college of public health and human sciences

Key to school improvement: reading, writing, arithmetic……. and character?

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A study of 20 elementary schools in Hawaii has found that a focused program to build social, emotional and character skills resulted in significantly improved overall quality of education, as evaluated by teachers, parents and students.

The concept includes organized activities to build character that go beyond more traditional rules or policies to control or punish problem behaviors. But it still takes only about an hour a week away from traditional education, and previous research has documented much lower numbers of suspensions, lower absenteeism, and better reading and math scores on standardized tests.

The latest study, being published by researchers from Oregon State University in the Journal of School Health, found for the first time that teachers believed this approach improved “overall school quality” by 21 percent, with parents and students agreeing in slightly smaller numbers. It was based on findings from racially and ethnically diverse schools, half using the program and half that did not.

“Improved social and character skills leave more time for teachers to teach, and students to learn and be more motivated,” said Brian Flay, an OSU professor in the School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences. “What we’re finding now is that we can really address some of the concerns in our schools by focusing more on character in the classroom.

“These are not new concepts, they’re the kind of things that have always been discussed in families, church and social groups,” Flay said. “A third-grade lesson, for instance, might be helping kids to understand how other people feel, to learn about empathy. That may seem simple, but in terms of educational performance it’s important.”

School quality, as defined in this research, includes a safe environment, involvement and satisfaction among individuals, student support, continuous improvement, standards-based learning and other features.

Past policies to curtail substance abuse, violent behavior and other problems have shown only limited results, researchers said in the study, in part because they don’t address underlying issues such as student’s sense of self and social attachment. The new trend being explored is what they call social-emotional and character development.

The program used in this research includes K-12 classroom curricula, a school-wide climate development component, teacher and staff training, parent and community involvement, continued positive reinforcement and other techniques.

Lessons include topics related to self-concept, physical and intellectual actions, managing oneself responsibly, getting along with others, being honest, and self-improvement.

The results have been impressive. Previously published results showed 72 percent fewer suspensions, 15 percent less absenteeism, and much better reading and math skills based on state tests. National tests showed a 9 percent improvement in these academic subjects.

“The current research supports the hypothesis that these programs can generate whole-school change and improve school safety and quality,” the researchers wrote in their report. “The present study shows improvements in school quality were made by relatively underperforming schools.”

The findings suggest that schools, districts, states and the federal government should consider policies and funding directed toward social and character programs of this type, the researchers said.

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Study: Physical activity impacts overall quality of sleep

CORVALLIS, Ore. – People sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, a new study concludes.

A nationally representative sample of more than 2,600 men and women, ages 18-85, found that 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week, which is the national guideline, provided a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality. People also said they felt less sleepy during the day, compared to those with less physical activity.

The study, out in the December issue of the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity, lends more evidence to mounting research showing the importance of exercise to a number of health factors. Among adults in the United States, about 35 to 40 percent of the population has problems with falling asleep or with daytime sleepiness.

“We were using the physical activity guidelines set forth for cardiovascular health, but it appears that those guidelines might have a spillover effect to other areas of health,” said Brad Cardinal, a professor of exercise science at Oregon State University and one of the study’s authors.

“Increasingly, the scientific evidence is encouraging as regular physical activity may serve as a non-pharmaceutical alternative to improve sleep.”

After controlling for age, BMI (Body Mass Index), health status, smoking status, and depression, the relative risk of often feeling overly sleepy during the day compared to never feeling overly sleepy during the day decreased by 65 percent for participants meeting physical activity guidelines.

Similar results were also found for having leg cramps while sleeping (68 percent less likely) and having difficulty concentrating when tired (45 percent decrease).

Paul Loprinzi, an assistant professor at Bellarmine University is lead author of the study, which was conducted while he was a doctoral student in Cardinal’s lab at OSU. He said it is the first study to examine the relationship between accelerometer-measured physical activity and sleep while utilizing a nationally representative sample of adults of all ages.

‘Our findings demonstrate a link between regular physical activity and perceptions of sleepiness during the day, which suggests that participation in physical activity on a regular basis may positively influence an individual's productivity at work, or in the case of a student, influence their ability to pay attention in class,” he said.

Cardinal said past studies linking physical activity and sleep used only self-reports of exercise. The danger with this is that many people tend to overestimate the amount of activity they do, he said.

