OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of public health and human sciences

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)

Oregon State University breaks record with $441 million in research grants

CORVALLIS, Ore. –Oregon State University crossed the $400 million threshold in grants and contracts for the first time in the fiscal year that ended June 30, including being awarded a grant to build a $122 million regional research vessel.

Oregon State received $441 million from state and federal governments, businesses and foundations for research on a wide range of projects in natural resources, health, engineering and science across the state and around the world. Federal agencies provided $315 million (71 percent), and additional funds came from state agencies, businesses and foundations.

“OSU research spurs solutions to problems and serves and involves people, communities and businesses across the state and world,” said Cynthia Sagers, OSU vice president for research. “Investment in research affects our daily lives —  the food we eat, health care, the environment — and pays back dividends in economic growth for Oregonians. Researchers are starting new businesses and assisting established companies.”

Altogether, Oregon State’s research revenues leapt 31 percent over last year’s record-breaking total of $336 million. Over the past 10 years, OSU’s research revenues have more than doubled and exceed those of Oregon’s public universities combined.

OSU research totals surged in June with a $122 million grant from the National Science Foundation for a new regional research vessel, which will be stationed at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. It was the largest single grant ever received by the university.

Revenues from business and industry — including technology testing, sponsored contracts and licensing of innovations developed at the university — grew to $34 million last year, up 10 percent from the previous year.

“Our latest success is the result of hard work and strategic decisions by our faculty and partners in business, local and state government and the federal delegation,” Sagers said.

Based on past OSU research, startup companies such as Agility Robotics (animal-like robot motion), Outset Medical (at-home kidney dialysis) and Inpria (photolithography for high-performance computer chips) are attracting private investment and creating jobs. Advances in agricultural crops (winter wheat, hazelnuts, small fruits and vegetables) and forest products (cross-laminated timber panels for high-rise construction) are bolstering rural economies as well.

Since it began in 2013, the Oregon State University Advantage program has provided market analysis and support services to more than 70 local technology businesses and start-up companies. 

Other major grants last year included:

  • Up to $40 million by the U.S. Department of Energy for testing systems for ocean wave energy technologies;
  • $9 million for a next-generation approach to chemical manufacturing known as RAPID, in partnership with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory;
  • $6.5 million from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to make artificial-intelligence systems more trustworthy;
  • A combined $1.15 million in state, federal and foundation funding for a state-of-the-art instrument known as an X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy system. The XPS system brings world-class capabilities to the Pacific Northwest to address challenges in surface chemistry. Partners included the Murdock Charitable Trust, the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI), the Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center and the National Science Foundation.

 “Whether it’s with the fishing and seafood industries on our coast, federal labs working on energy and the environment or local governments concerned about jobs and education, partnerships with business, government and other research organizations are absolutely vital to our work,” said Sagers. “We care about these relationships, the benefits they bring to our communities and the educational opportunities they create for our students.”

Research has long been a hallmark of graduate education, and undergraduate students are increasingly participating in research projects in all fields, from the sciences to engineering, health and liberal arts. OSU provided undergraduates with more than $1 million last year to support projects conducted under the mentorship of faculty members.

“Research is fundamental to President Ray’s Student Success Initiative,” said Sagers. “Studies show time and again that students who participate in research tend to stay in school, connect with their peers and find meaningful work after they graduate. Research is a key part of the educational process.”

Federal agencies represent the lion’s share of investment in OSU research. That investment has more than doubled in the last five years. The National Science Foundation provided the largest share of funding, followed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Energy. 

