The evidence on house-hunting

houseAs I drive my children to their after-school activities, I’ve noticed more and more for sale signs along the roads around our house – a sure sign of spring!  As we approach house-hunting and moving season, it’s a good idea to look at the evidence on house-hunting. [Read more…]

Deciphering the evidence on mental health in youth

kid-and-stressWe often hear in media reports about the rise of autism and attention disorders in our society. A few years back, New York magazine ran a feature article titled, “Is Everyone on the Autism Spectrum?”  that described the “cultural epidemic” of identifying with an autism-spectrum disorder such Asberger’s, obsessive-compulsive disorder or attention deficit disorder. But are these maladies really growing at alarming rates? And are our youth at risk? [Read more…]

Exciting Changes at Evidence-Based Living

It’s hard to believe that it has been four years since we started this blog! Over that time, we’ve seen our number of readers grow astronomically. We now have more than 8,000 visitors per month. It’s wonderful to see so much interest in how research can help us understand and enhance our everyday lives.

As our audience grows, we are looking for ways to bring in more expert opinions and include evidence on an even broader range of topics. So we’re pleased to announce that he Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research – an exciting new center at Cornell – will be sponsoring the blog.

Known as the BCTR, the center was created to advance research that helps solve human problems across the lifespan, from young children to older people. A host of projects look at ways to promote optimal human development throughout life. With a staff of over 60, the expertise available in the BCTR covers the areas you have come to expect from Evidence-Based Living: health, psychological well-being, child-rearing, nutrition, and many others. [Read more…]

How your working environment impacts your health

Adopting a healthy lifestyle can be tough these days, especially for parents working hard to make ends meet. Yes, there are gyms and organic grocery stores, on-demand yoga and healthy cooking magazines.  But for working parents, long hours and irregular schedules make can make it difficult to eat healthily and exercise.

A cadre of researchers are Cornell’s College of Human Ecology are working on this problem, conducting the research and pulling together the best evidence to help families exercise more and eat healthier.

Among them is nutritional sciences professor Carole Devine, who has created and evaluated a program that helps change workplace environments to support physical activity and healthy eating.

The program, called Small Steps are Easier Together, is an active collaboration between Cornell faculty, Cooperative Extension educators and worksite leadership teams across New York. Pilot studies have been conducted in 23 sites since 2006. It involves worksites creating wellness leadership teams, who work with Cornell researchers to implement evidence-based strategies – like creating walking groups, posting maps, and offering more fruit and vegetable options in the cafeteria – to increase walking and promote healthier eating.

The most recent analysis of the program included 188  participants in 10 rural worksites. It found the percentage of sedentary women had declined to from 42 percent to 26 percent. A total of 35 percent of the women moved to a higher activity level.

Devine is also pulling together the evidence on how working conditions impact food decisions for families at home and on the job.

Her research has found that the stress of a busy job impacts parents’ ability to serve healthy meals, leading them to serve quicker and less healthy meals, such as fast food. She’s investigated a variety of coping strategies such as negotiating a more flexible work schedule and teaming up with a neighbor to take turns preparing meals.

Devine’s work highlights the connections between work environments and health, and provide some evidence-based strategies to improve public health.

Is junk food cheaper?

It’s a major misconception in our modern society: processed foods like chips, frozen dinners and Happy Meals are not cheaper, but actually more expensive than whole foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables. While this topic graces our TV screens in shows like Jamie Oliver’s Food Revoluion and our shelves in books like Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, the misconception remains among many Americans.

A few weeks ago, Mark Bittman wrote a column in the New York Times making the case that cost is not what keeps American families from eating healthy meals.  Bittman argues that advertising and marketing of snacks and fast food, the addictive nature of unhealthy foods and a lack of cooking skills are to blame for America’s nutrition problems.

It’s a problem that is documented by plenty of evidence, says Christine Olson, a professor of community nutrition at Cornell.

