Coastal Populations Are Healthier Than Those Inland, UK Study Finds

ScienceDaily (July 16, 2012) — A new study from the European Centre for Environment & Human Health, Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Exeter, has revealed that people living near the coast tend to have better health than those living inland.


Researchers from the Centre used data from the UK’s census to examine how health varied across the country, finding that people were more likely to have good health the closer they live to the sea. The analysis also showed that the link between living near the coast and good health was strongest in the most economically deprived communities.

The study used data from the 2001 census for England, which brought together responses from over 48 million people. Researchers looked at the proportion of people who reported their health as being “Good” (rather than “Fairly Good or “Not Good”) and then compared this with how close those respondents lived to the coast. They also took into account the way that age, sex and a range of social and economic factors (like education and income) vary across the country.

The results show that on average, populations living by the sea report rates of good health more than similar populations living inland. The authors were keen to point out that although this effect is relatively small, when applied to the whole population the impacts on public health could be substantial. Along with other studies the results of this work suggest that access to ‘good’ environments may have a role in reducing inequality in health between the wealthiest and poorest members of society.

Previous research has shown that the coastal environment may not only offer better opportunities for its inhabitants to be active, but also provide significant benefits in terms of stress reduction. Another recent study conducted by the Centre in collaboration with Natural England found that visits to the coast left people feeling calmer, more relaxed and more revitalised than visits to city parks or countryside. One reason those living in coastal communities may attain better physical health could be due to the stress relief offered by spending time near to the sea.

Lead author of the study, Dr Ben Wheeler said “We know that people usually have a good time when they go to the beach, but there is strikingly little evidence of how spending time at the coast can affect health and wellbeing. By analyzing data for the whole population, our research suggests that there is a positive effect, although this type of study cannot prove cause and effect. We need to carry out more sophisticated studies to try to unravel the reasons that may explain the relationship we’re seeing. If the evidence is there, it might help to provide governments with the guidance necessary to wisely and sustainably use our valuable coasts to help improve the health of the whole UK population.”

Dr Mathew White said “While not everyone can live by the sea, some of the health promoting features of coastal environments could be transferable to other places. Any future initiatives will need to balance the potential benefits of coastal access against threats from extreme events, climate change impacts, and the unsustainable exploitation of coastal locations.”

 

Journal Reference:

  1. Benedict W. Wheeler, Mathew White, Will Stahl-Timmins, Michael H. Depledge. Does living by the coast improve health and wellbeing? Health & Place, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2012.06.015

 

The Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry (2012, July 16). Coastal populations are healthier than those inland, UK study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/07/120716191439.htm

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Our Brains Often Fail to Notice Key Words That Can Change the Whole Meaning of a Sentence

ScienceDaily (July 16, 2012) — Far from processing every word we read or hear, our brains often do not even notice key words that can change the whole meaning of a sentence, according to new research from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).


After a plane crash, where should the survivors be buried?

If you are considering where the most appropriate burial place should be, you are not alone. Scientists have found that around half the people asked this question, answer it as if they were being asked about the victims not the survivors.

Similarly, when asked “Can a man marry his widow’s sister?” most people answer “yes” — effectively answering that it would indeed be possible for a dead man to marry his bereaved wife’s sister.

What makes researchers particularly interested in people’s failure to notice words that actually don’t make sense, so called semantic illusions, is that these illusions challenge traditional models of language processing which assume that we build understanding of a sentence by deeply analysing the meaning of each word in turn.

Instead semantic illusions provide a strong line of evidence that the way we process language is often shallow and incomplete.

Professor Leuthold at University of Glasgow led a study using electroencephalography (EEG) to explore what is happening in our brains when we process sentences containing semantic illusions.

By analysing the patterns of brain activity when volunteers read or listened to sentences containing hard-to-detect semantic anomalies — words that fit the general context even though they do not actually make sense — the researchers found that when a volunteer was tricked by the semantic illusion, their brain had not even noticed the anomalous word.

Analyses of brain activity also revealed that we are more likely to use this type of shallow processing under conditions of higher cognitive load — that is, when the task we are faced with is more difficult or when we are dealing with more than one task at a time.

The research findings not only provide a better understanding of the processes involved in language comprehension but, according to Professor Leuthold, knowing what is happening in the brain when mistakes occur can help us to avoid the pitfalls,such as missing critical information in textbooks or legal documents, and communicate more effectively.

