Category Archives: Children

Ending gay marriage could increase teen suicides


As triumphant Republican lawmakers, now controlling the national legislature and the legislatures of 32 states, we can expect action of promises to end same-sex marriage,

But, if successful, will those efforts lead to a spike in teen suicides?

That’s to conclusion of a new scientific study released today.

From the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

The implementation of state laws legalizing same-sex marriage was associated with a significant reduction in the rate of suicide attempts among high school students—and an even greater reduction among gay, lesbian and bisexual adolescents, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.

The researchers, whose work was published today in JAMA Pediatrics [open access], estimate that state-level same-sex marriage policies were associated with more than 134,000 fewer adolescent suicide attempts per year. The study compared states that passed laws allowing same-sex marriage through January 2015 to states that did not enact state-level legalization. A Supreme Court decision made same-sex marriage federal law in June 2015.

The findings show the effect that social policies can have on behavior, the researchers say.

“These are high school students, so they aren’t getting married any time soon, for the most part,” says study leader Julia Raifman, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School. “Still, permitting same-sex marriage reduces structural stigma associated with sexual orientation. There may be something about having equal rights—even if they have no immediate plans to take advantage of them—that makes students feel less stigmatized and more hopeful for the future.”

Suicide is the second-most common cause of death among people ages 15 to 24 in the United States, trailing only unintentional injury. U.S. suicide rates have been rising, and data indicate that rates of suicide attempts requiring medical attention among adolescents increased 47 percent between 2009 and 2015.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students are at particular risk. In the new study, 29 percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students reported attempting suicide in the previous year as compared to 6 percent of heterosexual teens.

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Austerity bites: Greeks sink deeper into poverty


Poverty rate changes in the European Union, 2008-2015. From Reuters.

Poverty rate changes in the European Union, 2008-2015. From Reuters.

When the greed and unprosecuted crimes of Wall Street banksters and their allies in London brought the world to the brink of financial ruin nine years ago, it was the world’s poorer nation who paid — and are continuing to pay — the highest price.

Greece isn’t the only nation in the eurozone to see a poverty increase since the start of the Great Recession, but it’s the only one to see a near-tripling of the number of its citizens in poverty, a direction result of the austerity regime implemented by the austerity regime forced on Europe’s nations with the highest debt levels.

As part of that austerity, the Troika of the Euroippean Central Bank, the European Commission, and the Washington-based International Monetary Fund have mandated massive layoffs of public workers, pay and pension cuts, and the higher costs associated with the privatization and sell off of public transit and power systems.

The Troika has been holding off on its latest bailout loan, demanding yet more austerity measures. But when it comes, most of the money will go right back to lenders on Wall Street, London, and Germany.

More from Reuters:

[R]egardless of who is to blame for the collapse in living standards, poverty figures from the EU statistics agency are startling.

Greece isn’t the poorest member of the EU; poverty rates are higher in Bulgaria and Romania. But Greece isn’t far behind in third place, with Eurostat data showing 22.2 percent of the population were “severely materially deprived” in 2015.

And whereas the figures have dropped sharply in the post-communist Balkan states — by almost a third in Romania’s case — the Greek rate has almost doubled since 2008, the year the global crisis erupted. Overall, the EU level fell from 8.5 percent to 8.1 percent over the period.

>snip<

International organizations, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, have urged the government to prioritize tackling poverty and inequality.

Unemployment has slipped from a peak of 28 percent of the workforce to 23 percent but the rate remains the highest in the EU. Since the crisis began, the economy has shrunk by a quarter and thousands of businesses have closed for good.

>snip<

Better living standards seem as far away as ever. Over 75 percent of households suffered a significant income reduction last year, a survey by business confederation GSEVEE and Marc pollsters found. A third had at least one unemployed member and 40 percent said they had to cut back on food spending.

And with the latest round of austerity now in negotiation, things can only get worse.

Remember that, just as in the U.S., the employment numbers don’t reflect totals paid in salaries and benefits.

With rising costs for healthcare, transportation, and other necessities, coupled with pay cuts, living standards have been drastically reduced even for those who are working.

But, hey, a banskster’s gotta make a living, right?

