TIME Mental Health/Psychology

This Divorce Arrangement Stresses Kids Out Most

Regarding the wellbeing of kids with divorced parents, the debate over what kind of custody arrangement is best rages on. But a new study, published Monday in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, suggests that children fare better when they spend time living with both of their parents.

That goes against some current thinking that kids in shared-custody situations are exposed to more stress due to constantly moving around and the social upheaval that can come along with that. “Child experts and people in general assumed that these children should be more stressed,” says study author Malin Bergström, PhD, researcher at the Centre for Health Equity Studies in Stockholm, Sweden. “But this study opposes a major concern that this should not be good for children.”

The researchers wanted to see if kids who lived part time with both parents were more stressed than those who lived with just one parent. They looked at national data from almost 150,000 12- and 15-year-old students—each in either 6th grade or 9th grade—and studied their psychosomatic health problems, including sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, headaches, stomachaches and feeling tense, sad or dizzy. They found that 69% of them lived in nuclear families, while 19% spent time living with both parents and about 13% lived with only one parent.

Kids in nuclear families reported the fewest psychosomatic problems, but the more interesting finding was that students who lived with both of their separated parents reported significantly fewer problems than kids who lived with only one parent.

“We think that having everyday contact with both parents seems to be more important, in terms of stress, than living in two different homes,” says Bergström. “It may be difficult to keep up on engaged parenting if you only see your child every second weekend.” Having two parents also tends to double the number of resources a kid is exposed to, including social circles, family and material goods like money. “Only having access to half of that may make children more vulnerable or stressed than having it from both parents, even though they don’t live together,” she says.

Girls reported more psychosomatic problems than boys did, and the most frequent problem for girls was sadness. Sleep problems were the most common in kids overall.

In Sweden, joint-custody parenting has risen dramatically in the past few decades; in the 1980s, only 1% of kids of divorced parents lived in joint-custody arrangements, but that number jumped to 40% in 2010. Shared parenting is less common in the U.S., says Ned Holstein, MD, founder and acting executive director of the National Parents Organization, and he estimates the rate is less than 20%. Still, he says that the research in favor of shared parenting for kids is overwhelming. “You’ll hear opponents say, ‘You’ll turn them into suitcase kids; they don’t want to be dragged back and forth,'” Holstein says. “Clearly, taking the suitcase back and forth once or twice a week so that you spend a lot of time with both parents is way better for the kids than the alternative of basically losing an intimate and closely loving relationship with one parent.”

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TIME Careers

Women Earn 24% Less Than Men on Average, U.N. Report Finds

New report shows gender pay gap remains sizeable

Women are still earning significantly less money than men, despite working longer hours when paid and unpaid work is taken into account, a new U.N. report reveals.

The U.N. Women report shows that even though more women are in the workplace and taking on leadership positions worldwide, pay levels are nowhere near reaching equality worldwide. On average women around the world earn 24% less than men, the report says, and earn just half of the income men earn over a lifetime. Women in South Asia experience the greatest gender pay gap, earning 33% less than men. The Middle East and North Africa have a 14% pay gap.

Women do nearly 2½ times more unpaid and domestic work compared with men and are less likely to receive a pension. Only half of working-age women are in the workforce compared to three-fourths of working-age men.

As a solution, the report suggests creating an economy that prioritizes women’s needs. It provides 10 recommendations for governments and other key players to adopt, such as creating more and better jobs for women, reducing occupational segregation, and establishing benchmarks to assess progress in women’s economic and social rights.

TIME Research

Health Stores Often Promote Diet Pills to Minors

TIME.com stock photos Health Prescription Pills
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Despite warnings that they are intended for adults

Health store employees will often promote the use of over-the-counter body-changing supplements to minors, despite the fact that they often contain warnings that they are intended for adults.

In new research presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in San Diego, researchers had study participants call 244 health food stores in 49 states and identify themselves as 15-year-old boys and girls. The researchers discovered that even though testosterone boosters are not recommended for kids and teens under age 18 without a medical reason, 9.8% of sales associates recommended them. Testosterone boosters contain messaging indicating they are for adults only, but 41% of the sales associates told the callers they thought were 15 that they could buy them on their own.

Health store employees would frequently recommend supplements for callers posing as teen girls who said they were looking to lose weight.

