Changes in agriculture increase high river flow rates

Just as a leaky roof can make a house cooler and wetter when it’s raining as well as hotter and dryer when it’s sunny, changes in land use can affect river flow in both rainy and dry times, say two University of Iowa researchers.While it may be obvious that changes in river water discharge across the U.S. Midwest can be related to changes in rainfall and agricultural land use, it is important to learn how these two factors interact in order to get a better understanding of what the future may look like, says Gabriele Villarini, UI assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, assistant research engineer at IIHR — Hydroscience & Engineering and lead author of a published research paper on the subject.”We wanted to know what the relative impacts of precipitation and agricultural practices played in shaping the discharge record that we see today,” he says. “Is it an either/or answer or a much more nuanced one?”By understanding our past we are better positioned in making meaningful statements about our future,” he says.The potential benefits of understanding river flow are especially great in the central United States, particularly Iowa, where spring and summer floods have hit the area in 1993, 2008, 2013 and 2014, interrupted by the drought of 2012. Large economic damage and even loss of life have resulted, says co-author Aaron Strong, UI assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and with the Environmental Policy Program at the UI Public Policy Center.”What is interesting to note,” says Strong, “is that the impacts, in terms of flooding, have been exacerbated. At the same time, the impacts of drought, for in-stream flow, have been mitigated with the changes in land use composition that we have seen over the last century.”In order to study the effect of changes in agricultural practices on Midwest river discharge, the researchers focused on Iowa’s Raccoon River at Van Meter, Iowa. The 9,000-square-kilometer watershed has the advantage of having had its water discharge levels measured and recorded daily for most of the 20th century right on up to the present day. (The study focused on the period 1927-2012). During that period, the number of acres used for corn and soybean production greatly increased, roughly doubling over the course of the 20th century.Not surprisingly, they found that variability in rainfall is responsible for most of the changes in water discharge volumes.However, the water discharge rates also varied with changes in agricultural practices, as defined by soybean and corn harvested acreage in the Raccoon River watershed. In times of flood and in times of drought, water flow rates were exacerbated by more or less agriculture, respectively. The authors suggest that although flood conditions may be exacerbated by increases in agricultural production, this concern “must all be balanced by the private concerns of increased revenue from agricultural production through increased cultivation.””Our results suggest that changes in agricultural practices over this watershed — with increasing acreage planted in corn and soybeans over time — translated into a seven-fold increase in rainfall contribution to the average annual maximum discharge when we compare the present to the 1930s,” Villarini says.The UI research paper, “Roles of climate and agricultural practices in discharge changes in an agricultural watershed in Iowa,” can be found in the April 15 online edition of Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Iowa. …

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Well-child visits linked to more than 700,000 subsequent flu-like illnesses

New research shows that well-child doctor appointments for annual exams and vaccinations are associated with an increased risk of flu-like illnesses in children and family members within two weeks of the visit. This risk translates to more than 700,000 potentially avoidable illnesses each year, costing more than $490 million annually. The study was published in the March issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.”Well child visits are critically important. However, our results demonstrate that healthcare professionals should devote more attention to reducing the risk of spreading infections in waiting rooms and clinics. Infection control guidelines currently exist. To increase patient safety in outpatient settings, more attention should be paid to these guidelines by healthcare professionals, patients, and their families,” said Phil Polgreen, MD, MPH, lead author of the study.Researchers from the University of Iowa used data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s (AHRQ) Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to examine the healthcare trends of 84,595 families collected from 1996-2008. Included in the analysis were demographic, office-based, emergency room, and outpatient cases records. After controlling for factors, such as the presence of other children, insurance, and demographics, the authors found that well-child visits for children younger than six years old increased the probability of a flu-like illness in these children or their families during the subsequent two weeks by 3.2 percentage points.This incremental risk could amount to more than 700,000 avoidable cases of flu-like illness each year and $492 million in direct and indirect costs, based on established estimates for outpatient influenza.In a commentary accompanying the study, Lisa Saiman, MD, notes, “The true cost of flu-like illnesses are much higher since only a fraction result in ambulatory visits and many more cases are likely to result in missed work or school days. Furthermore, these flu-like illness visits are associated with inappropriate antimicrobial use.”The authors stress the importance of infection prevention and control in ambulatory settings, suggesting pediatric clinics follow recommended guidelines that include improving environmental cleaning, cough etiquette, and hand hygiene compliance.”Even with interventions, such as the restricted use of communal toys or separate sick and well-child waiting areas, if hand-hygiene compliance is poor, and potentially infectious patients are not wearing masks, preventable infections will continue to occur,” said Polgreen.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Your finger’s pulse holds the key to your heart’s health