Poor teens go hungry as younger sibs are fed


From Johns Hopkins University, an alarming finger about hunger and poverty in the United States:

In very poor families, teenagers are going hungry twice as often as their younger siblings, a new Johns Hopkins University study finds.

Parents first forgo food themselves, skipping meals to feed their children. But if there still isn’t enough for everyone, the study found parents will feed younger children before teenagers, regularly leaving the older kids—teen boys in particular—without enough to eat.

“If you’re really poor, you try to sacrifice yourself first, but when you’re forced to make some choices, these parents are deciding to let the teens not have enough—if they have to give up on something, they’re giving up on teenagers,” said JHU economist Robert Moffitt, the lead author. “It’s hard to imagine parents having to do that.”

The study, which is the first to demonstrate how children’s food deprivation can differ by age and gender, even within the same household, is published as a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research [$5 to read].

Moffitt and co-author David C. Ribar of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research analyzed a survey of about 1,500 extremely disadvantaged families in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio. The survey asked parents, along with one of their children, about missing meals, checking in with them several times over six years, from 1999 to 2005.

The families had incomes well below the federal poverty line, making an average of about $1,558 a month, or $18,696 a year. Most were headed by single parents, unemployed, on welfare, and not college-educated. Most were minorities and raising children in rental homes.

Questions for the parents included:

  • At any time in the past 12 months, did you or other adults in your household cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there wasn’t enough money for food?
  • At any time in the past 12 months, did you or any other adults in your household not eat for a whole day because there wasn’t enough money for food?
  • In the past 12 months, were you ever hungry but didn’t eat because you couldn’t afford food?
  • Sometimes people lose weight because they don’t have enough to eat. In the past 12 months, did you lose weight because there wasn’t enough food?

In these disadvantaged families, researchers found 12 percent of the adults suffered from extreme food hardship, answering “yes” to several of these questions. At the same time, about 4 percent of the children went hungry.

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A plastic that makes you fat, starting in the womb


And it does it by interfering with the body’s signalling system that tells you when you’ve eaten enough.

We posted reams about studies of bisphenols, the chemicals widely present in food packaging, including cans and bottles, and linked to a wide rabnge of disorders including breast cancer, endometriosis, ADHD, asthma, behaviorial problems in girls, birth defects, prostate cancer and lowered sperm counts, and more.

And now a new study reveals that the chemical might play a crucial role in America’s growing [literally] obesity epidemic.

From the Endocrine Society:

An expectant mother’s exposure to the endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA) can raise her offspring’s risk of obesity by reducing sensitivity to a hormone responsible for controlling appetite, according to a mouse study published in the Endocrine Society’s journal Endocrinology.

BPA is a chemical found in a variety of food containers, including polycarbonate plastic water bottles and can linings. BPA can interfere with the endocrine system by mimicking estrogen, one of the main sex hormones found in women. Research indicates BPA exposure is nearly universal. More than 90 percent of people tested in population studies had detectable levels of BPA and compounds produced when it is metabolized by the body in their urine.

As of 2014, nearly 100 epidemiological studies had been published tying BPA to various health problems, according to the Society and IPEN’s Introduction to Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals.

The new study found mice born to mothers exposed to BPA were less responsive to the hormone leptin, which is sometimes called the satiety hormone. Leptin helps inhibit the appetite by reducing hunger pangs when the body does not need energy. The hormone sends signals to the hypothalamus region of the brain to suppress the appetite.

“Our findings show that bisphenol A can promote obesity in mice by altering the hypothalamic circuits in the brain that regulate feeding behavior and energy balance,” said the study’s senior author, Alfonso Abizaid, Ph.D., of the Department of Neuroscience at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. “Low level prenatal exposure to BPA delays a surge of leptin after birth that allows mice to develop the proper response to the hormone. BPA exposure permanently alters the neurobiology in the affected mice, making them prone to obesity as adults.”

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School shootings link to high unemployment rates


Two charts from the report [open access] featuring [top] the monthly number of shooting events categorized based on number of fatalities [green 0–1, orange 2–5 and red >5] and [below], national unemployment rate peaks [black line] and how they qualitatively align with periods of elevated rates of school shootings [blue bars].

