Friday, 05 December 2014 22:49

Are Christmas Toy Drives Missing the Mark?

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Giving what is needed

Every November and December, toy drives to benefit poor and homeless children are everywhere, but many homeless advocates are beginning to wonder whether some of this altruistic energy is being misdirected. It’s true that no child should ever endure a Christmas morning without toys, but many families are in such desperate need that toys are nowhere near the top of their wish list.

Sometimes the basics are best

Many philanthropists support organizations like Mercy House, which provides emergency, transitional and permanent housing to those in need. Based in Orange County, California, Mercy House offers dozens of free social services to homeless families. If children are living on the street or, even worse, are homeless and starving, then toys are a distant thought. A warm meal and a place to sleep are priorities for the chronically poor. Yes, toy drives are wonderful, and they fulfill a huge need in the homeless community. But what are some of the other ways we can help kids this holiday season? Homeless advocates in Virginiapoint to several things, besides toys, that can help those in need during these months of universal goodwill. A place to stay, nutritious food and safety are three of the most vital requirements for a happy holiday. Sadly, some families struggle just to secure one of those three, and toys aren’t even a consideration.

What are the options?

If you want to help homeless families and children this Christmas, consider donating some of the following to your local shelter or church: Suitcases: A local advocate for the homeless in state of Virginia pointed out that neglected kids in foster care move often, and they frequently have no appropriate luggage. Sadly, foster kids and homeless families default to trash bags for transporting their belongings. Movie tickets: What child doesn’t want to see a first-run movie in a real theater? Consider purchasing ticket coupons or gift cards from a large theater chain and donating them to your local church or homeless shelter. Hats and winter clothes: Sometimes the basics get forgotten when winter comes. Homeless moms, dads and children all need proper clothing to stay warm. Books: Popular books in good condition make great gifts to shelters. Your time: If you can spare a few hours each weekend during holiday time, virtually any local homeless charity can use you skills. Money: If you are worried about bureaucratic overhead in large organizations, think small and local. Rather than one large cash gift, consider giving several small donations to multiple recipients. Churches, individuals, homeless shelters, hospital-based charities and other micro-organizations can make a few dollars go a very long way. There are dozens of ways to help others throughout the year, and toy drives certainly have their place. We should also keep in mind that those on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder need many other goods and services to help them out of the poverty cycle. Keep an open mind this year, and do whatever you can to assist those in need. (No More Poverty was founded by Julian Omidi and Dr. Michael Omidi. The Omidi brothers’ goal is to end poverty at home and abroad by supporting the efforts of like-minded charities and agencies.)

Monday, 24 November 2014 11:33

Exercises You Can Do at Home

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Whether you don’t want to pay for a gym membership, you don’t want to head out in bad weather, or you are just not a gym person, there are countless exercises you can do at home to keep in shape. Here you can find a few effective exercises that require minimal space and no extra equipment:

Dancing - Not your typical exercise, but dancing is a fantastic way to burn calories and have fun in the process. You can exercise along with online videos or just make a playlist and keep yourself moving during that time.

Jumping Jacks, Sit Ups & Push Ups - There’s a reason the classics are still around. While some companies promote products that they say take your exercises further, you really don’t need anything but motivation to reap the benefits of basic exercises. Jumping jacks are great for warming up, pushups build arm strength and work out your chest muscles, and crunches are still one of the best exercises for building up your abdominal muscles.
Jumping Jacks, Sit Ups & Push Ups

Weight Lifting - Nope, you don’t need to have or buy weights to lift at home. If you’re new to lifting, you can start with something light, such as a can of food. As you need more weight, you can upgrade to lifting milks jugs or laundry detergent bottles.

Squats and Leg Lifts - Your legs are some of the biggest and strongest muscles in your body. They should not be ignored. Leg lifts are great for targeting your butt, hips and thighs, and squats are fantastic for both your butt and your legs. If you’re finding squats to be difficult, you can simply repeatedly slowly stand and sit in a normal chair.

Maintaining an active lifestyle is important, but you don’t have to spend $50 a month on a gym membership. You can find an outdoor activity you enjoy, or even just spend some time walking  every day. You are more likely to keep up with exercises you enjoy, so try to keep up with the moves and activities you find you actually like doing.

Monday, 24 November 2014 11:28

Tips for a Healthier Thanksgiving

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While holidays are the time to indulge, sometimes we take it overboard. With so many delicious foods available on and around Thanksgiving, it’s easy to forget portion sizes and lose track of just how much you’ve eaten. If you’re watching your waistline or just maintaining a healthy diet, consider some of the tips we’ve come up with for a healthier Thanksgiving:

This vs. That- We’ve come up with some comparisons so you can choose to enjoy the healthiest options.

White vs. Dark Meat - White meat has less calories and grams of fat.

