OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of public health and human sciences

Two OSU buildings selected for 2013 DeMuro Award

CORVALLIS, Ore.— The Hallie Ford Center and Joyce Collin Furman Hall at Oregon State University have been selected to receive the 2013 DeMuro Award for Excellence in Preservation, Reuse and Community Revitalization by Restore Oregon.

The Hallie Ford Center is being recognized as an outstanding example of compatible infill development within a historic district. Furman Hall is being recognized for the extraordinary complexity, creativity, design and craftsmanship of its historic rehabilitation.

They are among seven Oregon buildings to be honored with the award this year. The awards were presented at a banquet Wednesday in Portland, which included a guest presentation by Portland Mayor Charlie Hales.

The DeMuro Award honors extraordinary historic rehabilitation projects and compatible infill development across Oregon – residential and commercial, urban and rural, private and public. The award is named in honor of Art DeMuro whose redevelopment of historic properties such as the White Stag Block set the standard for quality, creativity, persistence, and business acumen.

“Hallie Ford wanted to inspire people to use the resources they have to make the world a better place,” said Richard Settersten, Hallie E. Ford endowed director. “This principle not only drives the work we do, but is also reflected in the intentional design and beauty of the building we now call home."

According to Restore Oregon, the Hallie Ford Center is an outstanding example of compatible infill development that harmonizes beautifully with its neighbors. “It makes a distinct statement that’s of its time, yet is complementary in scale, massing, proportion, and materials, enhancing the story of the historic district,” Restore Oregon staff noted.

The Hallie Ford building houses the Hallie E. Ford Center for Children and Families. Made possible by a gift from late Oregon philanthropist Hallie Ford, the center opened Sept. 8, 2011, and is home to interdisciplinary, collaborative research from the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

Furman Hall, which was originally built in 1902 and recently restored, was honored by Restore Oregon for being rescued from a deteriorating and dangerous state. Seismically unsound and wrapped in netting to protect pedestrians from crumbling sandstone, Furman Hall was structurally rebuilt, its interior redesigned, and sandstone façade replaced in kind.

"Furman Hall is destined to become one of the icons of the OSU campus,” said Larry Flick, dean of the College of Education. “Descriptions of the mapping of the original stone shapes to the newly quarried stone, delights visitors, parents, and students.  It is not unusual to look out my window and see a passerby photographing the building. The DeMuro Award is an honor for FFA and OSU in a highly successful collaboration to restore a proud part of OSU heritage."

Education Hall, originally built in 1902, re-opened as Joyce Collin Furman Hall in January 2012, following a complete renovation. An iconic structure at the campus’ east entrance, the renovated building blends historic charm with high-tech touches. The exterior seismic upgrades were funded by the state, and the interior renovations were made possible by private donors, including a $2 million gift from William A. Furman through the Joyce N. Furman Memorial Trust.

 

For more information: http://restoreoregon.org/demuro-award/

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Larry Flick
541-737-3664;

Richard Settersten
541-737-8902

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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)

Relationship factors affect young adult use of condoms

CORVALLIS, Ore. ­­­– The characteristics of a person’s relationship, including commitment and partner-specific risk factors, affect the choice of whether or not to use condoms, according to new research from Oregon State University.

Understanding the reasons that sexual partners use condoms - for pregnancy prevention, disease prevention, or both - is critical to increasing their use, especially among young adults who are considered most at risk, researchers say. 

A recent study, led by S. Marie Harvey, associate dean and professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, was published in The Journal of Sex Research. It found that the use of condoms by young adults is often dependent on their specific sexual partner and characteristics of the partnership.

Condoms are unique in their ability to both protect against unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, or STIs. Although their use is important for every demographic, it is especially important for young adults, who have the highest rates of unintended pregnancy and HIV infection of any age group. Other STIs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, also appear to be increasing for this age group. 

The study, supported by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, explored the reasons for using condoms, including partner-specific factors such as commitment to the relationship, the perceived risk of getting an STI from a partner, and comfort in discussing and using condoms. Researchers examined the influence of these relationship characteristics and others on condom use among about 450 young adults, aged 18-30, for one year.

Study participants were questioned about their sexual behaviors, relationship characteristics, and reasons for condom use. All were condom users and if they had more than one sexual partner, the same series of questions were repeated for each partnership. 

“The partner-specific questions provided unique and critical insight into the role relationships play in decisions about why condoms were used,” said co-author Lisa Oakley, a post-doctoral researcher at OSU.

