OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

heath and nutrition

Innovative approach could ultimately end deadly disease of sleeping sickness

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A tag team of two bacteria, one of them genetically modified, has a good chance to reduce or even eliminate the deadly disease African trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, researchers at Oregon State University conclude in a recent mathematical modeling study.

African trypanosomiasis, caused by a parasite carried by the tsetse fly, infects 30,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa each year and is almost always fatal without treatment. In a 2008 epidemic, 48,000 people died.

In this research, scientists evaluated the potential for success of a new approach to combat the disease – creating a genetically modified version of the Sodalis bacteria commonly found in the gut of the flies that carry the disease, and using different bacteria called Wolbachia to drive the GMO version of Sodalis into fly populations.

When that’s done, the GMO version of Sodalis would kill the disease-causing trypanosome parasite. According to the analysis published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, researchers say this should work – and could offer a model system for other tropical, insect-carried diseases of even greater importance, including dengue fever and malaria.

“There are a few ‘ifs’ necessary for this to succeed, but none of them look like an obstacle that could not be overcome,” said Jan Medlock, an assistant professor in the OSU Department of Biomedical Sciences, and lead author on the new report.

“If everything goes right, and we are optimistic that it will, this could be enormously important,” Medlock said. “There’s a potential here to completely solve this disease that has killed many thousands of people, and open new approaches to dealing with even more serious diseases such as malaria.”

Some of the “ifs” include: the transgenic Sodalis has to be reasonably effective at blocking the parasite, at or above a level of about 85 percent; the Wolbachia bacteria, which has some effect on the health of flies affected with it, must not kill too many of them; and the target species of fly has to be a majority of the tsetse flies in the areas being treated.

The research shows that dealing with all of those obstacles should be possible. If so, this might spell the end of a tropical disease that has plagued humans for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. African trypanosomiasis causes serious mental and physical deterioration – including the altered sleep patterns that give the disease its name – and is fatal without treatment. It’s still difficult to treat, and neurologic damage is permanent.

Past efforts to control the disease, including insect traps, insecticide spraying, and use of sterile insects have been of some value, but only in limited areas and the effects were not permanent.

The strength of the new approach, researchers say, is that once the process begins it should spread and be self-sustaining - it should not be necessary to repeatedly take action in the huge geographic areas of Africa. Due to some genetic manipulation, the flies carrying the Wolbachia bacteria should naturally increase their populations and have an inherent survival advantage over conventional tsetse flies.

As the flies carrying transgenic bacteria continue to dominate and their populations spread, trypanosomiasis should fairly rapidly disappear. Whether the mechanism of control could wane in effectiveness over time is an issue that requires further study, scientists said.

Work has begun on the GMO version of Sodalis that has the capability to resist trypanosomes . It’s not yet finalized, Medlock said, but it should be possible, and when complete, the bacteria will be very specific to tsetse flies.

Medlock, an expert in modeling the transmission of various diseases – including human influenza – says the analysis is clear that this approach has significant promise of success. Because of the relatively low infectiousness of the parasite and the ability of Wolbachia to drive the resistance genes, no part of the system has to be 100 percent perfect in order to ultimately achieve near eradication of this disease, he said.

Accomplishing a similar goal with diseases such as malaria may be more difficult, he said, because that disease historically has shown a remarkable ability to mutate and overcome many of the approaches used to attack it. However, at least some near-term gains may be possible, he said.

Collaborators on this study included scientists from the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine and the Yale School of Public Health. It was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Miriam Weston Trust.

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Jan Medlock, 541-737-6874

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Tsetse fly

Tsetse fly

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

Gut microbes closely linked to range of health issues

CORVALLIS, Ore. –A new understanding of the essential role of gut microbes in the immune system may hold the key to dealing with some of the more significant health problems facing people in the world today, Oregon State University researchers say in a new analysis.

