Public health researchers team up on flame retardant study

Preventing house fires is important, especially in families with children – but there is growing evidence that flame retardant materials used broadly in furniture, electronics, and even toys, may create a new health threat.

Research has shown that many of the chemicals used as flame retardants persist in the environment and accumulate in people. While the health effects from flame retardants are not clear, data from toxicological studies show that some of the chemicals used as flame retardants may affect brain development – a conclusion that has led to the ban of many of these chemicals in the European Union. But in the United States, the federal standards have focused on fire safety, not necessarily the chemicals that are used as flame retardants.

The lack of regulation may relate to the dearth of applied research. While many experts agree that some of the chemicals used in flame retardants are toxic, few studies have focused on the risk of exposure to common household items, from furniture to rugs. Now a team of researchers at Oregon State University is hoping to fill some of those gaps.

“We know from animal studies that some flame retardants can have a neurotoxic effect, so brain development and cognition are at risk,” said Molly Kile, an OSU public health environmental epidemiologist who will lead a team of researchers to find answers.

“Given the fact that the numbers of children with neurological and cognitive disabilities is on the rise in the developing world, many have hypothesized that that exposure to chemicals may be a contributing factor,” Kile said. “In order to start designing studies that can examine this hypothesis, it is necessary to understand how children are being exposed to chemicals like flame retardants. For instance, why do some households have higher exposures and how are children coming into contact with these chemicals?”

Other OSU researchers on this team are focusing on potential for social factors to affect children’s ability to control their behavior, as well as other neurological and cognitive factors that can impact motor skills, attention deficit, and other aspects of school readiness.

Perhaps most importantly to parents, the researchers will examine different ways to reduce the effects of these chemical exposures on children’s health. This is a particularly critical aspect of this study since previous research has shown that 97 percent of Americans have one of the key flame retardant chemicals, known as polybromintaed diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, in their blood. And young children have been shown to have almost three times the levels of PBDEs in their blood as their mothers.

“We want to explore if a supportive home environment, with lots of active play, positive parenting, and educational activities, can help dampen the effects of these chemicals on children’s development,” said Shannon Lipscomb, an assistant professor at OSU-Cascades who is conducting surveys with the parents of the children in the study.

“There are large gaps in school readiness, despite most children having some amount of exposure to these chemicals. So we suspect that parents can help to protect children from some of the potentially harmful effects.”

This interdisciplinary group of OSU researchers is working under a grant from the university’s Environmental Health Sciences Center that will monitor 100 preschool age children in Corvallis and Bend during the next year.

Their methodology is as fascinating as the study is important. Over the next year, OSU researchers will visit the families of the 100 preschool children in their homes. The children will wear bracelets designed by OSU’s Kim Anderson that can monitor the amount of chemicals they are exposed to each day.

Anderson, a professor in the Department of Environmental & Molecular Toxicology at OSU, developed the silicone-based passive sampling device. It is fashioned as a plastic bracelet which can either be worn on the child’s wrist or ankle. After being worn for one week, Anderson and Kile will analyze the data, using a statistical model developed by Bo Zhang, a new faculty member and biostatistician in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

The researchers will also vacuum household dust in the areas where the children most often play to collect direct chemical data from the household. All participants of the study receive a free chemical analysis of their home, along with gift certificates to local businesses.

Both undergraduate and graduate students at OSU are heavily involved in this study. For instance, Andrea Gomez, a senior in human development and family sciences, is the project coordinator of the Corvallis site. Gomez has done research with Megan McClelland, an associate professor at OSU and one of the core directors of OSU’s Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families.

Kate Nordquist, a recent graduate in human development and family sciences and current master’s student at OSU-Cascades in elementary teaching, is the project coordinator of the Bend site, working with Lipscomb and her team of students. Jennifer Pryzbyla, a doctoral student in the Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety program, is also involved. With the help of other students, they are leading the efforts to collect the samples from the participants’ homes and assess children’s development.

“For me, being involved in research at OSU has given me a deeper understanding of children and families,” Gomez said. “It is a direct way to apply what is learned in the classroom.”

McClelland is also involved in the flame retardant study, conducting assessments of the participants’ ability to control their behavior, or “self-regulate.” Self-regulation has been found by McClelland to be a key predictor as to whether or not a child is ready for school, and uses a Simon Says-like task to assess these skills in children.