Researchers found that a number of relationship characteristics specific to a partner influenced reasons for condom use, including perceived risk of contracting a STI and confidence in discussing and using condoms with each partner. Although it seems intuitive that reasons for condom use, risk assessment and decision-making would be specific to a particular sexual partner, this is the first study to actually examine and demonstrate that point. 

The study also found that 51 percent of the participants used condoms primarily to prevent pregnancy; only 17 percent primarily to prevent the spread of disease; and 33 percent for both birth control and disease prevention. This was of particular interest because condoms are the only widely available way to prevent the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.

“Overall, people are much more aware of the risk of getting pregnant and often don’t perceive themselves as at risk of contracting a sexually-transmitted infection,” Harvey said. 

“The goal of public health professionals is to help people lead healthier lives. When it comes to understanding why people use condoms, there is a need to understand the complexity of the partnership and the role relationship factors may play in influencing behavior.”

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S. Marie Harvey, 541-737-3824, Marie.harvey@oregonstate.edu

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Condoms

Condoms

Nutrition education and simple cafeteria changes leads to healthier eating

CORVALLIS, Ore. –  A combination of nutrition education and simple and inexpensive changes in elementary school cafeterias can lead children to make healthier eating choices, new research from Oregon State University shows.

The findings indicate that an integrated approach to child nutrition in schools could help address a nationwide child obesity epidemic. It also supports the “smarter lunchroom” movement that is gaining steam in school cafeterias around the country, said Stephanie Grutzmacher, an assistant professor of nutrition in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.

The goal of the smarter lunchroom concept is to encourage kids to make better food choices through subtle changes in the cafeteria.

“They are all low-cost behavioral nudges, such as placing healthy food items at the front of the cafeteria line, using verbal prompts to encourage children to try something new, or posting fun facts about the healthy food items,” said Grutzmacher, who led the study while on the faculty at the University of Maryland.

The researchers’ goal was to test the effectiveness of those kinds of changes as well as the effectiveness of a companion classroom-based nutrition education program. The program, called Project ReFresh, was tested in public and private Maryland schools.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of School Health. Co-authors of the study are Hee-Jung Song of the University of Maryland and Ashley L. Munger of California State University, Los Angeles. The project was supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the USDA’s Team Nutrition program and the Maryland State Department of Education.

One group of students received classroom nutrition education as well as the cafeteria intervention program; another group received only the cafeteria intervention; and the third group did not receive either component of the program.

For the cafeteria intervention, researchers developed a toolkit of tips and ideas for cafeteria workers as well as training food service supervisors and staff to implement suggested changes. The researchers focused on small changes that might encourage students to make healthier food choices and encouraged cafeteria workers to evaluate their environments and pick a few changes that made the most sense in their school.

For example, asking things such as “Which fruit would you like: apples or peaches?” instead of “Would you like a fruit?” might help encourage the children to make a healthier choice, Grutzmacher said.

“We developed about 100 ideas for elementary school cafeterias, knowing that not all of the ideas were going to work in all of the cafeterias,” Grutzmacher said. “Moving the salad bar is not practical at every school, because of locations of plug-ins or other set-up issues.”

The classroom education included visits by trained nutrition educators as well as teacher training and lessons for the classroom teacher to use. The lessons were designed to integrate other school lessons, including math skills, writing prompts and reading.

Students reported their healthy food intake, including fruit and vegetable consumption, on a daily and weekly basis; before they started the program; and again once it was complete.

While researchers noted some improvements in healthy eating among students who received the cafeteria intervention, they found a larger improvement among the children who received both the classroom education program and the cafeteria changes. Students in that group reported eating more fruits and vegetables and enjoying foods such as whole grain pasta, Grutzmacher said.

The findings support the researchers’ belief that programs that address both individual and environmental factors may be most effective in improving children’s diets, she said.

“Vegetable consumption typically declines over time in school cafeterias,” Grutzmacher said. “It is pretty rare to find kids who are still choosing vegetables by the fifth grade. With this program, we saw an increase in vegetable consumption among these kids.

“We need more research but we think that integrating these approaches is a good idea.”

The findings are particularly valuable for low-income schools where children rely on school breakfast and lunch each day. Those children often have less opportunity to try new foods or eat a diet with a wide variety of fruits or vegetables, Grutzmacher said, and the school cafeteria plays a special role in helping to expose them to new fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods.

“If I could get every school to make one change, I would encourage them to offer tasting opportunities, so kids have a chance to try some new healthy food items and new recipes,” Grutzmacher said. “And I would give the kids a chance to vote on them, so they have a say in what ends up on their menus.”

