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Newsletter. Issue 2008-25. December 06, 2008
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Health & Wellness

760,000 Canadian kids growing up poor: report
By Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press
Thu Nov 20, 6:53 PM

OTTAWA - At least 760,000 Canadian kids - about one in nine - are growing up poor, says a new report that calls on the Harper government to follow the lead of some provinces and take action.

The 2008 report card being released Friday by anti-poverty group Campaign 2000 likely underestimates the true extent of hardship, says national co-ordinator Laurel Rothman. That's because the numbers reflect Statistics Canada's low-income cutoffs from 2006, the most recent available, long before the current economic slide. A family of four living in a small city is considered relatively low-income if it earns less than $27,745 after taxes.

"Since 2006, things have not gotten better economically," Rothman said. "As Canada heads into a period of economic uncertainty, the most strategic decision the federal government could make would be to lower the poverty rate.

"We're going to have a whole group of middle-class people who may not have access to EI. They're not going to have much choice after a few months of going through savings. "So I think we have lots of reasons for the federal government to take this seriously, put together a plan, and set some targets and timetables."

Rothman said the child-poverty rate hovers just below 12 per cent - just half a percentage point less than it was in 1989. That was the year MPs of all stripes vowed to wipe out child poverty by 2000. What's especially startling, she said, is that 40 per cent of disadvantaged kids have at least one parent working full-time for low wages and meagre benefits.

"They're the working poor."

Thousands more Canadians have joined those ranks since high-paying manufacturing jobs evaporated in the last year, especially in Ontario. Rothman said there's at least some hope in poverty-cutting plans introduced or on the way in Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Newfoundland and Quebec are generating income-tax revenue with targeted training, child-care measures and other efforts to help parents get and keep jobs, she said.

"It can be done. And it makes good sense."

The Ontario Association of Food Banks released an economic assessment Thursday estimating that poverty costs the federal and Ontario governments between $10.4 billion and $13.1 billion a year. Rothman cites lost productivity, higher health and criminal justice costs, as well as foregone income taxes.

The Harper government has taken a notably hands-off approach to health and social issues that it deems primarily provincial turf. But Rothman and other anti-poverty activists insist Ottawa has a crucial role to play. A spokeswoman for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley says the government "will continue to invest in our families and our future as well as help those seeking to break free from the cycles of homelessness and poverty.

"We're already making significant investments," added Julie Vaux, noting a range of tax benefits and credits for parents. There's also a new Working Income Tax Benefit to help people get off welfare. Campaign 2000 will call Friday on Ottawa to raise the Canada Child Tax Benefit to $5,100 from just under $3,300, arguing that's the minimum needed to lift kids out of poverty. It will also urge more federal child-care funding to the provinces and greater access to employment insurance benefits.

Wednesday's throne speech charting the newly elected government's course offers little hope of new spending. As Ottawa stares down the prospect of multibillion-dollar deficits, the throne speech repeatedly hints of belt-tightening.

"Hard decisions will be needed to keep federal spending under control and focused on results," it says.


Lots of TV and Web harms kids' health
By Will Dunham
Tue Dec 2, 6:48 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Spending a lot of time watching TV, playing video games and surfing the Web makes children more prone to a range of health problems including obesity and smoking, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday. U.S. National Institutes of Health, Yale University and the California Pacific Medical Center experts analyzed 173 studies done since 1980 in one of the most comprehensive assessments to date on how exposure to media sources impacts the physical health of children and adolescents.

The studies, most conducted in the United States, largely focused on television, but some looked at video games, films, music, and computer and Internet use. Three quarters of them found that increased media viewing was associated with negative health outcomes. The studies offered strong evidence that children who get more media exposure are more likely to become obese, start smoking and begin earlier sexual activity than those who spend less time in front of a screen, the researchers said. Studies also indicated more media exposure also was linked to drug and alcohol use and poorer school performance, while the evidence was less clear about an association with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, they added.

"I think we were pretty surprised by how overwhelming the number of studies was that showed this negative health impact," NIH bioethicist Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, one of the researchers in the report released by the advocacy group Common Sense Media, said in a telephone interview.

"The fact that it was probably more a matter of quantity than actual content is also a concern. We have a media-saturated life right now in the 21st century. And reducing the number of hours of exposure is going to be a big issue."

Experts for decades have worried about the impact on young viewers of the violence and sexual content in some TV programs, movies and video games. Another issue is that kids are spending time sitting on a couch watching TV or playing computer games when they could be running around outside. One study cited in the report found that children who spent more than eight hours watching TV per week at age 3 were more likely to be obese at 7. And research shows that many U.S. children, even toddlers, watch far more.

Dr. Cary Gross of Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, another of the researchers, said TV and other media content can have a profound impact on children's attitudes and beliefs, most notably among teens. He cited a U.S. study by the RAND research organization published in November that showed that adolescents who watched more programing with sexual themes had a higher risk of becoming pregnant or causing a pregnancy. Thirteen of 14 studies that evaluated sexual behavior found an association between media exposure and earlier initiation of sexual behavior, the researchers said.

