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Got stress? Experts provide tips for back-to-school

Published August 30, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Have you noticed any new behaviors in your children since you sent them back to school? Sleep disturbances, acting out, or mood swings? These behaviors and others may be signs of stress, according to experts at the University of Illinois.

“Often you’re not going to hear a kid say, ‘I’m stressed out’, so as parents we need to look for signs they are communicating to us through their behaviors,” says Chelsey Byers Gerstenecker, family life educator at U of I Extension.

Once they are aware of their kids’ stress, parents can help them manage it by introducing effective coping skills early in life. According to Gerstenecker, stress management starts with getting kids into healthy routines with plenty of exercise and sleep. And she says parents should encourage kids to talk to them early and often about things that are worrying them.

“We’re teaching our kids it’s better to come tell us about it and not sit on it, so together we can brainstorm how to overcome whatever’s troubling them. It’s just being a family and helping them learn coping strategies that will serve them well throughout life.”

Back-to-school isn’t just hard on kids. Most teachers experience stress on a daily basis, whether it’s from managing troublesome behavior in the classroom or from meeting expectations of administrators.

Erica Thieman, assistant professor in the Agricultural Education Program at U of I, is a teacher educator whose research focuses on stress management. She says the high attrition rate in the first five years of teaching can be attributed in large part to stress. But teacher stress doesn’t just contribute to attrition; it can affect the stress levels of students.

“You can quickly watch a stressed-out teacher turn an entire classroom into a bunch of stress balls just by walking around the room,” Thieman says, due to something called communicative stress. Thieman explains that when the human heart beats, it emits an electromagnetic signal that can be felt by others within a 3 to 4 foot radius. “When we’re stressed, our heart emits a very erratic signal versus when we’re calm, it’s very regular. That erratic signal can be picked up by other people.”

The good news is that there are plenty of strategies for teachers to manage stress. One that Thieman endorses is both free and easy: breathing. “It’s really powerful to take three deep breaths. Cortisol lowers instantly; there’s an instant response in the body to those three deep breaths.” She also strongly recommends a good night’s sleep.

“Ensuring proper sleep – 8 hours for adults – is one of the best stress-management techniques I can offer, especially during the back-to-school time when people are adjusting to new routines and typically more difficult work is required of their brains,” Thieman says.

Not going back to school? Fortunately, Gerstenecker and Thieman say these stress-management tips apply to everyone.

To hear more from these experts on the topic of stress management, listen to the #askACES podcast at

Choosing your dog’s food: Who is leading the pack?

Published August 30, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Dog owners want the best for their furry companions, but not much is known about what drives an owner’s decisions about their pet’s diet or lifestyle. A team of University of Illinois animal scientists wants to learn more about the behaviors that dog owners associate with their dogs in terms of nutritional needs, food enjoyment, and lifestyle, and they need your help.

“We want to know what are the beliefs and knowledge that pet owners have in terms of their lifestyle and dietary choices, and how they relate that to their pets,” says Maria Cattai de Godoy, an assistant professor in companion animal and comparative nutrition in the Department of Animal Sciences at U of I.

She continues, “Pet foods have really diversified in recent years, but we still don’t know the market factors and feeding strategies driving that diversification. We know it stems from the humanization of pets, and the closer animal-human bond that we have developed with dogs and cats for the last several decades. However, very little is known about whether dog owners base their decisions on personal beliefs, professional advice, or empirical evidence.”

Godoy and graduate student Juliana Nogueira are asking dog owners to complete a survey about their own lifestyle and nutrition as well as their dog’s. It takes about 10 minutes to complete, and is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French.

The researchers think they may use the survey results to develop educational materials for owners about their dog’s nutritional needs and wellbeing. Published results from the research questionnaire may also assist the pet food industry in developing products tailored to owners’ habits and preferences, as well as dogs’ nutritional needs.

The survey is available at the following URLs:

The researchers are hoping to receive at least 3,000 responses, so they encourage participants to share the survey with friends and social networks.

Illinois biennial report recognizes positive, voluntary steps to reduce nutrient loss

Published August 30, 2017
tile drainage

URBANA, Ill. - As part of the state’s ongoing commitment to reduce nutrient losses, University of Illinois Extension staff joined directors of the Illinois Department of Agriculture  and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency  today for the release of the state’s Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy Biennial Report. This document, unveiled at the 2017 Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Illinois, describes actions taken in the state during the last two years to reduce nutrient losses and influence positive changes in nutrient loads over time.