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Stephanie Grutzmacher, 541-737-1610, Stephanie.grutzmacher@oregonstate.edu

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Cafeteria display of healthy food choices

School lunch display

Nutrition education lesson

nutrition education

Working longer may lead to a longer life, new OSU research shows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Working past age 65 could lead to longer life, while retiring early may be a risk factor for dying earlier, a new study from Oregon State University indicates.

The researchers found that healthy adults who retired one year past age 65 had an 11 percent lower risk of death from all causes, even when taking into account demographic, lifestyle and health issues. Adults who described themselves as unhealthy were also likely to live longer if they kept working, the findings showed, which indicates that factors beyond health may affect post-retirement mortality.

“It may not apply to everybody, but we think work brings people a lot of economic and social benefits that could impact the length of their lives,” said Chenkai Wu, the lead author of the study. He conducted the research as part of his master’s thesis at OSU, where he is now a doctoral student in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Co-authors include Associate Professor Robert Stawski and Assistant Professor Michelle Odden of OSU and Gwenith Fisher of Colorado State University. The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.

The research was the basis for Wu’s master’s thesis in human development and family science; he’s now pursuing a doctorate in epidemiology.

Wu took an interest in the effects of retirement on health in part because of China’s mandatory laws, which are often debated. Retirement age is also an issue for debate elsewhere around the world, including the United States, he said.

“Most research in this area has focused on the economic impacts of delaying retirement. I thought it might be good to look at the health impacts,” Wu said. “People in the U.S. have more flexibility about when they retire compared to other countries, so it made sense to look at data from the U.S.”

Wu examined data collected from 1992 through 2010 through the Healthy Retirement Study, a long-term study of U.S. adults led by the University of Michigan and funded by the National Institute on Aging. Of the more than 12,000 initial participants in the study, Wu narrowed his focus to 2,956 people who began the study in 1992 and had retired by the end of the study period in 2010. 

Poor health is one reason people retire early and also can lead to earlier death, so researchers wanted to find a way to mitigate a potential bias in that regard.

To do so, they divided the group into unhealthy retirees, or those who indicated that health was a factor in their decision to retire – and healthy retirees, who indicated health was not a factor. About two-thirds of the group fell into the healthy category, while a third were in the unhealthy category.

During the study period, about 12 percent of the healthy and 25.6 percent of the unhealthy retirees died. Healthy retirees who worked a year longer had an 11 percent lower risk of mortality, while unhealthy retirees who worked a year longer had a 9 percent lower mortality risk. Working a year longer had a positive impact on the study participants’ mortality rate regardless of their health status.

“The healthy group is generally more advantaged in terms of education, wealth, health behaviors and lifestyle, but taking all of those issues into account, the pattern still remained,” said Stawski, senior author of the paper. “The findings seem to indicate that people who remain active and engaged gain a benefit from that.”

Additional research is needed to better understand the links between work and health, the researchers said. As people get older their physical health and cognitive function are likely to decline, which could affect both their ability to work and their longevity.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Stawski said. “We see the relationship between work and longevity, but we don’t know everything about people’s lives, health and well-being after retirement that could be influencing their longevity.”

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Chenkai Wu, wuche@oregonstate.edu; Robert Stawski, robert.stawski@oregonstate.edu, 541-737-9052

Mobility plays important role in development for toddlers with disabilities

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Typical toddlers simultaneously spend about three hours a day in physical activity, play and engagement with objects such as toys, while their peers with mobility disabilities are less likely to engage in all of those behaviors at the same time, new research from Oregon State University shows.

The study shows the marked differences in play and activity among toddlers with and without disabilities. It also underscores the need for young children with disabilities to have opportunities to play and explore in the same manner as their peers, said the study’s lead author, Sam Logan.

“Whatever typically-developing kids do should be the gold standard for all children, including those with disabilities,” said Logan, an assistant professor of kinesiology in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “The ability to move independently is a mechanism for a host of developmental benefits for children.”

Physical activity has important physiological benefits for children, but it also is a vehicle through which children can engage with their peers and interact with their surroundings, Logan said. One way researchers are now encouraging children with mobility disabilities to move more is through the use of modified toy ride-on cars.

Past research has shown that independent mobility is linked to cognitive, social, motor, language and other developmental benefits in young children. 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, he said.

The latest study, published recently in the journal Pediatric Physical Therapy, compared the activity of typically-developing toddlers to those with disabilities, with a particular focus on the co-occurrence of play, physical activity and engagement with objects such as toys.

The researchers found that typically-developing toddlers spent about an hour per day in direct play interactions with their peers, while toddlers with disabilities affecting mobility spent less than 20 minutes and as few as six minutes per day in similar interactions. 

