More evidence that we're drowning in microplastic particles.
- Italian researchers have discovered microplastic particles in human placenta.
- Out of six collected placentas, four contained colored plastic microparticles.
- That petrochemical pollutants are present in such a critically important organ is alarming.
The study<p>The authors of the Italian study collected placentas from six mothers. They did this in a plastic-free environment so as to avoid contamination. Doctors and midwives wearing cotton gloves performed the collection from mothers covered only in cotton towels. Metal clippers and scalpels were used.</p><p>The six placentas were evaluated using microspectroscopy. Samples from four of the placentas contained colored microplastics. A total of 12 pieces, between 5 and 10 micrometers, were collected — at this size, the contaminants were small enough to be carried in the mother's or child's bloodstream.</p><p>Considering that the samples constituted just about 4 percent of the organs, it's reasonable to suspect that the researchers' findings represent just the tip of the iceberg.</p><p>Four of the pieces were found in tissues on the maternal side, the outside of the placenta, and five were found in the space in which the fetus had been. The remaining three were located in the fine membrane wall surrounding the amniotic fluid in the placenta.</p><p>All of the microplastics were colored, dyed red, blue, orange, and pink, but beyond that the researchers were only partially able to identify the materials with greater specificity, writing, "All of them were pigmented; three were identified as stained polypropylene a thermoplastic polymer, while for the other nine it was possible to identify only the pigments, which were all used for man-made coatings, paints, adhesives, plasters, finger paints, polymers and cosmetics and personal care products."</p><p>Understanding how the microplastics found their way in the mothers' placentas is beyond the scope of the research, but there's plenty of evidence that plastics are everywhere, from the products we use to the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/11/climate/airborne-plastic-pollution.html" target="_blank">air we breathe</a>, and so on. One study found that after babies are born, the infusion of microplastics begins right away— <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/19/bottle-fed-babies-swallow-millions-microplastics-day-study" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">millions of particles</a> a day are swallowed by infants drinking form plastic bottles.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk5NTgxNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1OTMzNzcwMX0.iqK3zk_b6F757ckJ1LFT4eDOTiv48oBPFtNHvP5e2d0/img.jpg?width=980" id="6f6b7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d10819af3722b3233e75cbc68255c452" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="1080" />
Credit: Jonathan/Adobe Stock
A critical environment<p>The placenta plays a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/15/health/the-push-to-understand-the-placenta.html" target="_blank">critical role</a> in the development of a fetus, delivering nutrition and oxygen, handling waste disposal, and generally doing the job of keeping the fetus alive until its own organs develop enough to take over. The placenta also keeps the infant free of contaminants, or is supposed to, filtering out pathogens. It is also believed to be instrumental in facilitating the myriad chemical process involved in fetal development.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Due to the crucial role of placenta in supporting the foetus's development and in acting as an interface with the external environment, the presence of potentially harmful plastic particles is a matter of great concern. Further studies need to be performed to assess if the presence of microplastics may trigger immune responses or may lead to the release of toxic contaminants, resulting in harm." — Ragusa, et al.</p><p>Study leader Antonio Ragusa, of the San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli hospital in Rome <a href="https://www.repubblica.it/salute/2020/12/09/news/trovate_per_la_prima_volta_microplastiche_nella_placenta_umana-277658153/" target="_blank">says</a>, "It is like having a cyborg baby: no longer composed only of human cells, but a mixture of biological and inorganic entities." He adds, "The mothers were shocked."</p><p>Chemists Elizabeth Salter Green tells <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/22/microplastics-revealed-in-placentas-unborn-babies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Guardian</a>, "Babies are being born pre-polluted. The study was very small but nevertheless flags a very worrying concern."</p>
Having grown kids still at home is not likely to do you, or them, any permanent harm.
When the Pew Research Center recently reported that the proportion of 18-to-29-year-old Americans who live with their parents has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps you saw some of the breathless headlines hyping how it's higher than at any time since the Great Depression.
A recent NIHR report found that students with previously low connectedness scores saw improvement in well-being and eased anxiety.
- With coronavirus resurging in Europe and the United States, parents are worried about their children's well-being and mental health.
- A report from the U.K.'s NIHR extends some hope; it found that students' mental health is improving while remote learning.
- Parents will continue play an important role in supporting their children's mental health.
Shining under pressure<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc2NDM5Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1OTIyMjQ2NX0.3nKlCkjZgn6V4cDEtcDUklSt69Hg6QiB7c_GUF2H-6w/img.jpg?width=980" id="27e7e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7b1b4ab8639aa220da628503c258310d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="816" data-height="418" />
U.K. showed a reduction of at-risk depression scores during the pandemic lockdown.
