Computer Games for Your Health? Indeed.

Certainly, when most people think about computer games, they don’t equate them with health and fitness.  Some academic institutions like Champlain College are trying to change that.  Computer gaming designers are looking to develop games aimed at helping people to improve their health.

For instance, one company, Hoozinga Game Media, is working together with the Vermont Health Department to promote a new game that is intended to help smokers to quit. As Amanda Crispel, the program director of game design, game art and animation at Champlain and the CEO of Hoozinga Game Media, explained, “Khemia, which is Latin for “alchemy,” is designed to give smokers looking to kick the habit something to do with their minds and hands for the five to ten minutes a cigarette craving typically lasts.”

Similarly, at Columbia University’s Teachers College, a team of professors and students has developed a game to stop smokers.  The game, for mobile devices, has players breathing into the device’s microphone to mimic smoking.

One researcher, Debra Lieberman, from UCSB agrees that computer games can become valuable tools for dealing with health problems.  She cautions, however, the games need to have a strong backing in research both in the design and in the follow through to see if they are working.

Flu Shot Time Has Arrived

As fall has arrived, it’s time to look ahead to getting your flu shot for the winter season.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that every person six months and older get a flu vaccine.  This year’s flu vaccine for the 2010-2011 season will protect against three flu viruses – an H3N2 virus; an influenza B virus; and the H1N1 virus, known as swine flu.

The good news for this year is that a record number of vaccine shots are expected to be distributed throughout the country so that there won’t be the panic and pandemonium that there was last year.

In a recent news release, Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, “Influenza is serious, and anyone, including healthy people, can get the flu and spread it. Flu vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and those around you.”

Being a Mama’s Boy May Have Health Benefits reports that boys who have close relationships with their mothers may have better mental health than do those with more distant relationships.  A recent study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, found that boys who maintained close emotional connections to their mothers were more emotionally available as they aged, and had better mental health ratings.

The study, conducted by Carlos Santos, a professor at Arizona State University School of Social and Family Dynamics, surveyed 426 boys through middle school.  He found, interestingly enough, that the father-son relationship does not have the same effect.

Santos described his findings as such, “If you look at the effect size of my findings, mother support and closeness was the most predictive of boys’ ability to resist [hyper-masculine] stereotypes, and therefore predictive of better mental health.”

Citations for SeaWorld After Trainer Dies

SeaWorld has recently been fined $75,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health administration for three specific violations after an animal trainer was killed in February of 2010.  SeaWorld denies what it called “unfounded” allegations by the U.S. Department of Labor agency and they plan to contest the citations.

This past February, a 12,000 pound killer whale at the Orlando, Florida SeaWorld pulled trainer Dawn Brancheau, 20, underwater and killed her as park visitors were watching.  AS the OSHA statement said, “SeaWorld trainers had an extensive history of unexpected and potentially dangerous incidents involving killer whales at its various facilities, including its location in Orlando. Despite this record, management failed to make meaningful changes to improve the safety of the work environment for its employees.”

Pesticides Linked with ADHD: The Latest Findings

A new study, conducted by Brenda Eskenazi at the University of California at Berkely, and published in the August 19th issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found fascinating results about ADHD.  They point to a connection between prenatal levels of exposure to metabolites of organophosphate pesticides and an increase risk for ADHD in children.

The researchers, examining 300 children enrolled in the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas, found that pesticide exposure during pregnancy didn’t significantly increase the risk of ADHD for children ages 3.5, but did seem to be highly associated with children around 5.

In another study, published in Pediatrics by Dr. Marc Weisskopf of the Harvard School of Public Health, researchers found that these pesticides may increase the risk of ADHD in children ages 8-15 years.

ADHD – Only for the Younger Kids in the Class?

Two new interesting U.S. studies point to one of the ways that children are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – age as compared to peers.  It appears that children who are younger than their classmates tend to get the diagnosis more often than do their older peers.

The first study, by researchers at North Carolina State University, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Minnesota, compared children who were born just before the kindergarten eligibility date and those born just after the eligibility date.  They found a 25% higher rate of ADHD diagnosis in those who were younger in the class.  They used three separate data sources and looked at tens of thousands of children aged seven to 17.

When a doctor evaluates whether a child may have ADHD, one of the frequent questions that is asked is if the behavior seems to be exhibited in their child more often than in others.

The other study looked at 12,000 children by a Michigan State University economist Todd Elder.  It found that the youngest child in the class is 60% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than is the oldest child in the class.