Matchmakers can get a happiness boost, too

By Kathryn Doyle

NEW YORK Fri Feb 14, 2014 12:54pm EST

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Fixing up your single friends this Valentine’s Day might pay off for them, and it could make you happier too, according to a new group of studies.

“We are all matchmakers in some sense, and even if we don’t self-define as one, we know at least one chronic matchmaker who can’t resist but introduce people to each other,” said Lalin Anik, from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in Durham, North Carolina.

She and coauthor Michael Norton from Harvard Business School in Boston investigated how and why making matches makes the matcher feel good. According to their results, people who match a lot tend to have higher well-being and the least likely matches are the most rewarding.

Matchmaking in this case includes romantic links as well as professional and social ones.

People who make matches regularly may come from larger social networks, which have been linked with higher well-being, the authors write in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

For the first study, they used an online survey to poll 300 people on how frequently and successfully they matched. Regardless of social network size and personality traits, making frequent and successful matches were both linked to higher happiness scores.

Based on the second and third studies, which involved in-person and computer-based scenarios, the researchers determined they were not just sensing the satisfaction that comes from accomplishing a task. Participants found matching people they thought would get along more rewarding than matching people who would not get along or people who just looked similar, Anik and Norton found.

For the final study, the researchers hypothesized that one reason making matches is rewarding is because it strengthens people’s social groups. If that was true, making more unlikely matches would be more rewarding because matchmakers aren’t just joining people who would have met anyway.

The researchers gave 132 participants “match cards” with a target who was either a white male or a white female and three potential matches varying in gender and ethnicity.

Lo and behold, more unlikely matches – those between people of different genders and ethnic backgrounds – were most rewarding, they found.

“One of the reasons not mentioned in the paper that matchmaking may make people happy is that it increases one’s sense of meaning,” said Sonja Lyubomirsky. She studies happiness at the University of California, Riverside and was not involved in the new research.

“Connections between others create a more orderly, easier to understand, and a more interdependent, productive, happier world,” Lyubomirsky said.

Another reason could be that helping others make the same decisions you have made makes you happier and validates your choices, she said. For example, newlyweds love to make romantic matches, she said.

“Make matches that will work,” Anik told Reuters Health in an email. “Don’t make matches randomly, but rather, make matches with the goal of creating rapport between others. Don’t accept any external rewards such as money in return for matchmaking; money diminishes people’s motivation to play matchmaker.”

Matchmaking is high risk and high reward, she said; she has made bad matches in the past, which can be awkward, but she keeps trying.

“Some matches may not work out, but the happiness benefits of trying seem to trump the occasional depressing failure,” Anik said.

SOURCE: bit.ly/1aWiZEi Social Psychological and Personality Science, online February 10, 2014.

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No such thing as porn 'addiction,' researchers say

Journalists and psychologists are quick to describe someone as being a porn “addict,” yet there’s no strong scientific research that shows such addictions actually exists. Slapping such labels onto the habit of frequently viewing images of a sexual nature only describes it as a form of pathology. These labels ignore the positive benefits it holds. So says David Ley, PhD, a clinical psychologist in practice in Albuquerque, NM, and Executive Director of New Mexico Solutions, a large behavioral health program.

Dr. Ley is the author of a review article about the so-called “pornography addiction model,” which is published in Springer’s journal Current Sexual Health Reports.

“Pornography addiction” was not included in the recently revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual because of a lack of scientific data. Fewer than two in every five research articles (37 percent) about high frequency sexual behavior describe it as being an addiction. Only 27 percent (13 of 49) of articles on the subject contained actual data, while only one related psychophysiological study appeared in 2013. Ley’s review article highlights the poor experimental designs, methodological rigor and lack of model specification of most studies surrounding it.

The research actually found very little evidence — if any at all — to support some of the purported negative side effects of porn “addiction.” There was no sign that use of pornography is connected to erectile dysfunction, or that it causes any changes to the brains of users. Also, despite great furor over the effects of childhood exposure to pornography, the use of sexually explicit material explains very little of the variance in adolescents’ behaviors. These are better explained and predicted by other individual and family variables.

