Thursday, June 11, 2009

Widely used body fat measurements overestimate fatness in blacks

The body mass index (BMI) and waistline measurement overestimate obesity in blacks, according to a new study. The results, which were presented at The Endocrine Society's 91st Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., suggest that conventional methods for estimating body fat may need to become race-specific.

"Compared to Caucasians, African-Americans of the same age, gender, waist circumference, weight and height may have lower total and abdominal fat mass," said principal investigator and study leader Samuel Dagogo-Jack, MD, professor of medicine and chief, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis. "These findings argue for a review of the existing cutoffs for healthy BMI and waist circumference among African-Americans."

Samuel Dagogo-Jack

Samuel Dagogo-Jack, MD is the A. C. Mullins Professor in Translational Research; Professor of Medicine & Chief of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism; and Director of the Fellowship Training Program in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, Memphis, TN.
BMI is a simple and common method of estimating someone's body fat levels, based on that person's weight and height measurement. Obesity experts classify an adult who has a BMI less than 18.5 as underweight; normal weight is 18.5 to 24.9, overweight is 25 to 29.9 and obese is more than 30. An indirect measurement, BMI is not a reliable indicator of body fat for people who have a large body frame or lots of lean muscle. More specialized methods, such as DEXA bone density scanning or computed tomography (CT), can directly measure total and regional body fat, but these methods are expensive and more time-consuming.

The waist circumference is used to identify abdominal obesity. This fat around the middle carries a higher risk for obesity-related complications such as diabetes and heart disease. Experts define abdominal obesity as a waist circumference greater than 40 inches in men and more than 35 inches in nonpregnant women.
National data show that blacks have higher rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes than whites. Dagogo-Jack and his co-workers therefore examined whether the relationship between body fat and BMI would differ by race. In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Diabetes Association, they compared how close BMI was to body fat directly measured by DEXA in whites and blacks. The researchers performed the same comparison for waist circumference and abdominal fat. They studied 93 nondiabetic adults (53 blacks and 40 whites) who have one or both parents with type 2 diabetes. Subjects had a broad range of body weights.

The correlation between DEXA-measured total fat and the BMI was higher in whites than blacks, the authors reported. The same was true for the correlation between directly measured abdominal fat and waist size.

Therefore, body fat is likely to be lower in blacks than in whites of the same weight and height, Dagogo-Jack said. He said their data suggest that muscle mass may be higher in blacks, which would explain the dissociation between weight expressed as BMI and measured body fat.

"If our results are confirmed in a larger study population by other researchers, the obesity field will need to develop ethnic-specific cutoffs for what values represent overweight and obesity," he concluded. ###

Contact: Aaron Lohr alohr@endo-society.org 240-427-7157 The Endocrine Society

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Long and short sleep durations are associated with increased risk for diabetes

Long and short sleep durations are associated with increased risk for diabetes

WESTCHESTER, Ill. –According to a research abstract that was presented on Monday, June 8, at SLEEP 2009, the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, both long and short sleepers are at greater risk for diabetes. Individuals sleeping for more than eight hours per night may be particularly vulnerable.

Results indicate that the adjusted odds ratio was 1.24 for diabetes associated with short sleep (five hours per night or less) and 1.48 for diabetes associated with long sleep (nine or more hours per night). The prevalence of diabetes was 12 percent for blacks and 8 percent for whites, and the prevalence of obesity (body mass index of 30 kg/m2 or greater) was 52 percent for blacks and 38 percent for whites.

Girardin Jean-Louis, PhD

Dr. Girardin Jean-Louis is Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine and Director of the Research Core at the Center for Health Disparities Research, SUNY Downstate Disorders Center. He is well known in the field of Sleep Medicine and has made a significant contribution in the literature on aging and sleep, circadian rhythm, and ethno-gerontology. He has been involved in several important NIH-funded studies, which have led to 150 publications, 45 in peer-reviewed journals and 105 in scientific conference proceedings and book chapters.

Dr. Jean-Louis maintains an active research program at the center, working with several minority fellows, residents, medical students, and college students. His research interests include: associations of metabolic syndrome with sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease, effects of sleep apnea on ocular blood flow, eye diseases and circadian-rhythm dysfunctions, and insomnia in medical and psychiatric disorders.
According to lead author Girardin Jean-Louis, PhD, associate professor at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center at the Brooklyn Health Disparities Research Center in New York, findings suggest that both patients who have excessive or insufficient sleep time have increased risk for developing diabetes, a serious health condition.

"Both blacks and whites who were obese tended to have short sleep time. These findings suggest that race significantly influenced the risk of obesity conferred by short sleep duration," said Jean-Louis. "As obesity is associated with diabetes and sleep apnea, it may be that more blacks are at risk for sleep apnea and diabetes, which are both linked to cardiovascular disease."

The study involved data from 29,818 individuals who completed the 2005 National Health Interview Survey, a cross-sectional household interview survey using multistage area probability and design. Data were collected from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Participants were between the ages of 18 and 85 years; 85 percent of the sample was white and 15 percent was black; 56 percent of participants were women.

The authors conclude that more research is needed to identify the factors that could explain the relationship between long sleep duration and diabetes. ###

The annual SLEEP meeting brings together an international body of 6,000 leading researchers and clinicians in the field of sleep medicine to present and discuss new findings and medical developments related to sleep and sleep disorders.

More than 1,300 research abstracts will be presented at the SLEEP meeting, a joint venture of the AASM and the Sleep Research Society.
The three-and-a-half-day scientific meeting will bring to light new findings that enhance the understanding of the processes of sleep and aid the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy and sleep apnea.

Abstract Title: Sleep duration and risk of diabetes: analysis of the National Health Interview Survey
Presentation Date: Monday, June 8
Category: Sleep Deprivation
Abstract ID: 0459

Contact: Kelly Wagner kwagner@aasmnet.org 708-492-0930 American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Sunday, June 7, 2009

No insurance? No colonoscopy

John M Inadomi highlights the disparity in colorectal cancer screening (CRCS) among different socioeconomic and ethnic groups in US society in a recent review published by F1000 Medicine Reports (www.f1000medicine.com/reports).

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the developed world. In this report, John Inadomi, chief of Clinical Gastroenterology at the San Francisco General Hospital and a frequent contributor to F1000 Medicine, writes that the uptake of certain types of screening has been linked to inadequate medical insurance amongst the poorer socio-economic and ethnic groups.

Of the several screening modalities currently available, colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy and fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) have been shown to reduce colorectal cancer incidence or mortality. Inadomi draws attention to the high prevalence of 'flat' colonic lesions since some screening methods are less likely to detect flat lesions, patients who opt for these modalities (e.g. for financial reasons) could be at risk of lesions being missed.

Digestive System

Colorectal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the colon or the rectum. The colon is part of the body's digestive system.
One study cited in Inadomi's report found that "African-American women were half as likely as white women to report having undergone screening by colonoscopy." Added to this, awareness of the different tests for CRCS was significantly lower among African-Americans than whites. Correspondingly, there was a similar significant difference in lack of medical insurance coverage between these groups.

New technologies used in rural primary care practice to educate people to different types of CRCS have proven to raise the number of patient intention to get screened, helping to overcome socio-economic barriers.
While recognising that language, culture and economic inequality remain significant barriers, Inadomi is optimistic about "the use of new technology and techniques for disseminating information among patients and their providers", and concludes that the efficacy of CRCS may be better improved by "specific educational interventions" than by any given advance in current screening technologies. ###

Notes to Editors

1. Dr John M Inadomi, Faculty Member for F1000 Medicine, is Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine and chief of Clinical Gastroenterology at the San Francisco General Hospital www.f1000medicine.com/member/1749530870211937

2. The full text of this F1000 Medicine Reports article is available at www.f1000medicine.com/reports/10.3410/m1-17/

3. Please name F1000 Medicine Reports and Faculty of 1000 Medicine in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the website (details below).

4. Non-polypoid or 'flat' colonic neoplasia is present in 9% of the screening population and up to 15% of patients with a prior history of colonic cancer in the US.