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Project summaries and FY17 research totals for OSU colleges are posted online:

College of Agricultural Sciences: http://agsci.oregonstate.edu/our-best/research-awards-2016-17

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences: http://ceoas.oregonstate.edu/research/map/

College of Education: http://education.oregonstate.edu/research-and-outreach

College of Engineering:  http://engineering.oregonstate.edu/fy17-research-funding-highlights

College of Forestry: http://www.forestry.oregonstate.edu/college-forestry-continues-advance-research-efforts#

College of Liberal Arts: http://liberalarts.oregonstate.edu/cla-research/2017-research-summary

College of Pharmacy: http://pharmacy.oregonstate.edu/grant_information

College of Public Health and Human Sciences: http://health.oregonstate.edu/research/funding-highlights 

College of Science: http://impact.oregonstate.edu/2017/08/research-funding-continues-upward-trajectory/

College of Veterinary Medicine: http://vetmed.oregonstate.edu/research-highlights

Video b-roll is available with comments by Cindy Sagers, vice president of research, at https://youtu.be/pkGD-lhVTwo.

 

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Cynthia Sagers, vice president for research, cynthia.sagers@oregonstate.edu, 541-737-0664

    

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Coordinated care organizations lead to more timely prenatal care

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Pregnant women on Medicaid are more likely to receive timely prenatal care following Oregon’s implementation of coordinated care organizations, or CCOs, which are regional networks of health care providers who work together to treat patients, a new study has shown.

“We found that under the CCO model, the timeliness of prenatal care was significantly improved for Oregon women on Medicaid, with more women beginning care in the first trimester of their pregnancies,” said the study’s co-author, S. Marie Harvey, associate dean and distinguished professor in Oregon State University’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

“This is an indication that Oregon’s use of CCOs is helping close the gap in timeliness of care for women on Medicaid versus those who are not on Medicaid.”

The findings were published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal. Co-authors are Lisa Oakley, Jangho Yoon and Jeff Luck of OSU. It is the first study to be published from a five-year federal grant to study the impacts of the expansion of Medicaid in Oregon on the health of women of reproductive age and their children up to age 2.

Medicaid is a federal health insurance program for people with limited resources, including low-income adults, children, the elderly and people with disabilities. In Oregon, Medicaid is provided through the Oregon Health Plan.

OSU researchers are awaiting data to examine the impact of Medicaid expansion, which began in 2014. In the meantime, they examined how the coordinated care organization model, an innovative approach implemented in Oregon in 2012, affected access to and use of prenatal care, Harvey said.

CCOs are Oregon’s version of an accountable care organization; nine other states are also using accountable care models for their Medicaid programs and eight other states are considering adopting similar models.

Oregon implemented the CCO model – which includes coordination of physical health care, mental health care and dental care – for providing Medicaid services in 2012. The hope was to focus on prevention and better management of chronic conditions, ultimately improving care and reducing costs.

Each CCO is allocated a fixed sum of funds to provide all necessary patient services and incentives to meet specific benchmarks that are critical to overall health and wellbeing. Benchmarks include decreasing emergency room usage, increasing use of dental sealants for children, using electronic health records, screening for colorectal cancer and providing timely prenatal care.

Early and regular prenatal care throughout a pregnancy plays a critical role in the health and wellbeing of mother and baby, the researchers said. Women on Medicaid generally begin prenatal care later in pregnancy and have fewer medical visits during their pregnancy than their non-Medicaid enrolled peers.

“Prenatal care is important because these visits provide opportunities for practitioners to evaluate and address health concerns for both mom and baby and discuss other important topics such as risks of smoking, the importance of good nutrition and other issues that could impact a pregnancy,” said Oakley, the paper’s lead author and a post-doctoral researcher at OSU.

After the first year of CCO implementation, mothers on Medicaid were more likely to receive prenatal care starting in the first trimester of pregnancy compared to the year before implementation, the researchers found.  

However, the improvement was more prominent among white and Asian women and those in urban areas, suggesting more work is needed to reach women in other racial and ethnic groups and those living in rural areas, Harvey said.

“For women in rural areas, issues such as transportation may be keeping them from accessing coverage,” she said. “In addition, cultural or language barriers may prevent some women of color from obtaining care.”

Researchers also noted that they saw no improvement in the proportion of women receiving adequate prenatal care; adequate care was measured by the number of prenatal care appointments a woman received after taking into account when she began prenatal care and the age of the baby at birth.