McClelland said this project, which combines the expertise of new junior faculty members with more seasoned faculty, is unusual for academia. She said it can be rare to find researchers from such different areas, such as analytical chemists, environmental epidemiologists and child development experts, working together

“Having this collaborative space available at the Hallie Ford Center has really been essential for this project,” McClelland said. “And it really fits with the mission of the center, to help children and families, along with the public health mission of our college.”

Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, is an expert on motor skills and developmental delays, such as autism. She is leading the group looking at cognitive functioning of the children.

MacDonald says that 1 in 88 children now have autism spectrum disorder, a rate that has risen far above the 2009 estimate of 1 in 110. Autism is the most common childhood neurodevelopmental disability, and identifying potential triggers for neurodevelopmental disabilities is more critical than ever.

“We’re trying to capture the fact that health, and things that can impact cognitive functioning in particular, are multi-factorial,” she said. “It’s never just one magic bullet.”

The researchers pointed out that while every child is exposed to the chemicals in flame retardants, some homes may have higher levels.

“Parents who can afford to buy all-natural wool mattresses for their child’s crib, for instance, may see a benefit,” McClelland said, adding that wool is naturally flame-repellant, and so does not usually have the same chemical profile. “But environmentally-friendly material is often much more expensive, and many parents simply can’t afford it.”

Kile said parents can’t be blamed when almost all materials are embedded with these chemicals. But she said policy change could be a long time coming, so in the meantime, OSU researchers want to help families develop tools to help their child’s health.

“Chemicals are innocent until proven guilty in this country,” Kile said. “In Europe, for instance, manufacturers have to prove chemicals are not harmful before they put them in a product. Here, you have to prove it is harmful before you can remove it.”

Kile said these different philosophies frequently cause confusion for manufacturers and the public who hear different messages depending on the source of information.

Assessing preschool-age children is important because this is considered a key time for brain development. Experts say intervening early to help children with behavioral and socialization skills is crucial to their academic success.

“Children live in a plastic, foam-filled environment, and they are susceptible particularly at this critical time of 4 to 5 years-old,” Kile said. “What we want to do is capture a snapshot of what is happening just in 100 homes in two cities, and cast a wide net to see what these chemicals are doing.”

Researchers, left to right: Megan MacDonald, Molly Kile, Megan McClelland, and Shannon Lipscomb.
Not Qutie Adults cover
Rick Settersten and Barbara Ray's book was published by Random House this month.

Critiquing the young can sometimes seem to be a rite of passage for older generations. Think of the last time you heard something like this: “20-somethings – they’re mooching off their parents and taking forever to get their careers started. They don’t take marriage seriously anymore, and helicopter parents keep them immature.”

But according to Rick Settersten, professor of human development and family sciences and endowed director of the Hallie Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families, those generalizations and criticisms do no service to young adults. And they miss the point, especially in 2010. Young adults are facing a different set of challenges than their parents did.

Understanding these differences and challenges can be good for everyone, Settersten and coauthor Barbara Ray argue in their new book, “Not Quite Adults,” which was published this month by Random House. For the book, Settersten and Ray draw results from nearly two dozen national data sets and more than 500 in-depth interviews with young adults, all gathered over 10 years of multidisciplinary research.

We recently had the chance to talk with Settersten about the book, their motivations for writing it, and some of the important things he and Ray learned along the way.

Settersten will be talking about Not Quite Adults and signing books at OSU’s Corvallis Science Pub on Jan. 10, Powell’s in Portland Jan. 12 and the OSU bookstore Jan 13. More information about his appearances can be found on the Not Quite Adults website.

How did this book come about?
The research at the heart of our book grew out of a network funded by the MacArthur Foundation. We were a dozen scientists from different fields—sociology, psychology, economics, public policy—brought together to take a fresh look at the period of life between 18 and 34. The research was so socially relevant that we wanted to take some of our messages to the streets.

Rick Settersten
Professor and author Rick Settersten

What were some of your motivations and goals in writing the book?
This period of life has seen extraordinary changes. We’re trying to help young people, their parents, educators, and policy makers understand what’s going on and what to do about it. Much of the public conversation about young people today is negative, and so much of our research evidence runs counter to it.  With this book, we hope to redirect the conversation and make it productive.

We hope young people will see how the struggles they’re having are not just their own, or their own doing, but are rooted in larger social and economic conditions and shared by many others. We hope that parents will be able to see their youth in a brand new way, and that they’ll gain some insights into the world their child is trying to navigate.

