OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of public health and human sciences

Climate report: Wildfires, snowmelt, coastal issues top Northwest risks

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Northwest is facing increased risks from the decline of forest health, earlier snowmelt leading to low summer stream flows, and an array of issues facing the coastal region, according to a new climate assessment report.

Written by a team of scientists coordinated by the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute (OCCRI) at Oregon State University, the report is the first regional climate assessment released since 1999. Both the 1999 report and the 2013 version were produced as part of the U.S. National Climate Assessment; both Washington and Oregon produced state-level reports in 2009 and 2010.

OSU’s Philip Mote, director of the institute and one of three editors of the 270-page report (as well as the 1999 report), said the document incorporates a lot of new science as well as some additional dimensions – including the impact of climate change on human health and tribal issues. A summary of the report is available online at: http://occri.net/reports

Amy Snover, director of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington, said there are a number of issues facing the Northwest as a result of climate change.

“As we looked across both economic and ecological dimensions, the three that stood out were less snow, more wildfires and challenges to the coastal environment and infrastructure,” said Snover, who is one of the editors on the report.

The report outlines how these three issues are affected by climate change.

“Studies are showing that snowmelt is occurring earlier and earlier and that is leading to a decline in stream flows in summer,” Mote said. “Northwest forests are facing a huge increase in wildfires, disease and other disturbances that are both direct and indirect results of climate change. And coastal issues are mounting and varied, from sea level rise and inundation, to ocean acidification. Increased wave heights in recent decades also threaten coastal dwellings, roads and other infrastructure.”

OCCRI’s Meghan Dalton, lead editor on the report, notes that 2,800 miles of coastal roads are in the 100-year floodplain and some highways may face inundation with just two feet of sea level rise. Sea levels are expected to rise as much as 56 inches, or nearly five feet, by the year 2100.

Earlier snowmelt is a significant concern in the Northwest, where reservoir systems are utilized to maximize water storage. But, Dalton said, the Columbia River basin has a storage capacity that is smaller than its annual flow volume and is “ill-equipped to handle the projected shift to earlier snowmelt…and will likely be forced to pass much of these earlier flows out of the system.”

The earlier peak stream flow may significantly reduce summer hydroelectric power production, and slightly increase winter power production.

The report was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, through the Oregon Legislature’s support of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at OSU, and by in-kind contributions from the authors’ institutions.

Mote said new research has led to improved climate models, which suggest that the Northwest will warm by a range of three to 14 degrees (Fahrenheit) by the year 2100. “The lower range will only be possible if greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced.” In contrast, the Northwest warmed by 1.3 degrees from the period of 1895 to 2011.

Future precipitation is harder to project, the report notes, with models forecasting a range from a 10 percent decrease to an 18 percent increase by 2100. Most models do suggest that more precipitation will fall as rain and earlier snowmelt will change river flow patterns.

That could be an issue for agriculture in the future as the “Northwest’s diverse crops depend on adequate water supplies and temperature ranges, which are projected to change during the 21st century,” the report notes. Pinpointing the impacts on agriculture will be difficult, said Sanford Eigenbrode of the University of Idaho, another co-author.

“As carbon dioxide levels rise, yields will increase for some plants, and more rainfall in winter could mean wetter soils in the spring, benefitting some crops,” Eigenbrode pointed out. “Those same conditions could adversely affect other crops. It is very difficult to say how changing climate will affect agriculture overall in the Northwest, but we can say that the availability of summer water will be a concern.”

Mote said there may be additional variables affecting agriculture, such what impacts the changing climate has on pests, diseases and invasive species.

“However, the agricultural sector is resilient and can respond more quickly to new conditions than some other sectors like forestry, where it takes 40 years or longer for trees to reach a harvestable age,” noted Mote, who is a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

The Northwest has not to date been vulnerable to many climate-related health risks, the report notes, but impacts of climate change in the future are more likely to be negative than positive. Concerns include increased morbidity and mortality from heat-related illness, air pollution and allergenic disease, and the emergence of infectious diseases.

