I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

April 11, 2010

Nature Deficit Disorder and National Environmental Education Week (April 11-17, 2010)

This week is National Environmental Education Week.  By teaching our kids more about the environment we will hopefully reduce Nature Deficit Disorder (this is NOT a medical condition, but is related to modern lifestyles).

NOTE: I have posted a number of these links on the “Parenting Resources” page.

Nature Deficit Disorder Resource Center (Education.com)

What is Nature Deficit Disorder?

from http://www.education.com/facts/quickfacts-ndd/what-is-nature-deficit-disorder/

A lack of routine contact with nature may result in stunted academic and developmental growth. This unwanted side-effect of the electronic age is called Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). The term was coined by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods in order to explain how our societal disconnect with nature is affecting today’s children. Louv says we have entered a new era of suburban sprawl that restricts outdoor play, in conjunction with a plugged-in culture that draws kids indoors. But, as Louv presents in his book, the agrarian, nature-oriented existence hard-wired into human brains isn’t quite ready for the overstimulating environment we’ve carved out for ourselves. Some children adapt. Those who don’t develop the symptoms of NDD, which include attention problems, obesity, anxiety, and depression.

Nature-deficit disorder is not a medical condition; it is a description of the human costs of alienation from nature. This alienation damages children and shapes adults, families, and communities. There are solutions, though, and they’re right in our own backyards.

Source: Johanna Sorrentino “Nature Deficit Disorder: What You Need to Know”; Richard Louv “Nature Deficit Disorder”

The site notes that

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2006 to pediatric health care providers on ways to increase physical activity in children and adolescents.
  • The authors stated that lifestyle-related physical activity, as opposed to aerobics or calisthenics, is critical for sustained weight loss in children, and recommended free, unorganized outdoor play as a method of physical activity.

[Ed. note: The above is from a post entitled “Is NDD linked to obesity?” It may be linked, but there are a lot of other factors beyond physical activity (or lack thereof) and diet.  But more on that in another post.)

Source: National Environmental Education Foundation. “Fact Sheet: Children’s Health and Nature

This fact sheet describes a number of recent research findings on the effects Nature Deficit Disorder might have on children’s health.

National Environmental Education Week, April 11-17th

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson encourages educators and students to get involved in National Environmental Education Week, April 11-17th. A week-long effort involving thousands of teachers and more than a million students, EE Week connects educators around the country with environmental resources to promote students’ understanding of the environment. Join EPA Administrator Jackson and take part in EE Week 2010.

Teaching resources


EPA Resources

Environmental Education


National Environmental Education Act of 1990http://www.epa.gov/education/whatis.html

Federal Legislative Authorities for Environmental Educationhttp://www.epa.gov/education/flaee.html

March 21, 2010

Epigenetics and environmental health: The emerging science

The more we learn, the more we realize how much we don’t know.  A committee of the National Academy of Sciences held a workshop on July 30–31, 2009, to further understanding of the implications of epigenetic effects on public health and of the research that would be most important for efforts to inform public health leaders about epigenetic effects of chemicals.

What are the human health outcomes when genes (such as a tumor-suppressor gene) are turned on or off at different stages in life and in various tissues? Scientific evidence on animals and humans suggests that epigenetic changes are important and may be passed from one generation to the next.

The newsletter cited below gets a little technical, but provides an excellent overview of issues surrounding epigenetics.  I’ve summarized some of it.  (Most of this is over my head, but I think it’s evidence that we don’t have a full understanding of how the human body works and even less of an idea about how all sorts of environmental factors can affect it.)

Highlights of the meeting

  • What epigenetics is and how it works
  • Differences between genetics and epigenetics during animal development
  • DNA methylation, histone modifications, and transgenerational potential of effects

Possible Causes and Outcomes of Epigenetic Changes

Participants discussed how environmental chemicals, estrogenic compounds, and even social factors, such as child abuse and maternal care, may cause epigenetic changes.

Compounds such as nickel can induce hypermethylation and lead to altered gene expression patterns that can be inherited and lead to a growth or survival advantage for and lead to a growth or survival advantage for cancer cells.

In the late 1990s scientists showed that there was an association between dietary changes and changes in DNA methylation in mice.

Maternal behavior of rats affected DNA methylation of the glucocorticoid receptor gene in the hippocampus of the rat offspring.

One scientist reported that the effects of childhood social adversity on overall methylation patterns were more pronounced than the effects of having a mother who smoked.

Epigenetic changes related to cancer and asthma are being studied.

Possible tools and approaches, such as assay technologies,  for identifying environmental epigenetic stressors.

The following were among the topics discussed: biomarkers of disease susceptibility, animal models for studying epigenetics, screening tools, low-dose responses, interplay between genetics and epigenetics, epigenetic changes as exposure markers

Summary of the meeting by the moderator (p.3)

A half-page table which briefly describes discussion about our understanding of the epigenome and how we might be able to test for epigenetic changes.

Emerging Science for Environmental Health Decisions Newsletter: Use of Emerging Science and Technologies to Explore Epigenetic Mechanisms Underlying the Developmental Basis for Disease (PDF)

Workshop Webcast: Presentations on Emerging Science and Environmental Health

Presentations are available in mp3 (or mp4) and wmv formats.  Some include a PDF version.

Meeting sponsored by the Standing Committee on Use of Emerging Science for Environmental Health Decisions of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology

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