OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

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Elevated blood pressure not a high mortality risk for elderly with weak grip

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A study of nearly 7,500 Americans age 65 or older suggests that elevated blood pressure is not related to high mortality risk among people in that age group with weak grip strength.

New research by Oregon State University builds on an earlier OSU study that showed the relationship between high blood pressure and risk of death is largely dependent on elders’ frailty status as measured by walking speed.

The findings are important because they suggest that treating high blood pressure in older patients should not follow a one-size-fits-all approach. When an older person is still functioning at a high level physically, high blood pressure indicates mortality risk; however, when the person is not physically robust, high blood pressure is not a marker for mortality risk.

“If people are very frail, they typically don’t respond well to anti-hypertensive therapy and they are not benefiting from having a low blood pressure,” said lead author Chenkai Wu, a graduate student in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “The research is basically saying older adults are not one single group, they’re very different in terms of their health status, and drugs may not have the same benefits for everyone. This is consistent with the idea of precision medicine, where you don’t just look at age, you look at other things like functional status.”

Measured in millimeters of mercury, blood pressure is the force of blood against the vessel walls. Systolic blood pressure, the higher number, is the force during a heartbeat, and diastolic refers to when the heart is at rest.

Most people’s diastolic blood pressure goes down with age. Systolic blood pressure, though, tends to rise, and high blood pressure – hypertension – can put extra strain on the heart and arteries, causing greater risk of heart attack and stroke.

But as Wu’s research suggests, an elderly patient’s level of physical functionality should be considered in determining whether anti-hypertensive therapy is warranted.

Grip strength, easily measured by an inexpensive device known as a dynamometer, is a common way to gauge functionality in the elderly. Another often-used measuring stick is walking speed.

Wu looked at data from 7,492 people age 65 or older who had taken part in the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study. Six years after being surveyed, 25 percent of those people had died.

The study showed that elevated systolic blood pressure (150 or greater) and diastolic blood pressure (90 or greater) correlated with a substantially higher likelihood of dying for those with normal grip strength, which is 26 kilograms or more for men and 16 kilograms or more for women.

“We did three analyses,” Wu said. “One was to look at gait speed to separate people into two groups, normal and slow. The second part was grip strength – weak grip and normal grip. Third, we looked at the combinations, and the strongest inverse association between high blood pressure and mortality was for slow walkers with weak grip strength.

“Both measures are markers of functional status, a multidimensional concept. Considering both might be better than considering each measure alone for identifying subgroups of elders for whom high blood pressure is potentially beneficial.”

OSU public health epidemiologist Michelle Odden, senior author on the study and the lead author on the earlier gait-speed research, explained how high blood pressure might actually help in some cases.

“As we age, our blood vessels lose elasticity and become stiff,” said Odden, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “Higher blood pressure could be a compensatory mechanism to overcome this loss of vascular elasticity and keep fresh blood pumping to the brain and heart.

“And everyone ages differently – there is a profound difference between the physiological age of an 80-year-old man who golfs every day and someone who needs a walker to get around. So with fast walkers, high blood pressure may be more indicative of underlying disease and not just a symptom of the aging process.”

In addition to the connection with weak grip strength, Wu said there was a “very clear” inverse association between high blood pressure and mortality among those who weren’t physically able to finish the gait-speed test in the latest study, measured over a 98.5-inch walk.

Put another way, among those who couldn’t walk a little over 8 feet, high blood pressure was associated with less mortality risk.

“It’s a small group but not negligible – 6 percent – of people who were not able to complete the test,” he said. “Compared to grip strength, it’s a harder test to complete, an integration of a lot of physiological systems: balance, vision, lower-extremity muscle strength, etc.”

The National Institute on Aging supported this research. Findings were recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Ellen Smit, associate professor of epidemiology in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, served as a co-author.

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By Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Blood pressure screening

Oregon high schools lacking ‘best practices’ for athletic emergencies

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A survey of Oregon high school athletic directors on their school’s preparedness for a catastrophic injury or health event found that only 11 percent of those responding had implemented three primary “best-practice” recommendations for treating their student-athletes.

Multiple national sports safety organizations have defined institutional best practices, including having a plan in place for when emergencies occur and ensuring the training and accessibility to the proper equipment for those who respond. 

Results of the research have been published in Sports Health, a collaborative publication of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and the Sports Physical Therapy Section.

“We launched the survey to gauge how prepared schools are to respond to athletic-related emergencies,” said Samuel Johnson, an athletic training and kinesiology specialist at Oregon State University and lead author on the study. “We also wanted to know if having an athletic trainer – a health care professional with expertise in sports medicine – available at the school was associated with better preparedness.” 

