TIME Research

A Rough Childhood Can Literally Age You Says a New Study

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Researchers say childhood adversity and psychiatric disorders may be linked to cellular changes that cause aging

Childhood trauma and psychiatric conditions may cause individuals to experience accelerated aging, according to research published last week.

In a study featured in Biological Psychiatry, scientists say they may have found evidence to suggest there is a link between aging at the cellular level and trauma or stress disorders.

To complete the study, researchers recruited 299 adults and separated them into different groups based on their experiences with childhood adversity, depression, anxiety or substance abuse.

The participants then had their DNA analyzed to study the lengths of their telomeres and any alterations to mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Telomere shortening and higher mtDNA content can serve as a yardstick to measure cellular aging.

“Results of the study show childhood adversity and lifetime psychopathology were each associated with shorter telomeres and higher mtDNA content,” read the report.

These effects were seen particularly in adults who had battled with major depression and anxiety disorders, along with parental loss or childhood maltreatment.

“Identifying the changes that occur at a cellular level due to these psychosocial factors allows us to understand the causes of these poor health conditions and possibly the overall aging process,” said Audrey Tyrka, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University.

[Science Daily]

TIME Exercise/Fitness

Lack of Exercise Is a Bigger Risk Factor Than Obesity in Premature Death

A short daily walk could literally save your life

A brisk 20-minute walk a day may be enough to reduce an individual’s risk of early death by up to 30 percent, according to a new report published this week.

In a study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on Wednesday, researchers claim that at least twice as many deaths may be attributable to a lack of physical activity when compared with the number of deaths linked to obesity.

According to their research, which was based on data from 334,161 European men and women, a 20-minute daily walk or a comparable exercise, in which at least 90 to 110 calories are burned, will reduce the risk of premature death by between 16 and 30 percent.

“This is a simple message: just a small amount of physical activity each day could have substantial health benefits for people who are physically inactive,” said Ulf Ekelund from the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge.

[Science Daily]

TIME animals

Dogs Arrived in the Americas Only 10,000 Years Ago, Research Suggests

That's several thousand years after humans first migrated to the region

They may be man’s best friend, but new research indicates that dogs arrived in the Americas thousands of years after humans did.

According to a recent study, dogs only came to the region about 10,000 years ago, NBC News reports.

Researchers arrived at this conclusion by testing 42 D.N.A. samples taken from taken from ancient dog remains and comparing it with the same number of samples from previous studies. Their findings indicate canines came to the continent with a second wave of human migration, long after humans had initially settled in the New World.

The study’s lead author Kelsey Witt said in a statement that dogs were one of the earliest species to accompany human migration to every continent. “They can be a powerful tool when you’re looking at how human populations have moved around over time,” she said.

[NBC]

TIME Heart Disease

How Optimism Might Be Good for Your Heart

New research links a positive attitude with cardiovascular health

A new study finds that an optimistic outlook on life might be good for your heart—and not in the metaphorical, warm-and-fuzzy kind of way.

People with an upbeat, can-do attitude also have significantly better cardiovascular health, according to researchers at the University of Illinois.

“Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts,” said lead study author Rosalba Hernandez. “This association remains significant, even after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and poor mental health.”

The study analyzed the mental health, physical health and levels of optimism of 5,100 adults ranging from 45 to 84 years of age. Heart health scores—based on American Heart Association-approved metrics including blood pressure and body mass index—increased alongside levels of optimism.

This isn’t the first study that has linked overall positivity to heart health. In 2012, Harvard researchers found associations between optimism, hope, and overall satisfaction with life with reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.

Read next: 6 Signs You’re Not Working Out Hard Enough

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TIME Mental Health/Psychology

This May Explain the Rise in Autism Diagnoses

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A new study suggests changes in diagnostic rules have caused increases in autism cases

The number of children diagnosed with autism has ballooned in recent years, but the reason for the increase is hotly debated. Some argue autism results when rare gene mutations are triggered by environmental factors like pollution, certain chemicals or even parental age. Others say it’s due to the fact that we’ve simply gotten much better at diagnosing it. Now, a large new study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics suggests the primary cause of the increase of autism spectrum disorder is actually due to changes in how the disease is diagnosed.

“This study is important because it shows a large part of the increase has nothing to do with the environment, but rather administrative decisions,” says study author Stefan Hansen of Aarhus University in Denmark.

The researchers followed 677,915 Danish children born between 1980 and 1991 and tracked them until they either had an autism diagnosis or reached the study end date of Dec. 31, 2011. Hansen and his team looked specifically at changes that occurred before and after the year 1994, when criteria for psychiatric diagnoses changed in Denmark so that autism became a spectrum of disorders, broadening the criteria for diagnosis. The researchers found significantly more children were diagnosed with autism in 1995 and on, and the team was able to determine that 60% of the increase could be attributed to these criteria changes.

“I am not saying it explains everything,” says Hansen. “There’s the remaining 40%, so we shouldn’t stop here.” That 40% is important if researchers want to understand all the contributing factors to the disease he says.

