. Scientific Frontline: Social Science
Showing posts with label Social Science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Social Science. Show all posts

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Research finds LGBTQ people face barriers to health care, especially in rural areas

LGBTQ people may face unique barriers to health care, according to a new study by Zachary Ramsey, doctoral candidate in the WVU School of Public Health. By interviewing researchers and physicians, Ramsey identified four pressing health issues that sexual and gender minorities face: discrimination, heteronormativity, health care system barriers and the interconnectedness of physical, mental and social health. His findings appear in the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services.
Credit: West Virginia University

During Pride Month, it’s easy to find rainbow-colored health and wellness products—from bandages, to mouthwash, to fitness trackers—in stores or online. But actual health care that meets the needs of members of the LGBTQ community can be harder to get.

A new qualitative study by Zachary Ramsey—a doctoral candidate in the West Virginia University School of Public Health—suggests sexual and gender minorities may face unique barriers to health care, most particularly in rural areas.

His findings appear in the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services.

“Research into sexual and gender minorities is growing quickly, but mainly in large urban centers,” he said. “There are a lot of differences between urban and rural populations for a general population, so it stands to reason that there would be a lot of differences between urban and rural LGBTQ individuals. Without more studies of LGBTQ rural individuals specifically, these differences will not be known, and policies and rural LGBTQ Center programming can only use an urban population for guidance.”

Friday, June 17, 2022

Flawed research not retracted fast enough to prevent spread of misinformation

People who engage with research critically on Twitter may contribute to valuable conservations about science, new research suggests.
Illustration by ijmaki via Pixabay

A new analysis by Northwestern University and University of Michigan researchers suggests retracting academic papers does not dampen the reach of problematic research as intended. Instead, papers that are later retracted are often widely circulated online, both by news outlets and social media, and the cycle of attention that they receive typically dies away before the retraction even happens.

The finding has concerning implications for the spread of misinformation and public trust in science. However, retracted papers included in the analysis were often the subject of more critical discourse on Twitter before their retraction, suggesting that while Twitter should not be an official judge of science, it’s possible that in some communities, it could provide early signals of dubious research.

When a paper is retracted, the goal is to officially discredit it and acknowledge the research as flawed, thereby maintaining the overall integrity of the research enterprise. However, many people who hear about the initial finding may never learn of the retraction.

“Social media and even top news outlets — the most prestigious venues that cover science — are more prone to talk about papers that end up being retracted,” said Ágnes Horvát, an assistant professor of communication and computer science at Northwestern who was an author on the paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Friday, May 27, 2022

‘Transformative’ effects of mass gatherings like Burning Man are lasting

Photo by Curtis Simmons, Flickr: simmons_tx

Throughout history, mass gatherings such as collective rituals, ceremonies, and pilgrimages have created intense social bonds and feelings of unity in human societies. But Yale psychologists wondered if modern day secular gatherings that emphasize creativity and community serve an even broader purpose.

The research team studied people’s subjective experiences and social behavior at secular mass gatherings, such as the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. They found that people who reported transformative experiences at the gatherings felt more connected with all of humanity and were more willing to help distant strangers, the researchers report May 27 in the journal Nature Communications.

“We’ve long known that festivals, pilgrimages, and ceremonies make people feel more bonded with their own group,” said Daniel Yudkin, a postdoctoral researcher and first author of the paper. “Here we show that experiences at secular mass gatherings also have the potential to expand the boundaries of moral concern beyond one’s own group.”

The research team, led by M.J. Crockett, an associate professor of psychology at Yale, conducted field studies of more than 1,200 people attending multi-day mass gatherings in the United States and United Kingdom: Burning Man, Burning Nest, Lightning in a Bottle, Dirty Bird, and Latitude, all events that feature art, music, and self-expression.

Unlocking the Secrets of the Brain

Roberto Vargas
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have explored the regions of the brain where concrete and abstract concepts materialize. A new study now explores if people who grow up in different cultures and speak different languages form these concepts in the same regions of the brain.

"We wanted to look across languages to see if our cultural backgrounds influence how we understand, how we perceive abstract ideas like justice," said Roberto Vargas, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and lead author on the study.

Vargas is continuing fundamental research in neural and semantic organization initiated by Marcel Just, the D.O. Hebb University Professor of Psychology. Just began this process more than 30 years ago by scanning the brains of participants using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. His research team began by identifying the regions of the brain that light up for concrete objects, like an apple, and later moved to abstract concepts from physics like force and gravity.

The latest study took the evaluation of abstract concepts one step further by exploring the regions of the brain that fire for abstract objects based on language. In this case, the researchers studied people whose first language is Mandarin or English.

