The Science Behind Behavior Change

Columbia researchers are helping scientists change the way they study human behavior to focus on the mechanisms that explain how people adopt healthier habits.

 

If you made a New Year’s resolution last month, have you kept it? If not, you are not alone in abandoning your plans to lose weight, get to the gym, or quit smoking. By the time February rolls around, it is estimated that 80 percent of resolutions have already failed.
“Behavior change is hard,” says Donald Edmondson, PhD, director of the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Yet sustaining healthy behaviors is one of the most important things people can do to live long healthy lives. According to a recent study, human behavior accounts for almost 40 percent of the risk associated with premature, preventable deaths–like heart disease, cancer, and stroke–in the United States.” read more »

 

Researchers ‘dismantle’ mindfulness intervention to see how each component works

As health interventions based on mindfulness have grown in popularity, some of the field’s leading researchers have become concerned that the evidence base for such practices is not yet robust enough. A new study shows how a rigorous approach to studying mindfulness-based interventions can help ensure that claims are backed by science.

One problem is that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) sometimes blend practices, which makes it difficult to measure how each of those practices affects participants. To address that issue, the researchers took a common intervention for mood disorders — mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) — and created a controlled study that isolated, or dismantled, its two main ingredients. Those include open monitoring (OM) — noticing and acknowledging negative feelings without judgment or an emotional secondary reaction to them; and focused attention (FA) — maintaining focus on or shifting it toward a neutral sensation, such as breathing, to disengage from negative emotions or distractions.

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Be ‘Mindful’ of the Hype

“Mindfulness” is touted as a cure-all for many modern ills, from stress and pain to depression.

But little to no scientific evidence backs up most of the health claims surrounding the practice, said Willoughby Britton, director of Brown University’s clinical and affective neuroscience laboratory.

There’s not even an agreed-upon definition of mindfulness that researchers can use to test the concept’s effectiveness, Britton said.

“Meditation researchers are concerned the exaggerated claims of mindfulness benefits will mislead vulnerable people and keep them from receiving evidence-based treatment,” Britton said.

In a new paper, Britton and 14 other experts say it’s time to replace the hype with serious scientific rigor.

Mindfulness has become a billion-dollar industry. Countless practitioners and more than 1,500 smartphone apps promise to help people become calm and focused despite the turbulence surrounding them, Britton said.

The idea is based on an obscure Buddhist concept dating back 2,600 years, according to the American Psychological Association. It generally refers to a state of moment-to-moment awareness of existence, without any judgment placed on that awareness — essentially, living in the moment.

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UIC Researchers Create Voice-Enabled Coach to Manage Type 2 Diabetes

More than 30 million Americans had diabetes in 2015, according to the American Diabetes Association. That’s just over 9 percent of the U.S. population.

The vast majority of those with the disease have Type 2 diabetes, which most often occurs in middle-aged adults and older adults, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

While there is no cure for the disease, it can be managed through medication and healthy behaviors such as exercising, eating nutritious meals and quitting smoking.

“A lot of these lifestyle changes can be very stressful,” said Olusola Ajilore, associate professor of psychiatry in the University Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. “I teach a class on diabetes and emotions for patients with Type 2 diabetes and some of the challenges they bring up are having to change their diet or increasing their physical activity or exercise.” read more »

 

UB’s Epstein receives lifetime achievement award

Leonard H. Epstein, an internationally recognized expert on childhood weight control, has been awarded the Hoebel Prize for Creativity by the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior.

The award honors a member of the society for an exceptional level of creativity and excellence in research on ingestive behavior.

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MD2K – Advancing Biomedical Discovery and Improving Health through Mobile Sensor Big Data

MD2K is one of 11 national Big Data Centers of Excellence awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of its Big Data-to-Knowledge initiative. The MD2K Center brings together the top brains in Computer Science, Engineering, Medicine, Behavioral Science, and Statistics, drawn from 12 universities (Cornell Tech, Georgia Tech, Northwestern, Ohio State, UCLA, UC San Diego, UC San Francisco, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the University of Memphis, the University of Michigan, the University of Utah, and West Virginia University), and Open mHealth (a non-profit organization).
The MD2K Team is developing innovative tools to make it easier to gather, analyze and interpret health data generated by mobile and wearable sensors. The goal of the big data solutions being developed by MD2K is to reliably quantify physical, biological, behavioral, social, and environmental factors that contribute to health and disease risk. Read more here. and check out their mHealthHUB

 

NYU Researchers Identify Stress-Hormone Differences Among Gay Men

Increased stigma and discrimination can affect circadian HPA-axis functioning.

Cortisol is a life sustaining adrenal hormone essential to maintaining the natural balance of the body. It is often referred to as “the stress hormone,” as cortisol influences, regulates, and modulates many of the changes that occur in the body in response to stress.

Diurnal cortisol studies measure the level of cortisol in the body at various times during the day to examine possible adrenal imbalances. The majority of these diurnal cortisol studies have been conducted among white heterosexuals, with very little research examining HPA-axis functioning between different minorities. However, individuals who identify as both sexual and racial minorities may experience increased stigma and discrimination that can affect this HPA-axis functioning.

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