OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of public health and human sciences

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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Maritime worker safety the focus of new OSU-NIOSH partnership

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences has established a formal partnership with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Center for Maritime Safety and Health Studies to work together to improve safety and health conditions in maritime workplaces in the United States.

The college’s researchers will work with the federal agency, which falls under the umbrella of the Centers for Disease Control, to study and address occupational and safety issues in the maritime industry; turn research results into practice to prevent workplace injuries; and share their findings with other researchers and within the industry.

Laurel Kincl, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at OSU, and current and past graduate students have been working with NIOSH for several years on maritime safety issues, including health and safety in the commercial fishing and seafood processing industries.

The new partnership, which runs through March 2022, formalizes Kincl’s connections with NIOSH researchers and provides more opportunities for OSU to participate in the federal agency’s national research and outreach programs.

“This partnership elevates the college and the university’s research program in marine studies and provides additional visibility and recognition for the work Dr. Kincl and other OSU researchers are doing in this arena,” said Marie Harvey, associate dean for research and graduate program in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “It’s a wonderful opportunity.”

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Laurel Kincl, 541-737-1445, Laurel.kincl@oregonstate.edu

Study: The family dog could help boost physical activity for kids with disabilities

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The family dog could serve as a partner and ally in efforts to help children with disabilities incorporate more physical activity into their daily lives, a new study from Oregon State University indicates.

In a case study of one 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and his family’s dog, researchers found the intervention program led to a wide range of improvements for the child, including physical activity as well as motor skills, quality of life and human-animal interactions. 

“These initial findings indicate that we can improve the quality of life for children with disabilities, and we can get them to be more active,” said Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and corresponding author on the study. “And in this case, both are happening simultaneously, which is fantastic.”

The researchers detailed the child’s experience in the adapted physical activity intervention program in a case study just published in the journal Animals. Co-authors are Monique Udell of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences; Craig Ruaux of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine; Samantha Ross of the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences; Amanda Tepfer of Norwich University and Wendy Baltzer of Massey University in New Zealand. The research was supported by the Division of Health Sciences at OSU. 

Children with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy spend significantly less time participating in physical activity compared to their peers and are considered a health disparity group, meaning they generally face more health concerns than their peers.

Researchers designed an adapted physical activity, animal-assisted intervention where the family dog would serve as a partner with the child in physical activities designed to help improve overall physical activity, motor skills and quality of life. The family dog is a good choice for this type of intervention because the animal is already known to the child and there is an existing relationship – and both the dog and the child will benefit from the activities, MacDonald said. 

Researchers took initial assessments of the child’s daily physical activity, motor skills and quality of life before starting the eight-week intervention. A veterinarian examined the dog’s fitness for participation and the human-animal interaction between the dog, a year-old Pomeranian, and the child was also assessed. 

Then the pair began the eight-week intervention, which included a supervised physical activity program once a week for 60 minutes and participation in activities such as brushing the dog with each hand; playing fetch and alternating hands; balancing on a wobble board; and marching on a balancing disc. 

“The dog would also balance on the wobble board, so it became a challenge for the child – if the dog can do it, I can, too,” MacDonald said. “It was so cool to see the relationship between the child and the dog evolve over time. They develop a partnership and the activities become more fun and challenging for the child. It becomes, in part, about the dog and the responsibility of taking care of it.”

The dog and the child also had “homework,” which included brushing the dog, playing fetch and going on daily walks. The child wore an accelerometer to measure physical activity levels at home. 

At the conclusion of the intervention, researchers re-assessed and found that the child’s quality of life had increased significantly in several areas, including emotional, social and physical health, as assessed by the child as well as the parent. In addition, the child’s sedentary behavior decreased and time spent on moderate to vigorous activity increased dramatically.

“The findings so far are very encouraging,” MacDonald said. “There’s a chance down the road we could be encouraging families to adopt a dog for the public health benefits. How cool would that be?” 

The researchers also found that the relationship between the dog and the child improved over the course of the therapy as they worked together on various tasks. The dog’s prosocial, or positive, behavior toward the child is a sign of wellbeing for both members of the team, said Udell, who is director of the Human-Animal Interaction Lab at OSU.

“A closer child-dog bond increases the likelihood of lasting emotional benefits and may also facilitate long-term joint activity at home, such as taking walks, simply because it is enjoyable for all involved,” she said. 

This study is one of the first to evaluate how a dog’s behavior and wellbeing are affected by their participation in animal-assisted therapy, Udell noted. From an animal welfare standpoint, it is promising that the dog’s behavior and performance on cognitive and physical tasks improved alongside the child’s.

Though the case study features only one child, the research team recruited several families with children with disabilities and their dogs to participate in the larger project, which was designed in part to test the design and methodology of the experiment and determine if it could be implemented on a larger scale. 

Based on the initial results, researchers hope to pursue additional studies involving children with disabilities and their family dogs, if funding can be secured. They would like to examine other benefits such a pairing might have, including the sense of responsibility the child appears to gain during the course of the intervention.

