around the world have been evaluating the use of standing height desks instead of the more traditional seated desks in school classrooms.

As director of the Ergonomics Center at the Texas A&M Health Science Center, I am constantly in corporate offices, K–12 classrooms and graduate classrooms where I teach. I also research better methods of classroom management and academic performance via health interventions. Ten years ago, while focusing primarily on adult office workers and the loss of non-exercise, physical movement in a work day, I wrote a book on the topic, Could You Stand to Lose?

Standing in classrooms

The idea came as we explored younger office workers’ health and noticed a lack of important postural habits, poor core strength and larger waistlines than what the older generations displayed when they entered the workforce.

It was at that time that we realized if we were going to affect the health of office workers, we would need to start much younger. Standing became a simple proxy for what we really need – more low-intensity, whole-body movement!

We asked, could we perform the same work while standing at a desk rather than always sitting at it? And we realized this type of change was possible.

We then turned our attention to adolescent health in classroom settings.

My team’s research in schools began in 2008, when we first looked at classroom movement as a way to deal with the growing number of obese children. In the past 30 years, obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents.

So, in 2008 we began installing and testing stand-biased desks for K–4 students to allow upright movement during instruction and self-work.

We started this work in College Station, Texas with elementary students to avoid the difficulty of measuring the Body Mass Index (BMI) in children experiencing puberty. During those years, the BMI fluctuates so rapidly that it is tough to follow an intervention.

Encouraging movement

From a few classrooms in one school to dozens of classrooms spread over many schools, we continuously upgraded our sample size and research methods. Over the past seven years, we have placed several thousand students at standing desks for our studies in both elementary and high school.

Stand-biased desks allow students to sit (on a stool) or stand at will.

However, these products were a nonexistent category for mainstream school furniture vendors. So, we had to create our own designs based on teacher and student feedback. The market is now beginning to evolve worldwide as others weigh in with creative approaches such as standing tables for multiple students.

Classrooms with stand-biased desks are part of what we began to call an Activity Permissive Learning Environment (APLE), which means that teachers don’t tell children to “sit down,“ “sit still,” or “don’t move around” during class.

Instead, they encourage movement such as standing, rocking, fidgeting and walking. Most traditional classrooms are lecture-style, with an instructor up front and students dealing with poorly fitting, hard plastic chairs for 80%–90% of their day.

Impact of a standing desk

Research shows that our bodies are so connected to our minds that our ability to focus on difficult cognitive tasks is directly linked to adequate physical activity.

In short, an active mind requires an active body.

Children become more restless and distracted with prolonged sitting. Active workstations reduce disruptive behavior problems and increase students’ attention by providing them with a different method for completing academic tasks and breaking up the monotony of seated work. Students were less distracted while working at a standing desk.

This was not all: the activity also led to more burned calories. After two years of exposure to activity-permissive learning environments, students showed decreases in Body Mass Index percentiles.

Our own research shows that students K–12 given a stand-biased desk burned 15%–25% more calories than their peers in traditional seated desks.

As a result of these encouraging health numbers, we turned our attention to student comfort and posture. Again, we observed improvements on both measures over traditional seated furniture.

In addition to increasing energy expenditure, we now see that activity-permissive learning environments help to reduce disruptive behavior and increase students’ academic potential. Based on the number of parents contacting us for help with students doing homework, it appears the process can work as well at home as in school.

Future of classroom design

The success of stand-biased desks is nothing new.

Benjamin Franklin had a patent on a standing school desk over 200 years ago, and Thomas Jefferson worked at one that he designed himself. Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Napoleon Bonaparte and even Donald Rumsfeld have all worked at standing desks to create some of their most memorable work.

Although research and history have shown that stand-biased desks have many favorable effects, most Western workers and students are still engaged in seated desk work for the majority of their day.

Our work in schools with thousands of K–12 students has included looking at stand-biased desks, exercise balls, several types of wobble stools and even swinging footrests and treadmills.

Many other researchers around the world have also been examining the use of classroom design to alter physical activity patterns, with leadership coming from Australia, New Zealand and England.