Credit: NIHR<p>"<a href="https://sphr.nihr.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Young-Peoples-Mental-Health-during-the-COVID-19-Pandemic-Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Young People's Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic</a>" report surveyed more than 1,000 Year 9 students (ages 13 to 14) in the United Kingdom. This ongoing study aims to chronicle the relationship between social media use and adolescents' mental health. Because the study participants took the initial survey in October 2019, researchers were able to compare the students' pre-pandemic baseline with their responses several months into lockdown. (Schools closed in the U.K. in mid-March; follow-up surveys were completed in April and May.)</p><p>The researchers discovered that mental health among the U.K.'s adolescents has, surprisingly, improved during these trying times. Although 90 percent of students agreed that COVID-19 is a serious issue, their responses indicated an overall decrease in their risk of anxiety, an increase in their well-being, and no major changes to their risk of depression.</p><p>The most improvement was seen in students struggling with poor mental health. Students with low well-being scores in October last year showed a 10-point gain on the Warwick-Edinburgh Wellbeing Scale; meanwhile, students with previously average-to-high well-being scores showed no significant change. Students at risk of anxiety and depression also showed small advances in their Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale scores. The only group showing a heightened risk of depression were girls, and the difference was slight.</p><p>What caused this mental uplift among U.K. youth? While the study does not attempt to answer that question, the researchers speculate it may be "due to the removal of stressors within the school environment, such as pressure of academic work, and challenging peer relationships including bullying." </p><p>Another possibility is that this cohort's pandemic stressors are more externally focused. They cited their top three concerns as worrying their friends or family would catch the disease, worrying over friends and family's mental health, and worrying about missed school. Far fewer were anxious about catching the disease or the lockdown's effect on their friendships, job prospects, or the larger economy.</p>
Maintaining critical connections<p>The researchers asked about students' connectedness with school, peers, and family, too. Students reported an increased connection with school and no change in their relationships with friends and family. Those with the lowest connectedness scores in the baseline survey again saw the greatest gains in well-being scores and anxiety reduction scores. And, of course, social media use has supersized.</p><p>The researchers write, "As schools fully re-open, it is important to consider ways to prevent a rise in anxiety back to pre-pandemic levels."</p><p>There are limitations to the study, however, and we should be careful not to extrapolate these data too broadly. Younger children, the researchers note, do not have the same level of access to social media as their older peers nor are their vital social interactions as easily digitized. The playground cannot be translated into text and emojis with the same fidelity as the lunchroom clump. As a consequence, younger children may be experiencing a very different pandemic. That may also be true for young people undergoing transitional periods in their life.</p><p>Nor did the researchers see the same improvements in vulnerable student populations, such as LGBTQ teens and those with disabilities. These students reported higher anxiety and depression scores pre-pandemic and did not see the same improvements in the pandemic follow-up survey. This outcome suggested to the researchers that these students continued to experience stressors even when not attending school physically.</p><p>Finally, there's no indication that teens in other countries will face the pandemic the same. In countries with weaker social safety nets, such as the U.S., students may be far more worried about the virus's impact on their health and future prospects.</p>
Love in the time of COVID<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e79f38ede41f077864502fed9c56854e"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_oaTmbdv4Ps?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The National Institute for Health Research's report showing young teens are more resilient than adults may give them credit, but it bases its findings on student responses from mere months into the pandemic. Unfortunately, we won't know how remote education and prolonged shutdowns will affect them until they've been experienced. This reality means parents still play a critical role in supporting their children's mental health.</p><p>Parents looking for strategies can find resources at <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/parental-resource-kit/adolescence.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Centers for Disease Control</a>, <a href="https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/staying-home-during-covid19-help-teens-cope" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Johns Hopkins Children's Center</a>, and other health institute websites. In general, experts recommend keeping adolescents on a routine that supports learning, exercise, and social connection. This schedule should lead them to accomplish goals, partake in their interests, and engage with social activities—even if those social engagements must be taken online.</p><p>Yes, screen time will increase but parents need to remember that <a href="https://bigthink.com/personal-growth/screen-time-for-kids" target="_self">not all screen time is created equal</a>. There's a difference between screen time dedicated to, say, playing board games with friends versus mindlessly wandering the social media wastes. Parents will still need to incorporate boundaries and converse regularly with teens on what information they are receiving about coronavirus and the pandemic.</p><p>As Nilu Rahman, Johns Hopkins Children's Center senior child life specialist, said: "Teens have great access to the internet and some of what they're reading about the coronavirus and the pandemic might be scaring them, even if they don't say so." Rahman added that "parents should make sure kids are not going down rabbit holes and getting confused or frightened by false information."</p><p>Parents should also remain alert for changes in behavior, as these may signal boosted stress or other underlying mental health concerns. Rahman recommends parents look out for extreme eating habits, changes in sleep patterns, signs of self-harm, increased isolation, or their children not enjoying their favorite hobbies and past times.</p><p>"Parents know their children best," she says, "so if something seems off about their teen, they should trust their instinct and find out what's going on, especially if the child has a history of depression or anxiety."</p>
The color of toys has a much deeper effect on children than some parents may realize.
- The idea that blue is for boys and pink is for girls plays out in gender reveals and in the toy aisle, but where does it come from and what limits is it potentially placing on children?
- Lisa Selin Davis traces the gendering of toys and other objects back to the 1920s and explains how, over time, these marketing strategies were falsely conflated with biological traits.
- The "pink-blue divide" affects boys and girls on a psychological level. For example, psychologists discovered that when girls exit their intense 'pink princess' phase between ages 3-6 and move into a tomboy 'I hate pink' phase at age 6-8 "that is actually a moment of girls realizing that what's marked as feminine is devalued and so they're distancing themselves from it to prop themselves up higher on the ladder," says Selin Davis.
The ability to speak up and ask will give these future leaders a much needed boost.
- As the head of an all-girls school in Pennsylvania, Marisa Porges has dedicated her life to educating young women and preparing them for the future.
- Two things that parents can do at home to build confidence and nurture girls' ability to speak up according to Porges are to have them practice ordering for the family, and to encourage them to develop a pitch when making a request. Providing feedback on the pitch becomes more meaningful and memorable than simply saying yes or no.
- While this advice is great for parents of boys and girls, it is especially important for parents of young women. A recent study showed that 75 percent of high-performing women executives say they have felt imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. The ability to speak up, ask for what they want, and to use their voices confidently will be valuable skills for these future entrepreneurs and CEOs.