Video game may help treat teen depression

Published: Monday, April 30, 2012 @ 9:00 AM
Updated: Monday, April 30, 2012 @ 9:00 AM

A video game that teaches teens to shoot down and label negative thoughts may relieve depression as least as well as more traditional talk therapy, a new study shows.

The game, called "SPARX," which stands for Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts, was developed by researchers and teachers in New Zealand.

Players choose an avatar and navigate seven realms in a 3D fantasy world. In each realm, they learn classic mental behavioral skills for combating depression. They learn problem-solving in a part of the game called the mountain province, for example. And in another level, they fight their way through a swamp of where they're assailed by black, smoldering balls called GNATS (Gloomy Negative Automatic Thoughts).

"These GNATS fly at the avatar and say negative things like 'you're a loser,'" says researcher Sally N. Merry, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Auckland. Players have to shoot the GNATS and put them into barrels that classify them as particular kinds of negative thoughts. If gamers get it right, the GNATS change to SPARX. The SPARX, glowing balls that look like fireflies, compliment the players and balance is restored.

"We used a lot of allegory," Merry says.

Game Changer?

Each realm takes about 30 minutes to navigate. And players complete one or two steps of the game each week for three to seven weeks.

To test the game, researchers assigned 187 teens with mild to moderate depression to either play the video game or get usual treatment from trained counselors at schools and youth clinics. The average age of the kids in the study was 16. More than 60% were girls.

Researchers used psychological tests to assess depression before, during, and three months after the study, which was funded by New Zealand's Ministry of Health.

Both standard therapy and "SPARX" reduced levels of anxiety and depression by about one-third. And the video game helped more kids recover from their depression. About 44% achieved remission in the "SPARX" group compared to 26% in usual care. The research is significant, Merry says, because the vast majority of depressed teens never get help.

"Around 80% of young people with depression never get treatment," she tells WebMD. "When you do the calculations of how many therapists you need to meet that need, it's enormous."

She thinks a video game like "SPARX," which doesn't require supervision, could help fill treatment gaps, particularly in underserved areas. And it's a private way for kids who may feel wary of talking with an adult to get help for their problems.

Merry is working with the University of Auckland to make "SPARX" more widely available.

The study is published in the journal BMJ.

SOURCES:Merry, S. BMJ, published April 19, 2012.News release, BMJ.Sally N. Merry, PhD, associate professor, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

© 2012 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

WATCH: Young girl left temporarily paralyzed illustrates dangers of tick bites

Published: Tuesday, May 23, 2017 @ 4:49 PM



Marcel Langelaan/ Buiten-beeld//Getty Images/Minden Pictures RM

A 3-year-old girl in Oregon awoke on May 13 to find herself unable to stand or use her arms.

>> Read more trending news 

Evelyn Lewis’ mother, Amanda Lewis, filmed her daughter’s failed attempts to stand with help from her husband. 

WGHP reported that the parents took Evelyn to the emergency room, where a doctor discovered a small but dangerous reason for her condition.

After combing through Evelyn’s hair, the doctor discovered a tick, diagnosing her with a condition called “tick paralysis.”

“The doctor talked to us for a minute and said over the past 15 years he had seen about seven or eight children her age with identical symptoms and more than likely she had a tick,” Amanda Lewis wrote on Facebook. “It can affect dogs also and can be fatal. I’m glad we took her in when we did and that it wasn’t something worse and that we found it before it got worse.”

According to the American Lyme Disease Foundation, tick paralysis attacks a person’s muscles and results in symptoms like muscle pains and numbness of the legs. These begin after a tick has attached itself to a host, generally on the scalp.

>> Related: Rare tick-borne illness worries some medical professionals

Fortunately, Evelyn is now doing much better, as her mother wrote on Facebook that she “is now pretty much completely back to her feisty little self. She complains a lot about her head itching but otherwise, she’s just fine.”

Here’s how much fruit juice children should drink, according to new guidelines

Published: Monday, May 22, 2017 @ 12:19 PM



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Next time you're grocery shopping for your kids, think twice before adding a carton of fruit juice to your basket. The American Academy of Pediatrics has updated its guidelines on all juices, advising parents to pull back on how much they serve their little ones.