5. The F1000 Medicine Reports journal (ISSN 1757-5931), publishes short commentaries by expert clinicians focussing on the most important studies identified by Faculty of 1000 Medicine that are likely to change clinical practice. The commentaries summarise the implications of important new research findings for clinicians www.f1000medicine.com/reports

6. Faculty of 1000 Medicine, www.f1000medicine.com, is a unique online service that helps you stay informed of high impact articles and access the opinions of global leaders in medicine. Our distinguished international faculty select and evaluate key articles across medicine, providing a rapidly updated, authoritative guide to the medical literature that matters.

7. Please contact Kathleen Wets, Director of Sales & Marketing, for a complimentary journalist subscription to Faculty of 1000 www.f1000.com (which includes F1000 Medicine Reports).

Contact: Kathleen Wets kathleen@f1000.com 44-207-323-0323 Faculty of 1000: Biology and Medicine

Friday, June 5, 2009

Stepping up minority recruiting

NIH grant funds School of Medicine's effort to educate minority researchers

Medical schools nationwide struggle to recruit minority physicians, but Temple has met that challenge head on and has the record to prove its success.

Since 1971, nearly 700 underrepresented African American and Latino physicians have completed their medical training at the School of Medicine. And this summer, the school will strengthen its efforts to educate minorities thanks to a catchy acronym and the perseverance of Raul DeLa Cadena.

Backed by a five-year, $500,000 National Institutes of Health (NIH) training grant, the associate professor of physiology and thrombosis research is launching the Short Term Education Program for Undergraduate and Predoctoral students (STEP UP) to increase the number of minorities involved in health-related research.

Raul DeLa Cadena

Raul DeLa Cadena
"We believe producing a physician scientist who is engaged in doing research in areas related to minority health will help eliminate health disparities," said DeLa Cadena.

STEP UP begins this summer as a three-month research-based training program for 12 students from ethnic groups that the NIH has shown to be underrepresented in the health professions.
The cohort will include eight undergraduates who have finished at least one year of college and are interested in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy or other health careers; and four medical students who have successfully completed their first year of medical education. Participants will pair with a mentor and get training and hands-on experience in biomedical research topics such as safety in the research laboratory, research misconduct, the use of experimental animal models and health disparities.

Promoting diversity is familiar ground for DeLa Cadena. As assistant dean of the school's recruitment, admissions and retention program, he and his staff provide support and opportunities for prospective applicants, students and alumni from groups that are underrepresented in medicine.

"Despite the fact that African Americans make up at least 12 percent of this country's population, they and other emerging majorities are clearly underrepresented in medicine and the health professions," said DeLa Cadena. "Their representation as scientists is even more scant."

Between 2001 and 2005, the School of Medicine ran a similar program — the Short-Term Summer Research Program — which trained 70 underrepresented students in the health professions. But in 2005 the NIH changed the initiative to promote diversity in research activities, and it's taken DeLa Cadenda three years of fine-tuning to satisfy the NIH's new funding requirements.

"It was so frustrating not to have been able to offer something over the past three years," said DeLa Cadena, "especially when we've witnessed the success we've had with students who took the previous short-term summer program."

Ann Igbre was one of the 70 Temple students who participated in the summer program in 2004. She calls the experience "wonderful."

"The program introduced me to research and really helped me understand the importance of research in medicine," said Igbre. "That summer, I was able to put together a simple research question, test it and see the results. Plus, having that experience on my resume was great when applying for residency."

Now in the ophthalmology residency program at Temple, Igbre is studying racial differences in diabetic retinopathy. She credits the summer program for making her a competitive applicant and is glad to hear that more minority students like her will get opportunities through STEP UP.

The STEP UP grant comes with few strings. The research must be within the scope of areas of interest to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). This requirement places the Cardiovascular Center, the Lung Center and the Thrombosis Research Center in an ideal position to train a future cohort of health professional scientists.

"I strongly believe physician scientists as well as other health professional scientists from minority backgrounds will go on to study research diseases that afflict their ethnic group in a disproportionate fashion, such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes," said DeLa Cadena. "And it's exciting to be a part of that effort." ###

Contact: Megan Chiplock chiplock@temple.edu 215-707-1731 Temple University

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

African Americans are more vulnerable to welfare penalties

In two new studies, sociologists reveal racial disparities in welfare sanctions and explore welfare use among Mexican Americans

WASHINGTON, DC — African Americans are significantly more likely to be sanctioned by the United States welfare system than whites, according to research published in the June issue of the American Sociological Review, the flagship journal of the American Sociological Association.

In a study led by sociologist Sanford F. Schram, a team of researchers conducted a multi-pronged analysis to determine how and why race influences sanctioning under welfare reform in the United States. The study combined real-life data from the Florida Welfare Transition program and experimental data from a survey in which case workers were asked to make sanctioning decisions based on hypothetical scenarios.

Sanford F. Schram

Sanford Schram teaches social theory and social policy in the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research at Bryn Mawr College.

Office: Room 212, Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, Bryn Mawr College 300 Airdale Rd. Bryn Mawr PA 19010-1697. Hours: Th 10-11:30 am or by appointment. Phone: 610-520-2622, Fax: 610-520-2655. Email: sschram@brynmawr.edu
"Welfare sanctions should be imposed in response to client behavior in both law and principle, yet this research indicates that in practice, sanctions are often used in response to client characteristics," said Sanford F. Schram, a professor of social theory and policy at Bryn Mawr College's Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research. "This study provides powerful evidence that race and stereotype-consistent traits interact to shape the allocation of punishment at the frontlines of welfare reform."

Findings from experimental and administrative data both supported the vulnerability of African Americans to welfare sanctions, especially when a recipient had a history of one or more sanctions.
According to experimental data, black welfare clients with a prior sanction were 29 percent more likely to be sanctioned than previously-sanctioned whites, and 45 percent more likely to be sanctioned than whites without a prior sanction. In the administrative data, the risk of a first-time sanction was 14 percent higher for African Americans than for white clients. When there were prior sanctions, the risk doubled to 28 percent for blacks compared to whites who had no sanction history.

"White clients in these experiments suffered no statistically discernible negative effects when linked to characteristics that hold negative meanings in the welfare-to-work context," Schram said. "Minority clients, however, enjoyed no such immunity: their odds of being sanctioned increased in the presence of discrediting markers even when the details of their case did not change a bit."

Despite identical situations posed to welfare case workers in experimental surveys, a pregnant Hispanic with four children was significantly more likely to be sanctioned than a white client with only one child. Although results differed in a similar analysis of administrative data, the lack of consistency between the two data sets confirms previous research that demonstrated a narrower gap between Hispanic and white stereotypes than between black and white stereotypes.

Experimental data for this study came from a Web-based survey completed during a two-week period at the end of 2006 by 144 case managers with the Florida Welfare Transition program. Case managers were presented with realistic rule-violation scenarios in which key client characteristics were randomly assigned. Case managers then were asked if they would impose a sanction in response to the scenario. The hypothetical scenarios randomized the client's race (white, African American or Hispanic) and the client's personal situation. In one scenario, the client was a young mother of multiple children and in another she was a repeat welfare recipient with a history of sanctions.

Experimental data were analyzed in conjunction with real-world administrative data from the Florida Department of Children and Families. The data set included monthly, individual-level records for those who received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) between January 2000 and April 2004. In an effort to match the scenarios provided in the experimental survey as closely as possible, records were analyzed based on the joint effects of (1) ethnicity and family size and (2) the joint effects of racial status and sanction history. The total administrative sample included more than 6,000 women and nearly 20,000 monthly observation records of participants.

Schram's co-authors for this study included Joe Soss, Cowles Professor for the Study of Public Service at the University of Minnesota, Richard C. Fording, Professor of Political Science at the University of Kentucky, and Linda Houser, a doctoral candidate at Bryn Mawr College.

Immigrants and Welfare

In another study to examine welfare in the context of demographic groups in the June issue of the American Sociological Review, sociologists Jennifer Van Hook and Frank D. Bean found that, prior to welfare reform, Mexican immigrants were more likely than other groups to transition from welfare to work, particularly in states that provided more generous welfare benefits.

"This research refutes welfare reform assumptions that immigrants and disadvantaged native citizens seek out and maintain welfare assistance for the same reasons," said Jennifer Van Hook, associate professor of sociology and demography at the Pennsylvania State University. "In the case of Mexican immigrants, welfare seems to be used primarily to minimize the effects of gaps in employment, not to avoid work or perpetuate dependency."