(Editing by Maggie Fox and Philip Barbara)


Wired World Undermines Family
Vanier Institute researcher tells Catholic Social Services that technology offers risks, opportunities

Western Catholic Reporter Staff Writer

Televisions flicker in kitchens and bedrooms, Ipods dangle from belt loops, families use computers for budgets and banking, email and instant messaging, homework and research, computer games and even commerce. Music pours out of MP3s, radios and CD players. Cell phones ring, pagers beep and webcams buzz as family members young and old endeavour to stay in touch.

The explosion of electronic media in society is having a tremendous impact on the Canadian family, says Jenni Tipper of the Vanier Institute of the Family.

"It would be fair to characterize Canadian families in the 21st century as wired," Tipper said June 12. "It would be safe to say that when it comes to the consumption of electronic media and new technology, we are almost all either users or enablers or both. "Some of us are clearly more dependent than others, some of us seemingly unable to unplug."


Speaking at the annual general meeting of Catholic Social Services, Tipper looked at the impact of electronic media from both a risk and opportunity perspective and called on parents to be rigorous and disciplined in their approach to this newly digitalized world.

"As parents, it is incumbent upon us to, first, unplug ourselves and then to monitor and mediate the extent to which our children are plugged in."

Tipper, a researcher with the Vanier Institute and a mother of three children under 11, spoke before more than 300 guests, staff and volunteers who attended the CSS meeting at the Hotel MacDonald. Calling Canada the most wired of all OECD countries after South Korea, Tipper said 80 per cent of Canadian households own a DVD player and more than 70 per cent of Canadians own at least one computer and spend time on-line.

"Nor should it surprise you to learn that cell-phone subscriptions soared from just under one million in 1987 to more than 18 million by the end of 2006."

Households with children are even more media-saturated. According to a 2005 survey of Canadian youth by the Media Awareness network, 94 per cent of young people have Internet access at home and 50 per cent of Grade 11 students have their own Internet-connected computer, separate and apart from the family, as do 20 per cent of those in Grade 4. Tipper said 68 per cent of young Canadians have access to a cell phone and 44 per cent use their mobile phones to surf the Net while 56 per cent send text messages. Twenty-two per cent have webcams and 17 per cent have cell phone cameras.

On an average day, these same Canadian youth spend 54 minutes instant messaging, 50 minutes downloading and listening to music, 44 minutes playing online games and 30 minutes doing school work.

Community extended

In general, digital technologies are very useful. The Internet, she said, extends community and connects people through a web of flexible social networks. Its best feature is that it provides nearly instant access to information.

"Unlike any other generation, our children can access information at a speed and a rate that is truly mind-boggling," Tipper noted.

"And, if we understand knowledge to be power, then this type of access to information has the capacity to be profoundly democratizing by putting the power of knowledge into the hands of the user; in this case, the child." "In this age of electronic information, there are limits to my parental control."

She watches in awe as her children navigate the Internet. "My awe, though, is often tempered with a certain unease borne from the realization that, in this age of electronic information, there are limits to my parental control." Information transfer 30 years ago was arguably more static and moved in more of an up-down fashion from parent to child at a pace largely determined by the parent.

"The Internet has subverted this power dynamic," Tipper said. "It is an interactive medium that carries the public into the private along a thin cable wire." Tipper reminded people that the information children are exposed to on the Internet is by no means neutral. She warned against the constant barrage of marketing and consumer messages targeted directly at them.

Sedentary interaction

Tipper also warned against the sedentary nature of interaction with most electronic media. With soaring rates of obesity and inactivity among children and adults alike, getting children away from the screen and moving their bodies and exercising their imaginations in a different way is simply a good idea.

"Clearly, this age of connectivity is a two-sided coin. Families have an important role to play in both seizing the opportunities and minimizing the risks that come with exposure to new technologies." How families allocate access to technology in their homes affects use, Tipper said. Children and youth who have their own Internet-connected computer spend twice as much time online as those who use equipment shared by the whole family.

"So keep computers in common family space, stay on top of what your children are exposed to, share a family meal and nurture your relationships with love and compassion."


Toronto Study Finds Older Adults Easily Distracted
Megan Ogilvie
November 25, 2008

Trying to balance the bank book? It might be best to turn off the TV.

Toronto scientists have found further evidence that older adults have a hard time tuning out distractions when concentrating on a single task. The new research, published today, suggests older brains process more irrelevant information from the environment, such as an irritating background noise, than the brains of younger adults.

This unnecessary brain ?idling? seems to make it more difficult for older adults to focus at the task in hand, said lead author Dale Stevens, who conducted the research at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest as a University of Toronto doctoral student.

Scientists have long known that older adults are more easily distracted, but this is the first study to look at what is going on in the brain when people are trying to form a memory and fail, said Stevens. He and his colleagues used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of 12 younger adults and 12 older adults while they took part in a face recognition task. The two groups were shown pictures of faces and then later asked whether they recognized any of the pictures.