"The lab's research is progress to study universalities of not only single concept representations, but also representations of larger bodies of knowledge such as scientific and technical knowledge," Just said. "Cultures and languages can give us a particular perspective of the world, but our mental filing cabinets are all very similar."

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Children could find it easier to reach a healthier weight if their parents are addressing their own weight

New research presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Maastricht, the Netherlands (4-7 May), has found that many parents attending commercial weight management programs would be happy for their child, if overweight, to also receive support to reach a healthier weight.

The latest figures show that 14.4 per cent of children aged four to five in England and 25.5 per cent of ten to 11-year-olds are living with obesity. Obesity rates in both groups increased by around 4.5 percentage points1 between 2019-20 and 2020-21 – the highest annual rise since the National Child Measurement Program (NCMP) began.

Some local authorities in England run free weight management programs for children. Children can be referred to by their GP, other health professionals, the school, the NCMP or by self-referral, depending on where they live.

These programs, however, are not available in all parts of England, and struggle to recruit, engage and retain members, as well as achieve a clinically significant improvement in weight status.

Dr Mears, a Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Bristol's Centre for Academic Primary Care, said: “We know that parents living with obesity are more likely to have children with obesity and so we decided to look at whether it would be feasible to recruit children through parents attending commercial weight management classes.

“We also decided to focus on this group because we felt that the point at which a parent decides to take steps to reach a healthier weight for themselves might represent a good opportunity to address weight concerns in any other members of the family.

“If the whole family make changes together to reach or maintain a healthier weight, this may be more effective than one family member tackling their weight alone.”

To find out more, Dr Mears and colleagues ran an online survey for Slimming World members.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Higher COVID-19 Death Rates in the Southern U.S. Due to Behavior Differences

During the pre-Omicron phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, regions of the U.S. had markedly different mortality rates, primarily due to differences in mask use, school attendance, social distancing and other behaviors. Had the entire country reacted to the pandemic as the Northeast region, more than 316,000 deaths might have been avoided, 62% of those avoidable deaths being in the South.

The study, by Georgetown University’s School of Nursing & Health Studies researchers, appeared April 28, 2022, in PLOS ONE.

Excess mortality, which helps account for avoidable deaths from a new disease or situation, is defined by the difference between total current deaths and deaths expected based on earlier time period, usually the previous decade or so. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calculate these numbers weekly. For this study, the CDC excess mortality data were analyzed for the period between January 3, 2020, to September 26, 2021. For regional comparison purposes, areas of the country were broken down into the Northeast, Midwest, South and West.

“Our goal was to carefully examine regional differences in COVID-19 death rates based on reliable statistical data,” says Michael Stoto, PhD, professor of Health Systems Administration and Population Health at the School of Nursing & Health Studies and corresponding author of the study. “Our study is the first to quantify avoidable deaths and confirm that both COVID-19 deaths and avoidable deaths disproportionately occurred in the South.”

Monday, April 25, 2022

The destructive power of language

Hate expressions can take many forms - they can also be very subtle in the field of language.
Credit: Roberto Schirdewahn

Artificial intelligence can well identify swear words. But it can also recognize more hidden forms of linguistic violence?

"Piss off, you bitch!"" I'll get the bum. I'll stab you."" You should all pop them off. "Just a few examples of the form that language can take on social media. People are insulted, threatened or incited to crime. Prof. is interested in what distinguishes hate speech and other forms of damaging language from a linguistic perspective and how you can automatically recognize them. Dr. Tatjana Scheffler. She conducts research at the RUB in the field of digital forensic linguistics.

"Language processing in general has made big leaps in recent years," says Scheffler. Anyone who uses translation programs such as Google Translator or language assistants such as Siri today will achieve significantly better results than a few years ago. The classification of texts is now working quite well. Artificial intelligence algorithms can learn to assign statements to different categories. For example, you can decide whether a text passage contains a direct insult or not. The algorithms learn the categories using large training data sets that people have previously classified. Later they can transfer the knowledge of the learned categories to new data.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Bots talk like humans but their cloned personalities give them away

The image indicates the amount of genuine human accounts (blue) and fake bot accounts (red) by different ages and personality scores within the data of the study. The bot accounts have reasonable ages and personalities but only within an extremely thin range of values (ie, they all express the same human attributes), while the genuine human accounts have a large spread of values.
Credit: Stony Brook University

Social Bots, or accounts from non-genuine people, are posted all over social media. They infiltrate popular topics and serious ones like the Covid-19 pandemic. These bots are not like obvious robocalls or spam emails. They are designed to be human-like and interact with real social media users without their awareness. In fact, recent studies show that social media users find them mostly indistinguishable from real humans.

Now a study by Stony Brook University and University of Pennsylvania researchers published in Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL) attempts to look at how human these social spambots really are by estimating 17 human attributes of the bot and implementing state-of-the-art machine learning and natural language processing. The study findings shed light on how bots behave on social media platforms and interact with genuine accounts, as well as the capabilities of current bot-generation technologies.

