Physical activity in parks can been boosted by modest marketing

Oct. 17, 2013 — Modest increases in marketing and outreach to local communities can increase the amount of physical activity that occurs in parks, providing a cost-effective way to potentially improve a community’s health, according to a new RAND Corporation study.The project, which examined 50 parks across Los Angeles, found that simple interventions such as increased signage boosted physical activity by 7 to 12 percent over the study period in relation to parks that did not make changes. The findings are published online by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.”The study shows that environmental cues influence and change individual behavior, including physical behavior,” said Dr. Deborah A. Cohen, the study’s lead author and a senior natural scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “When physical activity opportunities and reminders become more obvious, whether they are overt signs or notices for classes or new walking paths, they may lead people to becoming more active, especially if they are already in a park.”Although most Americans live in a community with a network of parks and recreation facilities suited to exercise, most do not meet the national guidelines for physical activity. Those recommendations suggest adults engage in physical activity for 150 minutes per week, while children should do so for 60 minutes per day.An increase in physical activity among people in Finland over the past few decades has been attributed, in part, to an increased focus on local parks and sports facilities. In contrast, many U.S. municipalities — including Los Angeles — have trimmed support for public physical activity programs and parks.RAND researchers wanted to examine whether, given limited resources, parks could adjust their programming and outreach efforts to increase activity if they had better information about local use and activity preferences. The second question was whether the involvement of park advisory boards composed of community members would help improve the decisions made by park directors.To conduct the project, 50 parks in the City of Los Angeles that included a recreation center and full-time staff were randomized into three groups. …

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Soda and illegal drugs cause similar damage to teeth: Acids erode enamel

May 28, 2013 — Addicted to soda? You may be shocked to learn that drinking large quantities of your favorite carbonated soda could be as damaging to your teeth as methamphetamine and crack cocaine use. The consumption of illegal drugs and abusive intake of soda can cause similar damage to your mouth through the process of tooth erosion, according to a case study published in the March/April 2013 issue of General Dentistry.

Tooth erosion occurs when acid wears away tooth enamel, which is the glossy, protective outside layer of the tooth. Without the protection of enamel, teeth are more susceptible to developing cavities, as well as becoming sensitive, cracked, and discolored.

The General Dentistry case study compared the damage in three individuals’ mouths — an admitted user of methamphetamine, a previous longtime user of cocaine, and an excessive diet soda drinker. Each participant admitted to having poor oral hygiene and not visiting a dentist on a regular basis. Researchers found the same type and severity of damage from tooth erosion in each participant’s mouth.

“Each person experienced severe tooth erosion caused by the high acid levels present in their ‘drug’ of choice — meth, crack, or soda,” says Mohamed A. Bassiouny, DMD, MSc, PhD, lead author of the study.

“The citric acid present in both regular and diet soda is known to have a high potential for causing tooth erosion,” says Dr. Bassiouny.

Similar to citric acid, the ingredients used in preparing methamphetamine can include extremely corrosive materials, such as battery acid, lantern fuel, and drain cleaner. Crack cocaine is highly acidic in nature, as well.

The individual who abused soda consumed 2 liters of diet soda daily for three to five years. Says Dr. Bassiouny, “The striking similarities found in this study should be a wake-up call to consumers who think that soda — even diet soda — is not harmful to their oral health.”

AGD Spokesperson Eugene Antenucci, DDS, FAGD, recommends that his patients minimize their intake of soda and drink more water. Additionally, he advises them to either chew sugar-free gum or rinse the mouth with water following consumption of soda. “Both tactics increase saliva flow, which naturally helps to return the acidity levels in the mouth to normal,” he says.

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Children of long-lived parents less likely to get cancer

May 28, 2013 — The offspring of parents who live to a ripe old age are more likely to live longer themselves, and less prone to cancer and other common diseases associated with ageing, a study has revealed.

Experts at the University of Exeter Medical School, supported by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care in the South West Peninsula (NIHR PenCLAHRC), led an international collaboration which discovered that people who had a long-lived mother or father were 24% less likely to get cancer. The scientists compared the children of long-lived parents to children whose parents survived to average ages for their generation.

The scientists classified long-lived mothers as those who survived past 91 years old, and compared them to those who reached average age spans of 77 to 91. Long-lived fathers lived past 87 years old, compared with the average of 65 to 87 years. The scientists studied 938 new cases of cancer that developed during the 18 year follow-up period.

The team also involved experts from the National Institute for Health and Medical Research in France (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale), the University of Michigan and the University of Iowa. They found that overall mortality rates dropped by up to 19 per cent for each decade that at least one of the parents lived past the age of 65. For those whose mothers lived beyond 85, mortality rates were 40 per cent lower. The figure was a little lower (14 per cent) for fathers, possibly because of adverse lifestyle factors such as smoking, which may have been more common in the fathers.

In the study, published in the Journals of Gerontology: Series A, the scientists analysed data from a series of interviews conducted with 9,764 people taking part in the Health and Retirement Study. The participants were based in America, and were followed up over 18 years, from 1992 to 2010. They were interviewed every two years, with questions including the ages of their parents and when they died. In 2010 the participants were in their seventies.

