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Education Health

Later school starts lead to better attendance

When high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later, attendance rates and graduation rates improve, according to a new study.

The study backs previous research that says additional sleep boosts psychological, behavioral and academic benefits for teens.

“So much research explains the impact of insufficient sleep on suicide, substance abuse, depression, auto accidents and more,” said lead study author Pamela McKeever of Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

“This connects the dots between the world of science and education,” she told said.

“Through this, educators and parents can see how lack of sleep impacts the school indicators that we use to measure student success.”

McKeever and colleague Linda Clark looked at school start times, graduation rates and attendance rates for 30,000 students in 29 high schools across seven states. They found that two years after a delayed start was implemented at these high schools, average attendance rates and graduation rates had increased several percentage points.

For example, the average graduation completion rate was 79 percent before the delayed start was implemented, and it was 88 percent afterward.

“This doesn’t only impact our high school students. This impacts all of society,” McKeever said. “As graduation rates improve, young adults experience less hardship after graduation, a lower chance of incarceration and a higher chance of career success.”

Delayed bell times could close the achievement gap as well, McKeever and Clark wrote in Sleep Health, the journal of the National Sleep Foundation. When schools start later, students in lower socioeconomic categories are more likely to get to the bus on time. When they arrive at school on time, they’re more likely to stay in class and graduate.

“When kids miss a bus early in the morning and that’s their only form of transportation, they miss class and then soon the credits,” said Kyla Wahlstrom of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who wasn’t involved with this study. “People don’t understand the link between early wakeup times and graduation rates, but it’s that direct.”

Since the late 1990s, Wahlstrom and other researchers have suggested that delayed high school start times may help students. In 2014, she and her colleagues reported that in a three-year study with 9,000 students in eight public high schools across three states, attendance rates increased with a start time of 8:35 a.m. or later.

In December, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine advised that later school start times could improve sleep, reduce car accidents and reduce sleepiness. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends 8:30 a.m. as the earliest time to begin school.

But school policies have yet to change nationwide. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 42 states, 75-100 percent of public schools start before 8:30 a.m.

Teens are “driven by biology to go to sleep later, and there’s not much we can do about that, but school start times are the main reason they get up when they do,” said Anne Wheaton, an epidemiologist at the CDC in Atlanta. Wheaton wasn’t involved with this study.

A limitation of the study is that many variables affect attendance and graduation rates. Changes at the school level, such as different teachers, policies and the surrounding community itself, could affect students and their ability to complete class credits, extracurricular activities and afterschool jobs. Also, the data didn’t measure sleep time or indicate whether students slept more due to delayed start times.

“The debate about school start time and adolescent sleep patterns has been going on for a number of years,” said Mary Carskadon of the Sleep for Science Research Lab at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who wasn’t involved with this study.

“Efforts to delay the school bell are more likely to succeed best when parents and the teens themselves use better choices,” she told Reuters Health by email. “This includes having a set bedtime and limiting arousing activities in the evening.”

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Education Work

Schools trial police-style body cameras

Teachers at two British schools are trialling the use of police-style body cameras to help maintain discipline, a survey has revealed, prompting a civil liberties group to warn that teachers could be turned into snoopers.

The Times Educational Supplement survey said the experiment comes as over one-third of a sample of over 600 teachers said they would be willing to wear a camera, while one in five said it would improve their teaching.

The survey did not reveal the names of the schools undertaking the trial.

“The aim is to reduce constant low level classroom disruption which is reducing the effectiveness of teaching,” said Tom Ellis, a lecturer at the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Portsmouth who will be advising the schools trialling the cameras.

“Teachers are actually very concerned that they’re spending their time managing order in the classroom instead of actually teaching,” said Ellis, adding that students might become more aware of their behaviour if they knew it was being filmed.

Ellis said the pilot scheme started about two weeks ago and is likely to run for three months.

“The use of body cameras is not the same as CCTV. Body cameras within the classroom have to be incident-specific … so the teacher has to be trained to make a decision as to whether use of the camera is necessary,” added Ellis, a former Home Office researcher.

Civil liberties groups have expressed concern.

“This sounds like an over the top response to an age old problem,” said Daniel Nesbitt, research director at Big Brother Watch.

“These schools have to be very careful about how they use this intrusive technology as it risks turning teachers into snoopers.”

Mary Bousted, general secretary at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said that if schools had good behaviour policies they should not have to resort to using body cameras or CCTV.