“This study used only the first year of data after CCO implementation; because of the initial positive impact of CCOs on prenatal care timeliness, we hope that additional years of data will demonstrate improvements in prenatal care adequacy, as well,” Oakley said.

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

New findings suggest a genetic influence on aging into the 90s but not beyond

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Variants of a gene thought to be linked to longevity appear to influence aging into the 90s, but do not appear to affect exceptional longevity, or aging over 100, a new study has found.

The research challenges previous findings that indicated some variants of the gene, FOXO3, played a role in exceptional longevity, said Harold Bae, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University and the lead author of the study.

“These variants did seem to have some impact, but they do not appear to be as influential toward truly exceptional longevity as previously thought,” said Bae, a biostatistician who studies statistical genetics and genetic epidemiology, particularly in relation to healthy aging research. “These variants will help you live to a certain age – the early to mid-90s – but won’t get you to exceptional longevity.” 

The findings have been published in the Journals of Gerontology: Biological Sciences. Co-authors are Anastasia Gurinovich, Stacy L. Andersen, Thomas T. Perls and Paola Sebastiani of Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health; Gil Atzmon and Nir Barzila of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York; and Alberto Malovini, Francesco Villa and Annibale Puca of the University of Salerno, Italy.

People who live into their 90s or 100s – beyond the typical life expectancy near 80 for adults – can offer important lessons about healthy aging, Bae said. Centenarians experience slower aging throughout their lives; live independently well into their 90s and spend only the last relatively few years of their exceptionally long lives with significant diseases or disabilities. 

Unlike average aging, in the case of people who live into their late 90s and even into their 100s, centenarians appear to benefit from combinations of longevity-enabling genes that likely protect against aging and age-related diseases and disability, said Sebastiani, the article’s senior author.

FOXO3 could be playing such a role for people who live into their early to mid-90s.The gene had gained quite a bit of attention over the last 10 years as a possible contributor to longevity, but despite a lot of study, the mechanism by which FOXO3 helps people remains murky. 

The goal of the new study was to better understand the gene’s role in survival to not just the 90s but beyond to even more exceptional ages.

The researchers examined genetic data from blood samples of 2,072 extremely old subjects from four centenarian studies: the New England Centenarian Study; the Southern Italian Centenarian Study; The Longevity Genes Project at Albert Einstein College of Medicine; and the National Institutes on Aging-funded Long Life Family Study. Researchers conducting centenarian studies such as these are working together to discover the biological mechanisms that enable remarkable aging.

The researchers who published the Journals of Gerontology: Biological Sciences paper found that while FOXO3 did seem to play a role in longevity to a degree, that role did not generally affect living to ages 96 or older for men, or 100 for women - the oldest one percent of the population.

“We attended presentations and read scientific papers claiming associations between FOXO3 variants and longevity, yet when we tested for these associations among centenarians, we were unable to reproduce the findings,” said Perls, the director of the New England Centenarian Study, Boston Medical Center, and co-author of the paper. “We suspect that part of the reason may be because these earlier claims were coming from studies made up mostly of people in their 80s and 90s, and not those in their 100s.”

The researchers’ findings will likely prompt new areas of research as scientists continue to look for answers about genetic components of longevity and exceptional longevity, Bae said. 

“There’s still more to learn about this gene,” he said. “We know for sure it influences aging, but what we show is that it may not be a key player in achieving truly exceptional age.”

The research was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging; The William M. Wood Foundation; and the Paulette and Marty Samowitz Family Foundation.

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Harold Bae, 541-737-3198, Harold.bae@oregonstate.edu; Thomas Perls, 617-733-7893, thperls@bu.edu

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Post-Obamacare young adult health insurance coverage varies widely by race

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Health insurance coverage increased significantly for young adults after the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act, but there were large differences among racial and ethnic groups, particularly among blacks, an analysis by Oregon State researchers found.

The researchers found health insurances rates increased 6.1 percent for young adults age 19 to 25 after the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was adopted. But, the percentage increase varied greatly, from seven percent for whites to 1.2 percent for blacks.