Instead, Ley and his team believe that the positive benefits attached to viewing such images do not make it problematic de facto. It can improve attitudes towards sexuality, increase the quality of life and variety of sexual behaviors and increase pleasure in long-term relationships. It provides a legal outlet for illegal sexual behaviors or desires, and its consumption or availability has been associated with a decrease in sex offenses, especially child molestation.

Clinicians should be aware that people reporting “addiction” are likely to be male, have a non-heterosexual orientation, have a high libido, tend towards sensation seeking and have religious values that conflict with their sexual behavior and desires. They may be using visually stimulating images to cope with negative emotional states or decreased life satisfaction.

“We need better methods to help people who struggle with the high frequency use of visual sexual stimuli, without pathologizing them or their use thereof,” writes Ley, who is critical about the pseudoscientific yet lucrative practices surrounding the treatment of so-called porn addiction. “Rather than helping patients who may struggle to control viewing images of a sexual nature, the ‘porn addiction’ concept instead seems to feed an industry with secondary gain from the acceptance of the idea.

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The above story is based on materials provided by Springer. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Meditation might reduce workplace stress

By Kathleen Raven

NEW YORK Thu Feb 13, 2014 4:04pm EST

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Regular doses of meditation might prevent work-related stress and burnout, a small U.S. study suggests.

Teachers and support staff working at a school for children with behavior problems felt less stressed after practicing 20 minutes of Transcendental Meditation (TM) twice a day for four months.

But participants “reported feeling less stressed and more energetic within a few days,” said the study’s senior author Sanford Nidich, of Maharishi University’s Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention in Fairfield, Iowa.

Starting stress levels among the participants had averaged 39 on a 40-point scale and fell 5 points by the end of the study period. In comparison, 20 school staffers who did not meditate started with stress levels around 37 on the same scale and those rose 2 points during the same period.

Meditating participants also felt less depressed and less emotionally exhausted, according to Nidich and his coauthors. But meditation seemed to have the strongest effect on stress levels, they note in their report, published in the Permanente Journal.

The researchers don’t describe the techniques taught to participants in the study in detail, but TM, a trademarked method of meditation, generally involves sitting with one’s eyes closed for 20 minutes twice a day and thinking about a particular sound or mantra.

“Automatic self-transcending techniques, such as TM, involve the effortless use of a sound without meaning (mantra), which allows the mind to settle to quieter levels of thought,” Nidich’s team writes.

Certified instructors teach the practice nationwide at a cost of $960 for the full course , according to the TM.org website.

“The devil’s advocate might claim that the effect is non-specific, and has nothing directly to do with TM,” said alternative medicine researcher Dr. Ezard Ernst in an email to Reuters Health.

Ernst, of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, was not involved in the new study.

He said the results do not show a causal link between TM and reduced stress levels among the school staffers. “We would need a much more rigorous trial and several independent replications” before drawing any conclusions, Ernst said.

Plenty of past research points to apparent benefits from various forms of meditation, such as TM or the popular “mindfulness meditation” approach, for conditions ranging from anxiety to pain (see Reuters Health article of January 6, 2014 here: reut.rs/1iL0Ew8).

Workplace stress can have costly side effects in the form of employee turnover. A 2012 study by the Center for American Progress puts the cost of replacing an employee at 10 to 30 percent of that worker’s annual salary.

Some meditation can be done without leaving your desk, said Janice Marturano, founder and director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership in Oakland, New Jersey.

“Mindfulness meditation is retraining our mind’s ability to direct our attention,” said Marturano, who was not connected to the new study.

“Simply putting your feet on the floor, and paying attention to the weightiness of your legs or the breath in your body can bring your mind back to the present,” she said.

Meditation is a way to avoid working on “auto-pilot,” Marturano said, explaining that today’s 24/7 workplace connectivity requires employees to be mentally present at most times – something that doesn’t necessarily come naturally.

The workplaces of the future could benefit by having a quiet room for workers to visit for 10 minutes or less, Marturano said.

“Employees who come out of a stressful meeting or situation can then go inside and reset their minds so they do not have to carry that stress with them for the rest of the day,” she said.

SOURCE: bit.ly/1jsPqxa The Permanente Journal, online February 2, 2014.

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California lawmaker proposes warning labels for sugary drinks

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, California Thu Feb 13, 2014 1:02pm EST

SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) – All sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks sold in California would be required to carry warning labels for obesity, diabetes and tooth decay under a bill introduced in Sacramento on Thursday, backed by several public health advocacy groups.

