Showing posts with label Social Science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Social Science. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Rates of infectious disease linked to authoritarian attitudes and governance

 

According to psychologists, in addition to our physiological immune system we also have a behavioral one: an unconscious code of conduct that helps us stay disease-free, including a fear and avoidance of unfamiliar – and so possibly infected – people.

When infection risk is high, this “parasite stress” behavior increases, potentially manifesting as attitudes and even voting patterns that champion conformity and reject “foreign outgroups” – core traits of authoritarian politics.

A new study, the largest yet to investigate links between pathogen prevalence and ideology, reveals a strong connection between infection rates and strains of authoritarianism in public attitudes, political leadership and lawmaking.

While data used for the study predates COVID-19, University of Cambridge psychologists say that greater public desire for “conformity and obedience” as a result of the pandemic could ultimately see liberal politics suffer at the ballot box. The findings are published in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology.

Researchers used infectious disease data from the United States in the 1990s and 2000s and responses to a psychological survey taken by over 206,000 people in the US during 2017 and 2018. They found that the more infectious US cities and states went on to have more authoritarian-leaning citizens.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Pandemic Has Triggered a Cycle of Mental Health Struggles and Physical Inactivity

Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels

 A large, multi-state study highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic has created a cyclical public health problem by both exacerbating mental health challenges and making it more difficult for people to maintain physical activity. The study also reveals that lower-income households struggled more with both mental health challenges and maintaining physical activity levels.

“We know that physical activity is important for helping people maintain their mental health, but this study reveals the unforgiving cycle that the pandemic has imposed on many people,” says Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, co-author of the study and an associate professor of agricultural and human sciences at North Carolina State University.

“The pandemic has increased psychological distress, which makes it more difficult for people to maintain their physical activity levels. This, in turn, further hurts their mental health, which makes them less likely to be active, and so on. Once you get on this roller coaster ride, it’s hard to get off. And all of this is exacerbated by the pandemic making it harder for people to find safe spaces in which to exercise.”

For this study researchers were focused on two questions: How is the pandemic influencing physical activity and mental health status? And how, if at all, do physical activity and mental health status relate to each other?

To address those questions, the researchers conducted an in-depth, online survey of 4,026 adults in Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon and West Virginia. The survey was conducted between April and September of 2020.

The researchers found that the more physically active people were, the better their mental health status. That held true even when accounting for an individual’s race/ethnicity, household income and other socioeconomic demographic variables.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Fruits, vegetables sold in U.S. are products of forced labor

 

A study published in Nature Food involving academics at The University of Nottingham calls attention to the need for better systems to track forced labor in food supply chains.

The study reports on the development of a new scoring system that identifies the risk of forced labor for fruits and vegetables sold in the United States. It finds a high risk of forced labor, but also scattered and incomplete data sources that limit action.

The study was led by Dr Nicole Tichenor Blackstone in the Agriculture, Food and Environment program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts, and Dr Jessica Decker Sparks, Associate Director at the University of Nottingham Rights Lab, leading its Ecosystems and Environment Program.

“Sustainability research on the food supply typically focuses on promoting human health and protecting the environment,” said first and corresponding author Dr Blackstone. “But social sustainability provides a different perspective on our food sources, including issues of labor rights and equity. Globally, agriculture has one of the highest incidences of forced labor.”

Responsible procurement

The study developed a new forced labor risk scoring method that draws upon original data compiled by the authors as well as a range of governmental and non-profit data. The research team then coded each food and country-of-origin combination as either very high risk, high risk, medium risk, or low risk for forced labor having occurred at some point in the growing and harvesting of each item. Previously, there have been short lists of commodities suspected of being produced with forced labor, or case studies of foods produced in one country, such as Mexico.

“What we’ve done, for the first time, is to look at all of the major fruits and vegetables consumed in the U.S., as well as all of the countries these foods come from, including the U.S., and assess the possibility that somewhere in the production process forced labor could have been involved,” said Dr Blackstone.

The scoring method is not meant to be a consumer tool but could help industry and policy makers interested in the development of systems and protocols for the responsible procurement of foods.