While Hansen’s findings focused specifically on diagnostic criteria changes in Denmark, other countries, including the U.S., have seen similar changes in the diagnosis of psychological and brain-development disorders.

In May 2013, the American Psychiatric Association published new guidelines for diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in what’s casually referred to as the “psychiatry bible”—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Previously, children needed to meet six of 12 criteria points to be diagnosed with one type of autism-related disorder like Asperger’s disorder or childhood disintegrative disorder. Now, the disorders fall under the single category of “autism spectrum disorders,” and the criteria needed for a diagnosis is much more specific.

Some advocacy groups like Autism Speaks were concerned the changes would mean some people wouldn’t get care, with some research suggesting that a small but significant minority of kids diagnosed with autism would not qualify under the new criteria. “Our concern has been that the constricting of the criteria would in fact artificially reduce the prevalence of autism,” says Michael Rosanoff director of public health research at Autism Speaks. “The DSM-5 has not been in play for long enough and there’s ongoing research looking at how prevalence is changing and access to services. Time will really tell.”

Rosanoff and this study’s researcher Hansen agree that more research is needed to understand what other factors may contribute to the rise in autism cases worldwide. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about one in 68 U.S. kids is on the autism spectrum, which is 30% higher than estimates from as recent as 2012. “Some of this has to do with increasing public awareness,” says Hansen. “As people become more aware of the term autism over time, it’s causing parents to have their kids be examined more often.”

The CDC announced on Jan. 2 that over the next four years, it will invest over $20 million to increase tracking of children with autism spectrum disorder so that the U.S. can better understand what impacts the prevalence of autism here. With better monitoring worldwide, the hope is scientific communities and families affected by autism will better understand more about the disorder’s emergence.

Read next: Most Cancer Is Beyond Your Control, Breakthrough Study Finds

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TIME Infectious Disease

HIV May Be Evolving To Become Less Contagious And Deadly, Study Shows

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The virus is adapting to the human immune system, weakening itself in the process

HIV may be naturally evolving into a milder and less fatal virus, according to recent study at Oxford University, which found that as HIV adapts to the human immune system it not only becomes less deadly but also less infectious.

The main indicator, the scientists conducting the research said, is that HIV is taking longer to transition to AIDS. Virologists say it may eventually become “almost harmless,” reports the BBC.

The Oxford researchers came to this conclusion by comparing HIV infections in Botswana with those in South Africa, where the virus arrived 10 years later.

They found that the time from the contracting of HIV to its emergence as full-blown AIDS was 10% longer in Botswana than in South Africa, indicating that a “watered-down” version has developed in the former.

Oxford University Professor Phillip Goulder said that the time for the emergence of AIDS symptoms in Botswana may have increased to about 12.5 years from 10 years a couple of decades ago.

“A sort of incremental change, but in the big picture that is a rapid change,” he said. “One might imagine as time extends this could stretch further and further and in the future people being asymptomatic for decades.”

[BBC]

TIME Family

Breakfast: Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

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New study suggests morning meal is no academic cure-all

Breakfast has long been considered the most important meal of the day, especially for elementary school students. Everyone from parents, to teachers, to cereal manufacturers have touted the importance of a nutritional morning meal, but is there evidence to back the positive effect of breakfast on academic performance? A recent study has somewhat muddied the waters on this issue.

A 2005 study by Tufts University researchers found that elementary school children who ate common breakfast foods (oatmeal and cereal) once a day for three consecutive weeks scored better on a battery of cognitive tests—particularly on measures of short term memory, spatial memory and auditory attention. But a study out on Nov. 24, also from Tufts, finds that students enrolled in Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) programs did not obtain higher math and reading standardized test scores than students in non-BIC schools.

Like the national School Breakfast Program (which provides free or low-cost breakfast to children before the start of the school day), Breakfast in the Classroom meals are available to all students regardless of income level. However, BIC is served in the classroom after the opening bell—ensuring that children enjoy a well-balanced meal without having to wake up early and get to school in time for SBP. Students in 18 states across the nation have had the benefit of a free in-classroom breakfast with their peers thanks to BIC, a huge feat considering that millions of children live in households where a healthy breakfast isn’t an option. But while the immediate nutritional value of Breakfast in the Classroom is apparent, research is ongoing as to how the program affects academic achievement.

In order to ascertain whether students in BIC programs performed better academically, Tufts researchers looked at 446 public elementary schools in urban areas that served low income minority students—189 of which did not participate in BIC during the 2012-2013 school year, and 257 of which did. While BIC schools demonstrated increased overall attendance, there was no notable difference in academic achievement between BIC and non-BIC schools—specifically regarding standardized tests in math and reading.

The results are curious, because the increased attendance at BIC schools presumably means that more students are getting more instruction on important coursework, yet the scores didn’t point to better results. It’s possible that breakfast programs aren’t the solution to narrowing the achievement gap between children whose families face poverty and those who don’t, as educators were hoping.

Tufts researchers, however, insist that the study’s failure to duplicate previous findings that breakfast increases academic performance shouldn’t necessarily cause parents to doubt the benefits of BIC —nor the importance of a healthy breakfast in general.