“With this policy we have taken huge steps,” said Aurora “Rory” VanGarde, an Oregon State Ph.D candidate who presented the findings at AcademyHealth’s Annual Research Meeting on June 25 in New Orleans. “But there is still a lot more to do.”

The Affordable Care Act allowed young adults to stay on their parent’s and guardian’s health plans until the age of 26. Within the first year after that extension, about 3 million young adults gained insurance coverage.

Despite the increase in insured young adults, it hasn’t been clear what impact the Affordable Care Act had on racial and ethnic disparities in health insurance coverage or cost-related barriers to accessing health services, VanGarde said.

The work by VanGarde and her collaborators – Carolyn Mendez-Luck and Jangho Yoon, both assistant professors in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State, and Jeff Luck, an associate professor in the college – set out to change that.

In addition to the differences between whites and blacks, the researchers found insurances rates increased among American Indian/Alaskan Native (8.4 percent); Hispanics (6.1 percent); Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (5.1 percent); and Asians (4.6 percent). While all groups increased overall, the disparity between groups was only partially mitigated; overall, white young adults remained as the highest insured group.

The researchers also found racial and ethnic differences on the question of whether after adoption of the Affordable Care Act young adults were less likely to skip medical services because of the high cost.

Overall, they found young adults were 2.6 percent less likely to skip medical care. All major groups saw declines, but the percentages varied: Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (3.3 percent); white (3.2 percent); Asian (2.6 percent); American Indian/Alaskan Native (2.4 percent); Hispanic (1.7 percent); and black (0.1 percent).

The researchers used data from more than 400,000 people obtained from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Annual Surveys for 2007-09 and 2011-13 for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data from 2010 were excluded to allow a lag to capture the impact of the change in policy.

Future work by these researchers will look at the 2014 Affordable Care Act provisions, including individual health insurance marketplaces and increased insurance plan options for small businesses, and their impact on these racial and ethnic disparities.

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By Sean Nealon, 541-737-0787, sean.nealon@oregonstate.edu

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Aurora “Rory” VanGarde, Aurora.VanGarde@oregonstate.edu

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Marijuana use among college students on rise following Oregon legalization, study finds

CORVALLIS, Ore. – College students attending an Oregon university are using more marijuana now that the drug is legal for recreational use, but the increase is largely among students who also report recent heavy use of alcohol, a new study has found.

Oregon State University researchers compared marijuana usage among college students before and after legalization and found that usage increased at several colleges and universities across the nation but it increased more at the Oregon university. None of the universities were identified in the study. 

“It does appear that legalization is having an effect on usage, but there is some nuance to the findings that warrant further investigation,” said the study’s lead author, David Kerr, an associate professor in the School of Psychological Science in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts.

“We found that overall, at schools in different parts of the country, there’s been an increase in marijuana use among college students, so we can’t attribute that increase to legalization alone.” 

The results were published today in the journal Addiction. Co-authors are Harold Bae and Sandi Phibbs of OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and Adam Kern of the University of Michigan.

The study is believed to be the first to examine marijuana usage patterns following legalization of recreational marijuana in Oregon and the first to examine the effects of any state’s legalization on college students. Voters in Oregon approved legalization in 2014 and the law took effect in 2015. 

Oregon’s legalization of marijuana is part of a larger trend among U.S. states, but little research has been done so far to understand the impact. In their study, Kerr and his colleagues set out to begin addressing some of those questions.

“It’s an important current issue and even the most basic effects have not been studied yet, especially in Oregon,” he said. “There are a lot of open questions about how legalization might affect new users, existing users and use of other substances.” 

Researchers used information collected in the Healthy Minds Study, a national survey of college students’ mental health and well-being – including substance use – conducted by the University of Michigan. The study is designed to give colleges and universities information to help them understand the needs of their student populations.

As part of the survey, participants are asked about marijuana and cigarette use in the previous 30 days, as well as frequency of heavy alcohol use within the previous two weeks. 