The researchers asked whether schools had venue-specific emergency action plans, had access to an automated external defibrillator (AED) for early defibrillation in the event of an emergency, and whether they required first responders – specifically coaches – to be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and proper use of an AED.

The OSU-led study found that 29 percent of schools responding to the survey had implemented two of the three best-practice recommendations; 32 percent had implemented one recommendation; and 27 percent had not implemented any of them. The survey received 108 responses, or about 37 percent of all Oregon high schools. 

“There is definitely room for improvement in planning for medical emergencies,” he said. “We are doing some things well in the state, and there are things we need to do better. For example, having an AED available on campus is a great first step, but we need to make sure it is readily available at athletic events and that people are trained to use it.”

Only half of the schools in the study had an athletic trainer available, yet Johnson said having one was associated with better preparedness. 

“Athletic trainers are specifically trained to prevent and respond to emergencies,” Johnson noted. “We found that having an athletic trainer on staff was associated with better preparedness, particularly as it relates to emergency plans and having AEDs on hand. However, having an athletic trainer was not associated with whether schools required coaches to have training in CPR or with a defibrillator.”

Johnson pointed out that while athletic trainers likely are not in a position to mandate that coaches having training, they can take charge in making sure plans are in place and potentially life-saving equipment is available when needed. 

“We understand several of the challenges associated with implementing some of the recommendations,” Johnson said. “Buying AEDs, paying for coach training, or hiring an athletic trainer can be expensive. Budgets are tight and catastrophic medical situations are rare. But they do happen, and they have a devastating impact on the athlete, family and friends.”

The researchers are planning to explore the challenges schools face in implementing best practices. The Oregon School Activities’ Association, which governs high school sports in the state, has been proactive in promoting sports safety, Johnson said. 

“I am always impressed by how well the different groups in the state come together to make sports safer,” said Johnson, who along with several of the study’s co-authors are members of the OSAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. “The OSAA has been a driving force in getting coaches, athletic directors, athletic trainers, physicians and other stakeholders talking about these issues and making changes to improve safety.

“For example, starting this year there is a requirement that schools have an emergency action plan for athletics. These collaborative efforts don’t happen in every state, though they probably should.” 

Johnson, who is in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU, is taking the message outside of Oregon. He will address a worldwide audience of sports medicine professionals on preparedness at the International Olympic Committee’s World Conference on Prevention of Injury and Illness in Sport later this year.

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Sam Johnson, 541-737-6801, sam.johnson@oregonstate.edu

Oregon State part of new NSF research program in the Arctic

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University and five other universities this week received an award to initiate a new Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) project in the Arctic that will explore how relationships between the land and water affect coastal ecosystems along the northern Alaskan coast.

The project has been funded by a five-year, $5.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation and will join 25 existing and two recently awarded coastal LTER sites that form a network of terrestrial and aquatic biomes worldwide.

Two of the new coastal sites, the Northern Gulf of Alaska and the Northeastern U.S. Shelf, are in very productive regions for fisheries. The third site, The Beaufort Sea Lagoons, is the first marine ecosystem LTER in the Arctic Ocean. The project, “Beaufort Sea Lagoons: An Arctic Coastal Ecosystem in Transition,” is supported by NSF’s Office of Polar Programs.

 “It is a very rich, very important ecosystem and we don’t have a good understanding of how it works,” said Yvette Spitz, one of two OSU oceanographers who are principal investigators with the project. “There are chemicals, nutrients and other organic materials that are transported from the land to the ocean, passing through lagoons along the way.”

“One of the goals of the project is to understand how the transport of these materials is affected by changing precipitation, sea ice and melting permafrost – and what effect that has on biological productivity. These changes are presently occurring and are the most rapid in the Arctic”

Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin are leading the project, in collaboration with researchers at Oregon State, University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Texas El Paso, University of Massachusetts at Amherst and University of Toronto Mississauga.

Also participating will be young scientists from the native Iñupiat communities of Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow) and Kaktovik, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“An important aspect of this LTER is the collaboration between scientists and the Iñupiat residents of the Beaufort Sea coast, which will greatly deepen our comprehensive understanding of these ecosystems,” said William Ambrose, director of the Arctic Observing Network in the NSF Office of Polar Programs.

The research will be based in Kaktovik, Utqiagvik, and Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. It will focus on a series of large, shallow (5-7 meters deep) lagoons that play a role in the transition of materials from land to sea.

Byron Crump, the other OSU oceanographer who is a principal investigator on the project, will focus on the smallest but most abundant organisms in the ecosystem – phytoplankton, bacteria, and other microbes.