» Related: What Atlanta dietitians feed their kids 

Previous recommendations said parents should wait to give their babies juice until after six months, but its latest update is suggesting that they wait one year. 

In fact, infants should only be fed breast milk or infant formula for the first six months. After six months, moms and dads can then introduce fruit to their diet, but not fruit juice. 

>> Read more trending news

“Parents may perceive fruit juice as healthy, but it is not a good substitute for fresh fruit and just packs in more sugar and calories,” said Melvin B. Heyman, MD, FAAP, co-author of the statement. “Small amounts in moderation are fine for older kids, but are absolutely unnecessary for children under 1.”

» Related: Should we slap a tax on sugary drinks? 

Scientists laid out instructions for older children, too. Toddlers who are ages 1 to 4 should only have one cup of fruit a day. Four ounces of that can come from 100 percent fruit juice, but it should be pasteurized and not labeled “drink,” “beverage” or cocktail.” 

For children ages 4 to 6, fruit juice intake shouldn't exceed four to six ounces a day. 

The amount increases just slightly for children ages 7 to 18. They can have up to two and a half cups of fruit servings, but only eight ounces of it should be juice. 

Top 15 crusaders for health in America's food industry

Published: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 @ 10:59 PM
Updated: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 @ 10:59 PM

Wondering how this year's list stacks up against the last? Check out Top 15 Crusaders for Health in the Food Industry 2012.

Amongst all the junk food commercials and donut sandwiches, there are a handful of health heroes. These aren’t just people who eat organic greens for lunch and free-range eggs for dinner; they’re moving and shaking the way we think about our food, including where it comes from, the implications it has on our environment, and what our meals mean for our bodies. Here, we recognize 15 superstars (in no particular order) that have devoted themselves to improving American’s relationship with food.

 

1. Marion Nestle
Nestle has got her hand in nearly every facet of America’s food industry. Her blog, Food Politics, covers topics from nutrition and biology to health policy and food marketing. She’s been teaching nutrition for nearly four decades and currently teaches sociology, food studies, and public health at NYU. Nestle is the author of many books, but her latest — “Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics” — is all about understanding the intersection of health and food amidst all the mass marketing and misinformation put forth by major food manufacturers. Currently, Nestle updates her blog regularly and presents at universities and conferences on topics such as genetically modified foods and the role food companies play in our food system. (Photo: www.foodpolitics.com)

 

2. Michael Pollan
As one of the foremost activists for change in the overwrought food industry, Pollan is an outspoken and often controversial figure in the food and farming space. Though probably best known for his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” (which hung out on The New York Times Bestseller list for more than three years), Pollan has continued to write. In his most recent book, “Cooked”, Pollan explores how cooking connects us to plants, animals, farmers, and culture (amongst other things). (Photo by Ken Light)

 

3. Michelle Obama
After launching the Let’s Move! campaign at the start of 2010, the First Lady has made healthifying America’s eating habits (especially for kids) her job. The ultimate goal is to eliminate childhood obesity and help kids live healthier lives with good food and a little extra physical activity. This year, Obama held the second annual “Healthy Lunchtime Challenge,” where she asked children ages eight to 12 to whip up nutritious, tasty, and affordable recipes. Unfortunately, we weren’t invited to the White House kids’ “State Dinner” with the winner of this year’s challenge. (Photo: www.whitehouse.gov)

 

4. Mark Bittman
As an author and New York Times writer,Bittman likes to weigh in on what’s wrong with the American diet. A part-time veganhimself, Bittman is an advocate for the “flexitarian” diet — which means eating vegan during the day, but allowing for more flexible consumption after 6 pm. His super popular book, “How to Cook Everything”, is a go-to resource for basic kitchen skills. Not only does he push for humans to stay healthy, Bittman relentlessly encourages us to keep the environment happy and healthy, too. Oh, and in his spare time, he runsmarathons(Photo: www.markbittman.com)

 

5. Mike Bloomberg
As the mayor of New York City, Bloombergtakes his role seriously, making waves in the name of public health. From smoking bans tosoda bans, Bloomberg’s initiatives aren’t without controversy and backlash. Passionate about combating obesity, he’s pushed for salad bars and healthier menus in school cafeterias. Plus, he’s managed to eliminate trans fats from tons of restaurant items, and make it mandatory for chain restaurants to clearly post calorie counts on menus. We’re excited to see what goals Bloomberg sets (and reaches) next. (Photo: www.nyc.gov)

 
For the full list of 2013's top health crusaders in the food industry, go to Greatist.com.