Among women who reported receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC, the pre-welfare reform version of TANF), Mexican immigrants were significantly more likely to exit welfare within one year (57.7 percent) than were white (37.9 percent) or black (36.4 percent) natives.

Using samples of 4,071 racially diverse immigrant women and 9,265 white or black native women from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), Van Hook and Bean analyzed longitudinal data from the 1990 through 1993 annual SIPP panels. The researchers chose to analyze pre-welfare reform data due to the lack of special restrictions related to migration status on the welfare eligibility of legal immigrants. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (Welfare Reform Act) of 1996 barred legal immigrants entering the United States after August 22, 1996, from receiving assistance for the first five years after entry.

The research underscores the importance of taking cultural considerations into account in explaining immigrant welfare behaviors. Van Hook and Bean attribute the lower rates of welfare receipt and higher rates of post-welfare employment of Mexican immigrant women to the strong pro-employment cultural orientation among these immigrants.

"Our research suggests that the strong involvement of work and family in the Mexican decision to migrate leads to the prioritization of employment well after migration, minimizing welfare receipt and increasing post-welfare employment," Van Hook said. "Further, immigrant public assistance may in fact have a positive effect on integration, helping immigrants to work their way out of poverty and off welfare."

Welfare reform is not likely to deter future Mexican immigration, according to Van Hook and Bean, if policymakers are indeed misguided in assuming that immigrants are drawn to the United States by welfare, or that immigrants assimilate into welfare. Instead, welfare reform actually may delay economic incorporation, particularly if no other form of economic settlement assistance is available to immigrants experiencing conditions of great economic need. ###

The research articles "Deciding to Discipline: Race, Choice and Punishment at the Frontlines of Welfare Reform" and "Explaining Mexican Immigrant Welfare Behaviors: The Importance of Employment-Related Cultural Repertoires" as well as author interviews are available by request for members of the media. Contact Jackie Cooper, ASA's Media Relations Officer, at pubinfo@asanet.org or (202) 247-9871.

About the American Sociological Association

The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org), founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.

Contact: Jackie Cooper pubinfo@asanet.org 202-247-9871 American Sociological Association

Monday, June 1, 2009

Job loss can make you sick, new study finds

BOSTON—In the face of rising unemployment and businesses declaring bankruptcy, a new study has found that losing your job can make you sick. Even when people find a new job quickly, there is an increased risk of developing a new health problem, such as hypertension, heart disease, heart attack, stroke or diabetes as a result of the job loss. The study will be published in the May 8 issue of Demography.

"In today's economy, job loss can happen to anybody," said Kate Strully, who conducted the research as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society scholar at the Harvard School of Public Health. "We need to be aware of the health consequences of losing our jobs and do what we can to alleviate the negative effects."

Workers who are in poor health have a 40 percent increase in the odds of being laid off or fired, but Strully's findings go beyond sicker people being more likely to lose their jobs.

David R. Williams

David R. Williams, Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman. Professor of Public Health (Harvard School of Public Health)

Professor of African and African American Studies (Harvard University)

Contact dwilliam@hsph.harvard.edu. 617-432-6807 (Phone) 617-496-5794 (FAX) 615 Kresge Building. 677 Huntington Ave
Boston, MA 02115
She finds that "job churning," defined as high rates of job loss but low unemployment, has negative health consequences for workers who were not already sick. For those who lost their job—white or blue collar—through no fault of their own, such as an establishment closure, the odds of reporting fair or poor health increased by 54 percent, and among respondents with no pre-existing health conditions, it increased the odds of a new health condition by 83 percent. Even when workers became re-employed, those workers had an increased risk of new stress-related health conditions.

Unlike the results of job loss due to an establishment closure, when health effects were analyzed based on workers who were fired or laid off, significant differences were found based on the workers' occupations.

While being fired or laid off or leaving a job voluntarily more than doubles the odds of a fair or poor health report among blue-collar workers, such job displacements have no significant association with the health reports of white-collar workers. The reasons for this disparity are unclear based on the study results.
"As we consider ways to improve health in America during a time of economic recession and rising unemployment, it is critical that we look beyond health care reform to understand the tremendous impact that factors like job loss have on our health," says David R. Williams, Norman Professor of Public Health at the Harvard School of Public Health, Professor of African and African American Studies and of Sociology at Harvard University and staff director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America. "Where and how we live, work, learn and play have a greater impact on how healthy we are than the health care we receive."

The study was conducted based on data from the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a nationally representative survey from 1999, 2001 and 2003. The study looked at establishment closures that included a range of occupations, including managerial or professional positions (30 percent displacement), sales, clerical, and craft jobs, (33 percent displacement), a machine operator jobs (20 percent displacement), and service positions (13 percent displacement). ###

The RWJF Health & Society Scholars program is designed to build the nation's capacity for research, leadership, and policy change to address the broad range of factors that affect health. Information about the RWJF Health & Society Scholars Program, including application information, can be found at www.healthandsocietyscholars.org/

The research findings presented here are those of the researcher and are not necessarily the views of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Contact: Natalia Barolin nbarolin@iqsolutions.com 240-221-4088 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Low levels of vitamin D linked to common vaginal infection in pregnant women

Findings may explain higher rates of infection among African-Americans

PITTSBURGH, – Pregnant women with low levels of vitamin D may be more likely to suffer from bacterial vaginosis (BV) – a common vaginal infection that increases a woman's risk for preterm delivery, according to a University of Pittsburgh study. Available online and published in the June issue of the Journal of Nutrition, the study may explain why African-American women, who often lack adequate vitamin D, are three times more likely than white women to develop BV.

"Bacterial vaginosis affects nearly one in three reproductive-aged women, so there is great need to understand how it can be prevented," said Lisa M. Bodnar, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., assistant professor of epidemiology, obstetrics and gynecology, University of Pittsburgh. "It is not only associated with a number of gynecologic conditions, but also may contribute to premature delivery – the leading cause of neonatal mortality – making it of particular concern to pregnant women."

Lisa M. Bodnar, PhD, MPH, RD

Lisa M. Bodnar, PhD, MPH, RD. Assistant Professor Department of Epidemiology A742 Crabtree Hall 130 DeSoto Street Pittsburgh, PA 15261 Phone: 412.624.9032 Fax: 412.624.7397 E-mail: bodnar@edc.pitt.edu
The study, which included 469 pregnant women, sought to determine whether poor vitamin D status played a role in predisposing women, especially African-Americans, to BV. Dr. Bodnar and colleagues at Magee-Womens Research Institute found that 41 percent of the study participants had BV and of these, 93 percent had insufficient levels of vitamin D. They also found that the prevalence of BV decreased as vitamin D levels rose.
Vitamin D may play a role in BV by regulating the production and function of antimicrobial molecules, which in turn may help the immune system prevent and control bacterial infection. However, only about one in four Americans gets enough vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency may be more common in African-Americans because dark pigmentation limits the amount of vitamin D that can be made in the skin through casual exposure to sunlight. African-American women also are less likely to meet dietary recommendations of vitamin D.

"Although this is a preliminary study, it points out an interesting connection between vitamin D and BV," said Dr. Bodnar. "We don't recommend pregnant women take mega-doses of vitamin D based on these findings, but they should talk with their doctor if they have concerns about their vitamin D status. All women should be encouraged to eat a healthy diet and take a prenatal vitamin before they become pregnant or as soon as they find out they are pregnant." ###

Co-authors of the study include Marijane A. Krohn, Ph.D., and Hyagriv N. Simhan, M.D., with the University of Pittsburgh and Magee-Womens Research Institute. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Contact: Clare Collins CollCX@upmc.edu 412-647-3555 University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Blacks more likely to opt for life-sustaining measures at end of life

PITTSBURGH, When faced with a terminal illness, African-American seniors were two times more likely than whites to say they would want life-prolonging treatments, according to a University of Pittsburgh study available online and published in the June issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

The study, led by Amber E. Barnato, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medical, clinical and translational science and health policy, University of Pittsburgh, was based on interviews and surveys with more than 2,800 Medicare beneficiaries 65 years and older, making it the largest nationally representative sample of U.S. seniors' end-of-life treatment preferences. Overall, the majority of Medicare beneficiaries surveyed preferred not to die in a hospital or to receive life-sustaining measures at the end of life.