“The old school of thinking was that bacteria were important in warmer ecosystems but not so much in colder regions like the Arctic,” Crump said. “We’re finding that isn’t true at all. Bacteria and other tiny organisms play critical roles in maintaining the food web that supports everything from krill to whales as well as important fisheries.”

Crump will look at the growth rates and genomic diversity of microbes, while Spitz will develop computer models that will evaluate how microbes, plankton and other small organisms influence the ecosystem and how they will be affected in the future under different scenarios of warming, increased precipitation and changes in groundwater.

Spitz and Crump are faculty members in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

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Yvette Spitz, 541-737-3227, yspitz@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Byron Crump, 541-737-4369, bcrump@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Photo of Beaufort lagoons (left): https://flic.kr/p/Sp3DZ5

 

 

 

Coastal erosion

Coastal erosion is one of the processes researchers will study.

Workers’ compensation claims offer insight into seafood processing injuries in Oregon

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A review of workers’ compensation claims indicates that workers in Oregon’s seafood processing industry are suffering serious injuries at higher rates than the statewide average, and the rate of injuries appears to be on the rise, researchers at Oregon State University have found.

Researchers examined 188 “disabling” claims, or claims from employees who missed work, were hospitalized overnight or whose injuries left them permanently impaired. They found that the average annual rate of claims was 24 per 1,000 workers, said Laura Syron, a doctoral student in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and lead author of the study.

“Fortunately, Oregon’s seafood processing industry did not experience any fatalities during the study period, but the rate of injuries during that period is higher than Oregon’s all-industry average,” Syron said.

“This is an industry that merits more research and more support. Our goal is to use this information to assist seafood processing companies in the Pacific Northwest with protecting workers' safety and health.”

The study is believed to be the first to examine worker safety and health in Oregon’s seafood processing industry. The findings were published this month in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

OSU researchers collaborated with the Oregon Health Authority on the study. Co-authors of the paper are Laurel Kincl, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health; Ellen Smit, an associate professor of epidemiology; environmental and occupational health doctoral student Liu Yang; and Daniel Cain, with the state of Oregon.

The study is part of a broader effort at OSU to understand and address hazards in the maritime industry.

“This important work compliments injury prevention my colleagues and I are conducting with commercial fishing fleets in the region,” said co-author Kincl, who is Syron’s advisor.

Seafood is the most-traded food commodity internationally, and the value of processed seafood products in the U.S. topped $10 billion in 2015. The dangers of commercial fishing have drawn a lot of attention over the years through reality television programs and highly-publicized disasters and safety incidents.

But there is limited research on occupational health and safety in onshore seafood processing, a food-manufacturing industry that includes cleaning, canning, freezing and other packaging and preparation. In Oregon, employment in the seafood processing industry grew steadily between 2010 and 2013, with 1,240 workers employed in the industry in 2013.

“Processing is a critical component of the seafood supply chain, and it does not get as much attention as the fishing itself,” Syron said. “Processing adds value to the product and it is also demanding work that can lead to significant injuries.”

The researchers’ review of workers’ compensation disabling claims accepted for compensation between 2007 and 2013 showed the rate of injuries among workers in the industry was more than twice that of Oregon industries overall. The most common injuries included traumatic injuries to muscles, tendons, ligaments or joints. The most frequent events that resulted in injuries were overexertion and contact with equipment or objects.

“The workers’ compensation data gives us insight into the most severe incidents and those that cost employers the most money,” Syron said.

The workers’ compensation disabling data doesn’t provide enough detail about the circumstances of the workers at the time of their injuries, so that is one area that warrants further study before prevention recommendations could be made, she said.

For her doctoral dissertation, Syron plans to examine seafood processing in Alaska, where seafood is an economically and culturally important natural resource. In that research, Syron will continue to explore injury reports in both at-sea and on-shore facilities. With interviews, she hopes to learn from companies’ safety and health managers and directors, whose roles are dedicated to protecting workers’ well-being.

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Laura Syron, 541-513-1710, laura.syron@oregonstate.edu

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Commercial fishing port in Newport, Oregon. Photo by Pat Kight, Oregon Sea Grant.

Newport's commercial fishing port

Anomalous ocean conditions in 2015 may bode poorly for juvenile Chinook salmon survival

NEWPORT, Ore. – Fisheries managers have been predicting a slightly below-average run of spring Chinook salmon on the Columbia River this year but a newly published suggests that it may be worse.

According to researchers from Oregon State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, ocean conditions were historically bad in the spring of 2015, when migrating yearling fish that will comprise the bulk of this spring’s adult Chinook salmon run first went out to sea. In fact, Pacific Decadal Oscillation values – which reflect warm and cold sea surface temperatures – suggest it was one of the warmest nearshore oceans encountered by migrating Chinook salmon dating back to at least 1900.