Turns out social media can make exercise contagious

Published: Saturday, May 13, 2017 @ 6:53 PM

We love a good workout buddy. You know, that ride-or-die friend who gives you an extra dose of motivation to roll out of bed for a 6 a.m. boot camp class. But what about those of us who’d rather sweat solo? Good news: You don’t necessarily need to work out with your friends to tap into the benefits, just as long as you have friends in your circle who work out.

»RELATED: 30 minutes of daily exercise enough to shed pounds

As it turns out, exercise is kind of contagious. That’s the conclusion from a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications, which incorporated five years of data from about 1.1 million runners. That length of time and large sample size means the study is legit; however, there’s one hiccup: The study participants don’t exactly represent the population as a whole, since the data came from a particularly fit subset consisting of people who run and wear fitness trackers. Still, the findings are interesting.

Participants used an app with social sharing abilities so their friends could see the details of every run they went on (and vice versa). Researchers found the social media snooping served as motivation to get moving. If runner 1 ran an extra .62 miles, runner 2 felt inspired to run more too. And if runner 1 ran 10 minutes longer, runner 2 would go for a few extra minutes. The influence was strongest most immediately and seemed to cool over time. For example, runners were more influenced by what their friends did that day than by what they did three days ago.

The "contagiousness" of exercise wasn’t the same for everyone across the board. The correlation was strongest between men. Women also influenced guys, but to a lesser extent, and only women felt the positive peer pressure from other women.

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So does this mean that most of us push ourselves harder to compete with those who are more athletic than us? Or are we more motivated to maintain our dominance over the people we’re better than? Researchers found both upward and downward comparisons at play, but the latter—the downward comparison—was stronger.

What does this mean IRL? Having friends who are healthy and fit (and willing to share the deets about what they do to remain healthy and fit) could give you extra incentive to exercise. “Who are the people you can surround yourself with who are going to push you to do better?” says Christian Koshaba, founder, CEO, and lead trainer at Three60Fit in Arlington Heights, Illinois. “You don’t have to be physically there together—it can be calling each other, sharing your Fitbit data, really anything that’ll push you like, ‘Oh there’s that number? Now I’m going to do better than that.’” 

Just make sure you find friends who are around the same fitness level as you. The study's researchers found competing on a close-to-level playing field had the strongest influence. Plus, trying to compete with someone who’s out of your league could backfire if you end up injured, Koshaba says. In general though, “the positives outweigh the negatives when you’re striving to be better,” he says.

Of course, to make the findings of this study work for you, you have to be willing to share your stats. Koshaba says some of his clients track how much they’re lifting and how fast they’re running in a shared Google doc. Or you can embrace the social features of your favorite exercise apps so you know how you measure up. Here are three we’re fans of:

  • Nike+ Run Club: Pace, elevation, heart rate, splits—all of your stats are logged within the app. Follow up the workout by sharing your run (plus any photos you took along the way) with your entire social network or just with those within your Nike+ circle. The app’s leaderboard feature also lets you tag your miles against challenges to see where you stand.
  • Runkeeper: Start a virtual running group (which is easy to do, thanks to this app’s community of 50 million runners) and knock out the running goals you set as a team, such as running twice a week for one month.
  • Strava: Your workout will be recorded on your Strava feed, where friends can cheer you on and where you can see what others are up to. That’ll come in handy on those days when you’re tempted to skip the workout altogether.

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The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, it's cool to look into the science behind something that's so relevant and relatable, but it all comes down to what motivates you. Posting about fitness on social media isn't always vain; it's an easy and accessible way to hold yourself accountable and give or get inspiration to move. If you're the type of person who's motivated by competition or numbers, great! But if following your friends' fitness habits turns toxic, causes you to compare yourself in a negative way, or makes you feel bad about your own performance, then it's time to unfollow for your own good.

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