Two charts from the report [open access] featuring [top] the monthly number of shooting events categorized based on number of fatalities [green 0–1, orange 2–5 and red >5] and [below], national unemployment rate peaks [black line] and how they qualitatively align with periods of elevated rates of school shootings [blue bars].

While there are other facts at work in individual cases, ranging from psychopathology and poor home relationships to immediate provocations, could high jobless rates play a key role in America’s school shootings?

That’s the conclusion of a just-published major study from Northwestern University:

A rigorous Northwestern University study of a quarter-century of data has found that economic insecurity is related to the rate of gun violence at K-12 and postsecondary schools in the United States. When it becomes more difficult for people coming out of school to find jobs, the rate of gun violence at schools increases.

The interdisciplinary study by data scientists Adam R. Pah and Luís Amaral and sociologist John L. Hagan reveals a persistent connection over time between unemployment and the occurrence of school shootings in the country as a whole, across various regions of the country and within affected cities, including Chicago and New York City.

“The link between education and work is central to our expectations about economic opportunity and upward mobility in America,” said Hagan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Sociology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “Our study indicates that increases in gun violence in our schools can result from disappointment and despair during periods of increased unemployment, when getting an education does not necessarily lead to finding work.”

Frequent school shootings have been a major concern in American society for decades, but the causes have defied understanding. The Northwestern researchers used data from 1990 to 2013 on both gun violence in U.S. schools and economic metrics, including unemployment, to get some answers.

“Our findings highlight the importance of economic opportunity for the next generation and suggest there are proactive actions we could take as a society to help decrease the frequency of gun violence,” said Pah, clinical assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management.

Other key findings include:

  • While Chicago is singled out in the study as one of the six cities with the most incidents from 1990 to 2013, Chicago schools are not any more dangerous than schools in other large cities.
  • Gun violence at schools has not become more deadly over time.
  • Most shootings are targeted, with the shooter intending to harm a specific person.
  • Gang-related violence and lone mass shooters comprise only small fractions of the gun violence that occurs at U.S. schools. Gang-related violence constitutes 6.6% of all incidents.
  • The results suggest that during periods of heightened unemployment, increased gun violence may be a growing risk in American college and university settings.

The study, Economic Insecurity and the Rise in Gun Violence at US Schools, [open access] was published Monday by the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

The research team also found the rate of gun violence at schools has changed over time. The most recent period studied (2007-2013) has a higher frequency of incidents than the preceding one (1994-2007), contradicting previous work in this area. This is a unique contribution made possible because of the researchers’ backgrounds in data science and modeling.

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Lack of health insurance can shatter communities


Lack of health insurance isn’t just bad for the health of individuals and familieies  without it. It can also increase tensions within communities and shatter social cohesion.

From sociologist Tara McKay, Assistant Professor of of Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University, writing in The Conversation, an open source academic written for lay readers.

All links in the article are, unfortunately, to paywalled academic journals:

Dismantling the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without a replacement plan is projected to increase the nation’s uninsured population by 18 million in the first year after repeal and by 32 million in 2026, according to recent estimates by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). As lawmakers and the American public consider repealing portions of the ACA, it is an important time to reflect on what limiting access to health insurance might mean for Americans and their communities. If a repeal occurs, not only individuals, but also their communities, could be affected.

Whether we like it or not, health insurance affects our lives in significant ways. Sometimes these effects are very direct, determining whether we can afford to see a doctor when we need to. At other times, health insurance affects us in less direct ways by shaping whether providers hire that extra nurse or relocate to a wealthier area of town.

One of the things we’ve paid a lot less attention to is whether the effects of health insurance go beyond things like health and costs to shape other aspects of our social lives. My new study with Stefan Timmermans of UCLA addresses this gap by examining the consequences of uninsurance for cohesion and trust in Los Angeles communities during the 2000s.

Using longitudinal data from the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey (L.A. FANS), we find that people living in communities with lower levels of insurance are less likely to feel connected to and trust their neighbors, even after controlling for several other neighborhood and individual factors that might affect people’s perceptions of and engagement with their communities.

We also test whether broader access to health insurance through a policy like the ACA could strengthen communities over time. This analysis demonstrates that people’s perceptions of their neighbors and communities improve as more people gain access to insurance in their community.

Consequences beyond health care

How does this work?