If passed, caloric drinks would join tobacco and alcohol products in carrying health warning labels in California, the nation’s most populous state and a legislative trend-setter.

Proponents say the first-of-its kind effort takes aim at the epidemic of obesity in the United States, where 35.7 percent of adults and 16.9 percent of children aged 2 to 19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A growing body of research has identified sugary drinks as the biggest contributors to added, empty calories in the American diet, and as a major culprit in a range of costly health problems associated with being overweight.

The proposal is expected to face stiff opposition from the beverage industry, which has fought efforts elsewhere to clamp down on the consumption of high-calorie beverages ranging from soda to sports drinks.

In New York City in 2012, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg spearheaded a ban on sales of large sugary drinks, but the move was later declared illegal by a state judge after a legal challenge by soft drink makers and a restaurant group.

New York’s highest court has agreed to hear an appeal.

San Francisco voters may decide on a ballot initiative that would impose a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sodas and other drinks with added sugar sold there, but two other California cities failed in their attempts to impose a special soda tax, as did the ski resort town of Telluride, Colorado.

The American Beverage Association, which represents industry leaders such as Coca-Cola Co, PepsiCo Inc and Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc, has said raising taxes and restricting soft drink consumption will not necessarily lead to a healthier population.

Critics of such moves have derided them for what they call the rise of the “nanny state”.

EDUCATION

But supporters of the legislation introduced on Thursday by California state Senator Bill Monning, a Democrat from Carmel, said the labels merely provide consumers with information they should have to make healthy, informed choices.

“This is about education,” said Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, which is supporting the measure along with the California Medical Association and other health groups in the state.

Obesity accounts for nearly $200 billion a year in U.S. medical spending, more than 20 percent of national healthcare costs, according to a 2012 report in the Journal of Health Economics. It also is linked to lower worker productivity and diminished quality of life.

Monning compared his proposed labeling with warnings carried on tobacco and alcohol products.

“When the science is this conclusive, the state of California has a responsibility to take steps to protect consumers,” he said in a statement.

By the sheer magnitude of California’s economy, requiring safety labels on sodas sold there would likely influence other states or the federal government to follow suit.

Under the bill, all beverage containers with added sweeteners that have 75 calories or more per 12 ounces must carry a label that reads: State of California Safety Warning: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay”.

Goldstein said the requirement would effectively apply to any sugar-sweetened bottled and canned sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, vitamin water and iced teas, all of which he said have been marketed more aggressively by beverage makers in recent years.

The label text was developed by a national panel of nutrition and public health experts, he said.

Supporters of the measure cite research showing sodas and other sugary drinks account for 43 percent of added calories in the American diet over the past 30 years.

Drinking just one soda a day increases an adult’s likelihood of being overweight by 27 percent and a child’s by 55 percent, while a soda or two a day increases the risk of diabetes by 26 percent, medical studies show.

Unless current trends are reversed, health advocates say, one in three U.S. children born after the year 2000 – and nearly half of Latino and African-American children – will develop type-2 diabetes in their lifetimes.

Other health risks linked with obesity include heart disease, cancer and asthma.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman and Lisa Baertlein; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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Plain cigarette packs spur quitline calls: study

By Allison Bond

NEW YORK Thu Feb 13, 2014 2:34pm EST

Near empty cigarette shelves are seen at a CVS store in New York February 4, 2014. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

Near empty cigarette shelves are seen at a CVS store in New York February 4, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Thayer

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Drab olive cigarette packs bearing a prominent quit-smoking helpline number, introduced more than a year ago in Australia, had a sizeable and sustained effect on interest in quitting, researchers say.

Just one of many controls imposed on cigarette marketing and sales over the past decade in that country, the plain packaging was linked to a 78-percent spike in calls to territorial quitlines within a month of its introduction.

“The results suggest the legislation does have a positive early impact (on smokers) and so other countries could feel more confident in introducing similar legislation,” said Jane Young, a cancer epidemiologist at the Sydney School of Public Health, who led the study.

The plain packages, implemented in October 2012, mean that every brand’s cigarettes look nearly identical, with the brand name relegated to a small, standardized font.