The final data set included 93 fruits and vegetables in 307 food-country combinations. The results of the qualitative coding show that most food-country combinations were coded as high risk (85%) for forced labor at some point. Seven percent were coded as very-high risk, 4.5% were coded as medium risk, and 3.5% were coded as low risk.

“This is an extraordinary percentage at high risk, but it reflects that there are very limited or coarse data,” said senior author Dr Sparks. “There are major structural issues with how agricultural labor is set up that make workers vulnerable. To us, this reflects systemic issues in food supply chains that have not been addressed."

Agricultural work often takes place in remote and isolated environments with demanding labor requirements. There are typically inadequate legal protections, with piece-rate pay systems tied to productivity, and reliance on migrant labor.

As defined by the International Labor Organization, “forced labor can be understood as work that is performed involuntarily and under the menace of any penalty. It refers to situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as manipulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities.”

“Forced labor in agriculture is a threat to the sustainability of food systems. However, the scarcity of data noted limits holistic analysis and action. Future research should prioritize data and model development to enable analyses of forced labor and other labor-related social risks (e.g., wages, child labor) across the life cycles of a wide range of foods. These efforts can help ensure that the rights and dignity of “the hands that feed us” are centered in the transformation of food systems,” concluded the authors in the study.

Source/Credit: University of Nottingham

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Friday, August 27, 2021

Together, but still apart

 Social disconnection is a lack of social, emotional and physical engagement with other people. This


results in isolation and loneliness. Risk factors such as the shrinking of family sizes, lack of family support and declining health have made it hard for older adults to keep up with social and economic activities and maintain social connections, which ultimately results in social disconnection and isolation. The social distancing measures brought about by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated social isolation, especially among the elderly.

In the Singapore Chinese Health Study done by a team led by Professor Koh Woon Puay, from the Healthy Longevity Translational Research Program at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and Associate Professor Feng Qiushi of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences showed that from 16,943 community-dwelling seniors, 78.8% of socially disconnected older adults are living with family, compared to 14.4% of socially disconnected adults who are living alone. Hence, although older adults living alone are more likely to be socially disconnected, in Singapore, the majority of socially isolated older adults still stay with their families. Among those living alone, men were twice as likely to experience social disconnection, compared to the women. This study was published in Gerontology on 16 June 2021.

In this cohort, the team also studied the factors associated with social isolation in this cohort, to see if they had similar effects among those living alone and those living with their families. The salient findings were:

Regardless of the living arrangements, factors such as low education level, cognitive impairment, fair or poor self-rated health, depression, and limitations with daily living activities were independently associated with social disconnection.

Among those living alone, men were twice as likely to experience social disconnection compared to women.

From these findings, Prof Koh recommends targeting community interventions to elderly men living alone, and extending its scope to older adults in poor health who live with their families. The Singapore Government has made much effort in the area of eldercare which has helped most older people to stay socially connected. Despite this, social alienation is increasingly present due to the demographic trends of population ageing and solo-living and extra effort is needed to help vulnerable individuals, especially older men. Interventions that encourage individual and personal productivity, such as paid work, volunteerism and learning new skills should be promoted among older adults to create opportunities for social interaction and maintenance of cognitive functions, Prof Koh adds.

In addition to social isolation, older adults are also at increased risk of chronic age-related diseases, as well as gradual loss of bodily functions and independence in activities of daily living. Prof Koh and Associate Professor Feng have collaborated with other scientists within NUS and other research institutions to establish the SG70 Towards Healthy Longevity cohort study, as the next study to examine the effects of biological, lifestyle and socioeconomic factors that prevent people from ageing healthily and productively. This cohort will recruit 3,000 participants, from the ages of 65 to 75 years old comprising of the three major ethnic groups in Singapore. This age group has been identified as the vulnerable period where the average Singaporean may transit from good health to poor health, and the research team will study this ageing process in the SG70 participants for the next 10 to 15 years.

The eventual aim of this SG70 cohort study is to gather scientific evidence that will form the basis for intervention studies in the near future that may slow, halt or reverse the ageing process, in order to help people age more healthily, avoid age-related diseases and maintain a good quality of life in their twilight years.

Source / Credit: NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine

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