Entries in Education (14)


'Pink Slime': America's Schools Say 'No'

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Given the choice, most school districts in America are saying "no" to lean finely textured beef, more commonly known as "pink slime" after ABC News exposed its widespread use.

The United States Department of Agriculture said that only three states participating in the National School Lunch Program (Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota) have chosen to order ground beef that may contain LFTB.

The beef filler was at the center of a social media firestorm earlier this year prompting public outcry for better labeling practices and petitions to remove the product completely from schools. The USDA, which runs the school lunch program, reacted by allowing school districts to make their own choices about whether to order pre-formed beef patties that may contain LFTB or bulk beef without the controversial filler.

LFTB is a filler made of fatty bits of beef that are then heated and treated with ammonia to kill bacteria. The USDA maintains that the product is safe to eat and reduces the overall fat content of beef products.

School districts filed their orders for the 2012-2013 school year and only the three states where the principal maker of LFTB, Beef Products Inc., had factories chose the so-called pink slime product.

"Given some of the alarmist reporting and blogging that consumers have seen and read about lean finely textured beef, it's not surprising, though still distressing, to see school districts make the choices they have," said Janet Riley, senior vice president of public affairs at the American Meat Institute, in a statement to ABC News.

Products containing LFTB are also more affordable to school districts, estimated to cost 3 percent less than beef not containing the filler, which "translates into millions of dollars nationwide," said Riley.

"These decisions unnecessarily place further pressure on school budgets that are already struggling to fund teacher salaries and the like," he added.

As of May 18, states had requested more than 20 million pounds of the bulk beef not containing LFTB. Orders for beef that may contain the filler totaled about 1 million pounds. The USDA purchases about 60 percent of the ground beef used by U.S. school districts.

Fast food chains were the first to reject LFTB in its burgers. McDonald's, Burger King and Taco Bell all dropped it after initial media reports. Wendy's eventually took out ads in major newspapers saying it never used "pink slime." Later, grocery store chains, including Whole Foods, Publix and Costco would tell ABC News they have never sold products containing LFTB. Grocery giant Safeway told ABC News in March they will no longer be carrying beef products containing LFTB. Others followed, and BPI has shut all but one of its factories.

Under pressure from the public for better labeling practices, the USDA also announced in April that they will approve requests from ground beef producers to voluntarily label their products containing LFTB. Labels could read: "Contains Lean Finely Textured Beef" or "Contains Lean Beef Derived from Beef Trimmings."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Children's Self-Esteem Decreases When Watching More TV, White Boys Excluded

Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Children’s self-esteem generally goes down as TV watching goes up. Still, white boys are the exception, according to a new study published in the journal Communications Research.

Researchers from Indiana University surveyed close to 400 boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 12, of whom 58 percent were black, 48 percent white, to see if there was a correlation between time spent in front of the TV and children’s self-esteem. They tallied the amount of TV watched and had the participants complete an 11-item questionnaire intended to measure overall feelings of self-worth.

The existing research on the impact of TV on children’s health has focused on body image and eating disorders, Nicole Martins, an assistant professor of telecommunications at Indiana University and co-author of the study, told ABC News. Given that children spend more than seven hours a day with some sort of media (computers, TV, video games), examining the influence of media on how they feel about themselves seemed long overdue, she said.

The study authors said that while white male TV characters tend to hold positions of power in prestigious occupations, have a lot of education and beautiful wives, the TV roles of girls and women tend to be less positive and more one-dimensional. Female characters are often sexualized, and success is often measured according to how they look.

Black men and boys are often criminalized on TV, the researchers said, which can affect their feelings of self-worth.

According to the study, self-esteem has significant behavioral and emotional ramifications, and it is often correlated with motivation, persistence and academic achievement, particularly among children.

But Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University, said self-esteem had not been found to  relate causally to anything at all. While it can be one measure of clinical depression, that does not mean it characterizes or causes depression.

