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Stress in utero harms cognitive skills of poor children

Exposure to an acute stress in utero can have long-term consequences extending into childhood—but only among children in poor households, according to a new study.

The study, which took place in Chile, did not find the same effect among children in upper- or middle-class families.

“These children performed worse on a diverse set of skills critical for educational success, including arithmetic reasoning, verbal fluency, spatial analysis, logical thinking and problem-solving skills,” says study leader Florencia Torche, sociology professor in the Stanford University School of Humanities and Sciences.

Torche also found that while middle- and upper-class families have the resources to mitigate the effects from the event, disadvantaged children without extra help can fall up to half a year behind, according to the research in Demography.

The ability to catch up depends on the family’s socioeconomic resources, she finds.

“This is a troubling finding because it shows that acute stress exacerbates disadvantages that poor children already face,” Torche says.

Stress doesn’t occur on its own

While previous research has examined the effects of chronic stress, little is known about the long-term consequences of an acutely stressful event during pregnancy, says Torche. An acute stress a pregnant woman could experience include witnessing a violent event, falling victim to a crime, almost suffering a serious injury, or losing a job.

But because stress is often correlated with other challenging situations—like family turmoil, relationship difficulties, or financial problems—it can be difficult to study, says Torche. That’s why she used a disaster event to create a natural experiment: a 7.9 magnitude earthquake that occurred June 13, 2005, in Tarapaca, Chile.

“If we want to disentangle the effect of stress from these other common correlates, we need to isolate it,” Torche says.

“It was only when I broke the results down by socioeconomic status that I found a very strong negative effect among the most disadvantaged families.”

Unlike most natural disasters with devastating consequences—such as property damage, long-term displacement, or public health emergencies—the losses from the Tarapaca earthquake were relatively small: 11 people died, 130 were injured, and 180 homes were destroyed. With limited spillover effects that could have influenced health outcomes of a mother and her unborn child, Torche was able to more clearly isolate the direct impact of an acute stress on pregnant women.

Torche then combined birth records with a random sample of 591 children whose mothers experienced the earthquake during their pregnancy and compared that data with a control group of 558 randomly selected children born in the same time period in Chilean counties the earthquake didn’t affect.

Torche has closely studied these children since birth. Her 2011 study found that exposure to an acute stress during pregnancy increased the number of preterm births.

“Given that preterm birth is associated with health and developmental problems during childhood, this finding provided initial evidence that prenatal exposure to acute stress could have negative consequences for children,” she says.

Half a year behind

Here, Torche checked in with these children who were now 7 years old and starting school.

With a team of trained field researchers, Torche conducted a series of cognitive tests with each child in the treatment and control groups.

“The effect of prenatal exposure to an acute stressor emerged only among the most disadvantaged members of society.”

They assessed abilities such as verbal comprehension, spatial reasoning, memory, and how quickly children processed information needed to perform a task.

At first, Torche found no statistically significant effects when she looked at the results for the entire sample. But as she dug deeper into the data, she made a striking discovery: only the children from poor households showed negative effects. There was no effect on children from middle- and upper-class families.

“It was only when I broke the results down by socioeconomic status that I found a very strong negative effect among the most disadvantaged families,” she says.

Torche then broke it down even further. Because poor children face a range of educational disparities, how did disadvantaged children who experienced the earthquake compare to poor children in the control group who did not?

Torche found a difference that amounted to more than half a year of cognitive development. In other words, a low-income child in the second grade who experienced stress in utero was performing closer to a first-grade level.

Access to resources

After establishing an unequal effect of stress, Torche conducted a set of qualitative interviews to understand why children from middle- and upper-class families were unaffected. At the time of these interviews, the children were mostly 9 years old and in fourth grade.

In their interviews, upper- and middle-class parents shared that they constantly assessed their children’s strengths and weaknesses. If a child showed signs of struggling in any way, they mobilized resources to intervene. This included hiring tutors, signing up for structured activities, and interacting more with teachers and the school to help their child inside and outside of the classroom.

Racial health disparities start early in life

“While some disadvantaged families have also resorted to the assistance of experts and educators, and have requested institutional support, they face substantial barriers in terms of time, economic resources, and, equally important, access to social networks and mastery of cultural resources to effectively negotiate with institutions for advantages for their children,” Torche writes in the paper.

Torche notes that this finding shows that class-based parental responses that minimized effects of prenatal stress could further exacerbate social class disparities.

This research is yet another piece of evidence that shows the importance of supporting disadvantaged women and their children, Torche says.

“The effect of prenatal exposure to an acute stressor emerged only among the most disadvantaged members of society. Given that these women are particularly vulnerable, and less likely to have access to health care, increasing access to health care and sources of support for this population is an important task,” she says.

Source: Stanford University

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Samsung taps Harman audio expertise for premium soundbar launch

The HW-N950 (pictured) and HW-N850 soundbars are due for release on August 20

Samsung has announced its first major collaboration with Harman since it bought the company early last year. Two premium soundbars sporting logos from both brands have been revealed, both with up-firing and side-firing speakers for the promise of immersive three dimensional sound thanks to included Dolby Atmos and DTS:X technologies.