What are some of the stereotypes about young people you counter in “Not Quite Adults?”
Young people are generally not mooching off their parents. That’s not to say that parents aren’t helping a lot in getting their children launched. But most parents, I think, aren’t resentful of the help they’re giving.. They’re mainly worried. They want to make sure their kids succeed, and the stakes are high. Of course, it’s always been true that many parents don’t have the financial resources or the know-how to help their kids. But it’s now a crisis for the middle class, too, in that the recession has altered their resources and options.

We need to let go of the idea that living at home is bad. It can be a smart thing for young people and parents, especially if they’re from families that don’t have a lot of resources. Living at home may be what allows a young person to pursue a college degree or take a no-pay or low-pay internship—things that will improve their chances on the job market. Or, it can allow them to build a nest egg for a stronger launch later on.

And the helicopter-parent thing too: In its extreme form, it’s clearly bad. Parents need to set boundaries. But the old school of hard knocks parenting—18 or 21 and you’re out—doesn’t work well today. The financial and emotional support of parents is crucial to the success of children. We should be far more worried about uninvolved parents.

And what about marriage?
Young people today want to have their ducks in a row before they get married. Young people postpone marriage because they’re trying to get degrees and some work experience under their belts first. They also want to have enough experience in relationships to know they’re choosing the right person to marry. Young people haven’t abandoned marriage as much as they’ve delayed it.

What happens when these kids have to start investing in their own kids? Is there a downside to starting later?

I don’t see one. If delayed marriage and parenting come with more careful choices about whom to marry and when to parent, and if credentials and work experience are acquired along the way, you have a recipe for more effective and resourceful parenting. We should be far more worried about young people who parent too soon.

Settersten's coauthor, Barbara Ray

How did you get interested in this topic to begin with?
I actually got started in the field of aging. I was eventually drawn to study the early adult years because in order to understand where people end up in late life, you have to understand where they started. What’s going on with young people today will have an effect on their future decades, just as every generation before this one has carried the imprint of their own times.

We would do well to remember that this is a period of life that’s been fundamentally transformed. That’s not going away.

These years are also an interesting window into how other periods of life are being similarly reworked—think about middle age and old age. Parents and grandparents of young adults today surely feel the changes around them too. It helps to keep in mind that the rulebook for life has been shredded for everyone, not just young adults.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Parents and kids still wonder if a college education is really worth it. It is. But it’s also important to be smart about those choices given today’s world.

There are also some loud alarms sounding in higher education. We’ve done much to increase access to higher education, but retention and graduation rates are truly abysmal. And let’s not forget about high school dropout rates, which are still very high and somehow out of the public eye with the emphasis on “college for all.” In a knowledge economy, there are few stable places to hook in kids who aren’t college bound, and so many who are in college are floundering or failing. These are serious problems.

The fact that a delayed transition is good for everyone doesn’t mean that everyone is doing it, or doing it well. This book is, we hope, not only a reminder of what is good and right with young people today, but also a wake up call to what is worrisome and what we can do better.

The U.S. Postal Service Honors Linus Pauling

Linus Pauling Commemorative Stamp
Linus Pauling Commemorative Stamp

When Linus Pauling enrolled at Oregon Agricultural College — Oregon State University’s predecessor — in 1917 to study chemical engineering, he was taking the first steps on a path that would lead him to Stockholm, Sweden, in 1954 to accept the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

By the time Pauling died in 1994, he was not only the first person ever to win a second individual Nobel, but one of the most decorated and respected scientists of the 20th century. The U.S. Postal Service recently recognized Pauling’s lifetime of achievements with a new set of “American Scientists” stamps honoring Pauling, biochemist Gerti Cory, astronomer Edwin Hubble and physicist John Bardeen.

To celebrate the stamp’s official March 6 release, OSU hosted an unveiling in the Memorial Union Ballroom featuring Linus Pauling Jr. and Corvallis Postmaster John Herrington, who stamped envelopes with a commemorative postmark (PDF) designed specially for the occasion. More than 300 people attended the event, and the city of Corvallis sold out of American Scientist stamps by the end of the event. “The way that Linus Pauling has taken off here at OSU is extremely rewarding, and OSU has my eternal thanks,” said Pauling Jr.

Linus Pauling

Pauling was known for working successfully in different disciplines throughout his life — physics, chemistry and biomedical research, to name a few. His stamp honors one of his most significant discoveries in molecular biology — a field he pioneered. Pauling’s studies of hemoglobin led to his 1948 discovery of the molecular nature of sickle cell anemia. “That discovery made him look into the scientific, social and political aspects of that kind of work,” says Cliff Mead, head of Special Collections for the OSU Valley Library. It was because of Pauling’s discovery, Mead says, that sickle cell anemia became treatable.