Sep. 4, 2013 — A University of Iowa physiologist has a new technique to measure the stiffness of the aorta, a common risk factor for heart disease. And it can be as simple as measuring the pulse in your finger.The new procedure developed by Gary Pierce, assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Physiology, works by placing an instrument called a transducer on the finger or over the brachial artery, located inside the arm just beneath the elbow. The readout, combined with a person’s age and body mass index, lets physicians know whether the aorta has stiffened.Currently, physicians see whether a patient has a hardened aorta by recording a pulse from the carotid artery, located in the neck, and the femoral artery, which is located in the groin. Taking a pulse from the finger or on the arm is easier to record and nearly as accurate, Pierce says. It also works better with obese patients, whose femoral pulse can be difficult to obtain reliably, he adds.”The technique is more effective in that it is easy to obtain just one pulse waveform in the finger or the brachial artery, and it’s less intrusive than obtaining a femoral waveform in patients,” says Pierce, first author on the paper, published in the American Journal of Physiology Heart and Circulatory Physiology. “It also can be easily obtained in the clinic during routine exams similar to blood pressure tests.”Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, killing about 600,000 people every year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.One key to a healthy heart is a healthy aorta. A person’s heart has to work harder when the aorta, the large artery that leaves the heart and delivers blood to the body’s tissues, stiffens due to aging and an inactive lifestyle. The harder a person’s heart needs to work, the higher risk he or she has for developing high blood pressure, stroke and a heart attack.Since people can live for years without any knowledge of existing cardiovascular problems, this new measurement tool is especially important. It can provide useful diagnostic information for middle-aged and older patients, who are most susceptible to having hardened arteries that can lead to heart disease.Regular assessments of the aorta may help reduce those risks. …

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Improving overall employee wellness could yield multiple benefits

June 17, 2013 — Controlling health care costs is crucial for Iowa manufacturers to remain competitive. But a big question for many companies is whether investing in an employee wellness program will cut costs and improve productivity. To help answer that question, a team of Iowa State University researchers is conducting a pilot program with three Iowa manufacturers.”All our evidence says there will be a net positive financial return for the companies,” said Mike O’Donnell, program director for CIRAS, the Center for Industrial Research and Service at Iowa State. “While we’re relatively sure helping employees become healthier will improve absenteeism rates, the real question is will it impact health care premiums?”To gauge the potential impact, researchers had to first create a baseline for employee health. Ruth Litchfield, an associate professor in food science and human nutrition, and graduate research assistant Kayli Julander recruited 60 employees, at each of the three worksites, who volunteered to complete a health risk appraisal. Instead of just looking at a single indicator such as diet or exercise, the team took a holistic approach to assess physical, financial and emotional health.Employees were then randomly assigned to a control group, which completed only the health risk assessment, or an intervention group, which completed a six-month program on nutrition, exercise, stress and finances. Future assessments will allow researchers to compare differences between the two groups and determine the benefits of offering a wellness program in the workplace.”Americans spend a lot of time at work. If we can make it convenient for the employees to take a healthy lunch and learn how to improve their well-being or go for a walk during lunch, it’s a great opportunity for the employee as well as the employer,” Julander said.Surprising resultsAfter checking blood pressure, testing cholesterol levels and gauging body composition, researchers were most surprised by the lack of flexibility among employees. The majority — as many as 85 percent when testing for the left arm — had poor or low flexibility, which can have significant consequences.”When you’re dealing in a manufacturing environment, regardless of the task, dexterity and flexibility are always going to be important. You need to assemble things, you need to weld them, and some people need to lift things,” O’Donnell said. …

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