Amber  E.  Barnato  MD, MPH, MS

Amber E. Barnato, M.D., M.P.H. Assistant Professor of Medicine and Health Policy and Management. Associate Director, Clinical Scientist Training Program

Office: 200 Meyran Ave. Suite 200. Pittsburgh, PA 15213. Phone: 412-692-4875 Fax: 412-246-6954 Email: barnatoae@upmc.edu
During interviews, study respondents were asked about their treatment preferences in the event they were diagnosed with a terminal illness and had less than a year to live. More African-Americans (18 percent) than whites (8 percent) reported that they would prefer to die in a hospital. African-Americans (28 percent) also were more likely than whites (15 percent) to report that they would opt for life-prolonging drugs, even if the treatment made them feel worse all of the time. Only 49 percent of African-Americans compared to 74 percent of whites responded that they would want potentially life-shortening palliative drugs (for pain and comfort only). Lastly, when asked whether they would opt for mechanical ventilation to extend their lives for a week, 24 percent of African-Americans said they would, compared to 13 percent of whites. When mechanical ventilation would extend life by one month, this percentage rose to 36 percent in African-Americans, compared to 21 percent in whites.
"We collected detailed information about personal and social factors that might explain the relationship between African-Americans and preference for more intensive end-of-life treatment. An overly optimistic view of the ability of mechanical ventilation, a breathing machine, to save lives and return people to their normal activities explained some, but not all, of this difference," said Dr. Barnato.

Although the study looked at differences in treatment preferences by race, Dr. Barnato cautions it should not be viewed as an invitation to generalize. "As doctors, we should ask each patient and family about their goals of treatment, then offer the treatments that meet those goals, rather than making assumptions about treatment preferences based on race," she said. ###

The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging. Co-authors include Denise Anthony, Ph.D., Dartmouth College; Jonathan Skinner, Ph.D., and Elliott Fisher, M.D., M.P.H., Dartmouth Medical School; and Patricia Gallagher, Ph.D., University of Massachusetts.

Contact: Clare Collins CollCX@upmc.edu 412-647-3555 University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Clear racial discrepancies exist among patients with CKD

Due to sociological factors, black patients face higher rates of death in early stages of the disease

Washington, DC (May 19, 2008) — Black patients have a higher risk of dying in the early stages of chronic kidney disease (CKD) than whites, according to a study appearing in the July 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Society Nephrology (JASN). The findings may explain why blacks have better survival rates once they reach advanced stages of the disease—in essence, because only the healthiest blacks are surviving long enough to develop later stages of the disease. If white patients are given better care in managing their condition early on, even less healthy patients may live to develop advanced disease. But, their compromised health may put them at increased risk of death in the long term compared with blacks.

Kidney Disease Mortality Chart by Race and SexIn addition, the study’s results indicate that racial differences in the death rates of chronic kidney disease patients depend more on sociological factors than on biological ones. Poverty and lack of education and medical insurance in particular may contribute to the high death rates among black individuals.
Previous research has documented that, in general, mortality rates for black individuals are persistently higher than those for whites. However, among patients with late-stage chronic kidney disease, the trend is reversed and black individuals have a survival advantage over whites. Hispanic patients also seem to have a survival advantage over whites in these situations.

Puzzled by this paradox, Dr. Rajnish Mehrotra of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and colleagues set out to find an explanation. They assessed data from a total of 14,611 patients in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANESIII), a population-based survey of community-dwelling individuals.

The investigators found that 2,892 of the individuals in the survey had chronic kidney disease, 1,127 of whom died during follow-up. Among those with early-stage disease who were younger than 65 years, blacks had a 78% higher risk of death compared with whites. This elevated risk was significantly related to socioeconomic status and access-to-care. There was also a nonsignificant trend for higher mortality among Hispanics compared with whites.

Dr. Mehrotra and his team conclude that their findings may explain the lower mortality rates observed among black individuals with advanced kidney disease. Blacks may not be receiving as high a quality of care as whites during the early stages of their disease, so that only healthier blacks are surviving and developing later stages of chronic kidney disease.

“These data suggest that factors such as education, poverty, and lower probability of medical insurance may be more important in mediating the high risk for death among younger black individuals than are biologic differences,” the authors write. “This, in turn, may help in prioritizing interventions aimed at reducing the disparities among younger black individuals with chronic kidney disease.” ###

The study entitled, “Racial Differences in Mortality among Those with CKD,” is available online at jasn.asnjournals.org/ and will appear in print in the July issue of JASN.

Dr. Mehrotra is supported by a K23 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Support for this work was also provided by other grants from NIH.

The American Society of Nephrology (ASN) is a not-for-profit organization of 11,000 physicians and scientists dedicated to the study of nephrology and committed to providing a forum for the promulgation of information regarding the latest research and clinical findings on kidney diseases. ASN publishes the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN), the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (CJASN), and the Nephrology Self-Assessment Program (NephSAP). In January 2009, ASN will launch a newsmagazine.

Contact: Shari Leventhal sleventhal@asn-online.org 202-416-0658 American Society of Nephrology

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bringing underrepresented groups into mathematics

Mathematics departments honored for outstanding efforts

Providence, RI---The Committee on the Profession (CoProf) of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) has announced the selection of two outstanding mathematics department programs to be designated as Mathematics Programs that Make a Difference. For 2009 the honored programs are the Department of Statistics at North Carolina State University, and the Department of Mathematics at the University of Mississippi.

"These two departments have outstanding records in recruiting members of underrepresented groups and mentoring them to successfully complete their graduate degrees," said Alejandro Adem of the University of British Columbia, chair of CoProf and of the selection committee for the award. "The AMS Committee on the Profession was extremely impressed with their accomplishments, which can serve as a model for other departments in the United States."

Diversity a Priority: NCSU's Department of Statistics

NCSU Department of Statistics

Caption: These are members of the department of statistics at North Carolina State University.

Credit: Photo by Marc Hall, courtesy of the NCSU Department of Statistics. Usage Restrictions: Contact for permission to publish this photograph: Sastry G. Pantula Pantula@stat.ncsu.edu.
The Department of Statistics at North Carolina State University (NCSU) has made diversity of students and faculty a top priority. Out of 40 faculty in the department, 11 are female, 3 are African-American, and 2 are Hispanic. In the past 10 years, 15 minority students have received master's degrees and 2 have received Ph.D.s. The department has about 160 graduate students, including 9 African-Americans and 4 Hispanics; over 50 percent are female.
The department's approach includes communication with faculty at other institutions, active and sustained recruiting of minority students, and careful mentoring. NCSU has cultivated ties to other institutions, in particular historically black colleges and universities, as well as to organizations such as the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). Through such connections, NCSU has reached undergraduate students interested in advanced work in statistics and provided them with information to decide whether NCSU is a good fit for them for graduate school. A co-Director of Graduate Programs, Pam Arroway travels extensively to various small colleges and summer programs to recruit students and to network and maintain strong relationships with their mentors.
Once students are recruited into the graduate program, they benefit from extensive mentoring from faculty advisors. Each new student is also assigned to a more-advanced student who acts as a mentor, or "stat buddy". A key figure in the department's mentoring efforts has been faculty member Kimberly Weems, who organizes many social activities for minority students and meets individually with them to ensure their successful progress through the program.Ole Miss Department of Mathematics

Caption: These are members of the University of Mississippi department of mathematics.

Credit: University of Mississippi Department of Mathematics. Usage Restrictions: Contact for permission to use this photograph: Gerard Buskes mmbuskes@olemiss.edu.
Setting the student-centered tone is department head Sastry Pantula, who has twice been selected for a university diversity award. Other department faculty have received similar recognition, including Weems and Jackie Hughes-Oliver. Recently a graduate student in the department, Anthony Franklin, received a university diversity award for his support of students and for recruiting new students of all backgrounds.

This dynamic department has pursued and received many grants, including two National Science Foundation VIGRE grants that proved crucial in supporting minority students. Recently the department received an S-STEM (Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) grant from the NSF, which will provide scholarships for United States undergraduate and graduate students with financial need. The department participates in many existing diversity programs, workshops, and conferences, and also designs and hosts some of its own. Some of the more recent such events are StatFest, Infinite Possibilities Conference, a Pipeline Workshop for Faculty of Women's Colleges and Minority Institutions, and Building Future Faculty. NCSU's long-term commitment, with strong support from its administration, is making a difference in diversity in the mathematical sciences.