The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy  is one of many state strategies developed and implemented over the 31-state Mississippi River basin that are intended to improve water quality. Illinois’ science-based strategy, derived from work done by the university’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences scientists, provides a framework for reducing both point and non-point nutrient losses to improve the state’s overall water quality, as well as that of water leaving Illinois and making its way down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico. 

The ACES scientists calculated the implementation targets needed to achieve the strategy's nutrient loss reduction targets, and found the first evidence of improvement: a 10 percent reduction in average annual nitrogen load between 2011 and 2015. Although this decline took place before the strategy went into effect, this reduction is encouraging.

“I was part of the team that did the original science assessment four years ago and it is great to see some of these practices being implemented around the state,” said Associate Dean and Director of Extension George Czapar. “This has been a collaborative effort and it is clear that this is a priority issue for the agricultural community. The need for research-based information and shared educational resources has never been greater.

IDOA Director Raymond Poe said Illinois agriculture has a positive story to tell. “We have seen a significant increase in the adoption of various best management practices. Our partners and stakeholders have done a tremendous job getting the word out about what we are doing in Illinois with the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. Farmers understand the consequences of nutrient loss, and they support our quest to minimize losses.”

According to Illinois EPA Director Alec Messina, in just two years, we are already seeing the impacts of Illinois’ strategy on water quality. “The collaborative efforts of our stakeholders are resulting in real improvements in Illinois’ waters and we look forward to future improvements that will be gained as additional practices are implemented.”

Gregory McIsaac, an emeritus professor with the university's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, whose research team discovered the decline in nitrogen loss, said "Nitrate loss appears to have declined since about 2000 due to higher corn yields with little increase in fertilizer input. Phosphorus losses have increased. There are several complicating factors that need further study."

The report also contains information from a recent survey conducted by the U.S. DOA National Agricultural Statistics Service as well as data from other existing sources to serve as a basis to measure progress toward overall water quality improvements now and in the future.  

The Agriculture Water Quality Partnership Forum reports that the agricultural sector invested more than $54 million in nutrient loss reduction for research, outreach, implementation, and monitoring. These contributions have come from AWQPF members and other organizations that are working toward reaching the goals set forth in Illinois NLRS.

Because of proactive outreach by various agriculture groups, a 2016 survey showed that 70 percent of Illinois farmers are already aware of best management practices to reduce nutrient loss. These include a move toward split spring and fall nitrogen applications and an increase number of acres dedicated to conservation practices such as a use of cover crops.

In the two years since the strategy's release, significant strides have also been made in limiting the amount of phosphorus discharge from wastewater treatment plants in Illinois. Point-source sector members have been reaching out to key decision makers and practitioners to share regulatory updates as part of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program.

As of 2016, nearly 80 percent of all effluent from wastewater treatment plants in Illinois is regulated under a NPDES permit that includes a total phosphorus limit. This number will continue to grow as existing permits expire or come up for renewal. As part of their effort, wastewater treatment facilities report spending almost $145 million to fund feasibility studies, optimization studies, and capital investment. 

Illinois EPA, through its State Revolving Fund program, provides low-interest rate loans to point-source projects addressing water quality issues, including nutrient pollution. Last year, Illinois EPA provided or granted almost $641 million to these projects. Illinois EPA also provides funding for nonpoint source projects designed to achieve nutrients reduction. Annually this program provides $3.5 million to nonpoint-source projects.

“There is a lot more work that needs to be done,” said Warren Goetsch, IDOA deputy director. “However, in releasing this report at the Farm Progress Show, we are introducing these successes to farmers who may be somewhat apprehensive about trying new management practices. Increasing the exposure of our message will keep this effort in front of producers so we can continue to make progress in the years to come.”

This report, which was facilitated by the Illinois Water Resources Center and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, led by Director Brian Miller, will be updated again in 2019. The science, monitoring, and activity from each sector will be updated to demonstrate Illinois’ continued commitment to nutrient loss reduction.

“What’s made NLRS remarkable is that we had a broad suite of stakeholders that came together to work on the strategy, and they brought not only their ideas, but the support of their organizations. They all got behind it,” said Miller. “It started with a science assessment from the university that identified problems and potential solutions. Working together we’re already starting to see some successes.”



News Source:

George Czapar

Soybean rust develops ‘rolling’ epidemics as spores travel north

Published August 30, 2017
soybean rust infected field
Soybean rust-infected field in Florida

URBANA, Ill. – Although Midwestern soybean growers have yet to experience the brunt of soybean rust, growers in the southern United States are very familiar with the disease. Every year, the fungus slowly moves northward from its winter home in southern Florida and the Gulf Coast states, and eventually reaches Illinois soybean fields—often just before harvest.