In March 2006, cigarette packaging with graphic health warnings including photos of cancer-riddled lungs and gangrenous limbs was introduced in Australia.

“(The labels) inform consumers about what might happen to them when they use the product,” said Joanna Cohen, director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland.

“The plain and standardized packaging is meant to reduce the appeal of the package and show the warning. Hopefully current smokers will quit because they are more aware of the health impacts, and fewer people will start,” said Cohen, who was not involved in the new study.

Young’s team wanted to isolate the impact of just the switch to plain packaging on interest in quitting.

They looked at the number of calls in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory to the national quitline before and after introduction of the plain packages.

Calls jumped from 363 a week before the packaging change to a peak of 651 calls a week four weeks after the new packages were introduced, Young and her colleagues report in the Medical Journal of Australia.

The study also compared those results to the number of calls received by the Quitline after Australia’s addition of graphic warning labels. That change was linked with a jump from 910 calls a week to a peak of 1,653 calls 12 weeks afterwards, representing an 84 percent increase.

The effect of the graphic warnings only lasted an estimated 20 weeks, however, whereas the researchers estimate the effect of plain packaging to have endured 43 weeks.

They also adjusted their results for other potential influences on interest in quitting smoking, such as cigarette pricing, limits on smoking in public and on the display of cigarettes at points of sale, as well as the New Year’s resolution effect.

Between 2006 and 2011, Young’s team notes, smoking rates in New South Wales had already dropped from 17.7 percent of residents to 14.7 percent.

Australia is the only country that has implemented the plain packaging thus far, but public health experts say others likely will – and should – adopt the policy.

“Anything that we can do to better communicate that the product is deadly is a good thing,” Cohen said.

Britain announced late last year that plain tobacco packaging was under review, with the option of mandating the packaging change if evidence showed it would cut down on smoking. The European Union has also moved to institute graphic health warnings on cigarettes and measures to ban menthol-flavored cigarettes.

Changing cigarette packaging can take years, often because it means squaring off in a legal battle with cigarette companies.

“Many countries are in line to follow with the plain and standardized packaging once the legal issues get resolved,” Cohen said.

SOURCE: bit.ly/1bPRV7O The Medical Journal of Australia, online January 13, 2014.

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Video on skin aging inspires teen sunscreen use

By Ronnie Cohen

NEW YORK Wed Feb 12, 2014 3:46pm EST

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Teenagers felt more compelled to apply sunscreen if they saw in a video that it could protect their skin from premature aging than if they saw that it could protect against cancer, a new study shows.

“Vanity is more of a driving force to use sunscreen, as opposed to the fear factor of developing skin cancer,” the study’s lead author, William Tuong, told Reuters Health. Tuong is a fourth-year medical student at the University of California, Davis.

In his study, high school students applied sunblock three times as often if they watched a video showing how it could prevent their skin from wrinkling than if they watched a video showing how sun exposure causes melanoma.

Fifty Sacramento 11th-grade students participated in the study and saw one of two educational videos urging them to lather on sunscreen.

Tuong developed the five-minute videos to test the theory that teenagers were more likely to respond to messages about appearance than to messages about health.

A young, attractive woman speaks directly to youth in both videos.

In one, the actress emphasizes the growing incidence of melanoma in young people and the link between the deadliest form of skin cancer and ultraviolet light. In the other video, the same actress discusses how ultraviolet light contributes to premature aging and “can make you look older and less attractive.”

“We are not trying to look like our grandparents, right?” the actress says. “Have you seen what the sun can do to a grape? It gets shriveled and wrinkled. Raisins are not cute,” she says.

“I don’t want to look like a raisin face, and I don’t think you want to either,” she continues. “The sun causes wrinkles, dark spots, uneven skin tones, sagging skin and rough, leathery skin. These are all the things that will make you look older and definitely less sexy.”

The video teaching the kids to use sunscreen to prevent skin cancer sounds more clinical, like a biology lecture.

The researchers assessed how often students applied sunscreen before watching the videos and six weeks after.

Students who saw the appearance-based video went from using sunscreen an average of 0.6 times a week to 2.8 times a week. Those who saw the video stressing health benefits, however, increased their average usage by only a fraction of a day – from 0.7 to 0.9 times a week, according to findings published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

The researchers also tested students’ knowledge about proper sunscreen use and the effects of exposing their skin to the sun before and after they showed the video. After watching the videos, students in both groups improved their knowledge about the benefits of using sunscreen.