He added that the take-away for consumers is to remember that exercise has a number of health benefits, and that can include helping feel alert and awake.

“Physical activity may not just be good for the waistline and heart, but it also can help you sleep,” Cardinal said. “There are trade-offs. It may be easier when you are tired to skip the workout and go to sleep, but it may be beneficial for your long-term health to make the hard decision and get your exercise.”

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Brad Cardinal, 541-737-2506

Report: Oregon child care costs rising dramatically as wages fail to keep up

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The cost of child care in Oregon has risen dramatically even as wages remained flat or increased slightly over the past decade, resulting in what researchers are calling a crisis for families.

According to a new report looking at child care in the state and in every Oregon county, child care prices increased 7 percent more than family incomes from 2004 to 2010. And for single parents, the situation is more serious: their child care prices increased 14 more than their incomes during that same period.

The average cost of toddler care in a child care center in Oregon is now $10,392, almost $4,000 more than the average annual cost of college tuition in the state.

Furthermore, the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies lists Oregon as the seventh most expensive state for child care in the nation, with Massachusetts ranking highest. In 36 states, the average annual cost for center-based care for an infant was higher than a year’s tuition at a four-year public college.

“This issue of affordability is huge,” said Bobbie Weber, a faculty research associate in the Family Policy Program at Oregon State University and author of the report along with Becky Vorpagel, an independent consultant for the Oregon Child Care Resource and Referral Network.

 “Families are facing serious challenges, and they want to do the right thing for their children, but faced with these unbearable costs, they do what they can to make it work.”

Survey findings show more low-income families are using free child care services, including asking relatives or friends to look after their children. For those who do not have a viable free option, it can mean making tough decisions.

“High quality care, which involves little or no screen time, healthy food, a ton of physical exercise and many activities that support cognitive and social development, is what parents want for their children,” Weber said. “The cost of getting quality care and education is not possible for many Oregonians, including many in the middle class.”

“Families making under $28,000 a year are spending 29 percent of their income just on child care, compared to families at the top income bracket who spend 7 percent of their income,” she said. “The care is the same price for everyone, and a family of three who makes around $34,000 often find themselves in a difficult situation of choosing between work and quality care for their children.”

While there are subsidies available for those earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, parents have to pay part of their subsidies and that amount rises as incomes rise. Weber said in some cases, the co-pay is more than the child care itself.  Budget cuts continue to constrain how many families can be served.

Weber is a member of the Gov. John Kitzhaber’s Early Learning Council, which has been tasked to design the most effective early-childhood education system, one that will ensure children arrive at kindergarten ready to learn. Weber said child care is one of the many issues related to early childhood that the council is tackling.

A full report on each county in Oregon can be found at: http://health.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/sbhs/pdf/occrp-state--county-profiles-2010.pdf

Some of the county findings include:

  • The most expensive county in Oregon for child care was Washington County, where the average cost was $11,880 for toddler care. Benton and Multnomah counties followed closely as the most expensive.
  • Rural counties in general suffer from a lack of resources. Many rural areas do not have enough family day care providers or child care centers to meet the needs of the communities.
  • In the average child care center, teachers earn between $9 and $13 an hour, even though many have post-secondary education in their field. Finding qualified workers willing to work for near-minimum wage salaries poses a challenge for centers.
  • More than half of parents reported that their children did not get a lot of individual attention in their child care and 46 percent said the arrangement was not ideal for their child. Almost 19 percent said their children do not feel safe and secure at their daycare facility.
  • The average minimum wage worker is spending almost 60 percent of their income on child care.
  • Low-income families are finding ways to not pay for child care, with a 7 percent drop since 2004 in those who report using paid care. However, the amount of children and low-income families in Oregon has risen during that same time.
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Bobbie Weber, 541-737-9243

High to moderate levels of stress lead to higher mortality rate

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study concludes that men who experience persistently moderate or high levels of stressful life events over a number of years have a 50 percent higher mortality rate.

In general, the researchers found only a few protective factors against these higher levels of stress – people who self-reported that they had good health tended to live longer and married men also fared better. Moderate drinkers also lived longer than non-drinkers.

“Being a teetotaler and a smoker were risk factors for mortality,” said Carolyn Aldwin, lead author of the study and a professor of human development and family sciences at Oregon State University. “So perhaps trying to keep your major stress events to a minimum, being married and having a glass of wine every night is the secret to a long life.”