Problems ranging from autoimmune disease to clinical depression and simple obesity may in fact be linked to immune dysfunction that begins with a “failure to communicate” in the human gut, the scientists say. Health care of the future may include personalized diagnosis of an individual’s “microbiome” to determine what prebiotics or probiotics are needed to provide balance.

Appropriate sanitation such as clean water and sewers are good. But some erroneous lessons in health care may need to be unlearned – leaving behind the fear of dirt, the love of antimicrobial cleansers, and the outdated notion that an antibiotic is always a good idea. We live in a world of “germs” and many of them are good for us.

“Asked about their immune system, most people might think of white blood cells, lymph glands or vaccines,” said Dr. Natalia Shulzhenko, author of a new report in Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology, and assistant professor and physician in the OSU Department of Biomedical Sciences. “They would be surprised that’s not where most of the action is. Our intestines contain more immune cells than the entire rest of our body.

“The human gut plays a huge role in immune function,” Shulzhenko said. “This is little appreciated by people who think its only role is digestion. The combined number of genes in the microbiota genome is 150 times larger than the person in which they reside. They do help us digest food, but they do a lot more than that.”

An emerging theory of disease, Shulzhenko said, is a disruption in the “crosstalk” between the microbes in the human gut and other cells involved in the immune system and metabolic processes.

“In a healthy person, these microbes in the gut stimulate the immune system as needed, and it in turn talks back,” Shulzhenko said. “There’s an increasing disruption of these microbes from modern lifestyle, diet, overuse of antibiotics and other issues. With that disruption, the conversation is breaking down.”

An explosion of research in the field of genomic sequencing is for the first time allowing researchers to understand some of this conversation and appreciate its significance, Shulzhenko said. The results are surprising, with links that lead to a range of diseases, including celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease. Obesity may be related. And some studies have found relevance to depression, late-onset autism, allergies, asthma and cancer.

In the new review, researchers analyzed how microbe dysfunction can sometimes result in malabsorption and diarrhea, which affects tens of millions of children worldwide and is often not cured merely by better nutrition. In contrast, a high-fat diet may cause the gut microbes to quickly adapt to and prefer these foods, leading to increased lipid absorption and weight gain.

The chronic inflammation linked to most of the diseases that kill people in the developed world today – heart disease, cancer, diabetes – may begin with dysfunctional gut microbiota.

Understanding these processes is a first step to addressing them, Shulzhenko said. Once researchers have a better idea of what constitutes healthy microbiota in the gut, they may be able to personalize therapies to restore that balance. It should also be possible to identify and use new types of probiotics to mitigate the impact of antibiotics, when such drugs are necessary and must be used.

Such approaches are “an exciting target for therapeutic interventions” to treat health problems in the future, the researchers concluded.

The study, supported by OSU, included researchers from both the College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Pharmacy.

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Dr. Natalia Shulzhenko, 541-737-1051

OSU Be Well Walk & Run on Oct. 11

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University is holding the fourth annual Be Well Walk & Run on Oct. 11 in the Memorial Union Quad. The event is free and open to everyone.

This year’s event includes a five-kilometer running course as well as a one-mile walking course (5k Map / 1-Mile Map). The scenic route will wind participants throughout OSU’s campus, highlighting picturesque buildings and spaces. Costumes are encouraged. 

The event will feature activity stations in the Memorial Union Quad to engage participants in learning about the Healthy Campus Initiative, including physical activity, stress management, nutrition and a smoke-free campus.

Participants can register as individuals or as part of a group.  Early registrants will receive a free 2013 Be Well Walk & Run t-shirt. To register, go to http://bit.ly/19Zo7Rk. The run starts at 3:30 p.m. in the quad, check in begins at 3 p.m.

For more information, go to http://oregonstate.edu/bewell

Accommodations for disabilities may be made by calling Joe Schaffer, 541-737-4884.

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Lisa Hoogesteger, 541-737-3343

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Traber honored for research on vitamin E

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Maret Traber, a professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University, and principal investigator in the Linus Pauling Institute, has received an international honor for her work on vitamin E.