“His article lends some visibility to a fact that is well-known by nutritionists and family economists and amply-substantiated by research,” she said. “A home-prepared family meal is generally more nutritious and cheaper than a family meal purchased at a restaurant, even a fast food restaurant.  But the frenetic pace of family life and the relentless advertising by the fast food industry contribute to the widely-held opposite perception. “

Cornell Cooperative Extension has been educating families about this very issue for decades. Its Food and Nutrition Education in Communities program has been helping families gain the knowledge, skills, attitudes they need to eat healthily since the 1970s. Another program called Cooking Up Fun teaches young people about cooking with healthy ingredients.

It’s one of the many ways that Cornell Cooperative Extension is using evidence to help improve the lives of families in New York.

Flooded? Follow the evidence

A double whammy from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee drenched the east coast over the past two weeks leading to swollen rivers, flooded valleys and the destruction of roadways, bridges and buildings from Vermont to Maryland.

As communities in eastern and central New York, from the southern Adirondacks to the Pennsylvania border, continue to struggle under the deluge, Cornell Cooperative Extension has information that can help.

The New York Extension Disaster Education Network, or NY EDEN, is a collaborative network based at Cornell dedicated to educating New York residents about preparing for and recovering from natural disasters.

The network offers dozens of evidence-based tips on how to protect your property, remain safe, and clean-up after serious flooding.  Among their recommendations:

  • Over half of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  That’s because most people underestimate the force of flood water.  It takes only two fee of rushing floodwater to carry away most vehicles. So if you come across an area covered with water, turn around.
  • Check for cracks in the foundation, shifted walls and a roofline out of position before re-entering a building that is flooded.
  • Turn off the electricity in a flooded building before touching any electrical devices or walking through a flooded basement.
  • Furniture that has been flooded and has porous materials such as leather, fabric should be discarded because it will likely produce dangerous molds in your home. For other furniture, take it outside and remove as many parts as possible. Use a solution of one part water and one part ammonia to wipe down the furniture, then move it to a well-ventilated, shady spot to dry.  (Wood furniture dried in the sun will warp.)

Stay safe and don’t forget to refer to the evidence when cleaning up after a flood!

Evidence-based energy: What we really know about hydraulic fracturing

A newer method for extracting natural gas from layers of shale deep below the earth’s surface – called hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracking – has ignited debates across the nation. Proponents say that natural gas key to the country’s energy future. (Burning natural gas produces fewer greenhouse gases emissions than coal and oil.) But opponents say this method for extracting it poses risks to ground water supplies.

Over the past several years, Cornell researchers have mounted an unprecedented response to the issue. They’ve stepped up research efforts to collect and develop as much evidence as possible about hydrofracking. And they are reaching out to help individuals and communities across New York to help them make decisions about the benefits and dangers of drilling.

They have created the Cornell Cooperative Extension Natural Gas Resource Center, which is made of a 12 faculty members from a wide array of disciplines—including sociology, environmental sciences, and geology—and 20 extension educators. The group has compiled information for people impacted by hydraulic fracturing including individuals considering leasing their land, community groups, and local governments.

The Resource Center’s web site is a treasure trove of information on the topic including how geologists use seismic data to determine if natural gas is accessible, how to negotiate a lease for gas drilling and the economic impacts of drilling.

If you live in an area where natural gas drilling is a possibility, you’ll definitely want to dig into this resource.

The evidence on U.S. debt

As the federal government struggles this week to raise the federal debt limit, we thought it’d be a good time to review the evidence on household debt over here at EBL. 

A business columnist at the Detroit News made the point this week that American families actually hold more debt than the federal government, with households owing more than $2.4 trillion of credit card debt alone. (That compares to approximately $1.4 trillion in the total debt for the U.S. government in 2011.)

What else do we know about Americans and debt?   Family Economics and Resource Management, a project by Cornell Cooperative Extension to people achieve more  secure financial situations, compiled an interesting list of facts about Americans and debt management.  Among them:

  • 40 percent of U.S. households live beyond their means.
  • the net worth of the average middle-class American household after accounting for debt is less than $10,000.
  • and 48 percent of American credit card holders only pay the minimum payment amount each month.