Using data from a large public university in Oregon and six other four-year universities around the country where recreational marijuana is not legal, researchers compared rates of marijuana use before and after the drug was legalized in Oregon. They also examined frequency of heavy alcohol use and cigarette use at those points.

The researchers found that the overall rates of marijuana use rose across the seven schools. Rates of binge drinking – where a person consumes four to five or more drinks in a period of about two hours – stayed the same and cigarette use declined in that period. 

“It’s likely that the rise in marijuana use across the country is tied in part to liberalization of attitudes about the drug as more states legalize it, for recreational or medical purposes or both,” Kerr said. “So legalization both reflects changing attitudes and may influence them even outside of states where the drug is legal.”

Researchers also found that marijuana use rates were generally higher, overall, among male students; those living in Greek or off-campus housing; those not identifying as heterosexual; and those attending smaller, private institutions. 

One area where legalization had a marked impact was among college students who indicated recent binge drinking; students at the Oregon university who reported binge drinking were 73 percent more likely to also report marijuana use compared to similar peers at schools in states where marijuana remains illegal.

“We think this tells us more about the people who binge drink than about the effects of alcohol itself,” Kerr said. “Those who binge drink may be more open to marijuana use if it is easy to access, whereas those who avoid alcohol for cultural or lifestyle reasons might avoid marijuana regardless of its legal status.” 

The researchers also found that Oregon students under age 21 – the minimum legal age for purchasing and using marijuana – showed higher rates of marijuana use than those over 21.

“This was a big surprise to us, because legalization of use is actually having an impact on illegal use,” said Bae, the study’s primary statistician. 

These initial findings about marijuana use among college students help form a picture of how legalization may be affecting people, Kerr said, but more study is needed before researchers can quantify the harms or net benefits of legalization for young people.

“Americans are conducting a big experiment with marijuana,” Kerr said. “We need science to tell us what the results of it are.”

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David Kerr, 541-737-1364, david.kerr@oregonstate.edu

Enrollment in early intervention services may be influenced by type of administering agency

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Children under age 3 who have or are at risk of a developmental disability are eligible for services to improve cognitive, behavioral and physical skills under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA). 

But many eligible children do not enroll in those services and the rates of enrollment vary in part by which agency at the state level is serving as the lead, or administrator, for the programs, new research from Oregon State University has found.

Enrollment rates tend to be higher when the lead agency is health-focused and lower when the lead agency is education-focused, according to Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and one of the study’s authors.  

“There is a big gap between the number of children with disabilities or delays and the number of children enrolled in early intervention services,” MacDonald said. “And it seems to be tied, in part, to who is in charge.”

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Early Intervention. The lead author is Erica Twardzik, who worked on the project as a student at OSU and now is at the University of Michigan. Alicia Dixon-Ibarra, also of OSU, is a co-author.

The IDEIA is a federal mandate that is implemented by states. It is designed to ensure that children with disabilities through the age of 21 have access to free and appropriate educational services. Programs for children under age 3 are designed to address both diagnosed disabilities as well as delays that could affect a child’s school readiness and quality of life, such as speech or motor skills.

“It’s really intended to address any aspect of a child’s development that is delayed during the critical early years,” MacDonald said. “The longer a delay persists, the wider the gap may become. The one thing we know about early intervention is that earlier implementation is better.”

Early intervention may also reduce the need for some or all special education services when a child enters school, she said. That may allow for more inclusionary practices at school and also could lead to potential cost savings for states.

However, enrollment in these services is low across the country. While enrollment criteria varies from state to state, the variation alone has not accounted for the differences in enrollment rates, MacDonald said.

In their study, the researchers examined how the role of the administering body might influence enrollment rates. The administering body, or lead agency, plays a variety of roles in the support of the program, including allocating funding, sponsoring trainings and conferences and developing public awareness programs. In most states, the lead agency is either a department of health or a department of education, though in some states the agency may be the department of public welfare, developmental services, economic security or similar.