The lack of food for the salmon in 2015 may have resulted in significant mortality that will show in this year’s run of Columbia River springers. One way or another, it will provide new information on fish survival and whether juvenile salmon prey data can help resource managers predict future returns.

Results of the research, which was funded by the Bonneville Power Administration and NOAA, have just been published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.

About 80 percent of a typical spring Chinook run on the Columbia River come from fish that went out to sea as yearlings two years earlier, according to lead author Elizabeth Daly, a senior faculty research assistant with the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resource Studies, jointly operated by OSU and NOAA out of the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

“When juvenile salmon first enter the ocean, it is a critical time for them,” Daly said. “They are adjusting to a salt-water environment, they have to eat to survive, and they have to avoid becoming prey themselves. When we sampled juvenile salmon in May and June of 2015, the fish were much smaller and thinner than usual, and many of them had empty stomachs. There just wasn’t anything for them to eat.”

Two key statistics stand out from 2015, the researchers noted. The California Current system off the West Coast was more than 2.5 degrees Celsius (or 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal, and the juvenile Chinook were smaller and skinnier than during a cold-water year, weighing an average of 17.6 percent less.

When the oceanic waters off Oregon and Washington are cold, young salmon primarily feed on readily available fish prey such as Pacific sand lance and smelts, which triggers their growth spurt. When waters are warmer, there is less food available, and they primarily eat juvenile anchovies and rockfish, which are less-desirable prey than cold-water species.

Daly said 2015 began on a somewhat positive note. Although cold-water larval fish species were absent, the researchers found abundant amounts of other larval fish in January, February and March, the fourth highest biomass in the last 18 years. Thus even in the absence of preferred cold-water species, there was food in the California Current system – at least for a while.

However, by the time the juvenile Chinook salmon migrated to the ocean later that spring, these larval anchovies and rockfish had all but disappeared – making even backup food sources for the salmon scarce.

The researchers theorize that these larval fish died off because they themselves had little to eat. Long-time NOAA biologist Bill Peterson told Daly and her colleagues that the Pacific Ocean off the Northwest coast in early 2015 was devoid of cold-water, lipid-rich copepods, a key element in the food chain. In 2015, it was so warm offshore that virtually no lipid-rich copepods were to be found.

“We think the larval anchovies and rockfish had nothing to eat, so they died off,” Daly said. “So when the salmon entered the ocean later that spring of 2015, the cupboard was bare.”

“During warm years, there is typically less upwelling that brings cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface,” said Richard Brodeur, a biologist with the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center and co-author on the study. “Salmon populations may be able to handle one year of warm temperatures and sparse food. But two or three years in a row could be disastrous.”

“The young salmon may have to travel farther north to find food, and they become highly susceptible to becoming prey themselves because of their weakened condition.”

Preliminary results from 2016 by study co-author Toby Auth suggest that ichthyoplankton biomass was again high in late winter, but it was dominated once more by anchovies and sardines, which normally spawn off Oregon in summer. Juvenile salmon sampled in the spring were small and somewhat thinner than normal, Daly said.

“For the first time, we found that the salmon were eating juvenile sardines in 2016 – a new prey for them,” she noted. “Sardines were spawning off the central Oregon coast for one of the first times because of the warm water. We don’t know the long-term impact this will have on salmon. Hopefully, it can become a new food source for them if waters remain warm.”

As this year’s run of spring Chinook salmon unfolds on the Columbia River, Daly and her colleagues will be watching to see if the numbers of adult fish returning align with predictions of a poor return based on 2015 ocean conditions, prey availability, and juvenile fish size.

It could provide valuable information to resource managers in the future.

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Elizabeth Daly, 541-270-1370, elizabeth.daly@oregonstate.edu;

Ric Brodeur, 541-867-0335, Richard.Brodeur@noaa.gov

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OSU to expand sediment core collection to one of largest in the world

CORVALLIS, Ore. – One of the nation’s most important repositories of oceanic sediment cores, located at Oregon State University, will more than double in size later this year when the university assumes stewardship of a collection of sediment cores taken from the Southern Ocean around Antarctica.

OSU has received a pair of grants from the National Science Foundation to assume the curatorial stewardship of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean National Collection of Rock and Sediment Cores, housed at Florida State University since the mid-1960s. Oregon State will house the expanded collection in a sophisticated new facility located just off-campus.

NSF manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, whose logistical support and awards to researchers allowed many of the cores to be obtained.

The OSU Marine and Geology Repository will be available to scientists around the world to study the sediment cores, which provide evidence of the Earth’s climate over the past millions of years, oceanic conditions, the history of the magnetic field, plate tectonics, seismic and volcanic events, ice ages and interglacial periods, and even the origin of life.

