Monday, October 30, 2006

Asthma Linked To Soot From Diesel Trucks In Bronx

More evidence that pollution is not only a broad environmental threat, but an acute danger to our health. 

More from NYU (via ScienceDirect)

Soot particles spewing from the exhaust of diesel
trucks constitute a major contributor to the alarmingly high rates of
asthma symptoms among school-aged children in the South Bronx,
according to the results of a five-year study by researchers at New
York University's School of Medicine and Robert F. Wagner Graduate
School of Public Service.

Over the course of the study, asthma symptoms,
particularly wheezing, doubled among elementary school children on high
traffic days, as large numbers attend schools in close proximity to
busy truck routes because of past land-use decisions.

The South
Bronx has among the highest incidences of asthma hospital admissions in
New York City, and a recent city survey of asthma in the South Bronx's
Hunts Point district found an asthma prevalence rate in elementary
school of 21 percent to 23 percent. The South Bronx is surrounded by
several major highways, including Interstates 95, 87, 278 and 895. At
Hunts Point Market alone, some 12,000 trucks roll in and out daily.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Breastfeeding for mental health

Although I often skeptical of many of the claims put forward by the hardcore pro-breastfeeders (like this), there are indeed many real reasons to promote breastfeeding. This Austrialian study seems legit. The study followed 2500 kids for 16 years (NB: This is an important point, some mental health problems can manifest themselves in adolescence but many show up later in life). The sample size here is encouraging at least. I hope that the researchers will continue to follow these kids to see if the trends persist.

From the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research

Even when we adjust the results to take into account other factors such as the parents' socio-economic situation, their education, their happiness and family functioning, we see that children that were breastfed for at least six months are at lower risk of mental health problems," Dr Oddy said.

The study found that children who were breastfed for less than six months compared to six months or longer had a 52% increased risk of a mental health problem at 2 years of age, a 55% increased risk at age 6, at age 8 the increased risk was 61% while at age 10 the increased risk was 37%.

The analysis is based on a scientifically recognised checklist of child behaviour that assessed the study childrens behaviour at 2, 6, 8 and 10 years of age.

Dr Oddy said that children that were breastfed had particularly lower rates of delinquent, aggressive and anti-social behaviour, and overall were less depressed, anxious or withdrawn.

"These results are powerful evidence for more support to be given to mothers to help them breastfeed for longer," she said.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Depression Symptoms Less Likely In Kids With Accurate Self-perceptions

More and more evidence points to the importance of teaching children to understand their emotions, and how to empathize with others.

From ScienceDirect (Link)

Psychology Professor Janet Kistner found that children in third through fifth grades who had the wrong idea about their level of social acceptance were more likely to develop symptoms of depression over time. The study, "Bias and Accuracy of Children's Perceptions of Peer Acceptance: Prospective Associations with Depressive Symptoms," was published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. Graduate students Corinne David-Ferdon and Karla Repper and psychology Professor Thomas Joiner were co-authors.

"There's a long-running debate in the field of psychology about whether realistic perceptions are a hallmark of positive adjustment or they are associated with risk for depression," Kistner said. "Our results support the perspective that realistic perceptions are a hallmark of mental health."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Oy, Jewish Lullabies

I've been looking for Jewish/Yiddish lullabies to sing to the Curious Boy, and stumbled across this record. The producer has worked with Lisa Loeb, Debbie Harris and that role model for all nice Jewish boys, Perry Farrell. The arrangements are nice and calm, very traditional.

Lilah Tov (Good Night)

Lilah Tov (Good Night)

Jewish Lullabies

Download "Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet)" (MP3, 192kbps)

Jewish Music Group

"Re-Goodie" Those Cheap Toys

One of my favourite environment/design/sustainability blogs, has a great article about what to do with the tons of cheap plastic crap that seems to accumulate on its own. The Curious Boy is not even a year old and we're already ankle deep.

Some of the ideas: give them to a doctor's office or clinics, give them to charity or have a garage sale and give the money away.

The problem with cheap stuff is that the plasitic is not very durable and will not stand up to repeated wear, teething or dishwashing.

via ParentHacks

Monday, October 23, 2006

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The perils of family life

Last week the Montreal suburb I live in was rocked by a triple murder/attempted suicide. A 41 year-old man killed his two children and his wife and then tried to kill himself. He failed and is currently on life support.

See the report (

This hits closer to home for me because the eldest child, a daughter was a science student at the college where I teach chemistry. Many of my students knew her well and are devastated.

This is the first time that something like this has happened in this area since I became a parent. I am in utter shock. I can't imagine the thought process that leads someone to do this.

I'm not trying to be holier-than-thou or anything, I just feel that someone who feels that his family will suffer less (for whatever reason) because they are dead is clearly in need of help.

What do you think?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Pollution Shortens Life Expectancy Worldwide

While this AP article at ENN talks about worst case scenarios, the fact remains that pollution is having an important impact on all of our life expectancies as well as our general health.

More than 10 million people are at risk for lung infection, cancer and shortened life expectancy because they live in the 10 worst-polluted cities in the world, according to a report issued Wednesday.

The report published by the Blacksmith Institute, an international environmental research group, lists 10 cities in eight countries where pollution poses health risks and fosters poverty.

"Living in a town with serious pollution is like living under a death sentence," the report said. "If the damage does not come from immediate poisoning, then cancers, lung infections, mental retardation, are likely outcomes."

The worst-polluted places in the world, the report said, are in secluded areas far away from capitals or tourist areas.

These countries, which are mostly part of the developing world, generally have few or inadequate pollution controls, and the problem is compounded by the local governments' "lack of knowledge" and the inability of citizens to enforce justice.