Nurturing African-American Mathematicians: University of Mississippi's Department of Mathematics

The southern United States is home to many of the nation's African-Americans, and yet the universities in that part of the country have not historically been large producers of African-American Ph.D.s in mathematics. But the University of Mississippi (UM) has started to reverse this trend, becoming a national leader in nurturing and mentoring African-Americans in doctoral study. Over the past decade, 11 African-Americans have received mathematics doctorates from Ole Miss. That the university was once a symbol of educational segregation in the United States gives this success story special importance.

Since 2001, the UM mathematics department has received two GAANN (Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need) grants from the U.S. Department of Education; the grants provide fellowships for graduate study. The fellowships proved to be transformational for the department, allowing it to quadruple the number of graduate students and to ensure that they are financially well supported. At the same time the department worked diligently to provide more careful nurturing of its graduate student population, both in research and in professional development.

Contributions to these achievements were made by the entire UM mathematics department, including 10 faculty who have served as GAANN dissertation advisors. Among the key leaders have been the co-principal investigators of the GAANN grants, Gerard Buskes and Donald Cole. As an African-American faculty member and assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs, Cole has been a role model and mentor for the African-American graduate students, while Buskes serves as advisor and mentor to the GAANN students. Buskes eloquently described the department's efforts in an article, "Mississippi Mathematics Renaissance," which appeared in the January 2007 issue of the Notices of the AMS. This article celebrated a high point in the department's efforts, the awarding of Ph.D.s to six African-Americans in 2006, which is the largest cohort of African-American mathematics Ph.D.'s ever produced at any university in the United States.

In her nomination letter, Sylvia Bozeman of Spelman College, winner of the 2008 AAAS Mentor Award, wrote this regarding the department's work recruiting and retaining students from underrepresented groups: "It is this visionary effort, by all involved, and the resulting unprecedented success that deserves to be set forth as a model for other departments who are more hesitant to attempt change. The testimony of the leadership at Ole Miss as to how the influx of minority and female students with high academic goals transformed the department and the atmosphere therein should be amplified as other graduate departments contemplate the call for more student diversity." ###

See the citation for more information on these two programs at www.ams.org/employment/citation2009. Photographs are available upon request.

CoProf created the Mathematics Programs that Make a Difference designation in 2005 as a way to bring recognition to outstanding programs that successfully address the issue of underrepresented groups in mathematics. Read more, including information about programs that have been recognized, at www.ams.org/employment/makeadiff.

Find out more about AMS and AMS-affiliated prizes at www.ams.org/prizes-awards.

Contacts: Mike Breen or Annette Emerson, AMS Public Awareness Officers Telephone: 401-455-4000 Email: paoffice@ams.org

Sastry G. Pantula, Professor Head, Department of Statistics and Director, Institute of Statistics North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC 27695-8203 Tel: (919) 515-1949 Email: Pantula@stat.ncsu.edu

Gerard Buskes, Professor Department of Mathematics University of Mississippi University, MS 38677 Tel: 662-915-7425 Email: mmbuskes@olemiss.edu

Founded in 1888 to further mathematical research and scholarship, the more than 30,000-member American Mathematical Society fulfills its mission through programs and services that promote mathematical research and its uses, strengthen mathematical education, and foster awareness and appreciation of mathematics and its connections to other disciplines and to everyday life.

American Mathematical Society 201 Charles Street Providence, RI 02904 401-455-4000

Contact: Annette Emerson paoffice@ams.org WEB: American Mathematical Society

84 percent of African-American and 88 percent of Latino middle class households not financially secure VIDEO

Millions of families experienced economic decline since 2000; households of color hardest hit

New York, NY--As the economic downturn continues, a new report finds that millions of African Americans and Latinos lost economic security between 2000 and 2006, and that more than four out of five are either borderline or at high risk of falling out of the middle class altogether. The new report, "The Downslide Before The Downturn: Declining Economic Security Among Middle Class African Americans and Latinos, 2000-2006" was published today by the policy center Demos and the Institute for Assets and Social Policy (IASP) at Brandeis University.


"The Downslide Before The Downturn" is based on the Middle Class Security Index, co-developed by Demos and IASP/Brandeis, which uses government data and measures the financial security of the middle class by rating household stability across five core economic factors: assets, educational achievement, housing costs, budget and healthcare. Based on how a family ranked in each of these factors, they were defined as financially "secure," "borderline" or "at risk".

"The Downslide Before the Downturn" shows some worrying trends in America's households, including:

* In 2006, before the recession, most US middle class families (76%) were already economically insecure, with only 24 percent experiencing stability across the core Index factors. However, when the numbers are broken down demographically, only 16% of African Americans and 12% of Latinos experienced such security. This is a dramatic decline from 2000, when the national average was 29%, 26% for African Americans and 23% for Latinos.
* In 2006, 88% of Latino and 94% of African-American households lacked sufficient assets to weather a financial emergency, up from 82% and 89% in 2000, respectively.
* The median value of financial assets held by African Americans declined by 33% in the six year period, while those held by Latinos declined by 60% during the same time.
* From 2000 to 2006, median housing costs increased 9% for African American households and 7.5% for Latino households.
* During the same period, the number of families in which at least one member lacked health insurance increased--from 18% to 30% for African Americans and from 26% to 39% for Latinos.
Jennifer Wheary"These results show the precarious position of families who struggle to make it into the middle class amidst policies that do not support broad economic opportunities. Even before things started to slip, African-American and Latino middle-class families were already on weaker footing,
a position that sets them up to lose more ground than they can afford in the current economy," said Jennifer Wheary, one the report's co-authors and a Senior Fellow at Demos.

"The decline in assets experienced by these families is particularly alarming," said Tom Shapiro, Professor and Director of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University. "Most of these families had few assets to start with. With the value of these assets declining just as families need them most, they will not only find it difficult to weather uncertain times. They'll also experience setbacks that will be felt by future generations. All this points to a need for policies that support asset building even in hard times." ###

"The Downslide before the Downturn" is the fifth report in a series based on the Middle Class Security Index. Recent reports in this series examined the economic security of America's seniors and the overall position of the middle class heading into the recession. In addition to these reports, Demos and IASP/Brandeis have published a Middle Class Security Factsheet that provides information about the broad economic state of the middle class at a glance and a Scorecard that individual families can use to measure their economic stability. To download reports, the Security Scorecard or the Factsheet, visit www.demos.org. To order hard copies or to arrange an interview with one of the authors, please see contact information.

Contact: Laura Gardner gardner@brandeis.edu 781-736-4204 Brandeis University

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Study finds African-Americans at greater risk after PCI

Combined rates of heart attack, death and repeat procedures significantly higher

LAS VEGAS, NV (May 8, 2009) — A study from one of the largest public health systems in the country has found that African American patients experienced significantly worse outcomes after angioplasty and stenting than patients of other races, though researchers are not sure why. According to data reported today at the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions (SCAI) 32nd Annual Scientific Sessions, no single factor explains why African Americans were at higher risk after percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), but the hazard was clear.

"We need to be vigilant about evaluating and controlling all risk factors in this vulnerable population of patients," said Sandeep Nathan, MD, an assistant professor of medicine and director of the interventional cardiology fellowship program at the University of Chicago Medical Center. "Despite our best efforts to provide optimal care to all patients, we need to ask, 'What's missing?'"

Sandeep Nathan, MD

Sandeep Nathan, MD
For the study, Dr. Nathan and his colleagues recruited 1,410 consecutive patients who had a PCI procedure at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. Patients were included in the study only if complete clinical and procedural information was available and follow-up care would be provided through the Cook County public health system.
Patients were 57 years old, on average. Some 32% were women and 46% were African American. Patients had PCI for a variety of reasons: stable coronary artery disease in 29.1%, a type of heart attack known as ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) in 17.1%, a non-STEMI heart attack in 27.9%, and unstable angina in 26.0%.

Patients were grouped according to gender and race and followed-up for an average of 1.7 years. During that time, men and women were equally likely to experience a major adverse cardiac event (MACE), which included heart attack, death, or urgent need for another procedure in the treated coronary artery.