Traber received the DSM Nutritional Science Award 2013 on fundamental or applied research in human nutrition, which included an honorarium of 50,000 Euros. It recognizes her lifetime commitment to research on vitamin E and many new insights into its role in human nutrition and optimum health.

Traber is director of the Oxidative and Nitrative Stress Laboratory at OSU and is the Helen P. Rumbel Professor for Micronutrient Research. She has published nearly 250 professional publications on vitamin E, on such topics as its bioavailability, kinetics, metabolism, and effects of vitamin E deficiency – especially in people with particular health concerns, such as burn victims or diabetics.

She received the award in Granada, Spain at the IUNS 20th International Congress of Nutrition.

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Maret Traber, 541-737-7977

ACL injuries may be prevented by different landing strategy

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Women are two to eight times more likely than men to suffer a debilitating tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee and a new study suggests that a combination of body type and landing techniques may be to blame.

In two new studies published online this week in the Journal of Athletic Training, lead author Marc Norcross of Oregon State University documents how women who were asked to undergo a series of jumping exercises landed more often than men in a way associated with elevated risk of ACL injuries.

Both men and women tended to land stiffly, which can lead to ACL injuries, but women were 3.6 times more likely to land in a “knock-kneed” position, which the researchers say may be the critical factor leading to the gender disparity in ACL tears.

“We found that both men and women seem to be using their quad region the same, so that couldn’t explain why females are more at risk,” Norcross said. “Using motion analysis, we were able to pinpoint that this inability to control the frontal-plane knee loading – basically stress on the knee from landing in a knock-kneed position – as a factor more common in women.

“Future research may isolate why women tend to land this way,” he added, “but it could in part be because of basic biology. Women have wider hips, making it more likely that their knees come together after jumping.”

Norcross, an assistant professor of exercise and sport science in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, is a former collegiate athletic trainer dedicating his research to the prevention of ACL tears.

“You see ACL injuries in any sport where you have a lot of jump stops and cuts, so basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and volleyball are high-risk sports,” said Norcross. “We know that people who hurt themselves tend to look stiff when they land and that the combined ‘knee loading’ from multiple directions is likely causing the injury event. But it wasn’t clear initially why women had more injuries than men.”

The researchers used motion analysis software to monitor the landing strategies of 82 physically active men and women. They found that both males and females had an equal likelihood of landing stiffly – likely from tensing the muscles in their quads before landing – putting them at higher risk of ACL tears. Women, however, were more likely to land in a “knee valgus” position, essentially knock-kneed.

Norcross said his next research project will focus on high school athletes, looking at a sustainable way to integrate injury prevention into team warm-up activities through improving landing technique.

“We are trying to create a prevention strategy that is sustainable and will be widely used by high school coaches,” he said. “A lot of athletes do come back from an ACL injury, but it is a long road. And the real worry is that it leads to early onset arthritis, which then impacts their ability to stay physically active.”

This study was supported by the NATA Research & Education Foundation Doctoral Grant Program.

Researchers from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Greensboro contributed to this study.

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Marc Norcross, 541-737-6788

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ACL jumping landing
Biomechanical model of a female using a “knock-kneed” technique and experiencing high frontal plane knee loading during a jump landing.

Cognitive decline with age is normal, routine – but not inevitable

CORVALLIS, Ore. – If you forget where you put your car keys and you can’t seem to remember things as well as you used to, the problem may well be with the GluN2B subunits in your NMDA receptors.

And don’t be surprised if by tomorrow you can’t remember the name of those darned subunits.

They help you remember things, but you’ve been losing them almost since the day you were born, and it’s only going to get worse. An old adult may have only half as many of them as a younger person.

Research on these biochemical processes in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University is making it clear that cognitive decline with age is a natural part of life, and scientists are tracking the problem down to highly specific components of the brain. Separate from some more serious problems like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, virtually everyone loses memory-making and cognitive abilities as they age. The process is well under way by the age of 40 and picks up speed after that.