The study provides evidence that appearance-based messages may be better than traditional health-based messages in promoting sun-protection measures, the authors say.

Prior research has shown that efforts to educate kids about sun exposure and skin-cancer risk have improved knowledge but failed to improve sunscreen usage.

“Past research shows that adolescents have difficulty practicing preventive health behavior because they believe themselves less likely to experience disease,” the authors of the current study write.

One prior study did find that college students significantly increased their sunscreen use after seeing ultraviolet-filtered photographs of their faces.

Tuong said videos are substantially less expensive to produce and easier to distribute than ultraviolet-filtered photographs.

“Video definitely could be used in a clinic setting, in the waiting room or in an office while a student is waiting,” he said.

“With younger individuals, messages that resonate with them are messages that speak to them now,” Tuong said. “Appearance-based messaging resonates with them because it’s more about short-term risk versus long-term risk.”

The health-based video can be seen here: bit.ly/1oc0hMp and the appearance-based video here: bit.ly/1dCLiCh.

SOURCE: bit.ly/1eUJpWl Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, online February 5, 2014.

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Ohio Department of Agriculture finds new pig virus

Wed Feb 12, 2014 3:06pm EST

(Reuters) – A new swine virus, distinct from the deadly PEDv pig virus, has been found in pig fecal samples taken from four different farms in Ohio during January and early February, the Ohio Department of Agriculture said on Wednesday.

While the pigs that contracted the new virus, designated as Swine DeltaCoronavirus (SDCV), suffered from diarrhea, which is also a symptom of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) and transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE), the virus is different, state officials said.

Of the four Ohio farms where the virus was discovered, one tested positive for Swine DeltaCoronavirus, but negative for PEDv and TGE. The other three farms tested positive for both PEDv and Swine DeltaCoronavirus.

“This virus is closely related to a coronavirus detected in Hong Kong in 2012,” the Ohio Department of Agriculture said.

The discovery of the new virus strain comes as the U.S. pork industry is battling spread of PEDv, which has killed up to an estimated 4 million pigs across 23 states since it was first discovered in the United States in April 2013.

A second strain of PEDv was identified last week by researchers at Iowa State University.

The virus cannot spread to humans or other species and poses no risk to food safety and further research needs to be complete in order to determine whether or not this virus is the cause of diarrheal disease in affected pigs, the Ohio Department of Agriculture said.

(Reporting By Meredith Davis; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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Vaccine exemption bills often introduced but rarely passed

By Andrew M. Seaman

NEW YORK Wed Feb 12, 2014 3:05pm EST

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Legislation to change whether parents may refuse school vaccinations for their children appears to be common in some states, according to a new analysis. However, those bills are rarely passed into law.

Researchers identified 36 bills that were introduced in 18 state legislatures between 2009 and 2012 to change school immunization requirements. Most of those bills aimed to allow more parents the ability to refuse vaccinations for their children.

“Previous studies have shown that high vaccine refusal rates tend to increase the risk of vaccine preventable disease in the whole community – including for those who are vaccinated,” Dr. Saad Omer told Reuters Health in an email. “Therefore, it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that their community has high vaccination rates.”

Omer is the lead author of the analysis and a vaccine expert from Emory University in Atlanta.

One reason for high immunization rates in the U.S. is the use of school mandates that require children to have certain vaccinations, write Omer and his colleagues in a research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The requirement that children be immunized to attend school differs from state to state, however. Each state is allowed to set its own rules on vaccine exemptions.

For example, some states allow parents to refuse to have their children immunized because of personal or religious beliefs. Those laws also differ in what states require a parent to do to obtain a vaccine exemption, such as getting a doctor’s signature.

For the new analysis, the researchers used information from a database that tracks vaccine-related legislation.

Overall, there were 36 exemption-related bills introduced in 18 states from 2009 through 2012. Of those, 30 bills were introduced in 12 states that did not already allow vaccine exemptions based on personal beliefs.

About 86 percent of the bills sought to expand access to exemptions while the remaining bills sought to restrict exemptions.