“We’re also learning a lot from our child participants,” MacDonald said. “They’re teaching us stuff about friendship with the animal and the responsibility of taking care of a pet, which allows us to ask more research questions about the influence of a pet on the child and their family.” 

Oregon families interested in learning more about future research projects related to this work can contact Megan MacDonald, megan.macdonald@oregonstate.edu, to be included on an interest list.

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

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Nutrient offers hope to stop deadly march toward cirrhosis, liver cancer

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study suggests that one type of omega 3 fatty acid offers people who are obese or have a poor diet a chance to avoid serious liver damage.

This is something that no available drug can accomplish, and can otherwise only be obtained by significant weight loss based on a very healthy diet.

The findings, published by researchers from Oregon State University today in PLOS ONE, were based on a study done with laboratory animals. They could be significant, researchers say, since millions of people in the developed world try, and fail, to sustain weight loss or eat an optimal diet.

Supplements of DHA, one of the most critically important of the omega 3 fatty acids, were shown to stop the progression of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, into more serious and life-threatening health problems such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. This took place even with the continued consumption in lab animals of what scientists call a “western” diet – one that’s high in fat, sugar and cholesterol.

NASH, which is characterized by liver inflammation, oxidative stress and fibrosis, is a substantial risk factor for cirrhosis and liver cancer. It’s predicted to be the leading cause of liver transplants by 2020, and the FDA currently has no approved medical treatments for it.

Based in large part on consuming the “western diet,” nearly 80 million adults and 13 million children in the United States are obese, and about 30 percent of the nation’s population is estimated to have some form of chronic fatty liver disease.

“Considering there are no FDA-approved ways to stop NASH progression, other than weight loss therapy, this supplement may be of significant help,” said Donald Jump, a professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute.

“In the time frame that we studied, DHA supplementation was not able to achieve full remission of NASH, but it did stop it from getting worse. NASH is a serious disease, an enormous health care cost and we need to put the brakes on it. There’s clear evidence this might help.”

Over one 10-year study period, cirrhosis and liver-related deaths occurred in 20 percent and 12 percent of NASH patients, respectively.

Research has also shown that when humans with NASH are examined, they have very low levels of omega 3 fatty acids. When those levels are raised, the disease progression stops.

Omega 3 fatty acids regulate important biological pathways, including fatty acid synthesis, oxidation, and breakdown of triglycerides, or fats in the blood. A natural nutrient, DHA appears to be one of the most significant of the omega 3 fatty acids, and plays a role in repairing liver damage.

The highest levels of DHA are found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, and to a much lesser extent in some foods such as poultry, liver, egg yolks, and some types of algae. DHA is also increasingly being included in some prenatal vitamin and mineral formulas because of studies showing its critical importance to a developing fetus.

The current medical approach to NASH is based on lifestyle management, including diet and exercise. If successful and sustained, research indicates such approaches can completely reverse liver damage. However, in this study researchers noted that “this treatment, while ideal for clinical use, is likely not sustainable in NASH patients due to poor compliance.”

EPA, another valuable omega 3 fatty acid, has not been found to lower liver fat and fibrosis in humans, Jump said, probably due to the poor conversion in humans of EPA to DHA.

DHA is a readily available supplement and safe to use, researchers say. Referring to the use of DHA supplementation to address problems with NASH, the researchers said in their report that, “This scenario will likely be used clinically since patient compliance to low-fat, low-sucrose dietary recommendations has historically been poor.”

This research was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health. 

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Healthy recipes and effective social marketing campaign improve eating habits

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Food Hero social marketing campaign is an effective way to help low-income families eat more nutritious meals through fast, tasty, affordable and healthy recipes, two new research studies from Oregon State University have found.

Food Hero was launched by the OSU Extension Service in 2009 in an effort to encourage healthy eating among low-income Oregonians. The initiative includes several components, such as a website, www.foodhero.org, with information in both English and Spanish; Food Hero recipe taste-tasting events in schools and communities across Oregon; and a library of healthy recipes that have all been taste-tested and many approved by children.

“The success of the program is by far exceeding the scope of what we envisioned when we started,” said Melinda Manore, a professor of nutrition in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU and co-author of the studies. “Getting people to change their diet and eating behavior, especially when they do not have much money, is very difficult, and this program is helping to do that.”

The social marketing program is led by Lauren Tobey of Extension Family and Community Health at OSU, and Tobey is lead author of the studies. Food Hero is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education, or SNAP-Ed. SNAP-Ed focuses on obesity prevention within low-income households.

One of the new studies, published in the journal Nutrients, explores how Food Hero was developed and tested. The goal of the program is to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among those eligible for SNAP benefits in Oregon, with a particular focus on low-income mothers.

The campaign’s strategy includes providing clearly focused messages, writing in plain language, being positive and realistic with the messaging, and offering simple tools for action that include an explanation of what to do and how to do it. The campaign has been effective in part because educators stayed focused on their target audience, the researchers said.