But of considerable interest: It may not have to be that way.

“These are biological processes, and once we fully understand what is going on, we may be able to slow or prevent it,” said Kathy Magnusson, a neuroscientist in the OSU Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, and professor in the Linus Pauling Institute. “There may be ways to influence it with diet, health habits, continued mental activity or even drugs.”

The processes are complex. In a study just published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found that one protein that stabilizes receptors in a young animal – a good thing conducive to learning and memory – can have just the opposite effect if there’s too much of it in an older animal.

But complexity aside, progress is being made. In recent research, supported by the National Institutes of Health, OSU scientists used a genetic therapy in laboratory mice, in which a virus helped carry complementary DNA into appropriate cells and restored some GluN2B subunits. Tests showed that it helped mice improve their memory and cognitive ability.

The NMDA receptor has been known of for decades, Magnusson said. It plays a role in memory and learning but isn’t active all the time – it takes a fairly strong stimulus of some type to turn it on and allow you to remember something. The routine of getting dressed in the morning is ignored and quickly lost to the fog of time, but the day you had an auto accident earns a permanent etching in your memory.

Within the NMDA receptor are various subunits, and Magnusson said that research keeps pointing back to the GluN2B subunit as one of the most important. Infants and children have lots of them, and as a result are like a sponge in soaking up memories and learning new things. But they gradually dwindle in number with age, and it also appears the ones that are left work less efficiently.

“You can still learn new things and make new memories when you are older, but it’s not as easy,” Magnusson said. “Fewer messages get through, fewer connections get made, and your brain has to work harder.”

Until more specific help is available, she said, some of the best advice for maintaining cognitive function is to keep using your brain. Break old habits, do things different ways. Get physical exercise, maintain a good diet and ensure social interaction. Such activities help keep these “subunits” active and functioning.

Gene therapy such as that already used in mice would probably be a last choice for humans, rather than a first option, Magnusson said. Dietary or drug options would be explored first.

“The one thing that does seem fairly clear is that cognitive decline is not inevitable,” she said. “It’s biological, we’re finding out why it happens, and it appears there are ways we might be able to slow or stop it, perhaps repair the NMDA receptors. If we can determine how to do that without harm, we will.”

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Kathy Magnusson, 541-737-6923

Athletes need to be careful to monitor diet, weight to maintain muscle mass

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Athletes seeking a healthy performance weight should eat high fiber, low-fat food balanced with their training regimen in order to maintain muscle while still burning fat, according to a report by an Oregon State University researcher.

The United States now has a record number of overweight athletes, a population many think of as untouched by the obesity crisis. Nationally, more than 45 percent of high school linebackers are obese, and the number of overweight students entering college level-sports is increasing.

In a peer-reviewed literature review published this summer in the Nestle Nutritional Institution Workshop Series, OSU researcher Melinda Manore looked at the benefits of teaching athletes how to consume what she calls a low-energy-dense diet, or high-fiber, high-water, but lower-fat foods. She said too many athletes are pushed into fad diets or try to restrict calorie intake too much in a way that is unhealthy and unsustainable.

“Depending on the sport, athletes sometime want to either lose weight without losing lean tissue, or gain weight, mostly lean tissue,” she said. “This is very difficult to do if you restrict caloric intake too dramatically or try to lose the weight too fast. Doing that also means they don’t have the energy to exercise, or they feel tired and put themselves at risk of injury.”

Manore is professor of nutrition in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU. She said the overwhelming body of research shows that just counting calories does not work. What does work is a healthy lifestyle that can be maintained, even during breaks or when not in training. She said an athlete’s optimum body weight should include the following criteria:

  • Weight that minimizes health risks and promotes good eating
  • Weight that takes into consideration genetic makeup and family history
  • Weight that is appropriate for age and level of physical development, including normal reproductive function in women
  • Weight that can be maintained without constant dieting and restraining food intake

In the paper, Manore outlined some strategies that athletes can use to maintain a healthy weight and remain performance-ready. It’s important, she said, to adopt a low-energy-dense diet, which includes a large amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, fish, and low-fat dairy. Avoid beverages high in sugar, especially soda and alcohol. Manore said half of a plate of food should be filled with fruits and veggies, and processed food should be avoided.