Though Pauling earned his bachelor’s degree in 1922 and spent the rest of his academic and professional life at California universities and research centers, his fondness for OSU never waned. In 1986, he donated his papers to OSU; the collection numbers more than 500,000 items, and it includes material on Pauling’s research into human blood and sickle cell anemia.

Linus Pauling

Two years after his death, the Linus Pauling Institute, which he helped to create, was moved from California to OSU, where it continues Pauling’s scientific legacy through internationally acclaimed research on vitamins and essential minerals. The institute was named a center of excellence for complementary and alternative medicine by the National Institutes of Health in 2003 — a status renewed recently with a $6-million grant from the NIH.

Pauling’s legacy lives on in many other ways at OSU as well, from the annual Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Memorial Lecture for World Peace to the Linus Pauling Chair in Chemical Engineering, held now by Dr. Philip Harding.

“Linus Pauling placed an enormous amount of trust in OSU to serve as the guardian of his legacy,” says Mead. “We take that responsibility very seriously, and we honor the faith he invested in OSU through our efforts to make his knowledge available to scholars around the world.”

Video Clip Pauling’s Interest in Sickle Cell Anemia

Audio Clip Molecular Disease Lectures Given at SUNY, New York, November 1970

Alexis Walker explores why women care for family members before they care for themselves.

Alexis Walker is a professor in the College of Health and Human Sciences
Alexis Walker is a professor in the College of Health and Human Sciences

Alexis Walker, a professor in OSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences, is looking at a conundrum: The typical middle-aged woman takes care of everybody in her household except one — herself. The consequences of this benevolent self-neglect can be dire: chronic disease, even death.

Even the healthiest lifestyle can’t always prevent disease. Still, millions of wives, mothers and grandmothers could better fend off, or at least slow down, the ravages of diabetes, heart disease and stroke if only they could find the time (or make the time) to exercise and eat right. Walker is digging into the social and psychological reasons they can’t (or don’t). If she can identify barriers, she can help craft interventions that break them down.

Walker’s area of expertise, family dynamics, is the third prong of a cross-disciplinary OSU investigation into lifestyle choices among women who have been diagnosed with “metabolic syndrome” — a dangerous complex of risk factors that has reached epidemic levels in the United States.

Afflicting fully one-quarter of middle-aged Americans, metabolic syndrome is the coexistence of high blood sugar, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, elevated blood pressure and extra fat at the waistline. After menopause, women’s risks go up. So middle age is the “last window of opportunity” to head off illness, Walker stresses.

Tackling the first prong of the metabolic syndrome study, motivational interviewing, is Rebecca Donatelle in Public Health. The second prong, diet and nutrition, is being handled by Melinda Manore in Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

“My role in the study,” says Walker, “is to pay attention to how women’s family lives and responsibilities limit their ability to make changes that would benefit their health.”

For women juggling jobs, kids, husbands and homes, going to the gym usually means dropping something else. And then there’s the eternal question, “What’s for dinner?” When the answer is, “spinach salad,” the groans can be heard in Missoula.

“Women feel they have to keep the machinery of their families running — the psychological machinery, the emotional machinery and the practical machinery,” Walker says. “This research is really about helping women to be self-caregivers.”

Alexis Walker’s Web page

Department of Human Development and Family Sciences

College of Health and Human Sciences

OSU Foundation

National Institute on Aging

Terra article on Melinda Manore

OSU Faculty to Speak at National Gerontology Conference in Dallas (OSU news release 11-1-06)

Tammy Bray enjoys both of the challenges that keep her schedule more than full.

Tammy Bray
Tammy Bray

“I enjoy problem solving, building, moving forward and finding new answers, and those go with both of my jobs,” says Tammy Bray, dean of OSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences and a renowned researcher in health-related fields.

One of her areas of interest is exploring how genes and environment relate to human disease. “You can’t do much about the genes you inherited, but you can affect your health with what you eat and how active you are,” she says. “Many foods have antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that help us shape our environment.”

Cancer and diabetes, for example, “are influenced by diet tremendously. You can reduce the risk by 70 to 90 percent by eating right.”

She serves on the nutrition and physiology external advisory council for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, funded by NASA. The group is working to solve many of the human issues related to a long space flight such as a trip to Mars.
Back at OSU, she tries to ensure that students in her college have an opportunity to learn the excitement of research. “We have a great student research program,” she says. “Undergraduates in the college develop a good relationship with faculty and learn problem solving skills by working on research projects.”