The researchers are continuing to comb through the data for factors that signal an increased risk for African Americans after PCI. In the meantime, there are several possible explanations for these findings based on clinical impressions alone, Dr. Nathan said. One of the most likely is that African American patients appeared to wait longer before coming in for treatment. As a result, they were more likely to have advanced coronary disease that was more complicated to treat with PCI, as well as other medical conditions that worsen PCI outcomes, such as high blood pressure and kidney damage. Another key factor may be a lack of adherence to prescribed medications.

These findings may signal a need for better outreach and education. "As physicians, we need to provide excellent medical care, but also be sensitive to sociocultural issues, problems with access to care, and the importance of building trust between the physician and patient," Dr. Nathan said. ###

Dr. Nathan reports no conflicts of interest related to this study.

About SCAI: Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions is a 4,000-member professional organization representing invasive and interventional cardiologists in more than 60 nations. SCAI's mission is to promote excellence in invasive and interventional cardiovascular medicine through physician education and representation, and advancement of quality standards to enhance patient care.

SCAI's annual meeting has become the leading venue for education, discussion, and debate about the latest developments in this dynamic medical specialty. SCAI's patient and physician education program, Seconds Count, offers comprehensive information about cardiovascular disease. For more information about SCAI and Seconds Count, visit www.scai.org or www.seconds-count.org.

Contact: Kathy Boyd David kbdavid@scai.org 717-422-1181 Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Family-based program helps youth avoid risky behavior -- even those who may be genetically prone to it

Children's behavior is determined, in part, by their genes and by the settings in which they develop. A new longitudinal study describes how a family-based prevention program helped rural African American teens avoid engaging in risky behaviors, even if some of them may have had a genetic risk to do so.

"This study demonstrates that parents play an important role in protecting their children from initiating harmful behaviors, especially when the children's biological makeup may pose a challenge," notes Gene H. Brody, Regents' Professor, director of the Center for Family Research at the University of Georgia, and the lead author of the study. The study, by researchers at the University of Georgia, the University of Iowa, and Vanderbilt University, appears in the May/June 2009 issue of the journal Child Development.

Gene H. Brody, Ph.D.

Gene H. Brody, Ph.D. Dr. Brody is a Regents’ Professor of Child and Family Development and Director of CFR. He is an internationally recognized expert on the risk and protective mechanisms that forecast substance use and other problem behaviors among rural African American youth and has translated his findings into efficacious preventive interventions for youth ranging in age from 11 to 19 years. Dr. Brody is the author of more than 200 publications, many of which focus on African American youth development or substance use prevention.
The researchers developed a program called "Strong African American Families" to help rural African American 11-year-olds avoid such risky behaviors as drinking, smoking marijuana, and having sex. Almost 650 children and their mothers participated in the two-and-a-half-year study, which compared mothers and children who took part in the prevention program with mothers and children who only received information about adolescent development. The parents enrolled in the program learned parenting skills that included vigilance, emotional support, communication, and promotion of racial pride. Children who took part learned strategies for setting positive goals, making plans to attain those goals, and avoiding influences that could block their success.
Two years later, the researchers collected DNA from saliva samples from all the children to see if they carried a gene found to increase the risk of substance use. Teens who had the gene but didn't participate in the program were almost twice as likely to have engaged in the risky behaviors as teens who had the gene and took part in the program.

"Much of the protective influence of participation in the prevention program came through the program's enhancement of parenting practices that deter teens' involvement in risky behaviors," adds Brody. "The power of such parenting practices to override genetic predispositions to drug use and other risky behaviors demonstrates the capacity of family-centered prevention programs to benefit developing adolescents." ###

The study was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 80, Issue 3, Prevention Effects Moderate the Association of 5-HTTLPR and Youth Risk Behavior Initiation: G×E Hypotheses Tested via a Randomized Prevention Design by Brody, GH, and Beach, SRH (University of Georgia), Philibert, RA (University of Iowa), Chen, Y-f , and Murry, VM (formerly at the University of Georgia, now at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University). Copyright 2009 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.

Contact: Sarah Hutcheon shutcheon@srcd.org 202-289-7905 Society for Research in Child Development

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Parental guidelilnes, consequences may be why fewer black teens smoke than whites

It's a curious paradox. Black adults are more likely to smoke than white adults and most smokers start as teenagers. But statistics show that fewer black youths than whites begin smoking as adolescents.

A new University of Washington study indicates that lower rates of smoking among black teens may be the result of black parents setting concrete guidelines about substance use and establishing clearly defined consequences for not following those guidelines.

The research also found that teens who associated with deviant peers – those who were in trouble at school, or who engaged in delinquent behavior or used alcohol or marijuana – were more likely to smoke, according to Martie Skinner, a research scientist with the Social Development Research Group, part of the UW's School of Social Work and the study's lead author.

African American boys smoking

TITLE: "Ca'ful now, don' you put out ma light". Children--Smoking. RIGHTS INFORMATION: No known restrictions on publication. CREATED/PUBLISHED: c1901.
"This study is important because we looked at how parental guidelines affected peer influences and smoking over a three-year period from the eighth to 10th grades," she said. "Parents can have a strong influence on smoking behavior.

"In general, good parenting such as setting clear guidelines about drug use and forming strong relationships with your child reduces the likelihood of teens associating with deviant peers and has a significant impact on whether kids smoke or don't smoke.
Our findings are consistent with other research done here which shows parents are important influences on their teenagers including who they should hang out with.

"Associating with other teens using substances increases a teen's chances of using those substances. This applied to both black and white teens. The majority of eighth graders don't use substances, so it is easy to find other peers who don't use them," she said.

The study found that 15 percent of the black teens reported smoking in the 10th grade compared to 22 percent of the white teens. Black parents were significantly more likely to report guidelines and consequences for substance use. Not surprisingly, black and white teens whose parents smoked reported higher levels of smoking than teens whose parents were non-smokers.

Skinner and her Social Development Research Group colleagues Kevin Haggerty and Richard Catalano collected data from a larger Seattle study designed to prevent substance abuse. The smoking study looked at 331 families - 163 black and 168 white – with slightly more boys than girls.

Skinner thinks rates of smoking among blacks accelerate after leaving high school, a time when many black adolescents are not going to college and move away from their parents' home. She is following the same pool of teenagers in this study to assess their levels of smoking in a follow-up project.

So what can parents do to discourage teen smoking and other substance use? Skinner suggests:

* talking about smoking and substance use directly and not ignoring the topic.
* establishing family guidelines about smoking and moderate consequences for breaking those guidelines.
* keeping communication open so you know what your teen is doing and to maintain a strong relationship.

"These things can be hard to do in the real heat of life," Skinner said. "Getting support from other adults in the child's life, such as teachers, is key. Parenting is the most important thing we do, so we shouldn't hesitate to get help.

"We know family-based interventions can be effective and specific skills to promote healthy development in teens are pretty easily acquired if parents are given good instruction." ###

The National Institute on Drug Abuse funded the study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research. For more information, contact Skinner at 206-221-2965 or skinnm@u.washington.edu

Contact: Joel Schwarz joels@u.washington.edu 206-543-2580 University of Washington

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Skin color clue to nicotine dependence

Higher concentrations of melanin -- the color pigment in skin and hair -- may be placing darker pigmented smokers at increased susceptibility to nicotine dependence and tobacco-related carcinogens than lighter skinned smokers, according to scientists.

"We have found that the concentration of melanin is directly related to the number of cigarettes smoked daily, levels of nicotine dependence, and nicotine exposure among African Americans," said Gary King, professor of biobehavioral health, Penn State.

King states that previous research shows that nicotine has a biochemical affinity for melanin. Conceivably, this association could result in an accumulation of the addictive agent in melanin-containing tissues of smokers with greater amounts of skin pigmentation.

Gary King, professor of biobehavioral health, Penn State

Gary King, professor of biobehavioral health, Penn State
"The point of the study is that, if in fact, nicotine does bind to melanin, populations with high levels of melanin could indicate certain types of smoking behavior, dependence, and health outcomes that will be different from those in less pigmented populations," explained King. "And the addiction process may very well be longer and more severe."