“Always opt for the food over the drink, don’t drink your calories,” Manore said. “Instead of drinking orange juice, eat an orange. It has more fiber, and fills you up more.”

Other key points:

  • Eat breakfast. Data from the National Weight Control Registry shows that 80 percent of people who lost at least 30 pounds in a year and kept it off were breakfast eaters. Eat a breakfast rich with high-fiber whole grains, fruit, high-quality protein such as egg whites, and low-fat dairy. Skip the processed cereals.
  • Get plenty of protein. Most athletes get plenty of protein, but they may not be strategic about making sure to refuel after exercise, and spreading their protein intake throughout the day. Depending on the goals, some athletes may need to get as much as 30 percent of their calories from protein, but many get that in one large meal. Spreading that protein out throughout the day is a better strategy; and nuts, beans and legumes are a great source of protein, not just meat.
  • Exercise regularly. This may seem obvious for an athlete, but many seasonal athletes can pack on pounds during off-seasons, making it that much harder to get performance-ready.
  • Avoid fad diets. Combining severe calorie restriction with intense training can result in metabolic adaptions that actually can make it more difficult to lose weight. Severe weight loss also makes an athlete stressed out and tired, and that is never good for sport.

While her paper is aimed at competitive and recreational athletes, Manore said all of these tips can apply to anyone who wants to change their diet and head in a healthier direction.

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Melinda Manore, 541-737-8701

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OSU soccer playing
Students playing soccer at Legacy Park in Corvallis. April 2013. (photo by Jan Sonnenmair)

melinda_manore
Melinda Manore

Energy Balance graphic
Energy balance graphic

OSU study suggests reducing air-polluting PAHs may lower levels of lung cancer deaths

CORVALLIS, Ore. – High emissions of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can be linked to lung cancer deaths in the United States and countries with a similarly high socioeconomic rank, including Canada, Australia, France, and Germany, according to a study by Oregon State University.

Researchers reviewed a range of information from 136 countries, including average body mass index, gross domestic product per capita, the price of cigarettes, smoking rates, and the amount of PAHs emitted into the air. PAHs are a group of more than 100 chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic when inhaled or ingested. They most commonly come from vehicle exhaust and burning coal and wood.

OSU researchers calculated how measures of health, wealth and pollution related to lung cancer deaths in each country.

"Analyzing data on a global scale revealed relationships between PAH emissions and smoking rates on the lung cancer death rates in each country," said Staci Simonich, a co-author of the study and toxicologist at OSU. "Ultimately, the strength of the relationships was determined by the country’s socioeconomic status."

While the link between smoking and lung cancer is well-established, OSU researchers did not find a correlation between cigarette smoking rates and lung cancer death rates in countries with high levels of income. Researchers attribute this conclusion to previous studies showing high-income smokers tend to light up less often.

OSU's study also suggests that reducing smoking rates could significantly lessen lung cancer deaths in countries with a lower socioeconomic status, including North Korea, Nepal, Mongolia, Cambodia, Bangladesh and many others. Researchers found that lung cancer mortality rates in these countries negatively correlated with price – meaning cheaper cigarettes are often associated with higher levels of deaths from lung cancer.

Detectable lung cancer can take 20 years to develop, and the poorest countries in the study had an average age of death of 54. OSU researchers suggest heavy smokers in these countries can sometimes die before tumors attributable to lung cancer become apparent.

"If the life expectancies were the same in all of the countries we reviewed, it's possible we would see a consistent relationship between PAH emissions and lung cancer," said Simonich, an OSU professor of environmental and molecular toxicology.