“This research gives us insight into how bots are able to engage with these platforms undetected,” explains lead author Salvatore Giorgi, a Visiting Scholar at Stony Brook University and a PhD student in the Department of Computer and Information Science (CIS) at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “If a Twitter user thinks an account is human, then they may be more likely to engage with that account. Depending on the bot’s intent, the end result of this interaction could be innocuous, but it could also lead to engaging with potentially dangerous misinformation.”

People want a better world after the COVID-19 pandemic but don’t believe it will really happen

Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels
People strongly favor a fairer and more sustainable way of life in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite not thinking it will actually materialize or that others share the same progressive wishes, according to new research which sheds intriguing light on what people have missed most and want for the future.

The international study, led by the University of Bristol, reflects people’s preferences in the United Kingdom and United States in the early as well as later stages of the pandemic, and shows striking commonality in their perspectives.

A “fairer future with grassroots leadership” was around four times more popular, favored by some 40% of participants, than a “return to normal”, which only garnered support from little more than 10%, in both the UK and US, when presented with various scenario options for the future.

However, the majority of respondents expected normality to resume regardless of their preferences, mistakenly believing their views were in the minority and that most wanted a return to the status quo.

Lead author Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Bristol, said: “The findings revealed people’s appetite for positive change, but also a strong sense of skepticism about whether this would actually materialize or that their views were in fact widely shared.

“This is important for everyone, including leaders and policy makers, to know so we can recognize and raise awareness of the common consensus contrary to popular belief. When people start to feel in the majority with their hopes, this instils greater belief and action towards achieving and making them real.”

The paper, entitled ‘Losses, hopes, and expectations for sustainable futures after COVID,’ and published in the journal Humanities & Social Sciences Communications, comprised two online questionnaires undertaken between May and July, 2020, and July 2021, involving nearly 1,000 (981) adults in total aged from 18 to 85 years old.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Morally divided societies more likely to elect extreme political leaders

Unorthodox leaders who shake up the political system are more likely to be elected if people believe their society is morally divided and breaking down, University of Queensland research has found.

Dr Charlie Crimston from UQ’s School of Psychology said people may vote outside their own political orientation if they felt the need to restore moral order.

“Our research is the first that provides evidence of the causal links between moral division and the desire to elect extreme leaders as a potential solution,” Dr Crimston said.

“The study found that if people believed there was a breakdown in societal fabric, they were more likely to elect an authoritarian figure to restore order, such as Donald Trump or Pauline Hanson.

“On the other hand, if there is a feeling of lack of leadership in society, voters may be drawn to a progressive leader to unify and lead the country in a new direction, such as Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex.”

The paper examined core values of groups such as right and left wing voters in Australia, the US, and the UK and the perception that opposing groups have incompatible moral values.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Misinformation about COVID-19 spreads faster on social media

New research has found that the amount of misinformation related to COVID-19 is disproportionately higher than content produced by fact-checkers on Twitter. COVID misinformation also maintains attention and engagement for longer online than fact-based content.

The research, led by Open University academics, aimed to examine misinformation about COVID-19 online as a means of improving the effectiveness of the response to the pandemic.

Over 350,000 tweets that shared misinforming or fact-checking content related to COVID-19 between December 2019 to January 2021 were studied.

It was found that fact-checking may not be as successful as expected in reducing misinformation spread on Twitter. The amount of misinformation on COVID-19 was shared on Twitter around 3.5 times more than content trying to correct misinformation.

This highlighted the importance of fact-checkers making their content attractive and eye-catching to social media users – thereby more shareable and likely to gain traction on platforms.

Misinformation is also more often re-published or re-shared after some time than fact-checking. This is particularly observable in relation to conspiracy theories and COVID origins or causes as these are often much harder to debunk based on known facts (i.e. conspiracy theories are ‘beyond’ factual content and COVID causes still remain unclear).

Monday, November 22, 2021

Justinianic Plague was nothing like flu and may have hit England before Constantinople

Detail of the mosaic of Justinianus I in the Basilica di San Vitale,
Ravenna, Italy 
Credit: Petar Milošević
‘Plague sceptics’ are wrong to underestimate the devastating impact that bubonic plague had in the 6th– 8th centuries CE, argues a new study based on ancient texts and recent genetic discoveries. The same study suggests that bubonic plague may have reached England before its first recorded case in the Mediterranean via a currently unknown route, possibly involving the Baltic and Scandinavia.

The Justinianic Plague is the first known outbreak of bubonic plague in west Eurasian history and struck the Mediterranean world at a pivotal moment in its historical development, when the Emperor Justinian was trying to restore Roman imperial power.