“As citizens, we think of self-esteem as very important,” said Kazdin. “But I deal with aggressive and violent children who have self-esteem that can be much higher than the average child. Yes, every parent wants their child to feel good about themselves, but high self-esteem is not an elixir to get you through life. It is not the protective factor we’d like it to be.”

Building confidence in children, and helping them gain skills and competencies that contribute to a better life, such as learning instruments, playing sports or sticking with a difficult school lesson, will help do that. If children do not have friends, setting up “light play dates” will help build socialization skills, a “really important aspect of life,” Kazdin said.

Martins suggested that parents limit TV time, and as Kazdin suggested, help their kids gain skills that will improve their lives.

“Too much time in front of the screen may displace real-life experiences, such as playing a musical instrument, playing ball in the backyard, that could build a child’s feeling of self-worth,” said Martins. “Another option would be to actively mediate children’s media use so that they can more easily understand fantasy from reality.

“Simple distinctions and conversations like this help mitigate the impact such an image might have on self-esteem and comparisons to media characters,” she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Child Obesity Grows: School Desks Too Small for Heavier US Kids

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- More than one-third of children and teens are overweight or obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it’s starting to show in U.S. classrooms as more children are proving too large to fit into traditional school desks and more schools try to accommodate them.

CNN reports that the hefty changes in America’s youth are reflected by the uptick in sales and manufacture of larger goods -- from school desks to plus-sized children’s clothing lines to larger car seats.

Some companies are also adjusting their products to fit bigger consumers, offering larger, deeper seats or desks with adjustable heights. Others are noticing differences in sales.

Tony Ellison, chief executive officer of, a company that sells office and school furniture, told CNN that the company’s “big and tall” sizes have been selling better than standard sizes, and furniture made to fit older, bigger students is being purchased more often in elementary and middle school classrooms.

“That is an obesity trend reflected in the furniture,” Tom Brennan, president of the school furniture company School Outfitters, told CNN.

The changes also prompt questions about the balance between fighting childhood obesity in schools and accommodating children with different body shapes and sizes.

Gary Foster, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University, told ABC News that it’s unfortunate that childhood obesity is having such a noticeable impact in the classroom, but that schools do have an obligation to accommodate students of all sizes, large or small.

“There’s no gain to punishing children for their size. They’re already stigmatized,” Foster said.

Studies have associated overweight and obesity with a number of psychological woes, like depression and anxiety, which can be compounded by the social stigma of being fat. Squeezing into an undersized desk or standing out in a larger seat can be an uncomfortable, humiliating experience for a child.

“Kids want to belong, right? They don’t want to be different,” Foster said. “The principle is that you would try to make the defaults accessible to kids of all sizes.”

Dr. Richard Deckelbaum, director of the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University, told ABC News that the changes in school furniture parallel the questions facing airlines on how to best accommodate obese adult passengers. He said schools’ solutions to the problem should focus on long-term changes to ease kids’ obesity rates, which would make larger school furniture obsolete.

“If you want to learn well, you have to at least be comfortable. But the best solution in the long term is prevention,” he said. “I would hope that even if schools did buy [larger furniture], the problem will go away in the next few years.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Academic Performance Linked to Physical Activity, Study Finds

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(AMSTERDAM) -- A healthy body means a healthy mind, and according to a new report by a group of Dutch researchers, there's some truth to that old adage.

Spending more time in the classroom and less time playing outside may, in fact, be the absolutely wrong choice when it comes to getting better grades.
According to a review of multiple studies, published this month in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, there is "strong evidence" linking better grades to physical activity.
Researchers looked at 14 previous studies -- most conducted in the United States that involved more than 12,000 children between the ages of 6 and 18 -- and found that "participation in physical activity is positively related to academic performance."
There could be several reasons why.

Exercise may:

  1. Increase blood and oxygen flow to the brain.
  2. Reduce stress and improve mood, making children more likely to behave in the classroom.
  3. Improve concentration and discipline. Simply put, children who participate in sports learn to obey rules.