When both groups of adults failed to recognize a face, the researchers saw decreased activity in the memory encoding regions of the brain, including the hippocampus. But unexpectedly, the brains of older adults also showed increased activity in regions that should have been quiet. The group of older adults had an average of 70.

?A number of brain regions that normally would have had reduced activity during memory formation showed a lot of activity, particularly during the failed encoding events,? said Stevens. ?The primary region of interest was the auditory cortex , the part of the brain that processes sound in the environment.

?This indicates that older adults were not able to suppress or filter out the noise of the fMRI machine and it was probably distracting to them. We did not see this in the younger adults at all.? As it scans, an fMRI machine makes loud, repeated knocking noises. Young adults were able to tune out this distraction, but the brains of older adults kept processing the information.

Stevens said the study is important because it found a neural mechanism that might explain why older adults are more distracted by their surroundings. Neuroscientists hope that understanding all the complexities in the brain may lead to ways to prevent memory and cognition loss as people age.

Stevens said older adults should consider only doing one task at a time.

?It really is important they go to lengths to reduce distractions in their environment,? said Stevens, who is now a post-doctoral fellow in the department of psychology at Harvard University. ?Especially when reading - whether an important document or a newspaper - it?s important they are in a quiet area with reduced external stimuli.?

The study was published today in the Journal of Neuroscience.


Five Tips to Survive Christmas and Beyond, in the Economic Crisis

KITCHENER, ON, Dec. 1 /CNW/ - The holiday season can be stressful. The current 'credit crunch' makes it even more challenging. How can you survive the holidays during this economic crisis? Financial experts from Hoyes Michalos & Associates Inc. offer their top five tips for surviving the economic crisis:

  1. Reduce your debt. "This is critical. If you have debt, the people you owe have control over your money. Take immediate steps to reduce your debt. Whatever else you do, don't accumulate any new debt over the holidays. This can stress your finances to the brink," says Douglas Hoyes, a trustee with Hoyes Michalos & Associates.

  2. Toss the credit cards. Use cash for your holiday spending. "It is very expensive to carry a balance on your credit cards. If you pay cash for an item you only pay for it once," adds Ted Michalos, a trustee with Hoyes, Michalos & Associates.

  3. Make a budget. Make a budget for your holiday spending and stick to it. "Don't even take your credit cards to the mall," urges Michalos. "Many people are in a similar situation this year. Consider gifts like baby-sitting or preparing a meal. These are gifts that are appreciated but do not actually cost too much."

  4. Start working on Plan B. It is possible that your world hasn't changed yet, but the world around you has changed. What will you do if you get down-sized at work, or if your hours are reduced? Start making a "Plan B". Hoyes advises asking yourself questions such as "if you lost your job, what would you do?" Planning in advance will help you through a job loss.

  5. Reduce your expenses. Cut your expenses now. Hoyes and Michalos suggest reviewing every dollar you spend every month. Ask yourself: "Do I really need that? Do I really need to pay for 500 cable channels that I never watch, or would basic cable do? Do I need to visit the coffee shop twice a day, or could I make my own coffee?" "Don't wait until you have to. Use the extra cash to pay down debt, or to build up your savings," concludes Hoyes.

Experts suggest making a financial goal list this holiday season. Make sure that it includes a plan to reduce debt, use as little credit as possible, and plan for the future. Experts agree that the best way to avoid bankruptcy is to prevent it at the first signs of financial trouble.


Ontario Government Reforming Family Justice For Ontarians

Ontario plans to introduce family law reforms that would, if passed, better protect women and children and reduce the cost and stress of family court proceedings for Ontarians. The proposed family law legislation would strengthen child and family protection in times of family breakdown and distress by:

  • Strengthening abuse prevention for women and children by prosecuting breaches of restraining orders as criminal offences

  • Protecting children by ensuring information about a violent history is before the court when making decisions to transfer custody to a non-parent

  • Eliminating costly battles over the division of pensions by simplifying the rules

  • Reducing family court battles and providing fair child support through automatic annual financial disclosure.


"No one should live in fear in their own homes, which is why we propose to change child custody and restraining order laws to protect Ontario's women and children," said Attorney General Chris Bentley. "These reforms would also help families going through separation spend less on family court proceedings, and more on getting on with their lives."

"This new legislation would give women better access to restraining orders, helping to protect them and their children," said Deb Matthews, the Minister Responsible for Women's Issues. "By expanding eligibility and prosecuting breaches as criminal offences, we will have better tools to stop woman and child abuse."


Under the proposed legislation:

  • Prosecuting restraining order breaches under the Criminal Code would allow for tougher enforcement and stricter bail conditions

  • Restraining order eligibility would be expanded to those living together in a relationship for fewer than three years

  • Non-parental child custody applicants would need to provide a sworn statement on how they propose to care for the child, a summary of involvement from a Children's Aid Society, and a police records check.

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