This is the first study to show a direct link between stress trajectories and mortality in an aging population. Unlike previous studies that were conducted in a relatively short term with smaller sample sizes, this study was modified to document major stressors – such as death of a spouse or a putting a parent into a retirement home – that specifically affect middle-aged and older people.

“Most studies look at typical stress events that are geared at younger people, such as graduation, losing a job, having your first child,” Aldwin said. “I modified the stress measure to reflect the kinds of stress that we know impacts us more as we age, and even we were surprised at how strong the correlation between stress trajectories and mortality was.”

Aldwin said that previous studies examined stress only at one time point, while this study documented patterns of stress over a number of years. 

The study, out now in the Journal of Aging Research, used longitudinal data surveying almost 1,000 middle-class and working-class men for an 18-year period, from 1985 to 2003. All the men in the study were picked because they had good health when they first signed up to be part of the Boston VA Normative Aging Study in the 1960s.

Those in the low-stress group experienced an average of two or fewer major life events in a year, compared with an average of three for the moderate group and up to six for the high stress group. One of the study’s most surprising findings was that the mortality risk was similar for the moderate versus high stress group.

“It seems there is a threshold and perhaps with anything more than two major life events a year and people just max out,” Aldwin said. “We were surprised the effect was not linear and that the moderate group had a similar risk of death to the high-risk group.”

While this study looked specifically at major life events and stress trajectories, Aldwin said the research group will next explore chronic daily stress as well as coping strategies.

“People are hardy, and they can deal with a few major stress events each year,” Aldwin said. “But our research suggests that long-term, even moderate stress can have lethal effects.”

Michael Levenson, Heidi Igarashi, Nuoo-Ting Molitor and John Molitor with Oregon State University and Avron Spiro III with Boston University all contributed to this study, which was funded by the National Institute on Aging as well as an award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

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Carolyn Aldwin, 541-737-2024

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Carolyn Aldwin Stress Study

OSU senior named ‘Emerging Designer’ at Portland Fashion Week

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University student Amanda Grisham won the Emerging Designers Competition in conjunction with Portland Fashion Week last week.

Grisham, a senior in apparel design and merchandising management minoring in business and entrepreneurship, was one nine finalists in the Catapult: Emerging Designers Competition, which was held Oct. 5 in conjunction with Portland Fashion Week.

The native of Tigard was picked both by the audience and by an expert panel of judges as the audience favorite. Grisham’s Pendleton-inspired line called Grishley was a blend of Native American designs with modern touches. Portland Monthly style editor Eden Dawn wrote in her blog that Grisham’s designs were “hands down some of the strongest of the show.”

“I was able to present a collection that I was incredibly proud of, and came out with an amazing batch of new opportunities,” Grisham said. “To prepare for this collection I did everything but sleep and exercise – two activities I look forward to getting back to!”

Grisham said after graduation she hopes to work for an active wear company in Portland while continuing to do her own designs. She is already starting to prepare for a new line of designs to launch in fall 2012.

Grisham’s fashion blog can be found at: http://grishley.wordpress.com

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Grisham design
Design by Amanda Grisham. Photo: Steel Brooks 2011.

Grisham design 2

Design by Amanda Grisham. Photo: Steel Brooks 2011.

Statewide public health conference set Oct. 10-11

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The two-day Oregon Public Health Association Conference will be held Oct. 10-11 at Oregon State University’s LaSells Stewart Center. Researchers and public health officials will tackle some of the most pressing health issues facing Oregonians.

Topics to be addressed include national public health accreditation,  how to incorporate public health in coordinated care organizations,  Latino engagement in public health projects, and alcohol consumption and unprotected sex risk factors among college students. A full schedule can be viewed here.

 “At a time when our entire nation is focused on health costs, public health and prevention are more important than ever,” said Charlie Fautin, president of the Oregon Public Health Association and public health administrator for Benton County. “Record registration for this year’s conference is a reflection of how committed Oregonians are to creating model solutions to health system challenges.”

Mike Bonetto, health policy adviser for Gov. John Kitzhaber, will open the conference with a keynote address on “Public Health and Health Care Reform: Identifying the Opportunities and Obstacles,” at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 10. Patricia Butterfield, dean of the College of Nursing at Washington State University will discuss “Household Environmental Health Risks to Rural Children: Risks and Perceptions of Risk,” at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11.

