Social Groups Keep People Healthy

SYDNEY – If you are part of a social group, your are more likely to stay away from conditions like stroke, dementia and even the common cold.

Well, new research by researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Queensland, Australia, suggests that membership of social groups has a positive impact on health and well-being.

The researchers highlights the importance of belonging to a range of social groups, of hanging onto social groups, and of building new social groups in dealing with life changes such as having a stroke and being diagnosed with dementia.

The researchers reviewed a number of previous studies, which identified a link between group membership, and physical and mental health.

Commenting on the latest work, Professor Alex Haslam, of the University of Exeter, said: “We are social animals who live and have evolved to live in social groups. Membership of groups, from football teams to book clubs and voluntary societies, gives us a sense of social identity. This is an indispensable part of who we are and what we need to be in order to lead rich and fulfilling lives. For this reason groups are central to mental functioning, health and well-being.”

The researchers said that a 2008 study showed that being able to maintain valued group memberships played as important a role in positive recovery as an ability to overcome cognitive difficulties (e.g., problems with memory and language).

A 2009 study showed that those who participated as a group in decisions related to the decoration of communal areas used those areas 57 percent more over the next month and were far happier as a result.

Another 2009 study found that a strong sense of identity associated with perceived membership of social groups, was a much better predictor of residents’ well-being than their level of dementia.

The study has been published in Scientific American Mind, and the findings were presented at the British Science Festival.

Study: Being Only Child, No Social Handicap

Growing up as an only child doesn’t put teenagers at a disadvantage when it comes to social skills, U.S. researchers say.

An Ohio State University study found that schoolmates selected “only children” as friends just as frequently as they did peers who grew up with siblings, a university release said Monday.

A study of more than 13,000 middle and high school students across the country examined the concern that a lack of siblings might hurt children’s social skills.

 “As family sizes get smaller in industrialized countries, there is concern about what it might mean for society as more children grow up without brothers and sisters,” said Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University.

 “The fear is that they may be losing something by not learning social skills through interacting with siblings.”

 The study suggests that is not the case, she said.

 “I don’t think anyone has to be concerned that if you don’t have siblings you won’t learn the social skills you need to get along with other students in high school,” Bobbitt-Zeher said.

 “Kids interact in school, they’re participating in extracurricular activities, and they’re socializing in and out of school,” she said.

 “Anyone who didn’t have that peer interaction at home with siblings gets a lot of opportunities to develop social skills as they go through school.”

Health Canada Warns of Health Risks Posed by Rating Raw Bean Sprouts

OTTAWA – Cook those bean sprouts well, advises Health Canada, if you want to reduce the risk of exposure to food borne illness.

“Children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to these bacteria and should not eat any raw sprouts at all,” Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Wednesday.

“They should also avoid eating cooked sprouts unless they can be sure the sprouts have been thoroughly cooked.”

The agencies note that sprouts from alfalfa and mung beans are a popular choice for Canadians as a low-calorie, healthy ingredient for many meals. Onion, radish, mustard and broccoli sprouts, not to be confused with the actual plant or vegetable, are also options.

But they may carry harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli, which can lead to serious illness.

The largest recent outbreak in Canada linked to sprouts was in the fall of 2005, when more than 648 cases of salmonella were reported in Ontario.

Healthy adults who choose to eat sprouts are urged to ensure they buy crisp ones that have been refrigerated and avoid those that appear dark or smell musty. They should also use tongs or a glove to place the sprouts in a plastic bag.

Symptoms from salmonella usually occur 12 to 36 hours after eating contaminated food, while symptoms from E. coli can occur within two to 10 days.

Symptoms can include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fever and stomach cramps. People who experience these symptoms should contact a doctor immediately. In extreme cases, E. coli can lead to acute kidney failure or even death.

What Does Anti-Aging Mean?

Like it or not, “anti-aging” now has a number of quite different common meanings and connotations. Each is championed by a particular group or loose coalition of interests, but advocates for these groups have a way of diving into the fray without defining their terms. This makes reading about anti-aging techniques, technologies, medicine, products, and debates very confusing for the newcomer.

For the scientific community, anti-aging research refers exclusively to slowing, preventing, or reversing the aging process. There is no medical technology that allows this to be done – although the jury is still out on calorie restriction in humans. Nor is there any currently available method (short of waiting for people to die) to accurately measure the effects of an alleged anti-aging therapy.

In the medical and more reputable business community, anti-aging medicine means early detection, prevention, and reversal of age-related diseases. This is quite different from tackling the aging process itself, and a wide array of strategies and therapies are currently available. Calorie restriction, for example, is a demonstrated way to lower risk for a wide range of age-related degenerative conditions.

The wider business community – including a great many fraudulent and frivolous ventures – views “anti-aging” as a valuable brand and a demonstrated way to increase sales. At the worse end of the scale, this leads to snake oil salesmen, “anti-aging” cremes that may or may not make your skin look younger, and infomercials that tout the “anti-aging” benefits of exercise machines. Broadly, and very charitably, we can look at these varied definitions of anti-aging as meaning “to look and feel younger in some way” – which has no bearing on how long you live or how healthy you actually are.

The confusion of most interest is between the first two definitions. Many interventions lengthen life span for individuals by preventing or curing specific age-related diseases that would otherwise prove fatal. For example, ask yourself whether preventing heart disease or diabetes is anti-aging medicine. This would have no effect on the aging process, but it would help many people to live longer, healthier lives. Is this anti-aging research? Scientists say no, some medical and business groups say yes.

People Having Social Groups Stay Healthy

SYDNEY – If you are part of a social group, your are more likely to stay away from conditions like stroke, dementia and even the common cold.

Well, new research by researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Queensland, Australia, suggests that membership of social groups has a positive impact on health and well-being.

The researchers highlights the importance of belonging to a range of social groups, of hanging onto social groups, and of building new social groups in dealing with life changes such as having a stroke and being diagnosed with dementia.

The researchers reviewed a number of previous studies, which identified a link between group membership, and physical and mental health.

Commenting on the latest work, Professor Alex Haslam, of the University of Exeter, said: “We are social animals who live and have evolved to live in social groups. Membership of groups, from football teams to book clubs and voluntary societies, gives us a sense of social identity. This is an indispensable part of who we are and what we need to be in order to lead rich and fulfilling lives. For this reason groups are central to mental functioning, health and well-being.”

The researchers said that a 2008 study showed that being able to maintain valued group memberships played as important a role in positive recovery as an ability to overcome cognitive difficulties (e.g., problems with memory and language).

A 2009 study showed that those who participated as a group in decisions related to the decoration of communal areas used those areas 57 percent more over the next month and were far happier as a result.

Another 2009 study found that a strong sense of identity associated with perceived membership of social groups, was a much better predictor of residents’ well-being than their level of dementia.

The study has been published in Scientific American Mind, and the findings were presented at the British Science Festival.