“In Oregon, one study showed that each 10-degree (F) increase in daily maximum temperature was associated with a nearly three-fold increase of heat-related illness,” said Jeff Bethel, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU and one of the co-authors of the report. “The threshold for triggering heat-related illness – especially among the elderly – isn’t much.”

Northwest tribes may face a greater impact from climate change because of their reliance on natural resources. Fish, shellfish, game and plant species could be adversely affected by a warming climate, resulting in a multitude of impacts.

“When tribes ceded their lands and were restricted to small areas, it resulted in a loss of access to many species that lived there,” said Kathy Lynn, coordinator of the Tribal Climate Change Project at the University of Oregon and a co-author of the report. “Climate change may further reduce the abundance of resources. That carries a profound cultural significance far beyond what we can document from an economic standpoint.”

Snover said that the climate changes projected for the coming decades mean that many of the assumptions “inherent in decisions, infrastructure and policies – where to build, what to grow where, and how to manage variable water sources to meet multiple needs – will become increasingly incorrect.

“Whether the ultimate consequences of the climate impacts outlined in this report are severe or mild depends in part on how well we prepare our communities, economies and natural systems for the changes we know are coming,” Snover said.

Other lead co-authors on the report are Rick Raymondi, Idaho Department of Water Resources; W. Spencer Reeder, Cascadia Consulting Group; Patty Glick, National Wildlife Federation; Susan Capalbo, OSU; and Jeremy Littell, U.S. Geological Survey.

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Philip Mote, 541-737-5694; pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu; Amy Snover, 206-221-0222; aksnover@uw.edu

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Major storm Coastal issues

Melting glacier Snowmelt

Trail Creek FireWildfires

Excess omega-3 fatty acids could lead to negative health effects

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new review suggests that omega-3 fatty acids taken in excess could have unintended health consequences in certain situations, and that dietary standards based on the best available evidence need to be established.

“What looked like a slam dunk a few years ago may not be as clear cut as we thought,” said Norman Hord, associate professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and a coauthor on the paper.

“We are seeing the potential for negative effects at really high levels of omega-3 fatty acid consumption. Because we lack valid biomarkers for exposure and knowledge of who might be at risk if consuming excessive amounts, it isn’t possible to determine an upper limit at this time.”

Previous research led by Michigan State University’s Jenifer Fenton and her collaborators found that feeding mice large amounts of dietary omega-3 fatty acids led to increased risk of colitis and immune alteration. Those results were published in Cancer Research in 2010.

As a follow-up, in the current issue of the journal Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes & Essential Fatty Acids, Fenton and her co-authors, including Hord, reviewed the literature and discuss the potential adverse health outcomes that could result from excess consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.

Studies have shown that omega-3s, also known as long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs), are associated with lower risk of sudden cardiac death and other cardiovascular disease outcomes.

“We were inspired to review the literature based on our findings after recent publications showed increased risk of advanced prostate cancer and atrial fibrillation in those with high blood levels of LCPUFAs,” Fenton said.

Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, which is one of the reasons they can be beneficial to heart health and inflammatory issues. However, the researchers said excess amounts of omega-3 fatty acids can alter immune function sometimes in ways that may lead to a dysfunctional immune response to a viral or bacterial infection.

“The dysfunctional immune response to excessive omega-3 fatty acid consumption can affect the body’s ability to fight microbial pathogens, like bacteria,” Hord said.

Generally, the researchers point out that the amounts of fish oil used in most studies are typically above what one could consume from foods or usual dosage of a dietary supplement. However, an increasing amount of products, such as eggs, bread, butters, oils and orange juice, are being “fortified” with omega-3s. Hord said this fortified food, coupled with fish oil supplement use, increases the potential for consuming these high levels.

“Overall, we support the dietary recommendations from the American Heart Association to eat fish, particularly fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, lake trout or sardines, at least two times a week, and for those at risk of coronary artery disease to talk to their doctor about supplements,” he said.

