Children Citizen Science Health

2023 January: Children

Colourful signage and picket fence make for a bright welcome to the Children’s Garden. Photo by Lorne Abugov. Reproduced from The MainStreeter community newspaper.

Ottawa’s First Dedicated Children’s Garden Is An Oasis of Green and Growth

One of the delights of living in Old Ottawa East is its proximity to green spaces and natural beauty. Since 2008, Robert Legget Park has been transformed into Ottawa’s first dedicated Children’s Garden. A veritable oasis of green and growth, the Garden represents a true community effort, with contributions from many local groups. As is appropriate for a Children’s Garden, students at Lady Evelyn Alternative School undertook research and design work, which resulted in the garden plan. As well, each fence picket was painted by a student at the school. Improvements were made in 2017 and, more recently, a garden manager was hired. This is also a teaching garden. Jennifer San from Let’s Talk Science at uOttawa and CarletonU and Hannah Keefe from Frontier College Ottawa were on hand on a particularly lovely day in early July to offer their expertise. A group of enthusiastic children gathered around the seating circle and were spellbound while Keefe read The Giving Tree by The Giving Tree . She and San then encouraged the children to think about the story and what they can do to appreciate and respect nature. The children then dashed around the Garden to find a leaf that interested them. Back at the table, they were given a chunk of clay to roll out and press their leaves into to create an impression. The children summed up the activity with enthusiasm: “excellent, fun, great, helpful knowledge.”

School garden-based interventions can improve blood sugar, reduce bad cholesterol in children

School garden-based interventions can improve metabolic parameters such as blood sugar and cholesterol in children, according to a new study from UTHealth Houston. A cluster randomized controlled trial conducted by researchers with UTHealth Houston School of Public Health and The University of Texas at Austin found that Texas Sprouts—a gardening, nutrition, and cooking intervention implemented in elementary schools in Austin—improved glucose control and reduced bad cholesterol in high-risk minority youth. The results were published in JAMA Network Open.

A new project by the Royal Horticultural Society aims to find out the best species of hedge to plant in urban areas. Photograph: RHS Images/PA

Scientist enlists pupils to see how hedges can make greener schools

Ever thought there should be more hedges in playgrounds? A group of urban schoolchildren are going to be taking part in a scientific study to see what impact a hedge can have. A project by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) aims to find out the best species of hedge to plant in urban areas, so it can be rolled out across state schools that suffer from air pollution and a lack of green space. Dr Tijana Blanusa, the RHS principal scientist, decided to carry out her research in schools after realising her two children had very little access to nature at their urban state primary. The children will be involved in learning more about the role of plants in reducing flood risks, improving air quality and summertime cooling – either by using a new online tool made by the RHS or through hands-on science sessions in school, led by the science team. However, there will be a control group of children without access to the hedge, to see the difference having green space makes.

Children Food & Agriculture

November Children’s News

Food marketing and research on kids lacks government oversight: Federal regulations ban tobacco companies from advertising to kids and prohibit profanity on television before 10 p.m. But what is protecting children from predatory advertising of junk food, especially with sneaky online marketing tactics like the use of influencers? Very little, thanks to outdated and weakened government oversight, according to a new legal analysis published in the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics by researchers at the NYU School of Global Public Health and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “The U.S. overwhelmingly relies on industry self-regulation, which has not kept pace with modern marketing practices,” says study author Jennifer Pomeranz, assistant professor of public health policy and management at NYU School of Global Public Health. The industry-created Children’s Food and Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) includes voluntary—and sometimes lax—nutritional standards for marketing to kids. However, the researchers say gaps in CFBAI allows for questionable marketing that makes the nutrition standards irrelevant: the initiative only applies to children under 12 and media directed at young kids, it does not apply to packaging or stores, and allows companies to market their brands by showing somewhat healthier products that introduce kids to unhealthy brand lines. Importantly, today’s marketing to children goes well beyond the traditional television commercial. Companies employ a variety of tactics to reach kids online, especially on YouTube. Products are often promoted using influencers and “host-selling,” where a program character delivers a commercial adjacent to children’s programming featuring the character, a practice that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prohibits on television but lacks a similar rule for online marketing. The authors encourage Congress to reinstate the FTC’s authority to regulate unfair marketing targeting children and the FTC to examine online marketing of food and drinks, including using its authority over deceptive practices.


Planting and Playgrounds

New evidence shows planting around school playgrounds protects children from air pollution: Scientists have published new evidence showing that selective planting of vegetation between roads and playgrounds can substantially cut toxic traffic-derived air pollution reaching school children.

The new findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, demonstrate that roadside vegetation can be designed, installed and maintained to achieve rapid, significant and cost-effective improvement of air quality. Exposure to traffic-related air pollution has been linked with a range of health risks including cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological health. These risks are likely to be exacerbated in young children attending primary schools next to busy roads as their major organs are still developing and children have a higher breathing rate than adults.

Exposure to fine particulate matter in air pollution is reportedly the largest environmental risk factor contributing to cardiovascular deaths and disease globally, and is linked to around six to nine million premature deaths each year. A team of researchers led by Barbara Maher, Emeritus Professor at Lancaster University, and supported by Groundwork Greater Manchester, installed “tredges” (trees managed as a head-high hedge) at three Manchester primary schools during the summer school holidays of 2019.

One school had an ivy screen installed, another had western red cedar and the third school had a mixture of western red cedar, Swedish birch and an inner juniper hedge. A fourth school, with no planting, was used as a control. The school with the ivy screen saw a substantial reduction in playground particulate matter concentrations, but an increase in black carbon. The playground with the mixture of planting saw lower reductions in air pollution to that of the western red cedar. The biggest overall reductions in particulate matter and black carbon were shown at the school with western red cedar planted. The results showed almost half (49%) of black carbon and around 46% and 26% of the fine particulates, PM2.5 and PM1 emitted by passing traffic were captured by the western red cedar tredges.