There are a number of tricks we can use to make sure we get the correct message across: “We know that we process a word more deeply if it is emphasised in some way. So, for example in a news story, a newsreader can stress important words that may otherwise be missed and these words can be italicised to make sure we notice them when reading,” said Professor Leuthold.

The way we construct sentences can also help reduce misunderstandings, he explained: “It’s a good idea to put important information first because we are more likely to miss unusual words when they are near the end of a sentence. Also, we often use an active sentence construction such as ‘Bob ate the apple’ because we make far more mistakes answering questions about a sentence with a passive construction — for example ‘The apple was eaten by Bob’.”

The study findings also suggest that we should avoid multi-tasking when we are reading or listening to an important message: “For example, talking to someone on the phone while driving on a busy motorway or in town, or doing some homework while listening to the newsmight lead to more shallow processing,” said Professor Leuthold.

 

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (2012, July 16). Our brains often fail to notice key words that can change the whole meaning of a sentence. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 17, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/07/120716091921.htm

TV Habits Predict Kids’ Waist Size and Sporting Ability

ScienceDaily (July 16, 2012) — Each hour of TV watched by a two- to four-year- old contributes to his or her waist circumference by the end of grade 4 and his or her ability to perform in sports, according to a world-first study undertaken by researchers at the University of Montreal and its affiliated Saint-Justine Mother and Child University Hospital.


The findings were published July 16 by lead author Dr. Caroline Fitzpatrick and senior author Dr. Linda Pagani in BioMed Central’s open access journal the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. “We already knew that there is an association between preschool television exposure and the body fat of fourth grade children, but this is the first study to describe more precisely what that association represents,” Pagani explained. “Parents were asked about their child’s TV habits. Trained examiners took waist measurements and administered the standing long jump test to measure child muscular fitness. We found, for example that each weekly hour of TV at 29 months of age corresponds to a decrease of about a third of a centimeter in the distance a child is able to jump.”

In addition to providing an important indicator of health, in the form of muscular fitness, the standing long jump test also reveals an individual’s athletic ability, as sports such as football, skating, and basketball require the “explosive leg strength” measured by the test. “The pursuit of sports by children depends in part on their perceived athletic competence,” Fitzpatrick said. “Behavioural dispositions can become entrenched during childhood as it is a critical period for the development of habits and preferred activities. Accordingly, the ability to perform well during childhood may promote participation in sporting activities in adulthood.”

Along with their parents, 1314 children from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development database participated in this study. When the children were 2.5 to 4.5 years of age, their parents reported how many hours of television during the week and weekend they watched. The average was 8.8 hours per week at the onset of the study, a figure that increased on average by 6 hours over the next two years to reach 14,8 hours per week by the age of 4.5 year. Thus, 15% of the children participating in the study were already watching over 18 hours per week according to their parent’s reports at that time.

In terms of waist size, the researchers found that, at 4,5 years of age, the children’s waist size increased by slightly less than half a millimetre for every extra weekly hour of TV the child was watching on top of what they had been watching when he or she was 2.5. To put it another way, a child who watches 18 hours of television at 4.5 years of age will by the age of 10 have an extra 7.6 milllimetres of waist because of his or her habits.

The researchers stress that while further research should be undertaken to establish that television watching is directly causing the health issues they observed, the study that was just published should encourage authorities to develop policies that target the environmental factors associated with childhood obesity. “The bottom line is that watching too much television — beyond the recommended amounts — is not good,” Dr. Pagani said.

“Across the occidental world, there have been dramatic increases in unhealthy weight for both children and adults in recent decades. Our standard of living has also changed in favor of more easily prepared, calorie-dense foods and sedentary practices. Watching more television not only displaces other forms of educational and active leisurely pursuits but also places them at risk of learning inaccurate information about proper eating. These findings support clinical suspicions that more screen time in general contributes to the rise in excess weight in our population, thus providing essential clues for effective approaches to its eradication.” Children over the age of two should not watch more than two hours of television per day, according to the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

 

Journal Reference:

  1. Caroline Fitzpatrick, Linda S Pagani, Tracie A Barnett. Early childhood television viewing predicts explosive leg strength and waist circumference by middle childhood. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 2012; 9 (1): 87 DOI: 10.1186/1479-5868-9-87

 

Universite de Montreal (2012, July 16). TV habits predict kids’ waist size and sporting ability. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 17, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/07/120716090329.htm