“Our main concern here is the hyper-supplemented individual, who may be taking high-dose omega-3 supplements and eating four to five omega-3-enriched foods per day,” Hord added. “This could potentially get someone to an excessive amount. As our paper indicates, there may be subgroups of those who may be at risk from consuming excess amounts of these fatty acids.”

Hord said there are no evidence-based standards for omega-3 intake and no way to tell who might be at health risk if they consume too high a level of these fatty acids.

“We’re not against using fish oil supplements appropriately, but there is a potential for risk,” Hord said. “As is all true with any nutrient, taking too much can have negative effects. We need to establish clear biomarkers through clinical trials. This is necessary in order for us to know who is eating adequate amounts of these nutrients and who may be deficient or eating too much.

“Until we establish valid biomarkers of omega-3 exposure, making good evidence-based dietary recommendations across potential dietary exposure ranges will not be possible.”

Sanjoy Ghosh from University of BC-Okanagan, Canada and Eric Gurzell from Michigan State University also contributed to this study, which was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Canadian Diabetes Association.

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Norman Hord, 541-737-5923

California’s new mental health system helps people live independently

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new analysis by Oregon State University researchers of California’s mental health system finds that comprehensive, community-based mental health programs are helping people with serious mental illness transition to independent living.

Published in the October issue of the American Journal of Public Health, this study has important implications for the way that states finance and deliver mental health programs, and speaks to the effectiveness of well-funded, comprehensive community programs.

In November of 2004, California voters passed the Mental Health Services Act, which allocated more than $3 billion for comprehensive community mental health programs, known as Full Service Partnerships (FSP). While community-based, these programs are different from usual mental health services programs in most states because they provides a more intensive level of care and a broader range of mental health services and supports, such as medication management, crisis intervention, case management and peer support.

It also provides services such as food, housing, respite care and treatment for co-occurring disorders, such as substance abuse.

“We found that these programs promoted independent living in the community among people who had serious mental illness but had not been served or underserved previously,” said Jangho Yoon, an assistant professor of health policy and health economist in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and lead author of the study. “Overall, it reduced their chance of living on the street or being incarcerated in jails and prisons.”

The researchers looked at data from 43 of California’s 53 counties, resulting in a sample of 9,208 adults over the course of four years. They found that participants who stayed enrolled in the program continuously, without interruption, were 13.5 percent more likely to successfully transition to independent living.

However, they found that non-white patients were less likely to live independently, and more likely to end up in jail or homeless.

“Although FSPs represent the most well-funded comprehensive community-based programs in the country, they are still community programs and therefore program participation is voluntary,” Yoon said.  “My guess is that minorities may not benefit fully from these programs in their communities possibly due to greater stigma, and less family/social supports. But it needs further investigation.”

Patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders were also less likely to benefit from the community programs, because of the nature and severity of their mental health issues.

Yoon is an expert on health management policy, specifically policy around the area of mental health. He said other states haven’t followed California’s lead, in part because of the cost of such extensive programming. Yoon said some of the funding made possible by the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which includes $460 million for community mental health services for states to use, may help other states to create similar programs.

“Nobody would disagree that the public mental health system has historically been under-funded in the U.S.,” he said. “The message for other states is clear: investment in well-funded, recovery-oriented, comprehensive community mental health programs clearly improves lives of people with serious mental illness, and may also save money from reduced dependency and incarcerations in this population.”

Tim Bruckner of the University of California, Irvine, and Timothy Brown of the University of California, Berkeley, contributed to this study, which was jointly funded by the California Department of Mental Health and the California Health Care Foundation.

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Jangho Yoon, 541-737-3839

Autistic children with better motor skills more adept at socializing

CORVALLIS, Ore. – In a new study looking at toddlers and preschoolers with autism, researchers found that children with better motor skills were more adept at socializing and communicating.

Published online today in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, this study adds to the growing evidence of the important link between autism and motor skill deficits.

Lead author Megan MacDonald is an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University. She is an expert on the movement skills of children with autism spectrum disorder.