“CCTV can have a useful role in monitoring entrances and exits to schools to prevent strangers gaining access or vandalism, but we do not support their use in schools to monitor children and staff,” she added.

According to the ATL, four out of 10 teachers experienced violence from pupils in 2015.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said trialling body-cams was a matter for schools to decide.

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Health Work

Do doctors spend too much time with their computers?

For every hour that some doctors devote to direct patient care they may spend about five hours on other tasks, often because they’re tied up with computer work, a Swiss study suggests.

The results are based on observations of just 36 doctors-in-training at one hospital in Switzerland. But research dating back more than half a century has documented physicians dedicating a similar amount of their workdays to direct patient care, said Dr. Nathalie Wenger, lead author of the current study.

“It has not really changed in 50 years,” Wenger, a researcher at the University Hospital of Lausanne, said by email.

During the study period, the doctors spent an average of 1.7 hours per shift with patients, 5.2 hours using computers and 13 minutes doing both, Wenger and colleagues report in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Patient care might not necessarily be better if doctors had less screen time, but cutting back could still have some advantages, Wenger said.

“It will clearly improve satisfaction of physicians, reduce their stress and improve medical education by freeing up time for that,” Wenger said.

For the current study, Wenger and colleagues observed medical residents for a total of about 698 hours.

Teams of observers recorded the residents’ activities throughout their shifts at the hospital, sorting tasks into one of 22 different categories such as direct or indirect patient care, communication, academic or nonmedical work.

Day shifts typically lasted 11.6 hours, or 1.6 hours longer than scheduled, the study found.

During day shifts, doctors spent about 52 percent of their time on activities indirectly related to patients such as writing in medical records, collaborating with other clinicians, looking for information needed to treat patients and handing off care to other providers.

Physicians spent about 28 percent of their day shifts on direct patient care including clinical exams and medical procedures and rounds done as part of the residency program to review treatment with colleagues.

They spent only about 2 percent of their time communicating with patients and families, and about 6 percent of their time either teaching, receiving training or doing academic research.

During shifts, physicians spent up to about 45 percent of their time on computers, the study found.

Beyond its small size and single site, other limitations of the study include the fact that residents knew they were being observed and may have adjusted their work accordingly, the authors note.

It also wasn’t an experiment designed to prove how different uses of physician time influence patient outcomes.

Still, the findings add to a growing body of research documenting how much of doctors’ time is taken up by administrative tasks, said Dr. Susan Thompson Hingle, a researcher at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Having observed residents and talked with residents, I do not think the findings are unique to the Swiss,” Hingle said by email. “It seems as though the studies continue to confirm the enormous administrative tasks that physicians and physicians in training, regardless of level, clinical venue, or geographic location, are faced with.”

Patients often complain that doctors don’t spend enough time with them and that physicians spend more time focused on the computer than on them, Hingle said.

“When our attention is not on the patient, we miss important non-verbal cues; we are distracted and not actively listening; we miss opportunities to build a trusting, healing relationship with our patient,” Hingle added. “Without that trust, patient adherence is less which impacts patient outcomes, and patient satisfaction is less, which also impacts patient outcomes.”

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Work

Fintech firm creates alert system for trading on Trump tweets

London-based fintech firm Trading.co.uk is launching an app that will generate trading alerts for shares based on comments made on social media by Donald Trump.

Keeping one eye on the U.S. President-elect’s personal Twitter feed has become a regular pastime for the fund managers and traders who invest billions of dollars daily on world stock, currency and commodity markets.

Trump knocked several billion off the value of pharmaceutical stocks a week ago by saying they were “getting away with murder” with their prices. Comments last week on China moved the dollar and a pair of December tweets sent the share prices of Lockheed Martin and Boeing spiralling lower.

That plays to the growing group of technology startups that use computing power to process millions of messages posted online every day and generate early warnings on when shares are likely to move.

Trading.co.uk chief Gareth Mann said the Trump signal generator used artificial intelligence technology to differentiate between tweets or other messages that, for example, just mention Boeing and those liable to move markets.

“It is impact analysis,” he said. “We can let you know when Trump tweets. We can let you know when he mentions a particular stock, or when he mentions a stock and a country. But if he just says he’s riding on a Boeing 747 the system will do nothing.”