Essentially, the evidence shows that Americans are no more responsible with their borrowing habits than the federal government.

But there is a way out.  Rutgers Cooperative Extension has compiled 20 tips for smart borrowing, such as:

  • Borrow as little as possible by making the largest down payment you can afford.  This will help you to avoid becoming “upside down” or owing more than your purchase is worth.
  • Shop for credit, just like other purchases. Compare at least three different banks for the lowest interest rates and fees.
  • Always pay more than the minimum monthly payment. For example, send 6 percent of a $5,000 outstanding balance on an 18 percent APR credit card, instead of 3 percent, and you’ll save 9 years of payments and $2,975 in interest.

Be sure to understand the facts about any money you borrow or credit cards you hold.  Smart borrowing will help you achieve financial success over the long run.

Serious business: The evidence on heat waves

A massive heat wave is drifting across the United States, extending all of the way from Texas to the Canadian border.  So far in July, nearly 1,000 daily high temperature records were tied or broken in cities across the nation, including 12 all-time highest temperature records.

What does this mean for all of us?  Yes, it’s time to crank up the air conditioner and hit the swimming pool. But more importantly, it means we need to be on the look-out for heat-related illnesses.

Keith Tidball is a senior extension associate in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell and the coordinator for the New York State Extension Disaster Education Network.  

These days, it’s his job to educate people about how to stay safe in the heat. But he also learned a heck of a lot on the topic as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army. “I saw my share of strapping young guys become injured – sometimes permanently – from heat-related illness,” he said.

Keith offered three facts to help everyone stay safe during a heat wave:

  1. Heat illnesses can quickly become life-threatening. In fact, according to the National Weather Service, heat is the number-one weather-related killer in the United States.
  2.  Your body is 50 to 70 percent water, and heat causes that water to evaporate. So staying hydrated is the most important thing you can do for your body during heat waves. Water is best, but anything without alcohol or caffeine helps. The best way to know if you’re hydrated is to check the color of your urine. If it’s clear or light-colored, you’re in good shape.  If it’s bright or dark yellow, you need to drink a lot more water.
  3. Prevention is key. Once you’ve had a heat-related injury, you’re more susceptible to the next one. “In the military, you would have to wear a red tape around your uniform to indicate you’d had a heat-related illness in the past,” Keith explained.

He also offered a host of resources from universities and federal agencies about ways to cope with the heat.

The bottom line: If you’re urine is not clear when it’s hot out, you’re in danger. So, go ahead, take a break right now and drink some water.

Happy Birthday to Cooperative Extension!

As Cornell Cooperative Extension celebrates its 100th year, I thought it would be a good time to explain about bit about the Cooperative Extension system.  At Cornell, many of us collaborate with Cooperative Extension regularly.  But those of you in the real world might be thinking, “What the heck is Cooperative Extension, and why does it matter to me?”

The Cornell Cooperative Extension system was created a century ago to serve a function similar to what this very blog serves today – to help share evidence-based information and practices with the general public. 

In the age before the Internet, this meant disseminating information in workshops, classes and even visits to local homes and businesses. So the Cooperative Extension system opened offices in local communities with employees who would gather information from university professors, and then disseminate that information to people local communities. 

In New York State, the first such office opened in 1911 by a Cornell graduate named John H. Baron. Over the next eight years, 54 more extension offices opened across New York State.

Over the years, Cooperative Extension programs educated New York businesses and families everything from the safest way to defrost a turkey to the best methods for irrigating strawberry fields.

This system developed into a two-way street where community members and businesses pose questions that are funneled to university researchers, who conduct research to find the answers.

Today, Cornell Cooperative Extension is focused on helping families, businesses, government agencies, and other organizations in five key areas:  agriculture and food systems; children, youth and families; community and economic vitality; environment and natural resources; and nutrition and health.  Cooperative Extension professionals provide information on contemporary issues including renewable energy, early childhood education and cooking with local foods

The Cooperative Extension System is truly an invaluable resource for helping people and organizations from all walks of life make decisions based on the best available evidence.

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