Researchers tested 233 children ages 14 to 49 months diagnosed with autism.

“Even at this early age, we are already seeing motor skills mapping on to their social and communicative skills,” MacDonald said. “Motor skills are embedded in everything we do, and for too long they have been studied separately from social and communication skills in children with autism.”

Developing motor skills is crucial for children and can also help develop better social skills. MacDonald said in one study, 12-year-olds with autism were performing physically at the same level as a 6-year-old.

“So they do have some motor skills, and they kind of sneak through the system,” she said. “But we have to wonder about the social implications of a 12-year-old who is running like a much younger child. So that quality piece is missing, and the motor skill deficit gets bigger as they age.”

In MacDonald’s study, children who tested higher for motor skills were also better at “daily living skills,” such as talking, playing, walking, and requesting things from their parents.

“We can teach motor skills and intervene at young ages,” MacDonald said. “Motor skills and autism have been separated for too long. This gives us another avenue to consider for early interventions.”

MacDonald said some programs run by experts in adaptive physical education focus on both the motor skill development and communicative side. She said because autism spectrum disorder is a disability that impacts social skills so dramatically, the motor skill deficit tends to be pushed aside.

“We don’t quite understand how this link works, but we know it’s there,” she said. “We know that those children can sit up, walk, play and run seem to also have better communication skills.

This study was coauthored by Catherine Lord of Weill Cornell Medical College and Dale Ulrich of the University of Michigan. It was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Simons Foundation, First Words and Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Michigan.

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Megan MacDonald, 541-737-3273

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Researcher Megan MacDonald practices important motor skills, like throwing a ball, with a child. (photo courtesy of OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences)

Self-regulation intervention boosts school readiness of at-risk children, study shows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An intervention that uses music and games to help preschoolers learn self-regulation skills is helping prepare at-risk children for kindergarten, a new study from Oregon State University shows.

Self-regulation skills – the skills that help children pay attention, follow directions, stay on task and persist through difficulty – are critical to a child’s success in kindergarten and beyond, said OSU’s Megan McClelland, a nationally recognized expert in child development and a co-author of the new study.

“Most children do just fine in the transition to kindergarten, but 20 to 25 percent of them experience difficulties – those difficulties have a lot to do with self-regulation,” McClelland said. “Any intervention you can develop to make that transition easier can be beneficial.”

The results of the new study are notable because positive effects of an intervention, especially one that aims to improve self-regulation and academic achievement, can be difficult for researchers to find, said McClelland, the Katherine E. Smith Healthy Children and Families Professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

The intervention was most effective among children who are considered at highest risk for struggling in school – those from low-income backgrounds who are learning English as a second language. In addition to a positive effect on self-regulation, the intervention had a positive effect on math achievement for English language learners.

“The math gain was huge,” McClelland said. “English language learners who were randomly assigned to the intervention showed a one-year gain in six months. This was in spite of the fact that we had no math content in these games.”

That indicates that children were more likely to integrate the self-regulation skills they’ve learned into their everyday lives, McClelland said. It also supports previous research finding strong links between self-regulation and math skills.

The study was published recently in “Early Childhood Research Quarterly.”  Lead author Sara A. Schmitt conducted the research as a doctoral student at OSU and now is an assistant professor at Purdue University. In addition to McClelland, the other authors of the study are Alan C. Acock of Oregon State and Shauna L. Tominey of Yale University.

In all, 276 children enrolled in federally funded Head Start and Oregon Prekindergarten programs for at-risk children in the Pacific Northwest participated in the study. Children ranged in age from three to five, with most about four years old. Children were randomly assigned to either a control group or the intervention program.

The intervention ran for eight weeks, with two 20- to 30-minute sessions each week. Research assistants came into classes and led children through movement and music-based games that increased in complexity over time and encouraged the children to practice self-regulation skills.