None of the bills attempting to expand access to vaccine exemptions passed into law, but Washington, California and Vermont each passed laws to restrict exemptions.

Omer and his colleagues caution that their analysis may have missed some bills introduced during that time even though they used a comprehensive database. But that shouldn’t sway the results in one direction over the other.

“Concerted efforts by individual clinicians and professional associations can benefit the legislative process by emphasizing public health considerations and the use of science in developing public policy,” Omer wrote.

Tony Yang, who researches school immunization laws at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, told Reuters Health the new analysis may not give an accurate picture of what is currently going on with state legislation.

“The JAMA letter is about the bills introduced between 2009 and 2012,” he said. “It looks like things may have changed.”

Yang, who was not involved with the new study, said there are currently about 50 laws about immunization requirements in front of state legislatures, but only a handful address childhood vaccinations.

The other bills, he said, address – among other things – who can give people their shots and whether people in certain professions need to be immunized.

He also stressed that bills don’t always make it into law and may have little effect on vaccination rates.

SOURCE: bit.ly/1kCbUfo Journal of the American Medical Association, online February 11, 2014.

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Kids may suffer in gap between haves and have-nots

By Kathleen Raven

NEW YORK Tue Feb 11, 2014 3:52pm EST

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – In U.S. counties where personal incomes cluster on opposite sides of the rich and poor spectrum, children might endure more neglect and abuse, according to a new U.S. study.

Based on the analysis of data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System and the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the effect appears strongest in counties with high poverty.

Approximately every minute, about six maltreatment referrals are given to state and local agencies in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s not possible to say income inequality actually causes child maltreatment, but, “we know the reverse hypothesis is not true,” John Eckenrode said. “Child maltreatment does not cause income inequality.”

Ekenrode, a psychologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, led the study.

“Also we have ruled out some possible alternate explanations in our study, such as level of education, public assistance levels, child poverty rates and state-level variations in rates of maltreatment,” he told Reuters Health.

“Given what we already know, it makes sense that income inequality could create a social context where child maltreatment happens,” said Kate Pickett, a social epidemiologist at the University of York in the United Kingdom.

“This adds to past evidence that greater income inequality harms us all,” she said.

Researchers looked at data on 3,142 U.S. counties between 2005 and 2009. They found that rates of child maltreatment ranged widely, from 0.2 percent to 3.1 percent of children.

Using statistical methods to gauge income inequality, they found a steep rise in the rate of child maltreatment with rising inequality. The relationship held after researchers adjusted for poverty itself, and other factors such as the racial and ethnic makeup of regions, education levels and the number of people receiving public assistance income.

Where inequalities are most extreme, communities may become more polarized, with the affluent group influencing where public aid money goes, or what programs are made available in the community, said Dr. Ruth Gilbert, a clinical epidemiologist at University College London in the UK.

“Where the state or federal government is a key provider of services, such as day care and education,” Gilbert said, “then you may have situations where poorer children mingle with middle-class kids and this helps create a better understanding between the two classes.”

Past studies have shown that income inequality can create an environment toxic to human health (see Reuters Health article of October 9, 2013, here: reut.rs/17o0iAZ).

Even though the study doesn’t prove causality, Pickett said, “it fits in well with mechanisms we would expect to be underpinning the income inequality relationship.”

“We need advocacy and action at a grass-roots level in these communities,” Pickett added.

“If communities come together around some common purpose, such as asking for more childcare services, then, even if they don’t get what they asked for, there is a stronger sense of community well-being,” she said.

Writing in the journal Pediatrics, the researchers suggest a “comprehensive approach” is needed to address the problem.

State and federal money could be used to improve and expand programs with successful track records, such as the Nurse Family Partnership program, Eckenrode said. Currently that program can reach only about 30,000 families in the U.S. per year.

“We could scale up that and other proven programs even further,” he said.

Federal support for maternity or paternity leave, or daycare education costs, is “not seen in the U.S. as much as here in the UK,” Gilbert said.

“Where the state (or federal) government is a key provider of services, such as day care and education, then you may have situations where poorer children mingle with middle-class kids and this helps create a better understanding between the two classes,” she noted.

“The more distance between the two social classes, the less likely the poor will receive services and support,” Gilbert said.

SOURCE: bit.ly/MFYNLD Pediatrics, online February 10, 2014.

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