“These findings should not be interpreted as a definitive conclusion on whether Breakfast in the Classroom affects achievement,” says study author and Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy research associate Stephanie Anzman-Frasca.”There are a number of potential explanations for the lack of differences in standardized test scores across schools with and without Breakfast in the Classroom.”

One of those explanations might be that schools often encourage parents to feed kids breakfast on test days, so students who weren’t in the program may have arrived well fed anyway. There’s also the question of whether standardized tests are an appropriate measure for academic achievement. “Given the mixed findings across studies linking school breakfast and academics, it is important to continue to conduct research in this area, with longer-term follow-ups and multiple measures of academic outcomes, before drawing definitive conclusions,” adds Anzman Frasca.

Rather than abandoning the programs, she’s calling for more research. “Collecting multiple measures of academic performance, such as test scores as well as classroom behavior and attention, would be a good way to gain a more comprehensive understanding of Breakfast in the Classroom’s impacts as research in this area continues.”

TIME India

New Delhi, the World’s Most Polluted City, Is Even More Polluted Than We Realized

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Smog envelops buildings on the outskirts of the Indian capital New Delhi on November 25, 2014. ROBERTO SCHMIDT—AFP/Getty Images

Researchers have been measuring background pollution when they should have been doing roadside readings

New Delhi has already been ranked the world’s worst polluted city by the World Health Organization, but a new study by U.S. and Indian scientists shows that the city’s air quality is far worse than previously thought.

American scientist Joshua Apte, working with partners from the University of California, Berkeley and Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology, roamed the streets of the Indian capital in an autorickshaw laden with air pollution monitors. He found that average pollution levels were up to eight times higher on city roads, the Associated Press reports.

Apte compared the readings from his road trips to readings at urban background sites, which he says are already extremely high. The levels of PM 2.5, the particle known to be most harmful to human health, were found to be 50 percent higher on Delhi’s roads during rush hour than during ambient air quality readings. Black carbon, a major pollutant, was found to be three times higher.

“Official air quality monitors tend to be located away from roads, on top of buildings, and that’s not where most people spend most of their time,” Apte said. “In fact, most people spend a lot of time in traffic in India. Sometimes one, two, three hours a day.”

India is the third largest polluting country in the world, after the United States and China — who both signed a major bilateral climate deal in Beijing earlier this month.

Its rapidly growing vehicle numbers, expected to hit 400 million by 2030, are posing a major threat that the government is well aware of.

Several steps have been taken to reduce the number of Indian automobiles running on diesel, and the country’s National Green Tribunal also announced on Thursday that it would ban any vehicles older than 15 years from New Delhi’s roads.

But far more drastic measures will be required to make a meaningful dent in Delhi’s air pollution levels, which, according to the latest WHO Ambient Air Pollution Database, are at just under 300 micrograms per cubic meter. The world’s second most polluted city, Karachi, clocks in at a little over 250, while the major Chinese cities of Beijing and Shanghai, internationally notorious for their pollution, clock in a relatively fresh 120 and 80 respectively.

TIME Research

Study Suggests Banking Industry Breeds Dishonesty

Bank industry culture “seems to make [employees] more dishonest,” a study author says

Bank employees are more likely to exhibit dishonesty when discussing their jobs, a new study found.

Researchers out of Switzerland tested employees from several industries during a coin-toss game that offered money if their coins matched researcher’s. According to Reuters, there was “a considerable incentive to cheat” given the maximum pay-off of $200. One hundred and twenty-eight employees from one bank were tested and were found to be generally as honest as everyone else when asked questions about their personal lives prior to flipping the coin, the Associated Press reports. But when they were asked about work before the toss, they were more inclined toward giving false answers, the study determined.

The author of the study says bankers are not any more dishonest than other people, but that the culture of the industry “seems to make them more dishonest.”

The American Bankers Association rebuffed the study’s findings to the AP.

“While this study looks at one bank, America’s 6,000 banks set a very high bar when it comes to the honesty and integrity of their employees. Banks take the fiduciary responsibility they have for their customers very seriously,” the Association said.

[AP]

TIME Research

Firefighter Deaths Could be Linked to Poor Sleep

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Almost 40% of firefighters suffer from at least one sleep disorder

Sleep problems could be a major factor in explaining why more than 60 percent of firefighter deaths are caused by heart attacks and traffic accidents, a new study published in The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine has found.

Researchers sampled almost 7,000 firefighters across the U.S. and examined how many tested positive for sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, shift-work disorder and restless leg syndrome, the New York Times reports.

They found that 37 percent of firefighters suffered from at least one type of sleep disorder.

“Our findings demonstrate the impact of common sleep disorders on firefighter health and safety, and their connection to the two leading causes of death among firefighters,” said lead author Laura K. Barger. “Unfortunately, more than 80% of firefighters who screened positive for a common sleep disorder were undiagnosed and untreated.”

Barber’s team found that when compared with those who had a good night’s sleep, firefighters who had a sleep disorder were more likely to crash their car or fall asleep at the wheel.

They are also more likely to report serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety.

[NYT]

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