One game used in the activities was “Red Light, Purple Light,” which is similar to “Red Light, Green Light.” A researcher acted as a stoplight and held up construction-paper circles to represent stop and go. Children followed color cues, such as purple is stop and orange is go, and then switched to the opposite, where purple is go and orange is stop.

Additional rules are added later to increase the complexity of the game. The game requires children to listen and remember instructions, pay attention to the adult leading the game and resist natural inclinations to stop or go.

“It’s about helping the children practice better control,” McClelland said. “The games train them to stop, think and then act.”  

Researchers evaluated children’s self-regulation and academic achievement before and after the intervention and found that children who had received the intervention scored significantly higher on two direct measures of self-regulation. English language learners who participated in the intervention also scored significantly higher in math than their peers in the control group.

Researchers want to continue improving the games used in the intervention and expand the use of the intervention to more children, McClelland said. Because the games are somewhat simple and require few materials, training teachers is fairly easy and the program is relatively low-cost for schools, she said.

The study was supported by a grant from the Ford Family Foundation and by OSU.

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Megan McClelland, 541-737-9225, megan.mcclelland@oregonstate.edu

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Researcher Sara Schmitt works with a child

Sara Schmitt

 

Megan McClelland

Megan McClelland

‘Go Baby Go’ mobility program for children with disabilities expands to OSU

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University is the newest hub for “Go Baby Go,” a program that provides modified, ride-on cars to young children with disabilities so they can move around independently.

The modified toy cars give children with mobility disabilities a chance to play and socialize with their peers more easily, said Sam Logan, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences and leader of the Go Baby Go project at OSU.

Past research has shown that independent mobility is linked to cognitive, social, motor, language and other developmental benefits in young children, he said. Being pushed in a stroller or being carried from one place to another is fundamentally different from having active control over one’s own exploration, which is where the developmental gains are seen.

“We want to provide that movement experience as early as possible, so they can reap the benefits,” said Logan, whose research focuses on providing technology and training to children with disabilities to promote social mobility. “Beyond mobility and socialization, we hope that the ride-on cars provide children with disabilities a chance to just be a kid.”

There are no commercially available devices for children with mobility issues to get around on their own; and power wheelchairs usually aren’t an option until the children are older. The modified cars provide them independence at a much younger age and at a relatively low cost. The cars run about $100 and the electric switches and other modifications, including seating support and padding, bring the total cost to about $200.

Go Baby Go was founded by Professor Cole Galloway as part of a research project at the University of Delaware but researchers have also trained volunteers in more than 40 communities to modify the cars so more children have access to them. Logan oversaw the program at University of Delaware before he joined the OSU faculty this year and said he knew he wanted to continue the program by adding a Go Baby Go site in Corvallis.

“The overarching mission of the lab is to help as many families as we can,” he said. “Within a year, we’d like everyone in Oregon to know that these cars are available.”

Logan will be leading a car-building workshop on Nov. 11 to show OSU students how to modify the cars. About 15 students in Logan’s motor behavior classes have volunteered to work on the first cars, and Logan’s long-term goal is to establish a student-led OSU club that would host car-building workshops on a regular basis.

He is also looking for families interested in obtaining a car for their child. Cars will be available at the Nov. 11 event, he said. Cars have been modified for children with spina bifida, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and complex medical needs, such as trachea tubes, he said. While most of the cars are modified to operate with hand movements, they also have been modified for head movement, Logan said.

Families interested in a modified car for their child should email Logan at sam.logan@oregonstate.edu. Parents are encouraged to make a donation to help with car costs if they’re able to, but no donation is required to receive a car, Logan said.

“The donations just allow us to keep providing more cars,” Logan said. “We also ask that families who receive cars either pass them on to another child or return them to us when their child outgrows the car.”

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A child tries a 'Go Baby Go' car

A child tries a car

Sam Logan

Sam Logan

Children with autism focus of Corvallis Science Pub talk

CORVALLIS, Ore. – For school-age children, the rise in autism spectrum disorder and the decrease in physical activity spell trouble. Since children diagnosed with autism tend to be more sedentary and also lag in the development of motor skills, physical activity may be more difficult to learn.