Using several national data sources, including the U.S. Census, the National Surveys of Children’s Health and state agency websites, the researchers found that the odds of a child enrolling in eligible services were significantly higher when the lead agency is health-focused. When the lead agency is education-focused, the odds are lowest.

Education agencies are less likely to come in contact with children until they enter preschool around age 3 or 4, or sometimes even later, at kindergarten. But most children have regular “well child” visits with their doctor and the physicians assess development and conduct initial screenings of children, MacDonald said. That’s likely why primary care physicians are the most common source of referral to services for children under age 3.

“For school-age kids, it makes sense that the lead agency providing services is the education department of a state,” MacDonald said. “But children who are not in school seem to be better served by a state’s health department, according to this study. When the health agency is in the lead, there’s a direct connection to service providers for families.”

The findings indicate that physicians and health agencies play an important role in identifying children who could benefit from early intervention services and referring them to the appropriate programs, but the finding is only one piece of a larger puzzle about low enrollment, MacDonald said.

Educating parents about the importance of developmental assessments and availability of services is also key to ensuring children get off to a good start, she said.

“The message to parents is that it’s OK to have these conversations with your pediatrician or other service providers,” she said. “There is no harm in seeking services or getting interventions for your child.”

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Megan MacDonald, 541-737-3273, Megan.MacDonald@oregonstate.edu

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Social emotional learning interventions show promise, warrant further study

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Developing a child’s social and emotional learning skills in early childhood is seen as a key to the child’s success in school, but researchers are still working to understand which interventions most effectively boost those skills.

Providing training for early childhood education teachers, embedding direct instruction and practice of targeted skills into daily practice and engaging families in these efforts help to boost the success of these kinds of interventions, Oregon State University researchers suggest in a new paper.

“We know these skills are essential for children, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about ways to enhance them,” said Megan McClelland, the Katherine E. Smith Healthy Children and Families Professor in Human Development and Family Sciences in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “The results to date have been mixed.”

“We don’t yet know what the ‘key ingredients’ are here, ” added McClelland, the paper’s lead author, “but we do have enough evidence to know we need to keep doing this work.”

The paper was published today in a special issue of the journal Future of Children that is focused on social and emotional learning. McClelland is a nationally recognized expert in child development. Co-authors of the paper are Shauna Tominey, an assistant professor of practice at OSU, Sara Schmitt of Purdue University and Robert Duncan of University of California, Irvine.

Much of McClelland’s research focuses on the important role of self-regulation skills – the social and emotional skills that help children pay attention, follow directions, stay on task, form healthy friendships and persist through difficulty.  

She has developed and tested social and emotional learning interventions focused on games such as “Red Light, Purple Light,” which is similar to “Red Light, Green Light.” A teacher uses construction-paper circles to represent stop and go. Children follow color cues, such as purple represents stop, orange signals go; then switch to the opposite, where purple means go and orange means 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. 

In the new paper, McClelland and her co-authors reviewed the theory and science behind a number of social emotional learning interventions in early childhood and found that while several such interventions hold promise, more research is needed to understand variations in results among different groups of children, including why some children appear to benefit more than others and whether the programs are cost effective.

There’s also a general lack of long-term studies that might give researchers a clearer picture of the programs’ effectiveness, McClelland said. Longer-term studies would also help explain “sleeper” effects, where short-term effects are small or not significant, but long-term effects, such as predictors of high school or college completion, are significant and substantive. 

“I look at the long term: Did the child complete college? Were they able to stay out of the criminal justice system?” McClelland said. “Those are some of the most important indicators of the social emotional learning.”

Overall, studies in the field indicate that children from low-income families tend to show the most gains from social emotional learning interventions, but results for other groups of students are more mixed, although a number of studies show positive effects. 

The review also showed that the most successful interventions tend to be low cost, easily implemented, are fun for kids, including training for teachers, and can be built in to classroom lessons on literacy and math, McClelland said.

“The bottom line here is that there’s a lot of subtlety to the findings of this work so far,” she said. “Fortunately, we do have some ideas about what’s working, and we have some ideas about where we need to go next in the field.”

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

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