“These cores are time capsules, allowing scientists today to compare the conditions on the Earth we live in with the way it was eons ago,” said Thom Wilch, Earth Sciences program manager at NSF. “This collection of cores and samples is an incredible resources that has yielded many important scientific findings about the past. Preservation and curation by OSU ensures that the cores are available for future research by the national and international scientific communities.”

Oregon State has operated a sediment core lab since the 1970s, but its origins were rather modest, according to Joseph Stoner, a geologist in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-director of the OSU Marine and Geology Repository. Lacking a storage facility, the first cores were kept in a cooler at a Chinese restaurant in Corvallis.

From those humble beginnings, the repository has grown into a treasure trove for scientists, storing thousands of cores – mostly from the Pacific Ocean, with a few from the Arctic, Bering Sea, and many terrestrial lakes. The collection also includes dry terrestrial cores and dredged rocks from submarine volcanoes and the ocean floor.

“The expanded collection will include some 35 kilometers, or about 22 miles, of sediment cores, more than doubling the size of our current repository at Oregon State,” Stoner said. “OSU already shares on average 5,000 subsamples of the cores with scientists each year – a number that will more than double with the expansion.”

When completed over the next two years, the expanded repository will give Oregon State the premier collection of sediment cores from the Pacific and Southern oceans. It is difficult to put a dollar value on the cores, OSU researchers say, though their worth can be calculated in a different way.

“If we had to replace the cores in our current OSU repository, it would cost roughly a half billion dollars just in ship time to go collect them,” Stoner said. “That doesn’t include the cost of the people involved. To replace the Antarctic collection would easily cost more than $1 billion, since the Southern Ocean is so remote, travel is difficult, and you can only work two or three months out of the year.”

The real worth, though, is the cores’ scientific value, noted Anthony Koppers, co-director of the OSU repository and also a faculty member in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. The OSU collection includes cores that have sediments as old as 50 million years, and from as deep as a kilometer below the Earth’s surface.

The new Antarctic collection has the most complete set of cores from the Southern Ocean in the world and those cores provide an important look into the Earth’s climate history over the last few million years. The Southern Ocean collection also includes numerous cores gathered under the NSF-funded international Antarctic DRILLing Project (ANDRILL) program and provides clues to the history of the Antarctic Ice Sheet over the past 17 million years.

“This will bring a lot of researchers from around the world to Oregon State,” Koppers said. “The Antarctic research community is very active, very enthusiastic, and very diverse. With our new facility, we will have the capacity to work with researchers in numerous disciplines studying a variety of scientific questions.”

Oregon State will spend the next several months preparing the new facility, which will be unlike almost every other repository in the world. It will have a refrigerated industrial storage space of 18,000 square feet, the researchers note, providing plenty of room for the collection to grow over the next five decades.

The size of the facility likely will lead to other collections moving to Oregon State, Koppers predicted.

“Most core repositories are starving for space,” he said. “We anticipate hearing from them as word about the transfer and our new facility gets out.”

The new repository facility will occupy much of the former Nypro Building in Corvallis. In addition to the enormous refrigerated storage area, which has 28-foot-high ceilings for both cold and dry storage, it will include:

  • Up to 11 laboratory areas, including facilities for core splitters, imagery, microscopy, rock analysis, sediment analysis CT scanning and other scanning techniques;
  • Freezer storage for frozen ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica;
  • A laboratory where researchers can work on eight different cores at once while using digital imaging and data from the individual cores displayed on large-screen computer monitors;
  • A seminar room for 35 people, where cores can be brought in for classes and presentations;
  • Office space for resident scientists, staff, and visiting scientists.

Florida State University made the decision in 2015 not to compete for renewal as its Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science program was moving in a different academic direction. Koppers and Stoner submitted a bid for Oregon State to acquire the collection and were awarded two grants from NSF to transfer the Antarctic collection and to provide stewardship for it.

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Joseph Stoner, 541-737-9002, jstoner@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Anthony Koppers, 541-737-5425, akoppers@coas.oregonstate.edu

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(Photo available at: https://flic.kr/p/QRcnho)

Flame retardant chemicals may affect social behavior in young children

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Some chemicals added to furniture, electronics and numerous other goods to prevent fires may have unintended developmental consequences for young children, according to a pilot study released today.

Researchers from Oregon State University found a significant relationship between social behaviors among children and their exposure to widely used flame retardants, said Molly Kile, an environmental epidemiologist and associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.