Professor William Henley, from the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Previous studies have shown that the children of centenarians tend to live longer with less heart disease, but this is the first robust evidence that the children of longer-lived parents are also less likely to get cancer. We also found that they are less prone to diabetes or suffering a stroke. These protective effects are passed on from parents who live beyond 65 — far younger than shown in previous studies, which have looked at those over the age of 80. Obviously children of older parents are not immune to contracting cancer or any other diseases of ageing, but our evidence shows that rates are lower. We also found that this inherited resistance to age-related diseases gets stronger the older their parents lived.”

Ambarish Dutta, who worked on the project at the University of Exeter Medical School and is now at the Asian Institute of Public Health at the Ravenshaw University in India, said: “Interestingly from a nature versus nurture perspective, we found no evidence that these health advantages are passed on from parents-in-law. Despite being likely to share the same environment and lifestyle in their married lives, spouses had no health benefit from their parents-in-law reaching a ripe old age. If the findings resulted from cultural or lifestyle factors, you might expect these effects to extend to husbands and wives in at least some cases, but there was no impact whatsoever.”

In analysing the data, the team made adjustments for sex, race, smoking, wealth, education, body mass index, and childhood socioeconomic status. They also excluded results from those whose parents died prematurely (ie mothers who died younger than 61 or fathers younger than 46).

The study could not look at the various sub groups of cancer, as numbers did not allow accurate estimates. This study was carried out in preparation for a more detailed analysis of factors explaining why some people seem to age more slowly than others. Future work will use the UK Biobank, which analyses a cohort of 500,000 participants.

Other collaborators on the paper were Dr Jean-Marie Robine, of the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médical, Dr Kenneth Langa of the University of Michigan, Professor Robert Wallace of the University of Iowa and Professor David Melzer, of the University of Exeter Medical School.

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Flirting with the satnav

May 29, 2013 — Writing in the International Journal of Vehicle Noise and Vibration, UK researchers have investigated how drivers are affected emotionally by the sounds in their car other than the noise of the engine and the road in particular the voice of their satellite navigation system (satnav).

In the 2009 Christmas special of well-known British situation comedy, The Royle Family, saw protagonists — Denise and Dave — arguing about whether Dave had been flirting with the satnav “lady” giving him directions to Prestatyn. It’s a humorous take on our current obsession with being led along the highways and byways and our intolerance of map books, cartophobia, and pours scorn on how many of us adopt such novel technologies without even a basic understanding of their inner workings.

There is nevertheless a serious side to understanding how we interact with technology that can improve design of hardware, software and interfaces. Improved design might lead to greater understanding and accessibility. While it might not preclude in-car arguments with back-seat drivers, it might ultimately reduce the number of drivers losing their way.

Writing in the International Journal of Vehicle Noise and Vibration, UK researchers have investigated how drivers are affected emotionally by the sounds in their car other than the noise of the engine and the road. They point out that the almost ubiquitous satellite navigation system (satnav) provides realistic vocal utterances during driving. Most devices allow one to change the voice from male to female and vice versa, to have accented voices and even to choose from celebrity voices who have recorded the range of driving instructions, presumably for a well-negotiated vocal fee.

Engineers David Large and Gary Burnett of the Human Factors Research Group at the University of Nottingham, UK, recruited fifty volunteers to test their preferences and responses to different satnav voices. The tests were carried out in the safety of the scientific laboratory rather than while the volunteers were driving. They tested 12 satnav voices from the well-known Garmin and TomTom systems, vocalising 36 messages. They asked the volunteers to complete a psychometric test known as a seven-point Likert-style scale to categorise the different vocalisations — male, female, character and celebrity — according to how their perceived clarity of speech, their assertiveness, trustworthiness, annoyance level, how distracting they were and whether or not the volunteers would choose a particular voice for everyday use in their own satnav while driving.

The researchers report that there was a strong positive correlation among the volunteers between the ratings for trustworthiness, assertiveness and clarity of the satnav voices and whether the volunteers would use that voice. Perhaps obviously there was a strong negative correlation between whether they would choose a particular voice if they considered it to be annoying or distracting in any way. Intriguingly, the team demonstrated that for their small group of volunteers, they certainly endowed the satnav voices with personality traits even though the device is not a real person and many of the voices were computer generated.

The voices included “Tim” and “Jane” the English UK default male and female voices. Garmin’s default voice and popular celebrity voice downloads — John Cleese, Joanna Lumley, Kim Cattrall and Snoop Dogg. Two character voices “Knight Rider’s KITT,” a heavily synthesised character voice and that of Star Wars character Yoda with its peculiarity of sentence structure in which object precedes subject, which in turn precedes verb. Most instructions would be of the form: “You must take the first exit” whereas for the latter character voice this would be “The first exit you must take.” The team describes the Yoda voice as “unique and rich with character” and “having the potential to distract, entertain and annoy,” hence its inclusion among more conventional satnav voices.

“The study has demonstrated that not only do people automatically assign human-personality type characteristics to voices, but that these responses can be initiated with minimal cues and even when the voice is of computer origin and delivering routine navigational instructions,” the researchers say. “Furthermore, people respond differently to different voices and make attributions based on these responses. This suggests that the social rules governing human-human interaction may also apply to human-computer interactions,” they add. Such findings could have implications for the safety of any driver using a satnav and in particular professional drivers. But there are wider implications too for the use of voices, human or synthesised, in technology and robotics and how people respond to and interact with those technologies.

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