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Education Work

Virtual reality gaming a hit in gym class for ‘problem’ children

Kids with behavioral problems may do better in school when they get to play virtual-reality games on stationary bikes instead of participating in traditional gym class activities, a small study suggests. It has been proven on many students and they even have small competitions between each other to make it more exciting. For example, whoever won during the game, they would win the best gaming mouse pad at the end or other prizes.

At a school for kids with behavior disorders, researchers offered 103 students seven weeks of so-called “cybercycling” during either the fall or spring semester.

Cybercycling involves the use of stationary bikes for vigorous rides. The students started out cycling for just 10 minutes and worked their way up to more than 20 minutes over the course of the program.

When students didn’t participate in the twice-weekly games on stationary bikes, they had traditional physical education with a focus on team sports, socialization and building motor skills.

When kids did cybercycling, they were 32 to 51 percent less likely to exhibit poor self-control or receive disciplinary time out of class, the study found.

Improvements were most pronounced on days the kids had gym but persisted throughout the seven-week intervention.

“Many studies have shown that aerobic exercise can help improve mood and behavior,” said lead study author April Bowling, a public health researcher at Harvard University in Boston.

“When mood and self-regulation, which is the ability to control behavior, is improved, then children can be more successful in the classroom,” Bowling added by email.

While the study didn’t examine how or why different approaches to gym class might produce different behavior in school, it’s possible the more intense aerobic activity offered by cybercycling produced better behavior and helped improve classroom dynamics throughout the week, Bowling said.

Most of the students were boys, about 12 years old on average.

About 40 percent of the students were diagnosed with autism, 60 percent were diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, 40 percent had anxiety disorders and 30 percent had mood disorders.

Both the number of disciplinary events and the amount of time missed from class due to behavior issues declined meaningfully during weeks kids participated in the cybercycling program, researchers report in Pediatrics.

Beyond its small size and limited number of female participants, another limitation of the study is that results from these students at a therapeutic day school may not apply to kids at traditional public schools, the authors note.

“It is important to see if their results translate into public schools, but as the authors point out, cybercycles are expensive and may be (too expensive) for most schools,” said Sara Benjamin Neelon, a public health researcher at Johns Hopkins University in Boston who wasn’t involved in the study.

It’s also possible that the novelty of these particular stationary bikes, which many students wouldn’t have tried before, might inspire them to be more active than they would be during gym class games they played many times before, Benjamin Neelon said by email.

“There may be some benefit in this new approach to physical activity that could wear off over time as children get used to the cycling – but only time will tell,” she added.

Still, the findings suggest that parents looking to help children manage behavior problems may want to consider working brief bouts of intense exercise into kids’ normal routines, Bowling said.

“They should not feel overwhelmed by the expectation that their child can only benefit if they exercise for 30 to 60 minutes, something that is very hard for many of these children and their parents to achieve,” Bowling added. “Instead, focus on finding something that your child enjoys and starting off with 10 or 15 minutes at a time; walking the dog, hiking with you, playing active video games, whatever it might be.”

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Education Work

Coding schools aim to fulfil tech demand

As demand grows for computer programers in the technology job sector, accelerated programs to teach coding is a booming industry. But these largely unregulated schools are shrouded in controversy, with many questioning if an intensive course prepares people as effectively as obtaining a traditional degree in computer science.

Ben Gruber reports:

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Health

‘Baby brain’ – pregnancy triggers changes in a woman’s brain, say researchers

Pregnancy may trigger changes in the structure and size of regions in a woman’s brain that are involved in responding to social and emotional cues, a recent study suggests.

Many of these changes appeared to last at least two years after giving birth, the study found. Mothers who had the most pronounced alterations in their brains also scored higher on tests of emotional attachment to their babies than women whose brains underwent subtler changes.

“This study provides the first insights into the impact of pregnancy on the gray matter architecture of the human brain,” said lead study author Elseline Hoekzema of the University of Leiden in The Netherlands.

While the exact cause of these shifts in the brain isn’t clear, it’s possible the changes may help women prepare for the social demands of motherhood, researchers report in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

For the study, researchers scanned the brains of 25 women who had never had babies, then did imaging tests again after the women gave birth for the first time.

Researchers also looked at brain scans from 19 first-time fathers, 17 men without children and 20 women who had never given birth.

Compared to the other participants, the first-time mothers had a distinct loss of gray matter in regions of the brain associated with what’s known as “theory of mind,” or the ability to attribute mental states such as thoughts, feelings and intents to themselves and other people.