“When we analyzed behavior assessments and exposure levels, we observed that the children who had more exposure to certain types of the flame retardant were more likely to exhibit externalizing behaviors such as aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattention and bullying,” said Kile, the corresponding author of the study, which was published today in the journal Environmental Health.

“This is an intriguing finding because no one had previously studied the behavioral effects of organophosphate classes of flame retardants, which have been added to consumer products more recently.”

Flame retardants are found throughout the built environment in furniture, mattresses, carpeting, electronics, vehicles and more. The chemicals are added to the products and are not bound in the material, which causes them to be released into indoor environments.

Manufacturers began adding flame retardants in 1975, in response to new legislation in California designed to reduce flammability in common household items. The state updated its flammability standards in 2014, and now allows furniture manufacturers to meet the standards without adding flame retardant chemicals to their products, but the chemicals are still widely used and they linger in the indoor environment.

There are growing concerns that some flame retardants may have unintended impacts on health and development in children, and this study contributes to that body of research.

The most common types of flame retardants found in the built environment are brominated diphenyl ethers (BDEs) and organophosphate-based flame retardants (OPFRs). OPFRs emerged as an alternative to BDEs in an effort to address some of the environmental health concerns posed by BDEs, which tend to remain in the environment for long periods.

Past research has shown that both BDEs and OPFRs are linked to poorer cognitive function in children. But less is known about the relationship between the flame retardants and children’s social and emotional health, particularly during early childhood, a key developmental period for learning.

“The social skills children learn during preschool set the foundation for their success in school, and also for their social and emotional health and well-being later in life,” said Shannon Lipscomb, an associate professor and lead of the human development and family sciences program at OSU-Cascades and a co-author of the study.

For this study, the OSU research team recruited 92 Oregon children between ages 3-5 to wear a silicone wristband for seven days to measure exposure to flame retardants.

The team included Kile, Lipscomb; Megan McClelland and Megan MacDonald of the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences; Kim Anderson of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences; and Andres Cardenas of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and an OSU doctoral graduate. The research was supported by OSU’s Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families and the Environmental Health Science Center at OSU.

The wristbands, developed by Anderson at OSU, have a porous surface that mimics a cell, absorbing chemicals that people are exposed to through their environment. When the wristbands are returned, Anderson can screen for up to 1,200 chemicals that may accumulate. The wristband is an easy and non-invasive way to sample children’s chemical exposure.

The researchers had parents or primary caregivers complete questionnaires about socio-demographics and the home environment, and preschool teachers completed behavior assessments for each participating child. In all, researchers had complete data and wristband results for 69 children.

Their analysis showed that all of the children were exposed to some level of flame retardant. Children who had higher exposure rates of OFPRs showed less responsible behavior and more aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattention and bullying behaviors. Children with higher exposure to BDEs were seen as less assertive by their teachers. All of these social skills play an important role in a child’s ability to succeed academically and socially.

“We detected these links between flame retardant and children’s social behaviors while controlling for differences in family demographics, home learning environments and adversity,” Lipscomb said. “This suggests that flame retardants may have a unique effect on development apart from the effects of children’s early social experiences.”

Further study is needed to better understand the links between flame retardants and children’s social skill development, the researchers said. They plan to pursue funding for a new study that continues for a longer period of time and considers how other aspects of children’s lives might affect the impact of flame retardants on their development.

“The results of this research to date have shown potential impacts for child health and warrant a more thorough investigation,” Kile said.

“If scientists find strong evidence that exposure to flame retardants affects children’s behaviors, we can develop strategies that prevent these exposures and help improve children’s lives. This type of public health science is needed to figure out how to address the root causes of behavioral concerns that can affect children’s school readiness and overall well-being.”

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Molly Kile, 541-737-1443, molly.kile@oregonstate.edu; Shannon Lipscomb, 541-322-3137, Shannon.lipscomb@osucascades.edu

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Child wearing a wristband

Keeping Kids Safe

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https://youtu.be/pMvOKVoDA94

 

 

Fish and mercury: Detailed consumption advisories would better serve women across U.S.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Among women of childbearing age in the U.S., fish consumption has increased in recent years while blood mercury concentrations have decreased, suggesting improved health for women and their babies, a new study shows.

The research at Oregon State University also indicates fish consumption advisories tailored to specific regions and ethnic groups would help women of childbearing age to eat in even more healthy ways, including better monitoring of mercury intake.

Food from the ocean has a unique and valuable nutritional profile. Among seafood’s many benefits are the omega-3 fatty acids that promote neurodevelopment, and the nutrients in seafood are especially important for pregnant women to pass on to developing fetuses.

But the main way people are exposed to toxic methylmercury – a mercury atom with a methyl group, CH3, attached to it – is through eating seafood. Thus the need for precise, nuanced fish consumption advisories, said Leanne Cusack of Oregon State University, the corresponding author on the study. 