The toddlers with disabilities also had less variety in the types of physical activity they engaged in and were less likely to interact with objects such as toys, Logan said. One of the goals for physical therapists and other clinicians should be to encourage more simultaneous activity, he said.

“Moving is not the objective, but if you’re not able to move independently, then play with peers or interaction with toys is even more difficult,” Logan said. “So how can we help these kids move more for play?”

One challenge is the lack of commercially-available devices to help toddlers with mobility issues to get around on their own, Logan said. Power wheelchairs can be costly and typically aren’t available for children until they are older, and may not always be an option at all for children who are expected to eventually be able to walk.

Some low-cost interventions are emerging to help address this issue. Logan is a leader of the Go Baby Go program, which provides children with movement disabilities modified ride-on toy cars.

The cars give children independence at a much younger age, allowing them the mobility needed to increase their interaction with peers and other objects, Logan said. The modified cars have proven effective even among children with complex medical issues, he said.

A case study on the cars’ use among children with complex medical issues, including use of tracheotomy tubes and ventilators for aid in breathing, was also published recently in the journal Pediatric Physical Therapy.

The three children featured in the study, ranging in age from 6 months to 5 years of age, learned to drive modified ride-on cars independently. The children used the cars to explore their environment and some of the children also participated in play-based activities using the cars.

“The car becomes a tool,” Logan said. “It’s not just about getting from point A to point B. “It’s about how the child is using the car to play and interact with peers and objects.”

Together, the two studies provide further evidence of the benefits of mobility for children with disabilities and the effectiveness the modified cars in helping children gain that mobility, Logan said.

His latest research is focused on modified cars that require children to stand to operate them, which helps build muscle strength and prepare children for walking, and further reduces barriers for play and socialization with peers.

“The expectation should be that they have the same opportunities for mobility and play as any other kids,” Logan said. “Even the most complicated medical cases should not be barriers for play.”

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Sam Logan, 541-737-3437, sam.logan@oregonstate.edu

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Toddler using a modified toy car
GoBabyGo at Oregon State


Researcher Sam Logan

Sam Logan

No evidence that water birth poses harm to newborns, new OSU study finds

CORVALLIS, Ore. – There is no evidence that water births, where a baby is intentionally born under water in a tub or pool, poses any increased harm to the child, Oregon State University researchers have found.

Researchers examined outcome data for more than 6,500 midwife-attended water births in the United States and found that newborns born in water were no more likely to experience low Apgar scores, require transfer to the hospital after birth or be hospitalized in their first six weeks of life, than newborns who were not born in water.

The results were published this week in the Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health. The study is believed to be the largest study of water births to date and the first to examine the practice in the United States, said lead author, Marit Bovbjerg, an epidemiology instructor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU. 

“The findings suggest that water birth is a reasonably safe, low-intervention option for women who face a low risk of complications during the birthing process,” Bovbjerg said. “These are decisions that should be made in concert with a medical professional.”

Co-authors of the study are Melissa Cheyney, a medical anthropologist and associate professor in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts, and Courtney Everson, a former OSU graduate student who recently completed her doctorate.

For the study, researchers analyzed birthing outcome data collected from 2004 through 2009 by the Midwives Alliance of North America Statistics Project, commonly referred to as MANA Stats. Most of the nearly 17,000 women in the study were attended by Certified Professional Midwives, who provided detailed reports on their cases from their medical records.

More than 6,500 women in the database gave birth in water, either at home or in a free-standing birthing center. The outcomes in those births were compared to the outcomes for non-water births. The study compared only births at home or in a birthing center and not those in hospitals. 

The researchers found that babies born in water were no more likely to require transfer or admission to a hospital, nor were the mothers who gave birth in water. However, the researchers found an 11 percent increase in perineal tearing among mothers who gave birth in water.

“For some women, that potential risk of tearing might be worth taking if they feel they will benefit from other aspects of a water birth, such as improved pain management,” Bovbjerg said. “There is no one correct choice. The risks and benefits of different birthing options should be weighed carefully by each individual.” 

The researchers’ findings are congruent with outcomes reported in other water birth studies, Cheyney said, but are contrary to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee Opinion.

“Those groups support laboring in water, but caution against giving birth while immersed,” Cheyney said. “Our findings suggest that water birth is a reasonably safe option for low-risk women, especially when the risks associated with pharmacologic pain management, like epidural anesthesia, are considered.”

The researchers have shared their findings with a group that is developing a clinical bulletin designed to inform health care providers about the practice of water birth in both hospital and out-of-hospital settings.

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Melissa Cheyney, 541-737-4515, melissa.cheyney@oregonstate.edu; Marit Bovbjerg, 541-737-5313, Marit.Bovbjerg@oregonstate.edu