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‘Poor health’ and screen time on different devices: What is the link?

A recent study has found associations between the time we spend in front of some devices and certain negative health outcomes.

New research has found links between the amount of time that people spend in front of some screened devices and various negative health outcomes.

The study findings, which appear in the journal BMC Public Health, lay the groundwork for future research to explore these associations in more detail.

Throughout the 20th century, television spread across the globe, becoming an important part of many people’s lives.

Significant amounts of research have explored the associations between watching TV for prolonged periods of time and various health outcomes.

For example, scientists have found links have between significant TV watching and obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as abnormal glucose metabolism.

Part of the explanation for these links lies in the association between prolonged periods of time spent in front of the TV and less healthful eating habits, such as eating more fast foods or items that typically contain higher levels of salt, sugar, and saturated fat.

Although TV is still a central part of many people’s leisure time, there are now many other types of screens competing for our attention. These include computers, tablets, and smartphones.

If there is an association between prolonged TV viewing and negative health outcomes, the question arises: Does this association also apply to excessive use of other screened devices?

For corresponding study author Chris Wharton, the assistant dean of innovation and strategic initiatives at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions in Phoenix:

“A lot of screen time-related literature has primarily focused on television. But with the advancement of all these other types of devices that people use throughout the day, we wanted to see how health behaviors and factors are associated with a variety of screen-based devices.”

Wharton and team produced an 18-question survey and sent it to 978 adults in the United States who owned a TV and at least one other device with a screen.

After excluding some respondents for incorrectly filling in the survey, the researchers had 926 responses.

The survey measured:

  • the amount of time each person spent on their devices
  • their diet
  • the quality and quantity of their sleep
  • their sense of stress and healthiness
  • how physically active they were
  • what their body mass index (BMI) was

The team categorized the participants’ screen time as light, moderate, or heavy use.

The research showed that people who exhibited heavy use of screened devices — that is, those who had a median screen time of 17.5 hours per day — had the worst health-related characteristics and dietary patterns.

These users tended to eat fewer fruit and vegetables and more sweets and fast foods. They also tended to have the least physical activity, get the least sleep, have the worst sleep quality, and experience the greatest perceived stress (compared with those with light or moderate screen use).

The researchers also found that overuse of different types of devices also had associations with

Nobel Peace Prize Shows the Link Between Hunger and Conflict | Best Countries

The 2020 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the United Nations World Food Program for its efforts to combat hunger, foster conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war. This choice starkly underscores growing concern about increasing global food insecurity and the clear connections between hunger and conflict.

Today, more than 820 million people – about 1 in 9 worldwide – do not have enough to eat. They suffer from food insecurity, or not having consistent access to the right foods to keep their bodies and brains healthy.

Humans need a varied diet that includes a range of critical nutrients. Food insecurity is especially important to young children and unborn babies because improper nutrition can permanently stunt brain development and growth.

Hunger has many causes. It can be a weapon of war; the result of a global pandemic like COVID-19 that disrupts production; or the result of climate change, as extreme weather events and shifting climates increase crop failures around the globe.

Meeting a global need

The World Food Program was created in the early 1960s at the behest of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower. “We must never forget that there are hundreds of millions of people, particularly in the less developed parts of the world, suffering from hunger and malnutrition, even though a number of countries, my own included, are producing food in surplus,” Eisenhower said in a 1960 speech to the U.N. General Assembly. “This paradox should not be allowed to continue.”

While the U.S. was already providing direct food aid to needy countries, Eisenhower urged other nations to join in creating a system to provide food to member states through the United Nations. The WFP is now one of the world’s largest humanitarian agencies. In 2019 it assisted 97 million people in 88 countries.

The WFP both provides direct assistance and works to strengthen individual countries’ capacity to meet their people’s basic needs. With its own fleet of trucks, ships and planes, the agency carries out emergency response missions and delivers food and assistance directly to victims of war, civil conflict, droughts, floods, crop failures and other natural disasters.

When emergencies subside, WFP experts develop programs for relief and rehabilitation and provide developmental aid. Over 90% of its 17,000 staff members are based in countries where the agency provides assistance.

World map showing countries with highest rates of undernourishment and child wasting, stunting and mortality.
The Global Hunger Index attempts to assess the multidimensional nature of hunger by combining four key indicators of malnutrition into a single index score.
Our World in Data, CC BY

Links between hunger and conflict

The Nobel award recognizes a key connection between hunger and global conflict. As the U.N. Security Council emphasized in a 2018 resolution, humankind can never eliminate hunger without first establishing peace. Conflict causes rampant food insecurity: It disrupts infrastructure and social stability, making it hard for supplies to get to people who need them. Too often, warring parties may deliberately use starvation as a strategy.