Being the dean of a college with strong educational, research and service programs, takes up a lot of her time, but Bray says she loves the challenge it adds to her academic life. “Oregon State excited me when I came here,” she says. “We have great faculty, great people and a great environment. We have people who are on the same platform, working toward the same thing. That’s not true everywhere.”

And in her “spare” time? Every morning she takes a walk around the campus about 5:30, and when she’s at home, nature provides her with pleasure. “I like being able to spend time in my garden. It gives me great excitement to just wander around or to pick vegetables and make something from them. It’s like somebody gave me a gift, and I feel blessed.”

And, of course, the exercise and good nutrition fit in well with her research findings.

Tammy Bray Web page

College of Health and Human Sciences

National Space Biomedical Research Institute

OSU is leading an international consortium seeking to help people in sub-Saharan Africa improve their lives.

McNamara is the administrative project director for this program
McNamara is the administrative project director for this program

The problems are significant but so are the rewards as Oregon State University leads an American and African coalition in an effort to improve the lives of rural people in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Rural Livelihoods Consortium has received $2.35 million from the United States Agency for International Development to find ways to revitalize the southern African research network while working to improve and diversify rural livelihoods, beginning in the Chinyanja Triangle regions of Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.

“It’s a daunting challenge,” says Marion McNamara, administrative project director, “because they have a lack of infrastructure such as roads and communications, the schools are poorly funded and unreachable for some people, and the horrible impact of HIV/AIDS affects the productive ability of the family and the community.”

The consortium is targeting small farmers who are ready to move from subsistence to small-scale commercial agriculture, along with vulnerable households, including those headed by females and those affected by HIV/AIDS.

Because of the diverse issues involved, the consortium relies on multidisciplinary teams to develop interventions that will improve the quality of life. Other U.S. partners in the effort are Pennsylvania State University, Michigan State University, Tennessee State University, and Washington State University.

The universities are working with field-based partners in Africa to improve the profitability of farming through such methods as low-input irrigation systems, improved forage for dairy cows and technologies to add value to raw products.

“As with any development project, you want to work yourself out of a job,” McNamara says. “If we’re really successful, the people will have enough food to eat, be able to educate their children, and envision a satisfying future for themselves.”

OSU International programs website

Maret Traber is trying to set the record straight about the role of vitamin E.

Maret Traber is setting the record straight on Vitamin E
Maret Traber is setting the record straight on Vitamin E

You’ve undoubtedly heard the claims.

“Everyone needs a vitamin E supplement.”

“Vitamin E has no value in protecting people from disease.”

“We get all the vitamin E we need in a normal diet.”

Maret Traber, a scientist in OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute who has studied the vitamin most of her professional life, says research so far just scratches the surface about how the body absorbs vitamin E, what forms should be used, how they interact with the immune system and what role they play in cancer prevention.

“A lot of people out there make all kinds of wild claims about the value of vitamin E without having a solid scientific basis for what they say,” according to Traber.

With more than 170 scientific publications, including over 100 peer-reviewed articles, Traber is one of the world’s leading experts on vitamin E.

She stepped into the middle of the controversy when she disputed the recent claims of a 10-year study of women over 45 who took vitamin E. The scientists conducting the study reported that vitamin E was ineffective at preventing heart disease.

“I was so surprised when I read the study that they didn’t emphasize what I considered the most exciting finding in 10 years of vitamin E research,” Traber says. “The study shows that women over 65 years old had a 24 percent reduction in major coronary vascular events, a 34 percent reduction in heart attacks, and a 49 percent reduction in cardiovascular deaths.”

So while some say vitamin E could be dangerous and others claim it’s a panacea, Traber says more work needs to be done.

“We owe it to the public to do good research on these issues, find out the truth and then be honest about it. The potential value of vitamin E is just so important, we have to find out what the facts are.”

Maret Traber’s Linus Pauling Institute web page

Maret Traber’s College of Health and Human Sciences page

Results of Traber’s study of vitamin E and smoking

Linus Pauling Institute website

Katie Briggs devotes her Friday evenings to playing with and helping children who have special needs.

Katie Briggs wants to work in a career in health
Katie Briggs wants to work in a career in health

It’s a typical Friday night for Katie Briggs – a game of tag, teaching kids how to hit a baseball, and playing with a big, colorful parachute. “I just can’t imagine doing anything else with my Friday night,” Katie says. “I love it so much!”