At the Nov. 10 Corvallis Science Pub, Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, will explore the connection between autism and exercise.

“Our nation is in the midst of a physical inactivity epidemic, and children with ASD have not been spared," she said. “The good news is that we can teach these physically active behaviors to help ensure a healthy future.” 

The Science Pub presentation is free and open to the public. It begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 S.W. 2nd St. in Corvallis.

MacDonald received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 2011. Her research focuses on how motor skills and physically active lifestyles improve the lives of children and youth with and without disabilities. She has a specific interest in the movement skills of children with autism spectrum disorder.

Sponsors of Science Pub include Terra magazine at OSU, the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

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Megan MacDonald, 541-737-3273

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OSU-Cascades one of 15 universities nationwide to receive federal suicide prevention grant

BEND, Ore. – Oregon State University – Cascades will use a new $305,000 suicide prevention grant to develop programs at the branch campus to support student mental health and to identify and respond to students who are at risk for suicide.

The campus was one of 15 universities nationwide to receive a 2014 Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young people in the U.S. aged 18 to 25. Depression is a leading risk factor for suicide and a common problem that can interfere with a student’s ability to have a productive college experience.

The grant project will be co-led by Susan Keys, Ph.D., an associate professor and senior researcher in public health and Linda Porzelius, Ph.D., head of personal counseling services, both at the branch campus. 

“This grant could not come at a more propitious time,” Keys said. “The funds will help ensure we have important systems in place for mental health support as we welcome new students beginning in 2015."

The grant will also support the creation of web-based suicide prevention information for students; faculty, staff and student training in suicide prevention; and student projects that encourage fellow students to live healthy lives, seek help when they are experiencing stress and to reduce the stigma associated with asking for or receiving help. An additional focus will strengthen connections between campus services and those available in the community.  Grant collaborators include public, private and non-profit health and mental health providers.

“For some college students, balancing school, work, relationships and family while planning for a career can be overwhelming.  Educating our campus community on how to identify these students and referring them to supportive services could be lifesaving,” said Keys.

Keys joined OSU-Cascades in 2013. She has been a professional advocate for youth mental health for more than 30 years. Her experience has included leading national programs in suicide prevention and youth violence prevention for DHHS and serving as chair of the counseling department at Johns Hopkins University.  She chairs the Deschutes County Suicide Prevention Advisory Council. Keys is also a consultant for the state of Oregon’s youth suicide prevention grant program.

Resources to assist students in need are currently available on campus and within the community.  National online resources include ReachOut.com, a mental health and information service for teens and young adults, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255).

Media Contact: 

Christine Coffin, 541-322-3152, Christine.Coffin@osucascades.edu

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Susan Keys, 541-322-2046

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Susan Keys

OSU researcher receives NIH award

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An environmental epidemiologist at Oregon State University has been selected for a prestigious award for early career scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Perry Hystad, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU, is one of 17 winners of the NIH’s 2014 Early Independence Award.

Hystad will receive $250,000 each year for up to five years to support a global study on air pollution and health. He is the first researcher at Oregon State to receive an Early Independence Award since they began in 2011. He joined the OSU faculty in 2013, and earned a doctorate in epidemiology from the University of British Columbia.

The awards, announced Monday by the NIH, are highly competitive grants to encourage young scientists who have demonstrated outstanding scientific creativity, intellectual maturity and leadership skills, and who have developed bold and innovative approaches to addressing health problems.

“I am extremely excited to have received the NIH Early Independence Award,” Hystad said. “This is an innovative program that will allow me to study global air pollution and health. The results will have direct implications for global, national and local policy to reduce the burden of cardiopulmonary disease.”

Recent estimates suggest that 3.2 million deaths are caused each year by outdoor air pollution, making it one of the most important modifiable risk factors affecting health, Hystad said. However, there are still a number of substantial uncertainties surrounding air pollution impacts on health and most research has been conducted in developed countries.