Research shows there is a possibility the disease could jump much longer distances and reach the Midwestern soybean crop earlier in the growing season. Studies suggest that air masses moving from the south could sweep up rust spores from infected plants (kudzu or soybean) and transport them hundreds of miles north earlier in the season, potentially endangering the Midwestern soybean crop.

This could be happening right now as the storm system that created Hurricane Harvey moves north, according to Glen Hartman, a USDA Agricultural Research Service plant pathologist and professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois. After all, hurricanes have been responsible for long-distance movement of rust spores in the past; scientists think Hurricane Ivan brought soybean rust to the United States from Colombia in 2004.  

Although long-distance movement can and does happen, short-distance spore movement has been responsible for most of the annual northward spread of the disease since 2005. Hartman thinks this short-distance movement has been occurring as usual this season and, barring any unusual fallout from Hurricane Harvey, he expects to see rust showing up in Illinois soybean fields late in the 2017 season.

It is this short-distance movement that intrigues Hartman; he says predictions of long-distance spread haven’t taken real-world spore movement into account. Without knowing the number of rust spores that actually escape from the canopy and the conditions that favor spore dispersal, long-distance spread models could be inaccurate. So, in a recent study, Hartman and his colleagues placed two kinds of spore-collecting traps in, around, and above rust-infected soybean fields in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. The team also measured environmental data, including air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, precipitation, and leaf wetness.

The majority of spores stayed within the canopy, but a proportion (one-third to one-half) floated above. Spores moved laterally away from the field, too, but most stayed within 50 feet, with about half as many moving out to 200 feet.

These numbers explain how short-distance spread of this disease typically works. Rust might spread within a field, then jump to a nearby patch of its alternative host, kudzu. Considering how much kudzu is spread around the south, it’s a good bet another soybean field is within a couple hundred feet. From there, it jumps again, moving incrementally to the north. In an average summer, Hartman says, soybean rust rolls up from the south at a rate of about 30 miles a day. 

Hartman’s study also identifies environmental factors that favor or impede short-distance movement of rust spores. Using a statistical approach known as machine learning, the team found that spores went farther in hot and windy conditions, and stayed closer to the canopy in humid, wet conditions.

“What really drives local infection is humidity and moisture,” Hartman says. “Those are good conditions for fungal infection and production of spores. When it rains, it washes the spores out of the leaf lesions, so they’re not available for long-distance transport. But then the fungus just forms new spores that are ready for transport on a dry and windy day.”

The study explains short-distance transport, but how do the results inform predictions of long-distance movement?

“I think the study gives a good idea of rust spore counts in the atmosphere in and above the soybean canopy and a distance away from an infected field. There is a lot of variation in the number of spores in that air space,” Hartman says. “If you think of the airspace beyond the field, the dilution factor is huge.”

In other words, the chances of spores making it out of the canopy and picked up by updrafts for long-distance movement might be lower than assumed. And the chances are lower still if you consider what it’s like for spores to survive in high-elevation air currents.   

“Spores in these high-elevation air masses are exposed to temperature extremes and to UV radiation. Not many spores survive that, although those that are darkly pigmented may have a better chance. Soybean rust spores have very little pigment, and lightly pigmented spores are very susceptible to UV,” Hartman says.

New models will need to incorporate Hartman’s findings to better predict the chances of long-distance movement of soybean rust throughout the U.S. and other parts of the world.

For further information regarding soybean rust, Hartman suggests the soybean rust website, He also encourages Midwestern soybean growers to contact their local Extension office if they see symptoms of rust developing earlier than usual.

The article, “Prediction of short-distance aerial movement of Phakopsora pachyrhizi urediniospores using machine learning,” is published in Phytopathology. Hartman’s co-authors, Liwei Wen and Roger Bowen are also from the University of Illinois.

Social norms, lack of support may keep many African American moms from breastfeeding

Published August 29, 2017
Julia Kim, doctoral student in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at University of Illinois.

URBANA, Ill. – While completing her Master of Public Health capstone project at the Champaign Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD) breastfeeding program, a University of Illinois researcher noticed a disparity: fewer African American women were asking for breastfeeding support.

Julia Kim, a doctoral student in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at U of I began to study previous research on the demographics of women who tend to breastfeed and the disparity was confirmed. Although breastfeeding rates have increased for African American women over the years, the literature shows that African American moms are less likely to start and continue breastfeeding than mothers of other ethnicities.

In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Kim and other researchers explore possible barriers that keep African American mothers from choosing to breastfeed or to continue breastfeeding. For the women involved with the study, barriers were less about knowing the benefits of breastfeeding and more about the perceived social norms and limited social support for breastfeeding within their communities.