Green Bean vs. Sweet Potato Casserole - Traditional green bean casserole is the lighter pick, however, the latter options also provides different good-for-you nutrients.

Pumpkin vs. Apple Pie - Pumpkin is the winner here, with the bonus that the whipped cream topping also has less calories than the ice cream typically served with apple pie

Remember: everything is better in moderation. If you keep your portions small, you can enjoy a bit of almost everything. Before you fill your plate, survey all the food available and decide what you want the most. Don’t waste calories and stomach space on foods you can have all year long.

Skip the Seconds - Avoid going back for seconds. Your stomach takes a while to communicate with your brain that it’s full, so eat slowly; if you decide to go back for more, make sure you’re actually still hungry. There is always dessert, and Thanksgiving leftovers can be even better the next day!

Monday, 24 November 2014 11:13

Fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder

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SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, is a type of seasonal depression that usually begins in early winter and fades through spring. Approximately 25 million U.S. citizens report suffering from SAD; and women are twice as likely to experience symptoms.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
SAD is a real form of cyclical depression and can lead to:

  1. Decreased concentration
  2. Increased appetite
  3. Weight gain
  4. Social withdrawal
  5. Moodiness
  6. Fatigue
  7. Panic attacks

The simplest explanation for this seasonal depression is lack of light. Serotonin production - the chemical your body produces that makes you feel happy - increases with light. SAD symptoms range from mild to severe, and people typically begin to recover in spring (when the days become longer).

Fortunately, there are a range of easy at-home treatments you can try:

Bathe in the Light - Try to get outside regularly and relax or do some outside activity. There are also light therapy boxes available; however, these range in brightness and types of light, so you should talk to your doctor before purchasing one.

Stay Active - Although winter makes us want to bundle up and not leave the couch, regular exercise can reduce the symptoms of depression. Exercise combined with light therapy has generated positive results for treating SAD in numerous studies.

Get Some Help - If you’re really depressed and feel like you need help, don’t wait. A psychiatrist can help you talk it out and determine whether medication is necessary  to treat your symptoms.

If you’re feeling depressed, know you’re not alone. Reportedly 1 in 10 Americans are affected by depression at one point or another. However, statistics show diagnoses are growing fast, and over 80 percent of people who experience symptoms do not seek help. For those who seek it, help is always available. If you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, don’t wait for things to get worse. Talk to you doctor today help is out there, and is it real.

Monday, 24 November 2014 11:00

Understanding Autism: Nature vs. Nurture

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A recent study from Sweden shows that genetics play a larger role in the development of autism than environmental factors. Although in America there has been a “vaccine causes autism” debate for several years now, this most recent study found 52 percent of autism risk comes from common genes, while only 2.6 percent are attributed to spontaneous mutations.

Researchers compared approximately  3,000 autistic and non-autistic people in Sweden, the largest study of its kind to date. Published in the  journal, Nature Genetics, this study reveals autism to be more like physical attributes  than we previously thought.

Co-lead investigator Kathryn Roeder said, “From this study, we can see that genetics plays a major role in the development of autism... many small risk factors add up, each pushing a person further out on the spectrum.” The presence of the common genes only determines the risk for autism, it does not conclusively determine if the condition will or will not develop.

In the United States, about 1 in 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Autism disorders range from social and communication disabilities to behavioral difficulties.

Knowing more about how autism naturally occurs will help  researchers focus their search for clues relative to the molecular roots of the disorder. As scientists gather more and more data, it’s hoped that new research will help develop “risk scores” that would allow parents to better determine the likelihood of autism development.

Monday, 24 November 2014 10:29

New Study Reveals Importance of Saliva

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Until recently, it was thought that salivary mucins - the principal organic constituents of mucus - did little more than give saliva its elastic, slippery and gel-like properties. However, a new study from Cambridge, Massachusetts seems to show they play an extremely active role against pathogens (disease producing agents) in the oral cavity.

One of the study’s authors, Erica Shapiro Frenkel of Harvard University, says the findings mean naturally boosting a body’s defense may be an even better way to prevent tooth decay, rather than fighting it with external products.

However, the salivary mucins do not alter the levels of pathogens, nor do they quickly kill the bacteria. Instead, the bacteria is kept suspended in a liquid medium, thus reducing their ability to cling to teeth and form biofilms. A biofilm is a dense group of microorganisms that thrive and grow on surfaces. Cavities can only form when particles are attached, so keeping bad bacteria in liquid limbo helps keep it off your teeth and prevent the formation of cavities.

Frenkel also notes that friendly bacteria is better preserved when naturally present species are not killed (by mouthwash, for example).

In conclusion, this new study leads us to believe that saliva has several roles, including:

  1. Protection against desiccation and environmental insult
  2. Antimicrobial effects against pathogens
  3. Lubrication


Findings like these lead us to a better understanding of how to best take care of our health, in addition to changing scientists views on host-microbe interactions.