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Category: Home Entertainment


Building Burning Man looks way more fun than attending

Long before the festival starts, surveyors and builders conjure Black Rock City out of the forbidding desert. It looks like a blast.

Black Rock City, the temporary town that hosts Burning Man’s annual clusterf*ck of art, food, and parties, doesn’t just magically appear in the middle of the Nevada desert every year. Its planning and construction is a lot more mundane–and a lot more fun, according to a new mini-doc.

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Airbnb regulation pain hits Chicago as city threatens to reject 1,200 hosts

Regulation is causing trouble for Airbnb hosts in Chicago. Some 1,200 hosts have received letters from the city threatening to reject their short-term rental licenses if they don’t update their listings to the city’s specifications.

Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection began issuing registration numbers last year, about a year after Chicago passed a rule requiring people who rent out rooms for less than 30 days to register with the city or risk $1,500 a day fees. So far, the city has licensed 6,000 hosts. Unfortunately, some applications were not up to the city’s standards. Last week the agency started sending out notices asking Airbnb hosts whose registration was still pending to update their listings with additional details or face rejection, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Airbnb, in turn, sent its hosts an email, asking them to get in touch with Airbnb customer service if they need help updating their profiles. The company also released the following statement to the press:

“We are working with the city to address this issue and continue to support our Chicago host community. As one of only two licensed home sharing platforms in Chicago, Airbnb appreciates its ongoing partnership with the city and looks forward to a swift resolution of this matter.”

Chicago has one of the more manageable policies concerning Airbnb and short-term rentals. The city allows Airbnb to pass along information from consenting hosts. In some cities, like Paris, Airbnb hosts are supposed to register directly with the city.

Paris has taken a more aggressive stance against rental platforms. In April, the city decided to sue Airbnb for failing to take down listings that were not registered with the city. The city said it would start fining the platform €1,000-5,000 per day for each unregistered listing. The new law went into effect in December 2017.

Up until now, Chicago has had a more lax approach to registering hosts, and those with pending applications are still allowed to rent their homes. But even officials in cities with more lenient registration processes have limits on how long they’ll wait for platforms and their users to comply.

Regulation has had a mixed impact on the home-sharing platform. Laws around short-term rentals have lowered the number of listings in areas where they’re enforced. But sometimes Airbnb benefits from such rules, at least from a competition perspective. By the beginning of this year, Airbnb had lost half of its listings in San Francisco thanks to a city crackdown on short-term rentals. While it lost a significant percent of listings, its competitors lost even more. FlipKey dropped more than three-quarters of its listings, while HomeAway listings more than halved.

Frequent skin cancer may be a huge warning sign

People who develop abnormally frequent cases of a skin cancer known as basal cell carcinoma appear to be at significantly increased risk for the development of other cancers, including blood, breast, colon, and prostate cancers, according to a new, preliminary study.

“[Skin is] the best organ to detect genetic problems that could lead to cancers.”

Mutations in a panel of proteins responsible for repairing DNA damage likely cause the increased susceptibility, researchers say.

“We discovered that people who develop six or more basal cell carcinomas during a 10-year period are about three times more likely than the general population to develop other, unrelated cancers,” says senior author Kavita Sarin, assistant professor of dermatology at Stanford University.

“We’re hopeful that this finding could be a way to identify people at an increased risk for a life-threatening malignancy before those cancers develop.”

The research appears in JCI Insight.

Canary in the coal mine

The skin is the largest organ of the body and the most vulnerable to DNA damage caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Try as one might, it’s just not possible to completely avoid sun exposure, which is why proteins that repair DNA damage are important to prevent skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma.

Most of the time this system works well. But sometimes the repair team can’t keep up. Basal cell carcinomas are common—more than 3 million cases a year are diagnosed in the United States alone—and usually highly treatable.

“About 1 in 3 Caucasians will develop basal cell carcinoma at some point in their lifetime…”

Sarin and lead author Hyunje Cho, a medical student, wondered whether the skin could serve as a kind of canary in the coal mine to reveal an individual’s overall cancer susceptibility. “The skin is basically a walking mutagenesis experiment,” Sarin says. “It’s the best organ to detect genetic problems that could lead to cancers.”

Sarin and Cho studied 61 people treated for unusually frequent basal cell carcinomas—an average of 11 per patient over a 10-year period. They investigated whether these people may have mutations in 29 genes that code for DNA-damage-repair proteins.

“We found that about 20 percent of the people with frequent basal cell carcinomas have a mutation in one of the genes responsible for repairing DNA damage, versus about 3 percent of the general population. That’s shockingly high,” Sarin says.

Virus sleeps for years then wakes up to cause skin cancer

Furthermore, 21 of the 61 people reported a history of additional cancers, including blood cancer, melanoma, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer—a prevalence that suggests the frequent basal cell carcinoma patients are three times more likely than the general population to develop cancers.

‘A strong correlation’

To confirm the findings, the researchers applied a similar analysis to a large medical insurance claims database. Over 13,000 people in the database had six or more basal cell carcinomas; these people also were over three times more likely to have developed other cancers, including colon, melanoma, and blood cancers.