The other study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, examines Food Hero’s recipe project in more depth. The recipes used in the Food Hero campaign are formulated to be healthy, tasty and kid-friendly. To date, the Food Hero recipes have been accessed millions of times via the website and social media sites such as Pinterest.

“All of the recipes are simple to make and cost-effective for families on tight budgets,” Tobey said. “Many families can’t afford to have a recipe fail or try an untested recipe the family may not end up liking.”

The recipes also are being tested with children who complete surveys or participate in a vote. If at least 70 percent of participating children say they “like the taste” of a recipe, it is considered “kid-approved.” The program has collected more than 20,000 assessments from kids who have tried Food Hero recipes at school or at community events. About 36 percent of the tested recipes have received the “kid-approved” rating to date.

“When our nutrition educators say to the children, ‘Would you like to try this for us and tell us what you think?’ it empowers them,” Manore said. “It also is a way to expose kids to foods they may not have tried before.”

Parents and caregivers are also surveyed after their children participate in tasting exercises. Of those who completed surveys, 79 percent said their child talked about what they had learned in school about healthy eating; 69 percent reported that their child asked for specific recipes; and 72 percent reported making at least one Food Hero recipe, the research showed.

As Food Hero’s tips, tools and recipes get shared in person, online, through the media and via social media, the program’s reach also expands beyond the initial audience, the researchers said. Recipes from the program are now being used around the world, and in 2015, the recipes on the Food Hero website received more than 290,000 page views.

Anyone interested can also subscribe to Food Hero Monthly, an electronic magazine that includes recipes and tips. To sign up, visit https://foodhero.org/monthly-magazine.

In addition to their collaborations with Oregon partners such as the Department of Human Services, Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority, Food Hero program leaders are sharing materials and ideas with public health and SNAP-Ed programs in other states.

“Since 95 percent of the Food Hero recipes contain fruits and/or vegetables, people who try the recipes are helping us meet the primary goal of the campaign, which is to encourage more fruit and vegetable consumption, especially among low-income families,” Tobey said.

Story By: 
Source: 

Melinda Manore, 541-737-8701, Melinda.manore@oregonstate.edu; Lauren Tobey, 541-737-1017, lauren.tobey@oregonstate.edu

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Cowboy salad

Cowboy Salad

Magical fruit salad

Magical Fruit Salad

Southwestern stuffed potatoes

Southwestern Stuffed Potatoes

Preschoolers’ motor skill development connected to school readiness

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Preschoolers’ fine and gross motor skill development is indicative of later performance on two key measures of kindergarten readiness, according to a study published today by researchers from Oregon State University.

Preschoolers who performed better on fine and gross motor skill assessments early in the school year were more likely to have better social behavior and “executive function,” or ability to pay attention, follow directions and stay on task later in the school year, scientists said.

“Physical activity and motor skills are important for preparing for school and for life,” said Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and lead author of the study.

“Now that we know these things are linked to school readiness, we have more tools to share with parents and educators so they can help young children be ready for school.”

The findings were published in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, and supported by the Environmental Health Sciences Center and the Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families at OSU and OSU-Cascades. The work included an interdisciplinary team of researchers.

Past research has proven that good social behavior, including cooperation, is key to a healthy transition to school. Other research has shown that children with strong executive function skills are more likely to be successful in kindergarten and beyond. Executive function, also known as self-regulation, includes ability to pay attention, follow directions and persist through difficulty.

For the study, researchers used a range of assessments to measure the fine and gross motor skills, as well as the executive function and social behavior, of 92 children, ages 3-5. The assessments were conducted in fall and again in spring.

Results showed that fall measures of visual motor integration skills – a type of fine motor skills – predicted children’s scores on executive function tasks in the spring. Children’s object manipulation skills, a type of gross motor skill, predicted their scores on spring social behavior assessments.

The researchers found that children with strong fine motor skills also showed better executive function skills, and stronger gross motor skills predicted better social behavior.

 “The findings speak to the potential role, early on, of fine and gross motor skill development,” MacDonald said. “In kindergarten, children are playing games, socializing, lining up on the playground and more, which children learn through exposure and experience. For a variety of reasons, some children come into school not prepared for those things.”

Additional research is needed to better understand how or why motor skills are linked to these key school readiness skills, but the findings underscore the importance of exposing young children to play and physical activity, which are essential to developing their fine and gross motor skills, MacDonald said.

“If we know this, then that gives us some things we can advise parents to focus on if they want to help prepare their child for school,” she said.

Fine motor skill development could include stacking blocks or other items, copying circles on a page or playing with creative toys such as Legos or crayons. Gross motor skill development could include things like playing catch, playing on toys at the park or drawing a line on the sidewalk and having the child jump back and forth over it.

“Kids need to move. It’s part of who they are at that age,” MacDonald said. “It’s important to remember to give them time to do it.”

Story By: 
Source: 

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

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Researcher Megan MacDonald plays with a child

Megan MacDonald