For the past three years Katie, an exercise and sport science senior, has been a volunteer in the IMPACT (Individualized Movement and Physical Activity for Children Today) program, which is run through the College of Health and Human Sciences and is designed to develop important skills for children with special needs.

“My favorite part of the experience has been watching the kids develop over time,” she says. “For example, when I first started working with my child, he was afraid to get in the water. But after a year, he had overcome his fear. The day he got in the pool was one of the happiest days for me.”

Katie has always known that she wanted a career in health. “I chose to attend OSU because of the good programs offered in the College of Health and Human Sciences,” she says. She has also always enjoyed working with children. Through her experience in the IMPACT program and the connections she has made at OSU she has decided to pursue a career in pediatric nursing after graduation.

“I just naturally love to take care of others,” she says. “It’s just what I do!”

IMPACT website

College of Health and Human Sciences website

Exercise and Sport Science website

Childhood obesity is becoming a crisis in Oregon, and OSU professors are working with schools and communities to get it under control.

Childhood obesity is on the rise in Oregon and the U.S.
Childhood obesity is on the rise in Oregon and the U.S.

Although Oregon is considered one of the hungriest states in the nation, 28 percent of 8th graders in the state are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

That means those children probably have a fat-rich, nutrition-poor diet and don’t get enough exercise, which can lead to serious health problems–heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure–that will affect them over their lifespan.

Obese children are likely to become obese adults, and in Oregon the Centers for Disease Control estimates the obesity figure for adults at 60 percent. Clearly the way to reverse the trend is to change the habits of the young.

That’s why the College of Health & Human Sciences and the OSU Extension Family and Community Development Program are working with schools and health practitioners to tailor programs that change nutrition and exercise behaviors of children and their families. Here are some of the programs:

  • Bilingual and bicultural Extension faculty, staff, and volunteers work with Hispanic, Native American, African American, Asian, and Russian communities that represent about half of those in limited-income nutrition programs.
  • A school-business-community collaboration in Waldport promotes eating fresh fruits and vegetables and drinking water.
  • Fourth graders in Tillamook are learning the importance of calcium for healthy bones, along with ways to cook calcium-rich foods.
  • More than 450 Spanish-speaking families in Marion County participated in Las Comidas Latinas, an informal course on nutrition and food safety.
  • In Columbia County, nutrition education has elementary school children requesting more fruits and vegetables in their cafeteria.

“We have evidence that shows investments in our children pay off–that early learning and success lead to continued learning and success throughout life,” said Tammy Bray, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences. “We know, too, that the later we try to repair deficiencies, the costlier it becomes.”

College of Health and Human Sciences website

Extension Family and Community Development Program website

Fighting osteoporosis is a lifelong process, according to researchers at the OSU Bone Research Laboratory.

Jumping can increase bone mass as much as 5 percent
Jumping can increase bone mass as much as 5 percent

Osteoporosis is generally considered only an issue for older people, but researchers at OSU’s Bone Research Lab have found that protection from the disease can start at an early age.

In a recent study, researchers found that a regimen of jumping and other load-bearing activities for children can increase bone mass by as much as 5 percent. “A 5 percent increase may not sound like a lot, but it translates into a 30 percent decrease in the risk of a hip fracture in adulthood,” says Christine Snow, director of the laboratory.

Osteoporosis is a low bone mass disease that reduces bone strength and increases risk of fracture. It’s a significant problem in the United States, and the numbers are startling.

  • Osteoporosis is a serious health threat for 44 million Americans, 80 percent of whom are women.
  • In the United States, more than 10 million people have osteoporosis and another 34 million have low bone mass, putting them at increased risk for the disease.
  • One of every two women and one of every four men over 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime.

The Bone Research Laboratory is committed to reversing these trends through a lifespan approach that involves building bone mass during youth and building bone and preventing bone loss in adulthood.

For those most at risk, research at the laboratory has shown that a long-term exercise program with weighted vests reduces hip bone loss and the risk of falling in post-menopausal women.

The laboratory also serves the community by performing clinical bone scans to determine individual risk for fracture and to help people and their physicians determine what treatment might be indicated. All scans require physician referral.

An active education program also is part of the laboratory. Graduate students are actively engaged in teaching and research every year, and there are opportunities for undergraduates to gain practicum and internship experience.

“I came to OSU because of the strong reputation of the Bone Research Lab,” says doctoral student Hawley Chase Almstedt. “The knowledge I have obtained here will enable me to become a professional who can significantly contribute to the field of bone health and osteoporosis prevention.”

Bone Research Lab home page