Finally, the researchers identified an upward trend: the more basal cell carcinomas an individual reported, the more likely that person was to have had other cancers as well.

“I was surprised to see such a strong correlation,” Sarin says. “But it’s also very gratifying. Now we can ask patients with repeated basal cell carcinomas whether they have family members with other types of cancers, and perhaps suggest that they consider genetic testing and increased screening.”

The researchers are continuing to enroll patients in the study, which is ongoing, to learn whether particular mutations in genes responsible for repairing DNA damage are linked to the development of specific malignancies. They’d also like to conduct a similar study in patients with frequent melanomas. But they emphasized that there’s no reason for people with occasional basal cell carcinomas to worry.

This generic skin cream may cut carcinoma risk

“About 1 in 3 Caucasians will develop basal cell carcinoma at some point in their lifetime,” Sarin says. “That doesn’t mean that you have an increased risk of other cancers. If, however, you’ve been diagnosed with several basal cell carcinomas within a few years, you may want to speak with your doctor about whether you should undergo increased or more intensive cancer screening.”

The Dermatology Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Stanford Society of Physician Scholars, the American Skin Association, and Pellepharm Inc. supported the research. Stanford’s dermatology department also supported the work.

Two of the coauthors are cofounders, directors, and officers of Pellepharm, a biotechnology company focused on rare dermatological conditions.

Source: Stanford University

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This millennial dream home is designed around succulents

The house features a two-story greenhouse, which will appeal to the growing number of young people who are eschewing kids for houseplants.

The clients behind a new house in the Japanese city of Maebashi, northwest of Tokyo, asked the architects at Snark Architects and OUVI for an inexpensive home built with affordable materials. Their other request was that the home include a large space devoted to their favorite hobby: Nurturing cacti and succulents all year around.

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Stylish caravan cabriolet peels back its roof to connect with nature

Lume's all-new Traveler caravan

The Düsseldorf Caravan Salon is charging full-steam ahead, which means the next few weeks should see the debut of some of the sleekest, most groundbreaking motorhome and caravan designs of the year. One such design is the all-new Lume Traveler, a smooth-cornered box trailer with an interesting twist – it’s a convertible. The fabric soft-top pulls away to connect occupants with nature, bringing in fresh air and unimpeded views of starry night skies.

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Category: Outdoors


Limited edition VW camper van celebrates 30 years of the Hotel California

In this 30th year of the California camper van, the Düsseldorf Caravan Salon will welcome another new Volkswagen camper van in addition to the Crafter Grand California. VW will also debut a special edition T6 California designed in celebration of the camper van’s big anniversary. The 30 Years package adds a fresh new coat of paint to the California’s well-known spirit of open-road adventure and dependability.

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Category: Automotive


The world's finest underwater photography in the Through Your Lens photo contest

This image, the Grand Prize winner, is an upside down composition of a whale calf made ...

Now in its 14th year, Through Your Lens is an underwater photography competition focusing on the marvels of undersea worlds. The incredible Grand Prize-winning shot this year was awarded to a stunning upside down composition of a whale calf made to appear as if it is floating above the surface of the water.

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Category: Digital Cameras


“Unite the Right 2” rally: 6 things to know about the D.C. demonstrations

After last year’s deadly Unite the Right rally, in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a Whitman’s Sampler of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, paramilitary, and the alt-right got together to spew hate, the white nationalists are doing it all over again this weekend.

Exactly one year after the original rally, “Unite the Right 2”–titled like a bad Hollywood sequel–will be held in a park near the White House. About 400 people are expected to attend the so-called “First Amendment” event.

Here’s what you need to know about the rally:

  • Organizer: The event was organized by Jason Kessler, who already had last year’s rally on his resume. Kessler initially wanted to return to Charlottesville, but the city denied his request, so he headed to the nation’s capital.
  • Event: The rally will start in Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., and run from August 11 to 12. According to the rally’s website, the main demonstration is expected to begin at 5:30 p.m. in Lafayette Square on the 12th.
  • Attendees: According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the rally’s confirmed speakers include neo-Nazi Patrick Little, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, South African survivalist Simon Roche, a guy from Patriot Prayer, the editor of the Revolutionary Conservative, Kessler’s reported attorney Corey Mahler, and “pro-white” town manager Tom Kawczynski.
  • Counter-protests: There are several counter-demonstrations planned. The National Park Service (NPS) has granted official permits to multiple counter-protests in Washington D.C.—reportedly before the Nazis got their permits.
  • More counter-protests: The Daily Beast reports that 18 anti-racist, anti-fascist, and feminist groups have organized a “DC United Against Hate” coalition, which will be counter-protesting throughout the weekend. According to ABC News, at least one group “plans to burn a Confederate flag in Lafayette Park.”
  • Shut it down: According to DCist, 22 different organizations, including Black Lives Matter Charlottesville, Black Lives Matter D.C., Maryland Antifa, the D.C. Antifascist Collective, and the Frederick Socialists have teamed up for an event called Shut It Down D.C., which will go on for the entire weekend.