The team's findings appear in the June issue of the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior.
To investigate the factors linking tobacco use, nicotine exposure, and skin pigmentation, the researchers recruited 150 adult African American smokers from three sites in inner city Harrisburg during summer 2007. Participants provided researchers with the average number of cigarettes smoked each day and answered a questionnaire that measured nicotine dependence -- the Fagerstrom Test of Nicotine Dependence (FTND).

Researchers also measured the smokers' cotinine levels. Cotinine is a metabolic byproduct of nicotine that can be used as a biomarker for tobacco use. King and colleagues surmise that nicotine's half-life may, along with tobacco toxicants, be extended due to the accumulation in melanin-containing tissues.

Statistical analyses of data on the three measures of smoking -- cigarettes per day, FTND score, and cotinine levels -- along with a host of other variables including age, education and social demographics of the smokers, reveal that facultative melanin -- the total amount of melanin acquired genetically plus the amount from the tanning effect of sunlight -- is significantly linked to the number of cigarettes smoked per day as well as the FTND score. This link was not observed with constitutive melanin, which is the amount of melanin solely acquired genetically.

However, the Penn State researcher cautions that additional studies with larger samples of smokers with varying levels of skin pigmentation will be required to provide a clearer picture of the link between skin color and nicotine addiction.

"We also think that studies conducted at different times of the year and in different geographic regions would help avoid seasonal variations such as the effect of tanning during summer," King explained. "Additionally, nicotine levels could also be influenced by factors such as consumption of alcohol, amount of exercise, diet, body fat and stress. Future studies will have to control for these factors as well."

According to King, findings from the study could have potential health implications for African American smokers, who tend to have darker skin, are disproportionately burdened with tobacco-related diseases, and report greater difficulty quitting smoking.

"One of the questions we want to address is why African Americans have lower quit rates than whites," King said. "This avenue of research may help us explore that question more definitively."

Previous studies indicate that even though African Americans smoke fewer cigarettes than some other groups, they have a higher intake of nicotine from each cigarette.

###

Other researchers on the paper include Valerie B. Yerger, Assistant Adjunct Professor, University of California, San Francisco; Guy-Lucien Whembolua, recent doctoral graduate, Penn State; Robert B. Bendel, biostatistician, Washington State University; Rick Kittles, geneticist, University of Chicago; and Eric T. Moolchan, research physician, Alkermes, Inc. (formerly of the National Institute of Drug Abuse).

Penn State's Africana Research Center and the Social Science Research Institute funded this work.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

System that regulates blood pressure is amiss in some healthy, young blacks

AUGUSTA, Ga. – When stress increases blood pressure, a natural mechanism designed to bring it down by excreting more salt in the urine doesn't work well in about one-third of healthy, black adolescents, researchers report.

They hope the finding, which is being presented May 8 at the American Society of Hypertension 24th Annual Scientific Program in San Francisco, will lead to early identification of youth at risk of becoming hypertensive adults.

"The way it's supposed to work is the higher your blood pressure goes, the system is supposed to be suppressed so you urinate out more sodium and the blood pressure goes down in response," says Dr. Matthew Diamond, nephrology fellow in the Medical College of Georgia School of Medicine. Dr. Diamond, who is presenting the findings, is a finalist for the society's 2009 Young Investigator-in-Training abstract competition.

Dr. Matthew Diamond

Caption: Dr. Matthew Diamond is a nephrology fellow in the Medical College of Georgia School of Medicine. Credit: Medical College of Georgia. Usage Restrictions: None.
The renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system helps regulate blood pressure, prompting the kidneys to hold onto more salt – and fluid – if it's too low and to get rid of salt when it's high.

But when MCG researchers looked at the system's activity by measuring levels of the hormones it uses to help regulate sodium excretion, the system – which worked essentially perfectly in healthy white adolescents – appeared dysfunctional in a significant number of the black adolescents.
The study involved 168 15-18-year-olds with normal pressures who had been on sodium- and potassium- controlled diets for two weeks. Researchers took blood pressure, urine and blood samples as participants rested for two hours, played video games intended to stimulate environmental stress, then recovered for two hours at MCG's Georgia Prevention Institute.

"For reasons we don't understand, the black kids have improper suppression of this renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system," Dr. Diamond says.

To make sure the "fight-or-flight" mechanism designed to raise blood pressure to escape a tight spot was not to blame for holding onto sodium, the researchers measured heart rates but could find no relationship. Fat, which produces aldosterone, a hormone that can increase sodium retention, also was ruled out because participants were not obese.

"There is nothing we know about that is explaining what we are seeing yet we have some pathology here that could potentially explain difficult hypertension in kids," he says.

One of his next steps is screen participants for a genetic mutation that has been linked to hypertensive kidney disease to see if that's a factor that can be used to help identify those at risk for hypertension and kidney disease. ###

Study contributors include Dr. John J. White, MCG nephrologist, and Dr. Gregory Harshfield, director of the Georgia Prevention Institute.

Contact: Toni Baker tbaker@mcg.edu 706-721-4421 Medical College of Georgia

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Penn geneticist publishes largest-ever study on African genetics revealing origins, migration

PHILADELPHIA – African, American, and European researchers working in collaboration over a 10-year period have released the largest-ever study of African genetic data—more than four million genotypes—providing a library of new information on the continent which is thought to be the source of the oldest settlements of modern humans.

The study demonstrates startling diversity on the continent, shared ancestry among geographically diverse groups and traces the origins of Africans and African Americans. It is published in the April 30 issue of the journal Science Express.

Researchers studied 121 African populations, four African American populations and 60 non-African populations for patterns of variation at 1327 DNA markers. The study traced the genetic structure of Africans to 14 ancestral population clusters that correlated with ethnicity and shared cultural and/or linguistic properties. The research team demonstrated that there is more genetic diversity in Africa than anywhere else on earth.

Dr. Sarah A. Tishkoff

Dr. Sarah A. Tishkoff. David and Lyn Silfen University Associate Professor, Depts of Genetics and Biology.

428 Clinical Research Building. 415 Curie Boulevard. Philadelphia, PA 19104-6145. Office tel.:215 746-2670. E-mail: tishkoff@mail.med.upenn.edu
They also determined that the ancestral origin of humans was probably located in southern Africa, near the South Africa-Namibian border. Extrapolating the data, scientists were able to map ancient migrations of populations and determined that the exit point of modern humans out of Africa was near the middle of the Red Sea in East Africa. They also provide evidence for ancient common ancestry of geographically diverse hunter-gatherer populations in Africa, including Pygmies from central Africa and click-speaking populations from southern and eastern Africa, suggesting the possibility that the original pygmy language may have contained clicks. Overall, they demonstrate remarkable correspondence between cultural, linguistic, and genetic diversity in Africa.
"This is the largest study to date of African genetic diversity in the nuclear genome," said Sarah Tishkoff, a geneticist with joint appointments in the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "This long term collaboration, involving an international team of researchers and years of research expeditions to collect samples from populations living in remote regions of Africa, has resulted in novel insights about levels and patterns of genetic diversity in Africa, a region that has been underrepresented in human genetic studies. Our goal has been to do research that will benefit Africans, both by learning more about their population history and by setting the stage for future genetic studies, including studies of genetic and environmental risk factors for disease and drug response."

Tishkoff says that there is no single African population that is representative of the diversity present on the continent. Therefore, many ethnically diverse African populations should be included in studies of human genetic variation, disease susceptibility, and drug response.

Anthropologists, historians and linguists now have at their disposal a completely new volume of research with which to test theories of human migration, cultural evolution and population history in Africa. Basic scientists, physicians and public health officials now have a foundation for illuminating the complex history of Africans and African-Americans, with implications for studies aimed at finding disease genes in these populations and learning which genetic differences make some individuals more susceptible to diseases like HIV, cancer or malaria.

This study also sheds light on African American ancestry, which they find originates predominantly from western African Niger-Kordofanian (~71 percent), European (~13 percent), and other African (~8 percent) populations, although admixture levels varied considerably among individuals. These results could have important implications for the design and interpretation of studies which aim to identify genetic and environmental risk factors for diseases common in the African American community, including prostate cancer, hypertension and diabetes. ###

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health, the Advanced Computing Center for Research and Education at Vanderbilt University, the L.S.B. Leakey and Wenner Gren Foundation, the National Science Foundation, David and Lucile Packard and a Burroughs Wellcome Foundation Career Award given to Tishkoff. Genotyping costs were supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Mammalian Genotyping Service.