Comparatively less-toxic elemental mercury enters the ocean from natural sources such as volcanic eruptions and also from human activities like the burning of fossil fuels, which accounts for about two-thirds of the mercury that goes into the water.

Once in the ocean, the mercury is methylated, diffuses into phytoplankton and passes up the food chain, accumulating along the way.

A scallop or a shrimp, for example, can have a mercury concentration of less than 0.003 parts per million. A large predator like a tuna, on the other hand, can contain roughly 10 million times as much methylmercury as the water that surrounds it and have a concentration of many parts per million.

Exactly how the mercury in the ocean becomes methylated, scientists don’t know.

Fish advisories are usually aimed at women of childbearing age because a developing fetus has greater sensitivity to the neurotoxic effects of methylmercury. Jointly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration recommend women in that group eat two meals of low-mercury fish per week.

Using data from the ongoing National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Cusack’s research group looked at fish consumption patterns with regard to blood mercury levels in U.S. women of childbearing age from 1999 to 2010.

Findings were recently published in the journal Environmental Health.

Women in the coastal regions, particularly the Northeast, were found to have the highest blood mercury concentrations; women living away from the sea, especially in the inland Midwest, had the lowest.

Coastal residents also ate fish the most frequently, with the species consumed varying by region. The type of fish most often consumed was shellfish in every part of the U.S. except for the inland West and inland Midwest.

As women’s age and household income increased, so did their fish consumption frequency and blood mercury concentrations. Among ethnic groups, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Alaska Natives and Native Americans ate fish the most often and showed the most mercury, and Mexican Americans consumed fish the least often and showed the smallest concentration of mercury.

“We also found total monthly fish consumption by women of reproductive age was higher than it had been in recent years, with women consuming more marine fish and shellfish but with no appreciable difference in the mean consumption of freshwater fish, tuna, swordfish and shark,” said Cusack, a postdoctoral scholar in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

“That’s encouraging because marine and shellfish are associated with smaller increases in blood mercury. And also encouragingly, an average women who’d eaten fish nine or more times in the previous month had lower blood mercury levels than women who’d had fish at the same rate in 1999-2000.”

The differences in consumption and mercury levels by race and region illustrate the need for tailored fish advisories, she said.

“They need to have information about fish types and quantities you can safely eat,” Cusack said. “The more detailed they can be, the better.

“The main thing is we do need to increase fish consumption in this demographic,” Cusack added. “It has been increasing since 1999, but it’s still not at the level where we want to see it. People need to start consuming fish, and advisories need to focus on the benefits of consumption and not just the risks by providing a broad range of fish that are low in methylmercury and high in omega-3’s.” 

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Leanne Cusack, 541-737-5565
Leanne.Cusack@oregonstate.edu

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Altered lipids, skin infections may point to new personalized therapy for atopic dermatitis

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers have discovered a new way to identify the lipids, or fats found in the skin of people who have atopic dermatitis, and compare them to people with healthy skin.

This is a fundamental advance in dermatology that could lead to new therapies for millions of people with this debilitating skin problem - atopic dermatitis is one of the most common forms of eczema.

The findings were just announced in the British Journal of Dermatology.

The new technology should open the door to the formulation of personalized treatments, scientists say. Patents have been applied for, and researchers are working with university officials to begin the process of licensing and commercialization.

As another part of this advance, the scientists also discovered a clear link between atopic dermatitis, altered lipid profiles and some types of bacterial infections such as staphylococcus aureus, or a staph infection. This had never before been reported.

They believe these staph infections may both lead to atopic dermatitis problems and make people more prone to further infections – a cycle of skin inflammation that can disrupt the skin microbiome and be one component of this disease that has been so resistant to long-term treatment.

“These findings about altered lipid profiles and the link to bacterial infections could be a breakthrough to ultimately help many people who struggle with atopic dermatitis and related skin problems,” said Arup Indra, an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy at Oregon State University, an expert on inflammatory skin disease and lead author of the study.

“For the first time we will be able to identify the individual lipids that may be needed to help someone’s skin return to health,” Indra said. “This may be of value not only to patients with atopic dermatitis or other skin diseases, but even for normal individuals who simply want their skin to be more healthy, well hydrated and resistant to aging.”

Lipids, or fats, are a vital part of healthy skin, serving almost as a “blanket” to help protect its integrity. They can also act as a natural barrier to infection; are part of the innate immune system; and when properly balanced and healthy can help prevent skin cancer. Skin lipids include ceramides, free fatty acids, cholesterol and triglycerides.