“We look forward to continued partnerships with private and governmental public health agencies active in OPHA to help develop the public health workforce necessary to create a healthy Oregon one community at a time,” said Marie Harvey, chair of the conference program committee and associate dean for research and graduate programs in the college.

The conference is open to the public and media are welcome to attend. For registration information, go to http://www.oregonpublichealth.org

The conference is sponsored by Conference of Local Health Officials, Kaiser Permanente Community Fund, NorthWest Health Foundation, OHSU Foundation, and the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

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Marie Harvey, 541-737-3824

Family harvest party and garden tour held Oct. 2

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A family harvest party with music, cider pressings, garden tours and kids’ activities will be held Sunday, Oct. 2, in Corvallis.

The free event will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the new WORMS Youth Garden at Westside Community Church, 4000 S.W. Western Blvd. The public is invited to tour this new community garden. There will be produce for sale, a raffle for prizes, and activities for children including a scavenger hunt and face painting.

This event is an opportunity to tour a new 10,000-square-foot youth garden that resulted out of an Oregon State University project.

The project, “Producing for the Future: A Collaboration between Low-Income Youth, Congregations, and Researchers,” is a National Institutes of Health-funded initiative designed to explore the health benefits of community-based garden programs. It brings together low-income youth and young adults ages 16-25, members of local faith-based communities, and university researchers to provide training, work experience, and improved health outcomes.

Youth, adult partners and OSU researchers have worked together since January to design and plant a community garden and develop a microenterprise venture to market the produce grown. Using a process known as Community Based Participatory Research, the participants are collecting and analyzing data evaluating the project, and providing training and outreach to other communities interested in similar collaborations. Individuals in the project are both project designers and research participants.

Leslie Richards, assistant professor of human development and family sciences, is leading the research project. She said it also is designed to teach young people entrepreneurship skills, as well as partner youth with adults to address issues of social injustice.

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Grand opening of OSU’s Hallie Ford center on Sept. 8

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A public grand opening will be held on Thursday, Sept. 8, for the Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families at Oregon State University, marking the beginning of a collaborative research effort to support children and families in Oregon and around the world.

Part of OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, this new research center brings together experts at OSU working on crucial public health issues such as childhood obesity, early childhood learning, risky behaviors and teenage development. The new center aims to promote healthy children and families by facilitating high quality research, translating research into practice and building the capacity of families, service providers and communities.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity to build on Hallie Ford’s legacy, to take her spirit of caring for children and families to the student setting through research, and then translate that research into improving the health of all citizens across the lifespan,” said Tammy Bray, dean of the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

“Her values complement our holistic, interdisciplinary approach to research, as well as outreach, which uses what is learned to inform policies and programs in Oregon and beyond,” Bray added.

The public program begins at 3:30 p.m., followed by tours of the building.

The program will include talks by Allyn Ford and Carmen Ford Phillips, children of the late Hallie E. Ford, alumna and donor Cindy Campbell, state Rep. Sara Gelser, OSU President Ed Ray, director Richard Settersten, and Bray.

Each speaker will contribute an item for a time capsule that will be placed inside the building and opened in 100 years. Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office is sending an item to be enclosed into the capsule in lieu of his attendance.

“These are trying social and economic times for children and families across Oregon and our nation,” said Settersten, who holds the endowed directorship of the center. “In the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, we’re making children and families a top priority of our research and outreach efforts, with the intention of improving their health and well-being.”

A hallmark of the new center is collaboration among disciplines, and that spirit is evident in its design, which features a three-story atrium. The ground floor includes a welcoming common area, a family-style living area, conference room, and kitchen. Offices for researchers are located on the second floor, along with project rooms for conducting research (interviews, focus groups, observations). The third floor features project and conference rooms. A key feature of the new building is a series of three large murals created by Ron Mills de Pinyas, a professor of art at Linfield College.

Hallie Ford, a noted Oregon philanthropist, made a gift of $8 million to Oregon State University shortly before she died, supporting a cause she advocated throughout her lifetime – Oregon’s children and their families. The gift was part of The Campaign for OSU, the university’s first comprehensive fundraising effort.

Ford was born in Red Fork, Okla., in 1905. In 1935 she married Kenneth W. Ford and moved to Roseburg, where she played an active role in establishing and growing Roseburg Lumber Company, now known as Roseburg Forest Products Company.