The study was conducted by Tishkoff, Alessia Ranciaro and Jibril B. Hirbo, formerly with the University of Maryland and now with the Departments of Genetics and Biology at Penn; Floyd A. Reed, also formerly with the University of Maryland and now with Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Biology; Françoise R. Friedlaender, an independent researcher; Christopher Ehret of the Department of History at the University of California, Los Angeles; Alain Froment of the Musée de l'Homme in Paris; Agnes. A. Awomoyi, formerly of the University of Maryland and currently with the Department of Internal Medicine at Ohio State University; Ogobara Doumbo and Mahamadou A. Thera of the Malaria Research and Training Center, University of Bamako, Mali; Muntaser Ibrahim and Abdalla T. Juma of the Department of Molecular Biology at the University of Khartoum, Sudan; Maritha J. Kotze of the Department of Pathology at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa; Godfrey Lema and Thomas B. Nyambo of the Department of Biochemistry at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, Tanzania; Jason H. Moore of the Departments of Genetics and Community and Family Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School; Holly Mortensen, formerly with the University of Maryland and now with the National Center for Computational Toxicology in the Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Sabah A. Omar of the Kenya Medical Research Institute; Kweli Powell of the University of Maryland; Gideon S Pretorius of the Division of Human Genetics, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa; Michael W. Smith of the . Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, National Cancer Institute; Charles Wambebe of International Biomedical Research in Africa, Nigeria; James L. Weber of the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, Wisc.; and Scott M. Williams of the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Center for Human Genetics Research, Vanderbilt University.

The researchers wish to acknowledge the indigenous populations who so graciously donated the DNA samples used in this study.

Contact: Jordan Reese jreese@upenn.edu 215-573-6604 University of Pennsylvania

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

African-American teens' perceptions of racial discrimination

A three-year study of African American youths' perceptions of racial discrimination has found that many Black teens consider themselves victims of racial discrimination, and these perceptions are linked to how they feel about being Black, particularly their views of how the broader society sees African Americans.

The study, by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Fordham University, and the University of Michigan, can be found in the March/April 2009 issue of the journal Child Development.

In an attempt to further our understanding of racial identity among African Americans, the researchers studied more than 200 Black teens ages 14 to 18 who lived and went to school in racially heterogeneous parts of the midwestern United States.

Eleanor K. Seaton

Eleanor K. Seaton, Assistant Professor. Phone: 919-962-2998, 208 Davie Hall, CB# 3270
Psychology Dept. UNC-CH. Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3270

Research Interests: Examining the influence of perceived discrimination on adolescent development among Black youth and in understanding the role of racial identity in well-being among Black youth.
Based on the adolescents' responses to questions about racial group membership, the researchers found that age played a factor in the young people's perceptions: Older teens who had experienced more racial bias felt less positive about being Black. Teens who felt more racial discrimination were more likely to say that society viewed African Americans negatively.

"These findings have implications for parents, teachers, and adults who have regular contact with African American youth," says Eleanor K. Seaton, assistant professor in psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who led the study. "They suggest the need to bolster African American youth's feelings about their racial group membership, especially feelings related to feeling positively about being African American." ###

The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (both of the National Institutes of Health), and by the National Science Foundation.
Download this Release in PDF Format, African American Teens’ Perceptions of Racial Discrimination

Contact: Sarah Hutcheon shutcheon@srcd.org 202-289-7905 Society for Research in Child Development

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Researchers identify stroke predictors in black patients

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Predictors of atrial fibrillation (AF or afib) might offer physicians a better way to prevent stroke in blacks, according to a new study done by researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

AF is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that commonly causes poor blood flow to the body, as well as symptoms of heart palpitations, shortness of breath and weakness. Despite low reported prevalence of AF – one of the major risk factors for stroke – in black patients, they suffer strokes five times more often than white patients and die from them two times more often.

That paradox might result from limitations in the methods (electrocardiograms (ECG) or self-report) used to detect AF, said Elsayed Z. Soliman, M.D., M.Sc. M.S., associate director of the Epidemiological Cardiology Research Center (EPICARE) at the School of Medicine and lead author of the study.

Elsayed Z. Soliman, M.D., M.Sc. M.S.

Elsayed Z. Soliman, M.D., M.Sc. M.S., associate director of the Epidemiological Cardiology Research Center (EPICARE) at the School of Medicine and lead author of the study.
"The limitations stem from the fact that AF is intermittent in at least 30 percent of patients, and most patients are not aware if they have AF or not," Soliman said. "Trying to detect AF using an ECG, or simply counting on patients to know if they have it, leads to under-diagnosis of the condition most of the time. Our research suggests that being proactive in predicting it may be a better approach."

The study appears in the current issue of Stroke, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association.

An electrocardiogram is a diagnostic tool that measures and records the electrical activity of the heart. Interpretation of an ECG report allows diagnosis of a wide range of heart conditions from minor to life threatening.
Doctors use ECGs to diagnose AF, and therefore assess the risk of stroke in different patients. However, ECG reports of AF have not been as useful for identifying black patients at high risk. While black patients suffer more ischemic strokes than white patients, their ECG results do not indicate AF as often.

For the study, researchers reviewed ECG data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. More than 15,000 people in North Carolina, Mississippi, Minnesota and Maryland participated in the study during the 1980s and 90s.

Researchers found that, while ECG reports of AF were significantly less in black participants than in whites, black participants ultimately suffered more ischemic strokes. However, the analysis uncovered that ECGs on black participants revealed a higher rate of predictors of future AF than did the ECGs of the white participants. These ECG predictors of AF (P-wave terminal force, P-wave duration, P-wave area and PR duration) represent electrical activity within the upper two chambers of heart, or atria, which are the sources of blood clots that cause stroke if AF occurs. These ECG predictors of AF were strongly predictive of strokes and AF in blacks and whites, so researchers believe their existence could be considered as presence – or future presence – of AF.

"With the blacks having more abnormal ECG predictors of AF, as the results showed, there is a possibility that blacks might actually have a higher prevalence of AF than previous studies have picked up on," Soliman said. "Blacks may have more "intermittent" AF, the difficult type of AF to detect, which could be the reason why previous studies underestimated AF diagnosis more in blacks."

Soliman added that physicians, knowing this, should use the ECG to evaluate black patients' risk of stroke by determining if the patient has certain predictors of AF, instead of the condition itself. If so, the patients may be able to be treated with blood thinners as if they have AF. It is a treatment adjustment that could help prevent stroke, however further investigation into the subject is needed, he said.

"P-wave terminal force in the ECG may provide a strong independent predictor for incidence stroke and AF in clinical practice," Soliman said.

"For the physician evaluating black patients for the risk of stroke, these results show that you cannot think AF is less common in this population," Soliman said.

Soliman said that the next step in research on this subject is to do a long-term ECG study to confirm the hypothesis that AF, especially intermittent AF, has been under-diagnosed in blacks.

"We need further studies using long-term ECG recording – 48 hours to 72 hours – or event monitors to detect AF" he said. "The cost of these tests on population studies has always been an obstacle. However, with the results of this study, it may be worth it." ###

Co-authors on the study are Ronald J. Prineas, M.D., Ph.D., L. Douglas Case, Ph.D., Zhu-ming Zhang, M.D. and David C. Goff Jr., M.D., Ph.D., all of the Division of Public Health Sciences at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Media Relations Contacts: Jessica Guenzel, jguenzel@wfubmc.edu, (336) 716-3487; Bonnie Davis, bdavis@wfubmc.edu, (336) 716-4977; or Shannon Koontz, shkoontz@wfubmc.edu, (336) 716-4587

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center (www.wfubmc.edu) is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital, Brenner Children's Hospital, Wake Forest University Physicians, and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university's School of Medicine and Piedmont Triad Research Park.

The system comprises 1,056 acute care, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and has been ranked as one of "America's Best Hospitals" by U.S. News & World Report since 1993. Wake Forest Baptist is ranked 32nd in the nation by America's Top Doctors for the number of its doctors considered best by their peers. The institution ranks in the top third in funding by the National Institutes of Health and fourth in the Southeast in revenues from its licensed intellectual property.

Contact: Jessica Guenzel jguenzel@wfubmc.edu 336-716-3487 Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center