Three Russian cities are among the most polluted _ Dzherzhinsk, Norilsk and Rudnaya Pristan. The other cities are Linfen, China; Haina, Dominican Republic; Ranipet, India; Mayluu-Suu, Kyrgyzstan; La Oroya, Peru; Chernobyl, Ukraine; and Kabwe, Zambia.

Read more

This explains why we have kids...

I guess it explains S&M too though....

From ScienceDaily
For years, the brain chemical dopamine has been thought of as the brain's "pleasure chemical," sending signals between brain cells in a way that rewards a person or animal for one activity or another. More recently, research has shown that certain drugs like cocaine and heroin amplify this effect -- an action that may lie at the heart of drug addiction.

Now, a new study from the University of Michigan adds a new twist to dopamine's fun-loving reputation: pain.

Using sophisticated brain-scanning and a carefully controlled way of inducing muscle pain, the researchers show that the brain's dopamine system is highly active while someone experiences pain -- and that this response varies between individuals in a way that relates directly to how the pain makes them feel. It's the first time that dopamine has been linked to pain response in humans.

Shorter Nightly Sleep In Childhood May Help Explain Obesity Epidemic

Soaring levels of obesity might be linked to children sleeping fewer hours at night than they used to, claims a researcher in the Archives of Disease in Childhood

I know that I snack more than normal when I'm tired.  I guess kids do to.


Dr Shahrad Taheri of the University of Bristol, blames the increasing availability of computers, mobile phones, TVs and other gadgets on the diminishing nightly quota of sleep, and suggests they should be banned from children's bedrooms. Dr Taheri cites the emerging body of research on the impacts on the body of a fall in the nightly quota of sleep, which reflects circumstances in real life, rather than sustained sleep deprivation, which tends to be more extreme.

This research shows that shorter sleep duration disturbs normal metabolism, which may contribute to obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Even two to three nights of shortened sleep can have profound effects, the laboratory data suggest.

Oh mister sun, sun, mister golden sun...

Even the though the Curious Boy was born in the depths of winter, when spring came we were crazy about sunscreen.  We obsessed about which one to use and made sure to fully reapply every 2 hours. 

After reading a report from the European Space Agency (Link) I feel better about how strict we were.  The World Health Organization claims that 60,000 people die annually from overexposure to ultraviolet radiation.  Simply taking shade and wearing sunblock are effective measures.

Now guests at certain hotels can have recommendations about what sunscreen to use and how much time to spend in the shade texted to their phones. 


Pretty neat.

From ScienceDaily


By using data from Envisat and Meteosat-8 satellites, HappySun is also able to offer the sea surface temperature and sea water transparency. Knowing the sea temperature allows tourists to make decisions on holiday destinations depending on their desire for cool or warm waters. Knowledge of the sea water transparency is useful for tourists wanting to dive in waters with good visibility in order to explore the marine environment.

The UV protection service is currently available in Tuscany, Italy, for APT Versilia and Sardinia, Italy, for Baja Hotels. The APT Versilia website shows the temperature of the Versilia sea, while the Baja Hotels’ website shows sea temperature implemented in a Google Maps interface.

"Tourists appreciate having a ‘satellite eye’ that takes care of their skin during sun exposure. Tourists, snorkellers and divers all appreciate having information on sea water in order to find the best conditions," Baja Hotels General Manager Marco Bongiovanni said.

"HappySun is an innovative service conceived in the scope of a European project with the aim of spreading the information regarding benefits and drawbacks associated to heliotherapy," Renato Baldi, APT Versilia Director, said. "We have hosted such a service on our website to promote Versilia as a place where people can sun safely."

These types of services are set to continue in the near future, as HappySun is following up the tourism aspects of the service with tour and hotel operators in preparation for next summer. In addition, the Global Monitoring of the Environment and Security (GMES) initiative – a joint initiative of the European Commission and ESA – is incorporating the public health aspects within its portfolio of services.

The HappySun service, provided by Flyby s.r.l., is backed by an ESA Earth Observation Market Development (EOMD) programme aimed at fostering the development of Earth Observation data within business practices.



Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Great Fish Debate

Finally, a reputable source, the Harvard School of Public Health has put to rest the great fish debate.  We have long known that fish is good, especially oil fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids.  The problem is that recent analysis has shown that these fish are also high in PCBs, mercury and other toxic compounds.  This study (Link via ScienceDaily) shows that overall, the benefits outweigh the risks, but that pretty much everyone should avoid tilefish (golden bass), king mackerel, shark and swordfish (my personal favourite). 


The evidence was suggestive that mercury may have subtle effects on brain development for a child exposed in the womb, or in early childhood. To obtain the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for brain development and minimize the potential risk of mercury, the investigators' findings agreed with the recommendations of the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration that women of childbearing age, nursing mothers and young children should eat up to two servings per week of a variety of fish (for example, salmon, light tuna, shrimp, mackerel, and up to 6 oz. per week of albacore tuna) and avoid only four species of fish--golden bass (also known as tilefish), king mackerel, shark and swordfish--larger, predatory fish that have higher levels of mercury. The researchers emphasized that this advisory is only for women of childbearing age, nursing mothers and young children, not the general population. Importantly, the evidence suggests that, for those women, it is as important for their health and for the brain development of their infants that they eat a variety of other types of fish as it is to avoid the four fish species higher in mercury.



Saturday, October 14, 2006

We're back(ish) and talking about shoes

Although this is more of a daddy types type of thing, I couldn't resist. I (and 2 million or so other readers) found this item on boingboing.

"Inchworms are kids' shoes whose size can be adjusted up to three sizes -- press a button on the underside and pull or push to change the size."

LINK (via BoingBoing via Gizmodo)