Because not all the studies reviewed were considered "high-quality," the authors call for future research to confirm their findings.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Schooling Boosts IQ, Study Suggests

Hemera/Thinkstock(OSLO, Norway) -- The more time you spend in school the smarter you get, according to a Norwegian study.

Researchers at the University of Oslo found that people who had more years of education under their belts had higher IQs. Scientists calculated a nearly four-point increase in IQ for every extra year of schooling -- suggesting that education, not just genetics, can have an impact on intelligence.

Researchers got their results by reviewing the records of men who had reached the age of 30 several years after their extra education, suggesting that the effect is long-lasting.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Age Space Between Siblings Contributes to Academic Success

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(SOUTH BEND, Ind.) - Want to get your kids to the top of the class? One economist says the secret may lie in the age gaps between siblings. Having at least two years between brothers and sisters makes for better math and reading scores.

Kasey Buckles, an economist at University of Notre Dame, and Notre Dame graduate student Elizabeth Munnich surveyed more than 12,000 people between the ages of 14 and 22 from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The research, published in the Journal of Human Resources, found that when age gaps between siblings were greater, the older child performed better on math and reading achievement tests. Low-income families benefited most from age spacing. First-born siblings also showed the most benefit when there were greater age gaps.

“On average, a one-year increase in spacing improves reading test scores by 0.17 standard deviations, and there seems to be an even greater benefit to avoiding spacing of less than two years,” said Buckles, who has two children, two years and two months apart. “We find no evidence that the spacing affects the test scores of the younger sibling.”

Study authors said parents read to the older sibling and watched less TV when the age spacing was greater.

Parents who consider having more children often wonder whether it’s better to have them closer together in age or further apart, said Buckles. Some believe kids should be close in age so they can play together, but others suggest more space so that the older child can become more independent.

The study confirms that the more productive time parents spend with their children, the more advanced the kids’ academic achievement will be, said Rahil Briggs, assistant professor of pediatrics at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. It is easier to spend productive time with one child, one-on-one, than with multiple children, which could explain the findings.

Children’s language normally flourishes in the second year of life. They go from one or two words at age 1 to at least 50 words by age two, and then hundreds of words by age 3 with properly constructed sentences, said Briggs.

“The single biggest predictor of child vocabulary size at age 3 is number of words spoken to the child before that time,” said Briggs. “If parents are spending most of their time with an infant, it’s likely that their spoken language to the first child, right in the middle of their language explosion, is decreased.”

But before all of you siblings close in age get into a panic about sibling ages, Briggs said randomized clinical trials with families perfectly matched in everything from health to finances are needed to substantiate the results.

“It is the age old 'correlation does not equal causation,’” said Briggs.

No matter the age spacing, Briggs said if parents want to make sure their kids are on path to academic achievement, “read to your child, read to your child, read to your child. Talk to you child, talk to your child, talk to your child from day one. Expose your child to the learning opportunities present in every day interactions.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Budget Crisis Could Mean $123 Billion in Medicare Cuts Over 10 Years

Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The partisan divide that doomed the congressional “supercommittee” threatens to trigger automatic spending cuts that would weigh heavily on public education, housing and other programs that Americans rely on daily.

Unless members of Congress come up with a budget solution, an automatic cut known as “sequester” will kick in for the fiscal year 2013, cutting about $1.2 trillion from the budget in 10 years. The sequester would reduce annual spending by $109 billion, starting Jan. 2, 2013. The cuts are divided equally between the Defense Department and social programs.

Two sectors where Americans are likely to see a direct negative impact are public education and public housing. The sequester would cut more than $3 billion cut from the Department of Education, and mean a more than $3.5 billion decline in funding for housing and urban development programs.

Less money would trickle down to states because of cuts, affecting people who have children in public schools and those who live in public housing. Much of the drop in the housing sector is in community development block grants, according to an analysis by the Federal Funds Information for States.