When these lipids are not available in the right type or amount, skin inflammation can occur. In atopic dermatitis patients this can range from mild, intermittent rashes to severe, almost continual skin problems over significant portions of a person’s body. Some amount of atopic dermatitis is common in infants, but in some people it’s a lifelong issue.

Steroid drugs, either topical or systemic, have been one of the few ways to treat atopic dermatitis, but they have a wide range of side effects that make long-term treatment a concern. Moisturizing creams, lotions, special diets and other approaches have shown limited success.

With the new technology, however, researchers can identify a person’s individual skin lipid profile with some simple tests. A type of tape has been developed that can pull some lipids off a person’s skin; allow testing of them with the use of a mass spectrometer; and have the results compared to the skin lipid profiles of generally healthy patients.

With this information, researchers in the future should be able to determine quite specifically what lipids are deficient, and develop topical compounds to replace them – either individually, or with compounds that could aid groups of people who share similar lipid profiles.

Researchers say they hope to interrupt the cycle of skin inflammation and staph infections through the use of personalized lipid-replacing compounds, and create a new, promising approach to therapy.

“This has the potential to remove any guess work that might have existed in the past regarding the correct combination of lipids required to improve skin health,’ Indra said, “and will help restore to people’s skin the right quantity and type of lipids they need.”

This research has been supported by the Atopic Dermatitis Research Network, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute.

Collaborators on the research are from the Oregon Health & Science University, OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute, the University of Rochester Medical Center, National Jewish Health, and Rho, Inc.

 

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Arup Indra, 541-737-5775

arup.indra@oregonstate.edu

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Maintaining an active sex life may lead to improved job satisfaction, engagement in work

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Maintaining a healthy sex life at home boosts employees’ job satisfaction and engagement at the office, underscoring the value of a strong work-life balance, an Oregon State University researcher has found.

A study of the work and sex habits of married employees found that those who prioritized sex at home unknowingly gave themselves a next-day advantage at work, where they were more likely to immerse themselves in their tasks and enjoy their work lives, said Keith Leavitt, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Business.

“We make jokes about people having a ‘spring in their step,’ but it turns out this is actually a real thing and we should pay attention to it,” said Leavitt, an expert in organizational behavior and management.  “Maintaining a healthy relationship that includes a healthy sex life will help employees stay happy and engaged in their work, which benefits the employees and the organizations they work for.”

The study also showed that bringing work-related stress home from the office negatively impinges on employees’ sex lives. In an era when smart phones are prevalent and after-hours responses to work emails are often expected, the findings highlight the importance of leaving work at the office, Leavitt said. When work carries so far into an employee’s personal life that they sacrifice things like sex, their engagement in work can decline.

The researchers’ findings were published this month in the Journal of Management. Co-authors are Christopher Barnes and Trevor Watkins of the University of Washington and David Wagner of the University of Oregon.  

Sexual intercourse triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the reward centers in the brain, as well as oxytocin, a neuropeptide associated with social bonding and attachment. That makes sex a natural and relatively automatic mood elevator and the benefits extend well into the next day, Leavitt said.

To understand the impact of sex on work, the researchers followed 159 married employees over the course of two weeks, asking them to complete two brief surveys each day. They found that employees who engaged in sex reported more positive moods the next day, and the elevated mood levels in the morning led to more sustained work engagement and job satisfaction throughout the workday.

The effect, which appears to linger for at least 24 hours, was equally strong for both men and women and was present even after researchers took into account marital satisfaction and sleep quality, which are two common predictors of daily mood.

“This is a reminder that sex has social, emotional and physiological benefits, and it’s important to make it a priority,” Leavitt said. “Just make time for it.”

Twenty years ago, monitoring sleep or daily step counts or actively practicing mindful meditation might’ve seemed odd but now they are all things people practice as part of efforts to lead healthier, more productive lives. It may be time to rethink sex and its benefits as well, he said.

“Making a more intentional effort to maintain a healthy sex life should be considered an issue of human sustainability, and as a result, a potential career advantage,” he said.

U.S. employers probably won’t follow the lead of a town councilman in Sweden who recently proposed that local municipal employees be allowed to use an hour of their work week for sex. The councilman’s hope is to boost the town’s declining population as well as improve employee moods and productivity.

But employers here can steer their employee engagement efforts more broadly toward work-life balance policies that encourage workers to disconnect from the office, Leavitt said. The French recently enacted a law that bars after-hours email and gives employees a “right to disconnect.”

“Technology offers a temptation to stay plugged in, but it’s probably better to unplug if you can,” he said. “And employers should encourage their employees to completely disengage from work after hours.”

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Keith Leavitt, 206-245-5798, keith.leavitt@bus.oregonstate.edu