Monday, 24 November 2014 10:21

Eating Disorders in Young Children

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Although we usually associate eating disorders with teenagers and young adults, new research indicates that children as young as 8 can begin to develop symptoms of a disorder.

An eating disorder is defined as an illness that causes serious disturbances to your everyday diet, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Eating extremely small amounts of food and severely overeating and both considered eating disorders.

Researchers are increasingly finding these types of disorders arise from a combination of interactions between genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological and social factors. This most recent research focused on the psychological, socio-demographic and physiological characteristics of 215 children between the ages of 8 to 12, who already had eating problems (add where the study was conducted). Those children with physical issues that could contribute to the eating disorder, such as diabetes and cystic fibrosis, were excluded.

The study revealed that 95 percent of the children exhibited restrictive eating behaviors, almost 70 percent were afraid of putting on weight, and 46.6 percent considered themselves “fat.”

Professor Meilleur, the lead researcher for this study, explained “These behaviors reflect the clinical presentations we observe in adolescents and support findings that body image is a preoccupation for some children as early as elementary school.”

While the results are concerning, 15.5 percent of the children also admitted to occasionally making themselves throw up, and boys faced the same eating disorder troubles as girls. Professor Meilleur reminds us that these findings “may help clinicians reach a diagnosis earlier by enabling them to investigate these aspects."

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January saw the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the "War on Poverty" in the United States. Unfortunately, this anniversary also correlated with a study conducted by the Children's Defense Fund that showed that childhood poverty had reached record levels in the United States. The annual report, called "The State of America's Children," found that roughly one if five children was poor, living in a household that was either below or at the minimum threshold for the Federal Poverty Level. In addition, the study found that more than 16 million children live in a home that is classified as "food insecure," meaning that they often go without food.

Additional findings of the study showed that half of the nation's poor children come from 8 states:

  1. California
  2. Florida
  3. Georgia
  4. Illinois
  5. New York
  6. Northolina
  7. Ohio
  8. Texas

One in nine children lacked access to adequate food in 2012 and that in many states nearly 50% of African American children were poor.

These numbers stand in stark contrast to the findings that the overall poverty rate in the United States, when adjusted for inflation, has decreased by roughly 10% in the last 50 years and that the percentage of the elderly living in poverty has decreased from 33% to 10% over the same period.

So why are childhood poverty rates so high? One contributing factor, at least among race and ethnic groups, is income and wealth gaps. The average white household in the United States has wealth estimated at $110,500 compared to wealth for Hispanic and African American households with wealth at $7,683 and $6,314 respectively. Many of these children are born into families that are not self-sufficient enough to support an entire household, while others may experience poverty due to job loss or harsh economic situations such as the recent financial crisis.

The cost of childhood poverty to the nation in extra education, health care, criminal justice, and lost productivity is estimated at $500 billion, as well as the toll that it takes on the lives of these children including their physical and mental health.

So the War on Poverty rages on, fifty years after it was declared, but hopefully we are more aware of methods to fight the causes than in 1964 and can begin implementing real solutions to decrease the record levels of childhood poverty.



Wednesday, 07 August 2013 19:33

How Family Farming Could End Poverty

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A recent article from the Huffington Post examined how family farming in impoverished areas could significantly decrease poverty and hunger. 

Of the roughly 7 billion people on our planet, roughly 1.2 billion (or about 17%) live in extreme poverty, of which 870 million will fall asleep each night hungry. The World Bank has estimated that an increase of merely 1% in the agricultural GDP (gross domestic product) of a nation can decrease the amount of poverty by 4 times that of a 1% increase in non-agricultural GDP. By increasing the ability for impoverished families to become farmers, it is strongly believed that a significant decrease in poverty and hunger can be seen in the ensuing years and decades. 

How can we work to invest more effectively in family farming? Food Tank: The Food Think tank and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations have developed several ways for non-profits, donors, and policy-makers can invest to maximize family farming. 

  • Securing Land Rights - Many of those that own land for farming in do not have legal documentation or the legal rights to the land that they own. By helping families secure the legal rights to their land and prove ownership a significant increase in investment in the land, productivity, and income for the family is often seen as a result. 
  • Adapt to Climate Change - Climate change will affect 75 million to 250 million people in Africa as a result of more water stress within less than a decade and helping farmers to prepare for drought and flooding as a result can help decrease variability in food security. 
  • Access to Local Markets - By providing family farmers with a method for selling more of their products in local markets will help improve their income and quality of life as a result. 

Other suggestions by these organizations include closing the gender gap and promoting more sustainable methods for agriculture, all of which you can learn more about in this article from the Huffington Post.


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