“Adolescents are being enticed by flashy advertisements and promises of quick, body-shaping results,” says Dr. Ruth Milanaik of Cohen Children’s Medical Center. “In this body-conscious world, flashy advertising of `safe, quick and easy body shaping results’ are very tempting to younger individuals trying to achieve ‘the perfect body.’ It is important for pediatricians, parents, coaches and mentors to stress that healthy eating habits, sleep and daily exercise should be the recipe for a healthy body.”

Though the research is preliminary and still a relatively small study size, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says dietary supplements have not been tested for safety or effectiveness in kids. Despite the research and warnings, though, the study authors note that it is still legal for minors to purchase these supplements in 49 states.

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TIME Research

This Is What Happens When You Read to a Child

child reading book
Getty Images

Reading activiates an important part of a child's brain

For years, child advocacy groups have recommended that parents read to babies, even though research hasn’t been clear on what the practice does to a child’s brain. Now, a new brain scan study explains that reading to a child early and often activates the part of the brain that allows them to understand the meaning of language.

The study, presented last weekend at a meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, looked at 19 preschoolers and their interactions with their parents. Nearly 40% of the children came from low-income backgrounds. Parents filled out a questionnaire that assessed their habits for raising their children and included questions asking whether the parents had taught their children skills like counting, how often the parents talked with their kids and how early and often parents read to their children.

MORE: Kindergarteners Watch More Than 3 Hours of TV a Day

Researchers then attached brain scanners to the children as they listened to stories. Reading at home with children from an early age was strongly correlated with brain activation in areas connected with visual imagery and understanding the meaning of language.

“For parents, it adds credence to the idea of reading with kids,” says study author John S. Hutton, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “Getting a peek into the brain, there seem to be some differences there that are pretty exciting.”

MORE: 6-Month-Old Babies Are Now Using Tablets and Smartphones

The study adds to past research showing that reading has many positive effects on young children, like teaching the rules of syntax, expanding children’s vocabulary and helping children bond with their parents, Hutton says. But the new study is among the first to add real understanding of what actually happens to young brains.

Hutton says he hopes that further research will help us provide parents with guidelines on best practices for reading to children.

“This is sort of an early signal,” Hutton says. “In terms of how much and how often, that’s the kind of thing we’re hoping that future studies will look into.”

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TIME Research

6-Month-Old Babies Are Now Using Tablets and Smartphones

smartphone-front-view
Getty Images

Babies are using mobile media

Over a third of children under the age of 1 have used a device like a smartphone or tablet, according to a new study.

The study, which was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting, showed that by age 2, most kids have used mobile devices. To reach these findings the study authors surveyed 370 parents of kids between the ages of 6 months to 4 years about their exposure to media and electronics.

Overall, technology in the home was common. The survey results show 97% of the families’ homes had TVs, 83% had tablets, 77% had smartphones and 59% had Internet access. According to the parents’ responses, 52% of kids under the age of 1 year had watched TV, 36% had touched or scrolled a screen, 24% had called someone, 15% used apps and 12% played video games. The amount of time the children spent using devices rose as they got older, with 26% of 2-year-olds and 38% of 4-year-olds using devices for at least an hour.

Given the ubiquity of electronics, it’s not so surprising that children come across media and devices in the home. Still, the researchers note that the children in this study were often very young and that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) frowns upon television and other media exposure for kids under the age of 2. The AAP says excessive media use can contribute to school trouble, attention problems and obesity, according to studies, and that Internet and cell-phone use can be platforms for risky behavior.

The survey results also suggest that parents let their children use media or mobile tech as distraction. For instance, the study showed 73% of surveyed parents let their kids play with mobile devices while they were doing chores around the house. Sixty percent said they let children use them while running errands, 65% to calm their child and 29% to put their kid to sleep. Just 30% of the parents in the survey said they spoke to their pediatrician about media use.

“A better understanding of the use of mobile media in young children and how it varies by population groups is critical to help develop educational strategies for both parents and health providers,” the study authors write.

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TIME Research

Scientists Have Sequenced the Entire Genome of a Woolly Mammoth

Woolly Mammoth
Science Picture Co/Getty Images/Collection Mix: Subjects RM Woolly Mammoth

Genetic factors may have been responsible for their disappearance

An international team of scientists has sequenced the whole genome of the woolly mammoth, a breakthrough that could help our understanding of why these hairy cousins of the elephant went extinct.

