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Enhancing Human Welfare


Body phenotypes say a lot, but not everything, about a person’s health

Researchers studying body phenotypes — the observable characteristics like height, behaviour, appearance and other measurables — found that regardless of the muscle they had, high levels of fat mass in an individual were associated with poorer overall health. The published findings show that the negative impact of excess adiposity — fat tissue — on a person’s cardiometabolic health was not offset even by high levels of muscle mass.

The researchers based their study on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES), a cross-sectional representative sample of the United States population collected between 1999 and 2006. Individuals were categorized into one of four proposed phenotypes: low-adiposity/high-muscle, high-adiposity/low-muscle, high-adiposity/high-muscle or low-adiposity/low-muscle.

“We wanted to see whether this proposed categorization was better than the traditional body-mass index (BMI) at predicting all these different cardiometabolic outcomes,” says Sylvia Santosa, professor of health, kinesiology and applied physiology and one of the paper’s authors. Surprisingly, they found BMI, though far from perfect, was in some cases a better predictor of cardiometabolic risks like diabetes and hypertension.

Sylvia Santosa, professor of health, kinesiology and applied physiology. Sylvia Santosa, professor of health, kinesiology and applied physiology.

Alcohol abuse and anxiety sensitivity linked

A published study led by PhD candidate Charlotte Corran and supervised by Roisin O’Connor, professor of psychology, looked at the influences of anxiety sensitivity (AS) on young adults’ alcohol consumption. The researchers found that motives and expectations around drinking were often mutually reinforcing both on average and at specific instances. These results help to explain the risk AS poses for problematic alcohol use.

“We know that anxiety sensitivity is a risk factor for alcohol-related problems in the long term, but the association is not always straightforward,” says Corran. “The goal was to clarify the effect of AS on alcohol use and problems through this unfolding bidirectional cognitive process.”

$1.8M for research and training in behaviour change and disease prevention

A Concordia-led preventive-health initiative spearheaded by Simon Bacon, professor of health, kinesiology and applied physiology, received $1.8 million in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and other partners. The funds will create a training platform focusing on the development and testing of behavioural change interventions.

“We know that changes in lifestyle such as improved diet and regular exercise — even in moderation — can greatly help minimize the impact of preventable disease,” Bacon notes. “This platform will allow us to create the infrastructure to train people how to develop and test interventions and integrate these across the health-care spectrum."

Preschoolers like learning from a competent robot

For a published study, Concordia researchers showed three-year-olds and five-year-olds a video of a young woman and a small robot with humanoid characteristics. The robot labelled familiar objects between them correctly, and the human incorrectly. When asked what each object was called, the three-year-olds showed no preference but the five-year-olds were much more likely to state the term provided by the robot.

“We can see that by age five, children are choosing to learn from a competent teacher over someone more familiar to them — even if the competent teacher is a robot,” says the paper’s lead author, PhD candidate Anna-Elisabeth Baumann. Horizon Postdoctoral Fellow Elizabeth Goldman and undergraduate research assistant Alexandra Meltzer also contributed to the study.

Pictured from left to right: Anna-Elisabeth Baumann and Elizabeth Goldman. From left to right: Anna-Elisabeth Baumann and Elizabeth Goldman.
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