Teachers around the globe want better classroom management, better student engagement and, ultimately, improved learning.

New approaches for addressing physical inactivity that are in harmony with children’s natural habits, tendencies and engagement could be the way to go.

Benden is an ergonomic engineer and associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health.  He also serves as Director of the Ergonomics Center at the Texas A&M Health Science Center. 

This op-ed originally appeared in The Conversation

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When it comes to depression, serotonin deficiency may not be to blame http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=when-it-comes-to-depression-serotonin-deficiency-may-not-be-to-blame http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=when-it-comes-to-depression-serotonin-deficiency-may-not-be-to-blame#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 16:58:07 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=23965 For the past several decades, those suffering from depression have been told that by boosting serotonin levels, brain chemicals will re-balance and mood will improve.  It’s no surprise then that more than one in 10 Americans age 12 and older take some form of antidepressant medication designed to increase serotonin levels, offsetting the chemical imbalance. ]]>

Woman suffering from possible depressionFor the past several decades, those suffering from depression have been told that by boosting serotonin levels, brain chemicals will re-balance and mood will improve.  It’s no surprise then that more than one in 10 Americans age 12 and older take some form of antidepressant medication designed to increase serotonin levels, offsetting the chemical imbalance. However, new research suggests the link between low levels of serotonin and depression is, at best, a partial answer.

“Chemical imbalance is really an overly simplistic way of thinking,” said Paul B. Hicks, M.D., Ph.D., vice dean and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in Temple. “Depression is a very complex problem that we know involves certain parts of the brain, but we don’t have a complete picture. While countless theories have been tested, we still don’t have the final understanding of what changes in the brain with depression and how we should proceed to reverse such changes.”

One theory is the idea that our brains can run low on a neurotransmitter called serotonin. It’s thought that by prescribing a selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitor (or SSRI) antidepressant medication, like Prozac or Zoloft, the imbalance can be medically fixed; bringing serotonin levels back to “normal.”

“This idea is based upon the assumption that serotonin and/or norepinephrine – a neurotransmitter secreted in response to stress – brain levels are low in depression and that antidepressants work by elevating brain neurochemical concentrations,” Hicks said. “It has been valuable in helping to identify all the currently marketed antidepressants.”

SSRIs are designed to boost serotonin levels, helping kick off the production of new brain cells, which in turn is thought to allow depression to “lift.” However, if low serotonin levels were the cause of depression, then increasing levels of serotonin should alleviate the symptoms instantly. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

“The major problem with this theory is the chronology of the resulting chemical changes in the brain,” Hicks said. “SSRIs release serotonin and increase the amount in the brain almost immediately, while the antidepressant effect can take a few weeks to kick in.”

This time-lapse indicates that there may not be a direct relationship between low levels of serotonin and depression. However, antidepressants are still effective and two-thirds of patients respond to them positively, we just don’t have the entire answer as to why they work, yet.

New hypotheses in depression focus on the role of an excitatory brain chemical produced from glucose, glutamate, which is known to increase brain activity and energy levels.

“Studies link high glutamate levels in the brain with depression and antidepressants are known to decrease these levels,” Hicks said.

In fact, intriguing recent findings show an immediate antidepressant response when ketamine, a drug that blocks glutamate’s actions, is given directly into the blood.

“While brain chemicals, including serotonin and the more prevalent glutamate, seem to play a role in depression, it is also true that specific brain regions appear to mediate the development of depression,” Hicks added.

A brain region called the hippocampus, where stress is mediated and memory consolidation occurs, decreases in size and complexity of chemical connections under the influence of stress and presumably depression.

“We also know that another brain region near the base of the front of the brain, the subgenual cingulate cortex, is overactive in depression and antidepressants decrease its activity when an antidepressant response is seen,” Hicks said.

While serotonin deficiency may not cause depression after all, new research may lead to a more direct and effective treatment than common SSRIs.

“Management of depression is an evolving field and there are many important studies being done to enhance our available treatment options,” Hicks said. “While we don’t have all the answers now, we may have more effective and convenient interventions in the future.”

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