When researchers showed these first-time mothers pictures of their own babies, they had more activity in some of these pregnancy-altered brain regions than when they looked at images of other babies, the study also found.

Nearly all of the gray matter changes were still present in scans done two years after women delivered their babies. Some of the gray matter volume that was reduced during pregnancy returned in the hippocampus, a region associated with memory.

This pattern of structural changes was so consistent that it could be used to distinguish the brains of women who had given birth from those who had not, as well as to predict the quality of mothers’ attachment to their infants in the postpartum period, the researchers conclude.

Beyond its small size, limitations of the study include the lack of information about when or why changes in the brain might occur for first-time mothers.

It’s unclear if the changes in the mothers’ brains were caused by nine months of pregnancy, many hours of labor and delivery or by the first days and weeks of mother-infant bonding, said Dr. Rebecca Saxe, a neuroscience researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge who wasn’t involved in the study.

The study also doesn’t tell us what happens in subsequent pregnancies, Saxe added by email.

“This could be a once in a lifetime change, even if you have many more pregnancies,” Saxe said. “If so, we should be especially careful about making overly strong inferences about the link between neural changes and parent-infant bonding – since obviously, mothers do bond with later children.”

Still, the findings add to a growing body of research documenting shifts in the brain associated with pregnancy and parenthood, said Dr. Mel Rutherford, a psychology researcher at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who wasn’t involved in the study.

Other research has found women may become more vigilant about strangers and develop a nesting instinct during pregnancy, both of which may be linked to changes in the brain, Rutherford said by email.

“More generally, there is evidence of broader cognitive reorganization: Some cognitive processes become prioritized during the pregnancy, perhaps in service of protecting the investment in the pregnancy,” Rutherford said.

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Health Work

Teen addiction to screens can lead to obesity

Too much television time has long been linked to childhood obesity, but a U.S. study suggests that the connection holds true for smaller screens too, such as computers, gaming consoles, tablets and smartphones.

With TV, a minimum five-hour-a-day habit increased the odds of obesity by 78 percent compared with teens who didn’t have TV time, the study found. Such heavy use of other screens was tied to a 43 percent greater risk of obesity, researchers report in the Journal of Pediatrics.

“The landscape has changed so quickly with regards to how much we all use mobile screen devices and computers,” said lead study author Dr. Erica Kenney, a public health researcher at Harvard University in Boston.

“We have known for years now that spending too much time watching television contributes to a higher risk of developing obesity among kids, mostly because watching too much TV can lead to an unhealthy diet,” Kenney added by email. “We see similar associations between other screen device use and diet, physical activity, and obesity risk as we’ve seen in the past for TV.”

To assess how screens large and small influence the risk of obesity, researchers looked at nationally representative survey data collected in 2013 and 2015 on 24,800 adolescents in grades 9 to 12.

Nearly 17 percent of youth said they watched no TV on weekdays, while 7.8 percent said they watched five hours or more daily.

Nearly one in five teens in the study spent at least five hours a day using smaller screens during the week.

The survey also asked how many sugary drinks teens consumed and inquired about teens’ height and weight.

More than 25 percent of boys and about 20 percent of girls reported consuming at least one soda or other sugar-sweetened beverage a day.

Approximately two-thirds of boys and three-quarters of girls said they didn’t get daily exercise.

Overall, 14 percent of the teens in the study were obese.

After adjusting for age, sex, race and ethnicity and other time with tiny screens, TV viewing was associated with significantly higher odds of consuming one or more sugary drinks and an increased risk of obesity.

More time with other screens was independently linked to higher odds of insufficient sleep, drinking more sugary beverages and inactivity.

The study can’t prove that television or time on smaller screens causes obesity, however.

It’s also possible that excessive screen time was caused by obesity, inactivity or fatigue rather than these things being caused by too much time with TVs, smartphones or tablets, the authors note.

Some previous research has found TV causes obesity and that kids who cut back on television can improve their weight, said Dr. David Hill, a researcher at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media.

The role of other screens has been less clear, with at least one study suggesting only passive TV watching affects obesity risk, Hill, who wasn’t involved in the current study, said by email.

“This study helps us understand that the link between obesity and media use may extend to other types of screens,” Hill said.

This connection may be at least in part due to ads teens see for unhealthy foods, Hill added. Decreased sleep is also tied to obesity, and too much screen time is known to interfere with the amount and quality of sleep teens get, the use of skinny tea in this cases can make a big improvement on overall health.

