Happiness Spreads, Depression Doesn’t

For teenagers, surrounding themselves with friends – particularly friends in cheerful moods – could significantly reduce their risk of developing depression, and improve their ability to recover from it.

In a recent study, scientists analyzed the data of more than 2,000 high school students in the United States to investigate whether the students’ moods influenced one another, andif this could, in turn, impact levels of depression among teens. The teams modeled the spread of moods among the students over six to 12 months, using techniques similar to modeling the spread of an infectious disease.

“We classified people as ill (depressed) or not and looked at how that changed over time,” says Thomas Moore, a lecturer in applied mathematics at the University of Manchester, who worked on the study.

“Depression itself doesn’t spread, but a healthy mood actually does,” he explains. The study found that teens with a strong group of friends not suffering from depression – described as a “healthy” mood – had half the probability of developing depression and double the probability of recovering if they were depressed.

“The effect was big, much bigger than you see form antidepressants,” says Moore.

Importantly, depressed friends didn’t counter the effect. “They don’t seem to drag their friends down,” says Moore.

It is estimated that 2.6 million youths aged 12-17 suffered at least one major depressive episode during 2013. This represented
10.7 percent of the U.S. population in this age bracket.

“This study is additional evidence of the importance of friends and family in maintaining good mental health… [and] importantly, this study indicates that when we do speak to family and friends our depression is not ‘infectious,’” Moore observed.

Backpacks Can Lead to Back, Neck, and Shoulder Injuries

Backpacks are convenient for students, but they can pose a threat to kids’ backs, necks and shoulders if used improperly, experts say.

In 2013, there were more than 5,400 backpack-related injuries treated in emergency departments across the United States, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“In my own practice, I have noticed a marked increase in the number of young children who are complaining about back, neck and shoulder pain,” Scott Bautch, of the American Chiropractic Association’s Council on Occupational Health, said in an association news release.

“The first question I ask these patients is, ‘Do you carry a backpack to school?’ Almost always, the answer is ‘yes,’” he said.

Bautch advised that a backpack should weigh no more than 5-10 percent of a child’s weight, and should never be wider or longer than the child’s torso. Backpacks also should not hang more than four inches below the waistline.

Backpacks need wide, padded and adjustable shoulder straps, and children should always use both straps when wearing a backpack, Bautch said. He added that it is also important for a backpack to have a padded back. This improves comfort and also protects the child from sharp edges on pencils, rulers, books and other school supplies inside the pack.

Parents are encouraged to select a backpack with several separate compartments, which will make it easier to position the contents more effectively. Pointy or bulky items should be placed away from the area that rests on the child’s back. Bautch encouraged parents to consult their children’s teachers to determine whether the heavier books and electronic devices such as laptop computers can be kept at school, in order to reduce the weight of the child’s backpack.

Sugar and Carbs are
the Obesity Culprits,
Not Lack of Exercise

Diet is a lifestyle cause of obesity, but a lack of exercise is not, according to an editorial reviewing controversial questions about this established health risk. The article, published in a journal from The BMJ,  says the problem “cannot be outrun by exercise.”

Even the exercise done by athletes cannot counter a bad diet, say the authors, who cite evidence that while obesity has rocketed in the past 30 years, “there has been little change in physical activity levels in the western population.”

Excess sugar and carbohydrates, not physical inactivity, are to blame for the obesity epidemic, says the editorial.

The review, which aims to lead the opinion of sports medicine researchers and clinicians, is written by Dr. Aseem Malhotra, a UK cardiologist and consultant to the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in London, with
Prof. Tim Noakes of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa in Cape Town, and Dr. Stephen Phinney, professor emeritus of medicine at the University of California Davis.

The healthy choice of regular physical activity is not dismissed, however, because while these experts claim it “does not promote weight loss,” evidence shows that it “reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and some cancers by at least 30%.”

But poor diet is a bigger risk, the article says, as it “generates more disease than physical inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined.”

The editorial, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, continues by citing a 2013 review of the medical literature for metabolic syndrome, which asks why children are developing this cluster of cardiovascular risk factors.