Medicare, community and migrant health centers, and health services for American Indians would be trimmed by 2 percent. That amounts to $123 billion in a 10-year time period for Medicare alone. Most of the cuts would come from reducing the amount of reimbursements the federal government gives to health care providers, not directly from Medicare recipients. But it would make it more challenging for the elderly to find doctors, some experts say.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children would see a $600 million reduction. At a time when poverty and hunger are at a record high, many advocates say, the cuts are likely to be detrimental to thousands of families reliant on federal aid.

The sequester would also hamper the government’s ability to implement the Affordable Care Act by reducing the amount of money that’s needed to enact some programs.

Some of the most important parts of the health care law are set to go into effect after 2014, including expanded coverage for Medicaid, mandatory employer coverage and insurance exchanges, a marketplace in which people could shop for and compare insurance plans.

Entitlement programs such as Medicaid and Social Security, however, would remain sheltered, as would funding for veterans programs, income tax credits and food stamps. Funding for these safety net programs is considered mandatory and would not be affected by the sequester.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Moms Prefer Manners over Grades

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new survey of moms reveals that good manners are still important to them, with 77 percent saying they prefer to have kids with good manners over good grades.

In America, where the U.S. Census Bureau says just 4 percent of today’s families fall into its definition of “traditional” by having a working father and a stay-at-home mom with kids under 18, a new study by Women at NBCU finds 49 percent of moms say “traditional” is the parenting style they aspire to have.

In another sign of the desire to embrace that traditional lifestyle, 66 percent of moms would prefer to be stay-at-home moms and 77 percent prefer to have kids with good manners over good grades.

Additional findings from the Women at NBCU survey:

  • 36 percent of dads would prefer to be a stay-at-home parent than a working parent.
  • 61 percent of dads say they split the household chores and childcare equally with their partners, but only 27 percent of moms feel the household work is evenly split.
  • Moms reported drug abuse and the “breakdown of the traditional family” as the top two most serious issues facing children today.
  • 31 percent of moms admit to lingering longer in the shower, while running errands and during a commute to get a bit more “alone time” during the day.

Women at NBCU is an initiative that connects to women via multiple platforms at NBCUnversial, including Oxygen, Style, Bravo and the Today show.  The survey involved 3,224 moms and 403 dads.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study Ties College Education to Improved Mental Well-Being

Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- For years, people have heard that getting a college degree is a good way to get ahead in life.  Now, researchers think it can also do a lot for your mental health.

According to a new Gallup poll, Americans 65 and older who went to college generally score higher in emotional health scores than people in the same age group who didn't.

This index is based on questions about smiling/laughing, learning/doing something interesting, being treated with respect, enjoyment, happiness, worry, sadness, anger and stress.

Those with scores from 90 to 100 were considered emotionally well-off, and the people who fell into that category were often Americans who received a college education.

Since it wasn't a cause-and-effect study, no definite link was established between attending college and feeling good about one's self and situation in life after 65.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


School Nutrition: Big Strides, Some Leftover Concerns

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may not be something you associate with school cafeterias, but a new report released by the School Nutrition Association shows you can find all those things in 97 to 98 percent of America's schools.

Helen Phillips, president of the School Nutrition Association, tells ABC News that school lunches are really changing.

“Across the country we are seeing that more school districts are providing fresh fruits and vegetables, more school districts are providing an increased in whole grain foods that we offer to students,” Phillips said. “Also, milk is changing from being a whole fat milk down to skim or 1 percent milk.”

This most recent report comes as the country continues to battle obesity, and perhaps more alarming – obesity among children.

“Down the road it's going to save so much money in health care by having kids that aren't being a burden on the system,” Phillips said.

One area that still needs work, Phillips notes, is the amount of sodium that appears in children’s food.

“We've been kind of trained as Americans to have a little bit of a saltier taste for things, so by schools cutting back, we kind of need help from industry, restaurants and the parents at home to do the same.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio