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Week of May 6, 2013

Scholarship & Creative Work

Air pollution linked to hardening of the arteries

Long-term exposure to air pollution may be linked to heart attacks and strokes by speeding up atherosclerosis, or “hardening of the arteries,” according to a U-M public health researcher and colleagues from across the U.S.

Sara Adar, the John Searle Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the School of Public Health, and Joel Kaufman, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences and medicine at the University of Washington, led the study that found higher concentrations of fine particulate air pollution were linked to a faster thickening of the inner two layers of the common carotid artery — an important blood vessel that provides blood to the head, neck and brain.

Conversely, they found that reductions of fine particulate air pollution over time were linked to slower progression of the blood vessel thickness.

Their research is published in PLOS Medicine.

The thickness of this blood vessel is an indicator of how much atherosclerosis is present in the arteries throughout the body, even among people with no obvious symptoms of heart disease.

“Our findings help us to understand how it is that exposures to air pollution may cause the increases in heart attacks and strokes observed by other studies,” Adar said.

The researchers followed 5,362 people ages 45-84 from six U.S. metropolitan areas as part of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and Air Pollution. The researchers were able to link air pollution levels estimated at each person’s house with two ultrasound measurements of the blood vessels, separated by about three years.

Asthma initiative has impact on health care use

Children living in areas where there was wide-ranging and active support for improving outcomes for their chronic asthma were hospitalized less and made fewer visits to the emergency room, when compared with those in other communities.

The need for costly health care services was reduced in six low-income communities that had participated in a special initiative to improve pediatric asthma control, led by faculty and staff at the Center for Managing Chronic Disease at the School of Public Health.

A team of researchers, headed by Noreen Clark, the Myron E. Wegman Distinguished University Professor of Public Health and director of the center, examined health care utilization by low-income children ages 2-18, from 2002-06. The team was interested in finding out how the Allies Against Asthma initiative, established in 2002 with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, had an impact on use of hospital in-patient units, emergency rooms and urgent care centers.

“Pediatric asthma is the most prevalent chronic disease of childhood and is exceedingly costly in both direct and indirect expenses to the health care system and families,” said Laurie Lachance, evaluation director of the center. “Our study is the first that we know of to link work of coalitions with significant outcomes for children with asthma community wide.”

Additional U-M researchers involved were Amy Friedman Milanovich, Shelley C. Stoll, and Margaret Wilkin, all with the SPH Center for Managing Chronic Disease, and Peter X. K. Song, Department of Biostatistics.

Mindfulness therapy might help veterans with combat-related PTSD

Mindfulness exercises that include meditation, stretching, and acceptance of thoughts and emotions might help veterans with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder find relief from their symptoms.

A new collaborative study from the U-M Health System and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System shows that veterans with PTSD who completed an eight-week, mindfulness-based group treatment plan showed a significant reduction in symptoms as compared to patients who underwent treatment as normal.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, or MBCT, combines the practice of cognitive therapy with the meditative approach of mindfulness that stresses an increased awareness of all thoughts and emotions.

Previous research has shown stress reduction classes that use mindfulness meditation have been beneficial to people with a history of trauma exposure — including veterans, civilians with war-related trauma and adults with a history of childhood sexual abuse — but the new study is the first to examine the effect of mindfulness-based psychotherapy for PTSD with veterans in a PTSD clinic.

The study was published online in Depression and Anxiety.

Larger groups mean less chance of interracial friendships

The larger the group, the smaller the chance of forming interracial friendships, a new U-M study shows.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study examines how the size of a community affects the realization of people’s preferences for friends. U-M researchers Siwei Cheng and Yu Xie tested their theoretical model using both simulated and real data on actual friendships among 4,745 U.S. high school students.

“We found that total school size had a major effect on the likelihood that students would form interracial friendships. Large schools promote racial segregation and discourage interracial friendships,” said Xie, a sociologist with LSA, the Institute for Social Research and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Their model incorporates the widely held assumption that people prefer to make friends with others of the same race. It also incorporates many other preferences that affect friendship formation. These factors include age, education, hobbies, personality, religious affiliation and political beliefs.

Given these individual preferences, the researchers found that when the size of the social group is small, people have a low likelihood of finding a same-race friend that matches their other preferences. But as the total size of the group increases, people are more likely to find same-race friends who also satisfy their other preferences.

Cheng, a U-M graduate student in sociology, and Xie, who is also affiliated with Peking University, note their work has implications for other social relationships, such as dating, marriage, political coalitions and business affiliations.

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STAFF SPOTLIGHT

John Megahan, scientific illustrator, graphic designer and Web developer, on his job: "My favorite kind of work is when I can do an illustration that brings in ideas from various aspects and seeing how they interact."

EVENTS

“Visions Of Serenity: Multi Media Group Show,” 8 a.m.-8 p.m. through June 10 at the Gifts of Art Gallery, Taubman Health Center South Lobby.

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