The center is organized into four research cores devoted to: Healthy Development in Early Childhood; Healthy Development for Youth and Young Adults; Parenting and Family Life; and Healthy Lifestyles and Obesity Prevention in Children and Families. Research projects associated with these areas include:

  • The GROW Healthy Kids and Communities project centers on childhood obesity prevention in rural communities where the prevalence of obesity is higher than in urban areas. The project will target sustainable changes in the home, school and community environments that improve and strengthen children and their family’s eating and physical activity habits.
  • The Healthy Home Child Care Project is evaluating an Extension-based intervention framework to promote healthy eating and regular physical activity in children attending Family Child Care Homes in Oregon.
  • The Touch Your Toes! Kindergarten Readiness Study is a four-year, federally funded study by the U.S. Department of Education that will include more than 500 preschool children, their parents, and their teachers. The project will adapt a self-regulation measure as a school readiness screening tool that can be easily used by teachers, practitioners, and researchers to identify children who would benefit from additional support in self-regulation.
  • The Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative provides evaluation, technical assistance, and professional development for community-based parenting education programs in 19 counties. The goals of the project are to build a more coordinated system of parenting education and to expand quality programs for parents of children ranging from prenatal to six years of age.
  • A three-year study focused on HIV and STD-prevention among inner-city African American teens will look at the sex and gender roles in the context of urban neighborhoods, with an eye toward understanding how social and developmental factors contribute to gender-related beliefs and behaviors.
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Richard Settersten, 541-737-3673

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Hallie Ford Center
The core directors of the Hallie Ford Center for Healthy Children and Family are (left to right): Peggy Dolcini, Sally Bowman, Rick Settersten, Megan McClelland and Stewart Trost. Credit: Chris Becerra/Becerra Photography.

Study: College students not eating enough fruits and veggies

CORVALLIS, Ore. – College students aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables – in fact, a new study shows students aren’t even eating one serving per day, far from the recommended five daily servings.

The study by Oregon State University researchers surveyed the eating habits of 582 college students, a majority of which were first-year students. The study, now online in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, compares male and female students, but found that both were not getting the proper amount of fruits and vegetables. Male students had about five servings a week, slightly higher than female students who self-reported eating about four servings of fruits and vegetables.

Female students had lower fiber intake, while males tended to consume more fat in their diet. Overall, the females had better eating habits, including skipping fewer meals, eating in the college dining halls more frequently, and reading food labels.

“We found that students skipped meals fairly frequently, which could account for some of the lack of fruits and veggies,” said Brad Cardinal, a professor of exercise and sport science at Oregon State University and one of the study’s authors.

“Still, even accounting for fewer meals consumed, the students were on average not always eating even one serving of fruits or vegetables per day, far below the USDA guidelines.”

Both males and females were consuming more than 30 percent of their calories from fat, which exceeds the American Dietetic Association’s recommendation of no more than 30 percent a week.

Cardinal, who is an expert in the psychological and social aspects of health and exercise, said the larger take-away message is that proper eating and nutrition is not integrated enough into our society. He said the surveyed students came from OSU, where healthy options are available in dining halls.

“We are not teaching youth how to be self-sustaining,” Cardinal said. “Home economics and nutrition classes have all but disappeared from our schools in the K-12 system. There is a fundamental lack of understanding on how to eat well in a very broad sense.”

Cardinal said studies show that when people prepare food at home they tend to eat better and consume fewer calories. He said their survey showed that students ate out a lot and consumed at least one fast food meal per week.

“We have a cooking camp for (elementary school) kids here at OSU that teaches kids how to shop for their food, prepare it and then clean up after themselves,” he said. “These are essential skills every child should know, and it will stay with them long after they leave school.”

Cardinal pointed to recent concerning trends, such as in Texas where health education is no longer required by the state. In addition, many school districts, including ones in Oregon, have cut home economics/nutrition classes due to budget constraints.

“Health is an area being neglected, yet all the available research show that healthy habits and healthy kids can lead to better academic success,” Cardinal said. “We are doing a disservice to our kids by not teaching them these essential life skills.”

OSU alum Kin-Kit “Ben” Li was lead author on the paper, which was funded with a grant from the Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation. The study was also co-authored by associate professor Vicki Ebbeck and former OSU Ph.D. students Rebecca Concepcion, Tucker Readdy, Hyo Lee and Erica Woekel.

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Brad Cardinal, 541-737-2506