In case you missed it: Here’s a round-up of some of the stories that made headlines this week.


recent paper in Environmental Pollution finds exposure to higher levels of air pollution and larger population densities may lead to an increase in body mass index (BMI) in children. The study looked at data from nearly 80,000 children living in urban environments in Catalonia and found children residing in areas with more exposure to greenspaces were associated with a lower BMI.

It isn’t the only paper this month to link exposure to greenspace with potential health benefits. When researchers in Finland planted forest undergrowth, rolled out a lawn, and allowed children at a daycare to look after crops, they found the children’s immune systems improved in as little as 28 days when compared to kids in other daycares who played on pavement and gravel.


The findings outline how access to urban greenspace can improve health disparities. In September, researchers from the University of Washington, alongside co-authors at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan, wrote a review paper arguing that racism and classism negatively impact the biodiversity and ecological health of urban plants and animals.

The paper cites several studies demonstrating how systemic racism negatively impacts the environment, including papers that found fewer trees in racially-minoritized neighbourhoods in major U.S. cities.

The lower-income areas tended to be closer to industrial or waste disposal sites than wealthier, majority-white neighbourhoods — a reality created by the racist practice of redlining, according to the study’s authors.

Over decades, the location of the lower-income neighbourhoods coupled with a lack of trees has contributed to warmer localized temperatures, more pollution, less biodiversity, and a higher incidence of disease-carrying pests that have evolved to survive harsh environments.


new study led by the Boston Medical Center (BMC) on Hispanic groups in the U.S. finds Black Hispanics are suffering the most severe outcomes of COVID-19, including intensive care and death.

The paper was published online in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health. In it, researchers analyzed CDC data on 78,323 individuals between April 5 and May 18, 2020. Hospitalization, intensive care admission, intubation frequency, and death rates were compared among

Hispanic white, Hispanic Black, and Hispanic multiracial/other groups, and then compared against non-Hispanic white individuals.

Per a statement from BMC:

Hispanic Black individuals in the cohort had the highest rate of comorbidities, at 51 per cent, as well as hospitalizations, which were 45 per cent. Hispanic/multiracial individuals were more frequently admitted to the intensive care unit (10 per cent), had the highest incidence of requiring breathing support through mechanical ventilation (10 per cent) and more frequent rates of death due to COVID-19 (16.1 per cent). Overall, Hispanic groups fared worse than non-Hispanic white individuals. The relative risk of death was 1.36, 1.72, and 1.68 times higher for Hispanic white, Hispanic Black, and Hispanic multiracial compared to non-Hispanic white individuals.

Read more here.


Researchers at MIT have identified a brain circuit that’s critical for maintaining the motivation to learn new things or engage in daily activities, qualities that tend to dwindle with age. In a study of mice, MIT neuroscientists showed they could ‘boost’ older mice’s motivation to learn by reactivating this circuit with genetically-targeted drugs and could decrease motivation by suppressing it.

“As we age, it’s harder to have a get-up-and-go attitude toward things,” Ann Graybiel, an Institute Professor at MIT and a member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, said in a statement.

“This get-up-and-go, or engagement, is important for our social well-being and for learning — it’s tough to learn if you aren’t attending and engaged.”

Graybiel’s lab has been studying cell clusters called striosomes, which are found throughout the striatum and part of a collection of brain centres associated with habit formation, control of voluntary movement, emotion, and addiction.

According to a statement by MIT, Graybiel had discovered striosomes years ago, but the discovery by Graybiel’s team that striosomes play a role in a type of decision-making called approach-avoidance conflict is relatively new. In their recent paper, the team discovered that striosomal activity declined in mice as they aged. Researchers found a similar loss of motivation in a mouse model of Huntington’s disease, a disorder that affects the striatum and its striosomes.

The paper was published this week in Cell.

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