“We encourage parents to work with kids to examine what they need to accomplish in a day to be successful: how much sleep should they get, when should they eat, how much time do they need for homework, exercise, and family activities,” Hill said. “Screen media time should then fit in around those activities or complement them rather than displacing them.”

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Health

Skin-to-skin contact directly after birth gives a better start in life

Skin-to-skin contact between mothers and newborns immediately after birth can be used to promote breastfeeding and may give babies a better start in life, according to a new review of existing evidence.

Women who had skin-to-skin contact with their naked babies right after delivery were more likely to breastfeed longer and be breastfeeding months later than women who didn’t have their babies placed on their skin right away, the researchers found.

“The more you can do to place the mother and baby together and disturb them as little possible during that first hour, the better off they’ll be,” said lead author Elizabeth Moore, of the School of Nursing at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Moore and her colleagues write in the Cochrane Library November 25th that babies are often separated from their mothers at birth. The new review looked at whether placing naked babies on their mother’s bare chest improved breastfeeding and other health outcomes.

The review was coordinated by the Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates and reviews medical research.

The researchers looked through medical literature and found 46 randomized controlled trials to include in their review. The trials included 3,850 women and their newborns from 21 countries. All babies were healthy and most were born at term.

“We compared those trials to usual care, and usual care was very different depending on the trial,” said Moore. Trials from the 1970s may have separated mothers from their babies for hours. In more modern trials, babies might be swaddled in a blanket before being handed to the mother.

Compared to babies and mothers who received usual care, those who received skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth were about 24 percent more likely to still be breastfeeding one to four months later.

Infants who received skin-to-skin care were also 32 percent more likely to successfully breastfeed on their first try.

There was also evidence that women who got skin-to-skin contact breastfed longer and were more likely to exclusively breastfeed after leaving the hospital.

Evidence also suggested babies did better after receiving skin-to-skin contact after birth. They had higher scores on a measure evaluating their heart and lung function, had higher blood sugar levels and had a similar body temperature to their swaddled counterparts.

“It’s just something that if at all possible should happen,” Moore said.

Skin-to-skin contact should begin as soon as possible and last for at least 60 minutes, she said. The hour will give babies time to recover from the birthing experience, find the mother’s nipple and latch on.

“It’s not something you can do in just 15 minutes,” she said.

Moore said more research is needed on skin-to-skin contact after cesarean births and among babies born near full term.

“I think skin-to-skin care or contact is a no-cost intervention that improves outcomes for mothers and babies,” said Jeannette Crenshaw, of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Nursing in Lubbock.

Crenshaw, who is presently involved in a study of skin-to-skin contact after cesarean sections, said the current findings confirm the results of earlier, less rigorous studies that showed similar benefits.

“We need to adjust our processes, normal routines and make system changes to make the best practice available to mothers and babies,” said Crenshaw.

Moore said receiving skin-to-skin contact is often dependent on doctors being comfortable with the practice.

“I would recommend that a woman make sure she adds skin-to-skin to her birth plan,” she said. “I think it’s a really good thing for a woman to put together a birth plan before she heads to the hospital and show it to her physicians or midwife.”

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Work

Crowd-sourced maps for natural disasters boosted by new algorithm

Humanitarian workers delivering aid to regions hit by natural disasters might find it a little easier to reach people most in need of help following new advances in crowd-sourced mapping technology, according to researchers.

Traditional maps often do not give rescue workers the information they need when disasters strike, such as which buildings and bridges have been destroyed.

Crowd-mapping, where volunteers on the ground send real-time information about which roads are open and where people could be trapped following earthquakes or hurricanes, has become increasingly popular with aid groups, U.S. researchers said.

To make the mapping process more efficient, researchers at the University of California and the University of Tennessee created a new algorithm that indicates which areas need detailed mapping first after a disaster.

“Online volunteers provide up-to-date geographic information that can help disaster response teams on the ground make more informed decisions,” said University of Tennessee geography professor Yingjie Hu.

“We wanted to make that process more efficient,” Hu said.

Originally from Sichuan, China, Hu began researching crowd-funded maps after a massive earthquake rocked his home province in 2008 killing more than 80,000 people.

Rescuers scrambled to save survivors but their efforts were hampered in some cases by a lack of up-to-date information about which roads were open to emergency vehicles, Hu said.

“If we could have applied this algorithm back then more lives could potentially have been saved,” he said.

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