“It’s important to support African American moms in breastfeeding so their children, and all ethnicities of children, have that same nutritional advantage—to start on the same playing field, nutritionally speaking.

“Breastfed babies are less likely to get ear infections and they have fewer respiratory tract infections. Nutrition from the start is very important. For example, although not as strong, there is some research that shows that breastfeeding can reduce childhood obesity, and if you’re less likely to be obese as a child, you’re less likely to be obese as an adult.”

Sharon Donovan, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at U of I says an important part of the study is that it highlights the significance of cultural norms as a barrier for African American moms when it comes to breastfeeding.

“This is also a broader problem when you have women kicked out of a store or business for breastfeeding, or when women are breastfeeding in the park and people confront them for exposing their breast or that they are doing something wrong. The United States, in general, is still not a very breastfeeding-supportive country compared to many other countries, such as in Europe, that have higher breastfeeding rates. It seems to be even more punctuated in the African American community.”

For the study, Kim interviewed and surveyed African American women in Champaign County who were first-time breast feeders and who were in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). She focused on women enrolled in WIC because, as she explains, research has shown WIC participants are less likely to breastfeed than mothers who qualify but do not receive WIC because the program provides infant formula to moms of infants. Kim hoped to hear about what made the choice to breastfeed difficult or easy for them.  

WIC does offer education and support for breastfeeding moms, Kim says, through programs such as support groups and hotlines for moms to ask questions. These types of programs were available in the WIC clinic at CUPHD she observed for the study.

From the interviews and surveys, several themes emerged, including beliefs about maternal nutrition while breastfeeding, time and costs related to breastfeeding, the need for social support and female role models, and suboptimal support from institutions (hospitals, schools, workplace, and the community).

Kim says what made it easier for moms to choose to breastfeed was that they knew of the health benefits for the baby and they liked providing for the baby. “Many moms liked that they were the sole source or provider for the baby,” she says. “They liked being depended on, they felt needed.”

But not having support from their social network or having it feel “abnormal” to breastfeed in their community was a common barrier cited by the moms.

One mom in the study had not breastfed her first two children, but was successful with her third.

“This was an interesting case because with her first two children she was opposed to breastfeeding because her surrounding environment that she lived in was very formula dominant. Nobody told her it was healthy for the baby, and even if they did, she said she just dismissed it because she was so adamant about formula feeding. She thought breastfeeding was awkward. She said, ‘My mom didn’t do that.’” But with her third child, she had support from the father and his family, which made it easier for her, Kim adds.

But some women reported that they did not have the support of their babies’ fathers.

“It can take a lot of the mom’s time to breastfeed, so maybe that’s part of the men’s perception,” Donovan says. “‘If she’s spending her time breastfeeding then she doesn’t have time for me.’”

Kim adds that for the women in the study, men and their mothers were their main support system. “Not only is it important to educate the mom who is breastfeeding, but educating their family members and cousins and sisters. There is a whole social network that we need to target.  I think men in this population are very important, whether they live together or not. Many times the men would say negative comments to the moms. Small negative comments can add up and make it harder for the moms to continue breastfeeding.”

Barbara Fiese, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at U of I stresses the importance of support from family members. “Even if they don’t live in the same house, this can have a powerful effect on how long the mother continues to breastfeed beyond the first few weeks,” she says.

A misconception that came up in interviews was the moms’ belief that to breastfeed, women have to eat “healthy,” and that it is expensive to buy healthier foods. “That’s [needing to eat healthy to breastfeed] not necessarily true, though,” Kim says.

“Nutrition is important, but likely it’s these other immune components and other protective components that come from the mother that help to reduce some of the GI and ear infections, those types of things that you cannot really mimic with infant formula,” Donovan says. “We don’t want women to have this perception that they’re not eating healthy so they can’t make healthy milk for their infants.”

Donovan adds that to be successful in supporting all women who choose to breastfeed, there must be a reshaping of the whole culture to be more supportive of the practice. “We also need to identify populations that are at particular risk and design interventions and education that is culturally appropriate and age appropriate. It’s part of a bigger nut that we need to crack. Culture is definitely a part of it.”

The paper, “Breastfeeding is natural but not the cultural norm: A mixed-methods study of first-time breastfeeding, African American mothers participating in WIC,” is published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. Co-authors are Julia H. Kim, Barbara H. Fiese and Sharon M. Donovan.

The study was funded by the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, as part of the AFRI Childhood Obesity Prevention Challenge.