Hystad plans to use data from a large-scale epidemiological study to better understand how air pollution impacts cardiovascular and respiratory disease around the world, in a study including 155,000 people in 628 communities and 17 countries.

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Perry Hystad, 541-737-4829, perry.hystad@oregonstate.edu

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Perry Hystad

Perry Hystad-1

Childhood asthma linked to lack of ventilation for gas stoves, OSU study shows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Parents with children at home should use ventilation when cooking with a gas stove, researchers from Oregon State University are recommending, after a new study showed an association between gas kitchen stove ventilation and asthma, asthma symptoms and chronic bronchitis.

“In homes where a gas stove was used without venting, the prevalence of asthma and wheezing is higher than in homes where a gas stove was used with ventilation,” said Ellen Smit, an associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU and one of the study’s authors. “Parents of all children should use ventilation while using a gas stove.”

Researchers can’t say that gas stove use without ventilation causes respiratory issues, but the new study clearly shows an association between having asthma and use of ventilation, Smit said. More study is needed to understand that relationship, including whether emissions from gas stoves could cause or exacerbate asthma in children, the researchers said.

Asthma is a common chronic childhood disease and an estimated 48 percent of American homes have a gas stove that is used. Gas stoves are known to affect indoor air pollution levels and researchers wanted to better understand the links between air pollution from gas stoves, parents’ behavior when operating gas stoves and respiratory issues, said Eric Coker, a doctoral student in public health and a co-author of the study.

The study showed that children who lived in homes where ventilation such as an exhaust fan was used when cooking with gas stoves were 32 percent less likely to have asthma than children who lived in homes where ventilation was not used. Children in homes where ventilation was used while cooking with a gas stove were 38 percent less likely to have bronchitis and 39 percent less likely to have wheezing. The study also showed that lung function, an important biological marker of asthma, was significantly better among girls from homes that used ventilation when operating their gas stove.

Many people in the study also reported using their gas stoves for heating, researchers found. That was also related to poorer respiratory health in children, particularly when ventilation was not used. In homes where the gas kitchen stove was used for heating, children were 44 percent less likely to have asthma and 43 percent less likely to have bronchitis if ventilation was used. The results did not change even when asthma risk factors such as pets or cigarette smoking inside the home were taken into account, Coker said.

“Asthma is one of the most common diseases in children living in the United States,” said Molly Kile, the study’s lead author. Kile is an environmental epidemiologist and assistant professor at OSU. “Reducing exposure to environmental factors that can exacerbate asthma can help improve the quality of life for people with this condition.”

The findings were published recently in the journal “Environmental Health.” Co-authors included John Molitor and Anna Harding of the College of Public Health and Human Sciences and Daniel Sudakin of the College of Agricultural Sciences. The research was supported by OSU.

Researchers used data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics from 1988-1994. Data collected for NHANES is a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population.

The third edition of the survey is the only one in which questions about use of gas stoves were asked, Coker said. Participants were interviewed in their homes and also underwent physical exams and lab tests.

Researchers examined data from about 7,300 children ages 2-16 who has asthma, wheezing or bronchitis and whose parents reported using a gas stove in the home. Of those who reported using no ventilation, 90 percent indicated they did not have an exhaust system or other ventilation in their homes, Coker said.

Even though the study relies on older data, the findings remain relevant because many people still use gas stoves for cooking, and in some cases, for heat in the winter, the researchers said.

“Lots of older homes lack exhaust or other ventilation,” Coker said. “We know this is still a problem. We don’t know if it is as prevalent as it was when the data was collected.”

Researchers suggest that future health surveys include questions about gas stove and ventilation use. That would allow them to see if there have been any changes in ventilation use since the original data was collected.

“More research is definitely needed,” Coker said. “But we know using an effective ventilation system will reduce air pollution levels in a home, so we can definitely recommend that.”

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Eric Coker, 206-235-2859, escoker@gmail.com; or Ellen Smit, 541-737-3833, Ellen.Smit@oregonstate.edu

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Gas stove
 Gas cook stove