The last surviving population died out on an Arctic island called Wrangel off the coast of Russia some 4,000 years ago, 6,000 years after their relatives disappeared from mainland Siberia, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Current Biology on Thursday, compared the DNA from two woolly mammoths that had been frozen in permafrost: a juvenile male that lived in northeastern Siberia 44,800 years ago and a male from Wrangel Island that lived some 4,300 years ago.

“From a single individual you can get information about the entire population,” said co-author of the study, Eleftheria Palkopoulou.

Using the stem cells of a modern African elephant as the test, the team found that the population of woolly mammoths marooned on Wrangel Island was so small that the beasts had become inbred.

Though climate change and human intervention are often touted as factors, scientists aren’t entirely sure what caused the mammoth to die out and researchers wanted to see whether genetic features could be responsible.

The genetic data also showed there were two major population declines, one some 300,000 years ago and another around 12,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age.

But scientists warn the lack of diversity in DNA from the Wrangel population does not necessarily mean genetics caused the mammoth to die out, and a closer examination of the data could help them understand how these creatures evolved and what sets mammoths apart from modern elephants.

[L.A. Times]

TIME Research

‘A Moratorium on Human Gene Editing to Treat Disease Is Critical’

A leading scientist calls for caution on a promising new technology

Rudolf Jaenisch, MD, is a Founding Member, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and President, the International Society for Stem Cell Research

It has been just over a half-century since scientists solved the structure of DNA, and since that time, we have been fascinated by what the DNA encodes, how it is passed on from one generation to the next and what makes each of us unique. Technologies to introduce DNA changes have been used to study the function of genes and the proteins they encode, to identify genetic causes of disease and to develop better ways to treat them. Now, new research describes the editing of genes in human embryos—CRISPR-cas9—raising questions about the science, the implications and the ethics.

The research utilizes recent technologies that allow us to make precise, targeted changes to a DNA sequence. These technologies have proved remarkable in their ease-of-use and have become quickly adopted by researchers around the world to introduce or correct changes in gene sequences in a wide range of cell types.

These recent developments have piqued the imagination of scientists and the public alike, and there is much speculation about what comes next. Some have suggested the new technology will allow researchers to “fix” defective genes, so inheritable diseases are not passed to the next generation, while others have raised worries about the creation of “designer” babies.

In my role as president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), a nonprofit group comprised of nearly 4,000 researchers, clinicians and ethicists from over 50 countries, I have been part of a diverse, global and ongoing dialogue about the complex scientific, societal and ethical issues surrounding germline modification technologies in humans. Following these broad discussions, the ISSCR recently issued a statement calling for a pause in attempts at gene editing technologies in early human embryos, or egg and sperm that are brought together with the intent to generate a baby, to allow for more extensive analysis of the potential risks of genome editing and for broad public discussion.

This statement is not intended to dampen excitement about the foundational research or clinical applications underway involving the modification of non-reproductive cells, rather to recognize the important scientific, as well as broad social and ethical considerations that arise when introducing genetic changes that are passed on to the next generation.

The scientific community has an obligation to think about the implications of their work and to engage the public and regulators in discussions around the science, its potential and limitations. We must ask ourselves and others tough questions: Even if we could safely modify the inheritable DNA in an embryo, egg or sperm, should we? In what scenarios might this be justified? How can we be assured that the technologies will not be abused? How do we maintain an openness with the public such that they understand and support the scientific community in their quest to improve public health?

Until we have addressed these complex questions, a moratorium on any clinical application of gene editing in human embryos is critical.

As we deliberate, we need continued laboratory research to enhance basic knowledge and to better understand the safety issues associated with human genome editing technologies. As in other areas of human stem cell research, the ISSCR and other groups advocate strongly for responsible and transparent practices, urging researchers worldwide to open their research to scrutiny.

The details of the most recently published research, which itself highlights serious technical challenges to editing the germline nuclear DNA for medical purposes, are less important than the dialogue it has generated. The scientific community appreciates the public’s interest in stem cell research and the opportunity to discuss openly the scientific, ethical and societal issues we consider each and every day.

TIME Research

Chinese Researchers Modify Human Embryos in Study

Scientists and ethicists alike are expressing concern

This week, a team of Chinese researchers used a gene editing technique to try to modify several human embryos. The results have raised concern among many in the scientific community, including those who developed the technique.