When large groups of people don’t have health insurance, this places unique financial and organizational strains on individuals, providers and health care markets. Research demonstrates that a lack of access to health insurance negatively affects health, health care access and quality, utilization of preventative services and out-of-pocket costs for the uninsured.

These effects also frequently spill over to the insured, negatively affecting the health and out-of-pocket costs for people living or receiving care alongside large groups of uninsured. Such spillovers come about as providers try to lower their exposure to a large uninsured population by reducing, dropping or redistributing staff and services that are disproportionately used by the uninsured, such as emergency care.

These provider strategies also go on to affect access to health care, quality of care and trust in health care providers for everyone living in a community, not just the uninsured.

Given the particular pressures that uninsurance places on individuals, providers and health care markets, it’s not surprising that we find the consequences of uninsurance go beyond health and health care.

We specifically measured the consequences of living in a community with high levels of uninsurance on residents’ reports of social cohesion, or their feelings of trust, mutual obligation and reciprocity toward their neighbors. Moving from a community where almost everyone has health insurance to one where more than half are uninsured results in a 34 percent decrease in residents’ perceptions of social cohesion in their community, we found.

We tested many possible explanations for this decrease, including differences in the composition of these communities over time, but this result is persistent. There is a social cost for communities that carry a larger burden of uninsured. This 34 percent difference in social cohesion is a substantial difference that has important consequences for other individual and community outcomes pertaining to health, political engagement and more.

New tensions created in communities

There are two primary ways that a lack of health insurance might affect communities.

First, in battles over state and local budgets, attempts to cover the uninsured through the redistribution of new or existing funds may run into political barriers or be forced to compete with other public services such as education and law enforcement. These battles can create competing interests and goals within a community that contribute to the breakdown of social cohesiveness, trust and reciprocity among community members over time.

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Immigration raids impact pregnant women, babies


As Donald Trump begins his word on the undocumented, one new study reveals that the promised raids to come will have direct and adverse impacts on babies born to mothers pregnant at the times of the raids.

Many of the children born to those women will be underweight and premature, and with the costly medical problems those conditions so often entail.

From the University of Michigan:

With deportation and discrimination fears currently on the minds of many in the United States, a University of Michigan study shows that the stress from an historic immigration raid is associated with Latina mothers delivering babies with lower birth weights, and sometimes early.

The U-M School of Public Health and Institute of Social Research team found that after the federal immigration raid in Postville, Iowa, in 2008, Latino babies born in the 37 weeks after the event had a 24 percent greater risk of lower birth weight than babies born the prior year. There also was an increased risk in preterm birth among Latina mothers compared with non-Latina white women.

“While health disparities often are believed to be caused by differences in individual health behaviors, access to health care, or even genetics, our findings implicate the impact of racial/ethnic stereotyping and related psychosocial stressors on health,” said Arline Geronimus, research professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research and a professor at the School of Public Health.

Other U-M authors were Nicole Novak of the U-M Institute for Social Research and Aresha Martinez-Cardoso of the School of Public Health. Their research is featured in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

In one of the largest single-site raids in U.S. history, federal immigration officials used military tactics to arrest 389 employees of a meat-processing plant in the small Iowa community. Ninety-eight percent of those arrested, handcuffed and held in various detention centers were Latino, as all were initially suspected to be undocumented immigrants.

“In the wake of the Postville immigration raid, U.S.-born and immigrant Latino families feared deportations and follow-up raids, and faced increased economic and social marginalization,” Novak said. “These stressors permeated the lives of both U.S.-born and foreign-born Latina mothers, potentially activating harmful physiological responses that could result in the poor birth outcomes we documented among their babies.”

“Our findings, then, shed light on what is to come for our nation’s health if we continue down this road of anti-immigrant rhetoric and continue fueling a deportation regime, including implementing it by criminalizing immigrants and using militaristic tactics,” Martinez-Cardoso said.

Psychosocial stressors can affect pregnant mothers by shifting stress hormone balances in ways that affect a developing fetus by triggering premature birth, leading to growth restriction and low birth weight even for babies born at full term, and by reducing social and material support networks that promote a mother’s health during pregnancy, the researchers said. Low birth weight is associated with increasing a baby’s chance of dying or having long-term health and academic problems.

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