For decades, historians have argued about the lethality of the disease; its social and economic impact; and the routes by which it spread. In 2019-20, several studies, widely publicized in the media, argued that historians had massively exaggerated the impact of the Justinianic Plague and described it as an ‘inconsequential pandemic’. In a subsequent piece of journalism, written just before COVID-19 took hold in the West, two researchers suggested that the Justinianic Plague was ‘not unlike our flu outbreaks’.

In a new study, published in Past & Present, Cambridge historian Professor Peter Sarris argues that these studies ignored or downplayed new genetic findings, offered misleading statistical analysis and misrepresented the evidence provided by ancient texts.

Sarris says: “Some historians remain deeply hostile to regarding external factors such as disease as having a major impact on the development of human society, and ‘plague skepticism’ has had a lot of attention in recent years.”

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Safe Thanksgiving playbook as new COVID surge expected

As the U.S. braces for a new surge of COVID-19 cases expected to start hitting around Thanksgiving, Northwestern Medicine experts offer a playbook to a safe holiday gathering.

Vaccines are paramount for a safe Thanksgiving in 2021, which will be less restricted than last year. But Christmas will be even better once children five and over are fully vaccinated, experts say.

“Vaccines are a game changer, but we can’t let the pendulum swing too far and pretend we are back to pre-COVID normalcy,” said Dr. Sadiya Khan, assistant professor of medicine in epidemiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Special caution has to be taken around older adults who are most vulnerable to having a severe outcome from COVID-19, if they have not yet had a booster or have underlying conditions including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, severe obesity or uncontrolled hypertension.

Khan, and Mercedes Carnethon, vice chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern, offer a roadmap for a safe celebration in two weeks and how that will change for Christmas.

Mercedes Carnethon

“This year celebrations can expand somewhat, but your vaccinated older adult is still at higher risk than your unvaccinated child. Children over five will not have completed the vaccination series by Nov. 25, so it’s risky if you are bringing semi-vaccinated children in front of older adults, some of whom are still at risk for severe illness and breakthrough infections.

“Older adults are still vulnerable during indoor family celebrations, even if they have received the booster. It’s worth a discussion about comfort levels of older adults and their risk status and whether they received a booster shot. Individuals who are immunocompromised still may not have a very robust response to a booster, so I would hate for someone to put too much reliance on a booster. Nothing is risk free here.

“Everyone at the event is safest if everyone has received a vaccine. If they haven’t, disinvite them from the meal part when masks have to be off.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Treating opioid use disorder in remote areas

The most sparsely populated regions of the American West often are unable to provide local treatment for opioid use disorder. Long driving distances can be a barrier for people who need treatment, so the issue has ramifications for the health and wellness of many residents across the most rural areas of the country.

A team of researchers from Penn State and JG Research and Evaluation recently examined the effectiveness of a successful model for rural treatment of opioid use disorder in Montana, one of the nation’s most sparsely populated states.

“When states develop treatment models for opioid use disorder, public health officials must account for local variations in culture, stigma, and access to resources."
Danielle Rhubart, assistant professor of biobehavioral health

Opioids are highly addictive, and opioid use disorder is difficult to treat. Fortunately, many people who experience opioid use disorder can reach recovery. Most treatment programs, however, are very intensive and require specialized care, highly regulated medication, and daily or weekly clinical visits. Because of this intensive specialization, people in rural areas who experience opioid use disorder often lack access to local treatment.

To address the lack of services for people with opioid use disorder in rural areas, researchers and clinicians in Vermont developed a model of care for opioid treatment. People with opioid use disorders from remote areas are stabilized at addiction care facilities in more populous areas and then receive ongoing care at rural primary care clinics that have established partnerships with these addiction care facilities. Based on this model’s success in Vermont, it has been deployed in many rural areas across the nation.

Get your kids ages 5-11 vaccinated once approved

Vaccination will help break the cycle of frequent PCR testing, quarantining, isolation

Parents are likely to learn around Halloween whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-old children. While some families are champing at the bit to schedule their kids’ first shot, polling suggests many remain hesitant.

But parents should feel confident getting their young children vaccinated as soon as the FDA gives the green light and it becomes available, said Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine pediatric experts Dr. Nina Alfieri and Dr. Jennifer Kusma, both of whom are advanced general pediatric and primary care physicians at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

“Vaccinating this group of children is going to be helpful for them staying in school, getting back to their routines, protecting their grandparents and allowing their parents to keep working and doing their interests and daily activities,” Alfieri said. “Kids thrive on consistency. Protecting children with vaccination is an important step in helping break the cycle of kids needing frequent PCR testing and quarantining with each sick symptom they have. This could allow children to have a more consistent routine in addition to protecting their physical health.”

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


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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