Food insecurity also perpetuates conflict, as it drives

California sees no link from school openings to virus spread

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California has not seen a link between the reopening of K-12 schools for in-person learning and increased coronavirus transmission, the state’s top public health official said Tuesday.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services secretary, told reporters that officials have been closely watching the return to classrooms in counties where it has been allowed. He said it can take time for trends to emerge, but so far, the results are encouraging.

“We have not seen a connection between increased transmission and school reopening or in-person learning,” Ghaly said. “We’re looking at the information to see if there is a connection, and so far we have not found one.”


California requires counties to report coronavirus levels and infection rates below certain thresholds before they can allow K-12 schools to broadly reopen for in-person instruction. On Tuesday, 32 of the state’s 58 counties were deemed eligible to do so — up from 28 a week earlier.

Counties must meet the threshold for at least two weeks before schools are allowed to reopen. Yuba County, about 140 miles northeast of San Francisco, met the threshold for the first time on Tuesday.

The county is preparing to reopen schools by limiting the number of students in each classroom to make sure people can stay at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from each other, Yuba County Superintendent of Schools Francisco Reveles said.

Reveles said students would likely come to school in groups, with some groups attending in the morning while others attend in the afternoon.

“We’re in a different environment now,” he said. “Even though we can open up, there’s certain precautions we need to continue taking.”

The state has seen a broad decline in the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks. While some areas are seeing an increase in infections, the state’s overall case numbers have fallen since a surge over the summer following the initial reopening of various business sectors.

California reported a seven-day average of 3,005 new virus cases on Tuesday and a seven-day positivity rate of 2.6%, Ghaly said.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Schools have been allowed to reopen in many smaller California counties as well as more populated ones such as Orange and San Diego. In those counties still barred from resuming broad in-person instruction, some schools have obtained special waivers from the state to let elementary students return to classrooms, and many campuses throughout the state have resumed in-person special education classes and day care programs.

Los Angeles County, which has the largest population in the state, still can’t broadly allow for in-person instruction, but this week began taking applications for limited waivers to reopen transitional kindergarten through second grade classrooms.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to

New Research Finds Link Between Stress And Depression

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have identified a protein in the brain that is important both for the function of the mood-regulating substance serotonin and for the release of stress hormones. The findings, which are published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, show that after experiencing trauma or severe stress, some people develop chronic stress. This increases the risk of developing other diseases such as depression and anxiety, but it remains unknown what mechanisms are behind it or how the stress response is regulated.

The research group at Karolinska Institutet has previously shown that a protein called p11 plays an important role in the function of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates mood. Depressed patients and suicide victims have lower levels of the p11 protein in their brain, and laboratory mice with reduced p11 levels show depression- and anxiety-like behavior. The p11 levels in mice can also be raised by some antidepressants.

The new study shows that p11 affects the initial release of the stress hormone cortisol by modulating the activity of specific neurons in the brain area hypothalamus. Through a completely different signalling pathway originating in the brainstem, p11 also affects the release of two other stress hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline. In addition, the tests showed that mice with p11 deficiency react more strongly to stress, with a higher heart rate and more signs of anxiety, compared to mice with normal p11 levels.

“We know that an abnormal stress response can precipitate or worsen a depression and cause anxiety disorder and cardiovascular disease,” says first author Vasco Sousa, researcher at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet. “Therefore, it is important to find out whether the link between p11 deficiency and stress response that we see in mice can also be seen in patients.”

The researchers believe that the findings may have implications for the development of new, more effective drugs. There is a great need for new treatments because current antidepressants are not effective enough in many patients.

“One promising approach involves administration of agents that enhance localised p11 expression, and several experiments are already being conducted in animal models of depression,” says Per Svenningsson, professor at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, who led the study. “Another interesting approach which needs further investigation involves developing drugs that block the initiation of the stress hormone response in the brain.”

Reference

Vasco C. Sousa, Ioannis Mantas, Nikolas Stroth, Torben Hager, Marcela Pereira, Haitang Jiang, Sandra Jabre, Wojciech Paslawski, Oliver Stiedl, Per Svenningsson. (2020). P11 deficiency increases stress reactivity along with HPA axis and autonomic hyperresponsiveness. Molecular Psychiatry, DOI: 10.1038/s41380-020-00887-0

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