The gene-editing technique, called CRISPR-Cas9, allows scientists to add or remove genetic material, which has significant implications for a variety of health problems. As TIME recently reported in the TIME 100 issue, CRISPR could, in theory, edit any human gene.

However, as science writer Carl Zimmer writes in National Geographic, scientists including those who developed the technology have publicly said it should not yet be used for any human engineering and that it’s not ready for clinical use. Researchers at Sun Yat-sen University recently tested the technique on human embryos (notably, embryos that would not have ever grown into a human). Zimmer writes:

All told, the researchers injected 86 embryos, 71 of which survived long enough for them to study. CRISPR only managed to cut DNA in a fraction of the embryos, and in only a fraction of those embryos did cells manage to take up the new version of the target gene (called beta-globin).

The experiment “came out poorly,” Zimmer says; in some cases, DNA was placed in the wrong spot and “off-target” mutations were discovered in the DNA. As Zimmer reports, scientists behind the CRISPR technique are arguing it was not ready for use. Jennifer Doudna, one of the creators of CRISPR, told Zimmer: “Although it has attracted a lot of attention, the study simply underscores the point that the technology is not ready for clinical application in the human germline. And that application of the technology needs to be on hold pending a broader societal discussion of the scientific and ethical issues surrounding such use.”

Read more of Zimmer’s coverage of the new study at National Geographic.

TIME Natural Disasters

143 Million Americans Are Now Living in Earthquake Zones, Scientists Say

A youngster walks past a parking structure that collapsed during Sunday's 6.0 earthquake in Napa, California August 25, 2014
Robert Galbraith—Reuters A youngster walks past a parking structure that collapsed during Sunday's 6.0 earthquake in Napa, California August 25, 2014

Nearly 20,000 schools may be exposed to ground shaking

Some 143 million Americans in the Lower 48 states are at risk of experiencing an earthquake — with 28 million being in danger of “strong shaking,” scientists claimed on Wednesday.

In a press release, researchers attributed the record numbers to both population migration, with ever more people moving to earthquake hot-zones on the West Coast, and a “change in hazard assessments.”

The data nearly doubles the 1994 FEMA estimation of 75 million Americans who could potentially experience tremors during their lifetime, according to a collaborative study from researchers at the United States Geological Survey, FEMA and the California Geological Survey.

The new report also calculated the potential financial loss from damages to buildings like schools, hospitals and fire stations. They said the average long-term cost is $4.5 billion per year with 80% of total being concentrated in California, Oregon and Washington.

“While the West Coast may carry the larger burden of potential losses and the greatest threat from the strongest shaking, this report shows that the threat from earthquakes is widespread,” said Kishor Jaiswal, the researcher who presented the findings.

Researchers identified 6,000 fire stations, 800 hospitals and nearly 20,000 schools throughout the Lower 48 they deemed “may be exposed to strong ground motion from earthquakes.”

TIME Research

Your Chance of Getting Mosquito Bites Could Be Genetic

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine Identical twin sisters partake in an experiment to see how attractive their hands are to mosquitoes.

A new study focuses on sets of twins

If you’re always getting mosquito bites, you may be able to blame your genes, a new study suggests.

To understand whether the traits that make a person more or less attractive to mosquitoes are genetic—odors for instance—researchers conducted a study looking at 18 sets of identical twins and 19 sets of non-identical twins. Their findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The researchers released mosquitoes into a Y shaped tube that allowed the mosquito pick a side to fly down. The twins’ hands were at either end of the tube (see photo). If the mosquitoes were attracted to the hands’ odor, they would fly toward them and if they were repelled by the hands they would fly away from them.

Interestingly, identical twins were more similar in the level of attractiveness to mosquitoes than non-identical twins, which the researchers suggest could mean that genes play a role. It’s possible that identical twins have very similar odors since they are genetically exactly the same.

Though the sample size is small, the researchers say the findings have implications for future mosquito bite prevention. “By investigating the genetic mechanism behind attractiveness to biting insects such as mosquitoes we can move closer to using this knowledge for better ways of keeping us safe from bites and the diseases insects can spread through bites,” said study author James Logan, a senior lecturer at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, in a statement. “In the future we may even be able to take a pill which will enhance the production of natural repellents by the body and ultimately replace skin lotions.”

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