The study, "Association of Carcinogenic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Emissions and Smoking with Lung Cancer Mortality Rates on a Global Scale," was recently published in the journal Environmental Science and Toxicology.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratories in Richland, Wash. assisted with calculating the statistical associations between data used in the study. The National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences funded the research through OSU’s Superfund Research Program.

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death worldwide. Lung cancer accounts for 12 percent of all cancer diagnoses and is the leading cancer killer of men and second among women, according to the American Cancer Society.

Note to Editors: To request a copy of the study, please email Daniel Robison at daniel.robison@oregonstate.edu.

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Staci Simonich, 541-737-9194

Cost of child care continues to rise in Oregon; majority not in centers or organized care

The report this article is based on can be found at: http://health.oregonstate.edu/sbhs/family-policy-program/occrp-childcare-dynamics-publications

 

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The cost of child care in Oregon continues to rise even as wages decline, especially for the state’s most fragile families.

According to a new Oregon State University report looking at child care in the state and in every Oregon county, child care prices increased 13 percent from 2004 to 2012 while household incomes declined 9 percent.

The average annual cost of toddler care in a child care center in Oregon is now $11,064, up from $10,392 in 2010. Nationally, the cost of child care continues to rise, with child care expenditures taking a higher percentage of household income in 2011 than in 2005. Child Care Aware of America lists Oregon as the third most expensive state for infant child care (price as a percentage of income) in the nation.

“Families struggle to provide children the experiences they want for them,” said Bobbie Weber, a faculty research associate at the Family Policy Program in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and author of the report. Weber issues a new report every two years on child care in Oregon.

Survey findings show the majority of Oregonians rely on a parent, relative or close friend to care for their children. This is even the case for preschoolers (ages 3 to 4), which is the group with the highest rate of “organized care,” or care in a center or family child care home. More than 55 percent of those children are either at home with a parent or in an “informal” setting, such as with a relative or friend of the family.

“There is a perception that the majority of our kids are in a child care center or preschool, and it simply isn’t true,” Weber said. “For policy reasons, we need strategies to support children who are in home settings with parents, relatives, or others. Parents and caregivers need to have easy access to information and strategies for making children successful if we are to reach the goal of all children being ready for kindergarten.”

Weber said interventions have shown that home visiting programs, where an educator visits a home and provides information and resources to the adult and child alike, as well as Play and Learn groups, or community-based settings for child providers and kids to come together and work with a trained educator, have proven successful.

While there are subsidies available for those earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, parents have to pay part of their child care fees and that amount rises as incomes rise. Over the last few years, budget cuts have constrained how many families can be served. In 2012, approximately 13,000 children were served each month by the Employment Related Day Care Program, slightly more than half the number served in 2009.

“A lot more people are getting engaged and becoming aware of the struggles facing parents,” Weber said. “We are seeing increases in some of the programs that support children and families. It is likely that funds will be restored to the child care subsidy program and there will be an increase in Oregon Head Start Prekindergarten. Both programs enable low income families to access learning opportunities for their children.”

This year, an interactive map is available that allows people to find out about child care and education in their elementary school area, school district, or county. The map is available at: http://health.oregonstate.edu/occrp-map. Maps were produced by Jes Mendez of the Oregon Employment Department.

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

A full report and map for each county in Oregon can be found at: http://bit.ly/13DzxbL

Some of the county findings include:

  • Child care prices have continued to rise while incomes have dropped. It is 24 times harder (measured by increase of prices combined with decrease in income) for a family to purchase care in 2012 than in 2004. It is 33 percent harder for single parents in 2012 than in 2004.
  • The most expensive county in Oregon for child care was Washington County, where the average annual cost was $12,348 for toddler care. Multnomah, Benton and Clackamas counties followed closely as the most expensive.
  • Rural counties in general suffer from a lack of resources. Many rural areas do not have enough family day care providers or child care centers to meet the needs of the communities.
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Bobbie Weber, 541-737-9243