Successful Wellness Courses Gain New Topics

By Mary Hennigan
The Razorback Reporter

Tai-Chi and Nature Treatment have been added to the UA academic catalog for students to take as a part of the Wellness Initiative.

The eight-week, one-credit-hour courses will help students “focus on disengaging from technology and focusing in the present moment,” said Ed Mink, assistant professor and director of wellness and health promotion at the Pat Walker Health Center.

Ed Mink, assistant professor and director of wellness and health promotion at the Pat Walker Health Center. Photo by Mary Hennigan.

Of the 16 courses already available to students, Mink said students reported a decrease in stress, anxiety and depression. Unprompted, students reported seeing an overall increase in academic performance and GPA as well. More than 70% of surveyed students reported the Wellness course helped with anxiety and stress, according to Mink’s data. More than half reported the course contributed to their academic success.

“From the moment that students set foot on campus, they begin to encounter stressors that they have not previously encountered in their lives,” Mink said. “We know medically as well that overwhelmingly, so many medical diagnoses, psychological diagnoses, have their origin in stress.”

Classes typically average 15 students and fill very fast, Mink said. Upon completion, many students will refer their friends to the course. Because of the low attendance, some senior students reported waiting for years to get into an offered topic.

“It breaks my heart, but we are limited by resources,” Mink said. “It just proves the efficacy of these courses.”

Tai-Chi will encourage students to practice mindful movements of the body. Nature Treatment will introduce the Japanese practice, ShinRin-Yoku, or a forest bathing technique. With all available courses, Mink has asked students to keep journals about their experiences. He has collected 25 years of writings and he uses them as a measuring technique to track the behavioral practice of each specific course.

“Yes, it’s a break from the conventional academics, but once they find out about the value of the classes, that’s why they take them,” Mink said.

Nature Rx, for example, focuses on encouraging students to spend time in nature to develop an appreciation of the natural world, according to the UARK Wellness website. For the first time, the College of Education and Health Professions partnered with University Recreation for the Nature Rx class to “diversify the classroom experience,” said Kenny Williams, coordinator of UREC outdoors. Spending time outside is one of the best ways to stay centered and healthy, Williams said.

The collaboration of the Nature Rx course has included taking students on a nature walk, giving a short lecture about detaching from technology, and Shinrin-Yoku practices.

“Research shows just a five- or 10-minutes walk unplugged from your device, soaking up the woods, can actually physiologically bring down your stress levels,” Williams said.

With the addition of the new courses, Mink said he hopes students will find practices to become more resilient on their own. Instead of healing after an individual is diagnosed with an illness, the Wellness classes encourage building a strong foundation that is less likely to get sick. Getting sick causes students to miss class and “it doesn’t take long to dig an academic hole, but it takes forever to dig out of an academic hole,” Mink said.

Courses can be found by searching PBHL 2101 in UAConnect. 

Sugar Consumption Stirs Bitter Conflict

Sugar Consumption Stirs Bitter Conflict

By Mary Hennigan
The Razorback Reporter

As Americans continue to over-consume daily sugar, a conflict has arose between the potential health risks and personal attacks on individuals.

Students enjoying coffee between classes. Photo by Mary Hennigan

On average, Americans consume 35% more added sugars daily than recommended by U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines; beverages account for almost half of that.
Medical professionals and researchers view excess sugar as a leading factor to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular issues. Some UA students and dieticians, however, think there should be no moral values associated with food.
The sugary drinks debate has led to a conflict over what type of food people should focus on eating. One student, who was interviewed, felt “triggered” after a discussion about what researchers have deemed potential health risks.
Even the use of the word “diet” struck controversy. Researchers consider “diet” as food intake; dieticians and students view “diet” as the sheer act of limiting food.

“America has a calorie problem; we have an obesity problem,” said Aubree Hawley, a Ph.D. student in food science and human nutrition.
The USDA recommends free sugars should be less than 10% of individual daily caloric intake. Free sugar is added to food during production or by the consumer, according to the USDA. Recommendations are based on a 2,000 daily calorie diet. This allows for about 50 grams, or 200 calories, of free sugars.
Individuals consume calories quickly and without realizing it when drinking sugary coffee, Hawley said.
“With sugary drinks in general, the harm you’re causing is probably outweighing the good of the caffeine beverage,” she said.
Food considered “good” or “bad” can pressure individuals into a restrictive pattern of eating that can lead to overeating and cravings, said Catherine Wilmoth, a registered dietician at the Washington Regional Health Center.
“Normalized eating involves pleasure with food, variety, moderation with all foods,” she said. “But that also means inclusion of all foods.”
Wilmoth encourages individuals to focus on taking care of themselves instead of focusing on their pattern of eating. Nutrition is not “one size fits all,” she said.
The UofA has at least eight different locations that sell coffee and some students report getting a sugary coffee daily.

Grande Vanilla iced coffee nutritional information – Starbucks website

Freshman Kaylee Morgan buys a grande Starbucks vanilla iced coffee every morning on her way to class, she said. Her daily drink contains 23 grams of sugar, according to Starbucks nutrition information.
“My body thinks I need it,” Morgan said. “When I take a step back, I don’t really need it. I could just get up and wake up in the morning instead of putting something bad in my body.”
Morgan’s habits started her senior year of high school after her friends started regularly drinking Starbucks coffee, she said. Morgan reported drinking more coffee in college than she ever did in high school.
“When I’m tired and I need it, I don’t really think about the long-term effects of it,” Morgan said. “When you put it in perspective, it’s scary. I will definitely have to stop before it gets bad.”
It is common for young people to feel a sense of invincibility or feel less susceptible to negative things, said Sabrina Trudo, associate professor and researcher in nutritional science.
“One might think that based on their choices today they feel fine,” she said. “But if those choices are not the most supportive of health, the issue is that there is an accumulation of effects over time.”
Having something with added sugars every once in a while is OK; it becomes a problem when individuals choose sugar-filled food every day, Trudo said.
“When your coffee is already putting you at the limit, you would have to be aware of your choices for the rest of the day,” she said. “It makes it hard if it’s a daily choice when that daily choice is already putting you at the limit.”

Sarai Aguilar, UA junior, has made it a priority to get coffee as soon as she arrives on campus. She has consumed coffee since she was a toddler, but recently started to cut back on consumption.
“My parents have always had coffee around in the house; we always had decaf,” Aguilar said. “When I was 1 or 2, they would give me a little bit. It was normal for us.”
Aguilar started sugary coffee drinks daily during her freshman year of college, she said. Her college schedule proved to be more demanding than high school and Aguilar felt more exhausted.
“I’m here from 9:30 a.m. to almost 8 p.m. on Tuesdays,” she said. “My body kind of craves a coffee.”
Each drink costs her about $5.
“If I had $10 left in my bank account and I was here on a Tuesday, of course I would spend $6 just to get me through the day,” Aguilar said.
Aguilar has thought of the health consequences of having a lot of sugar and caffeine, but always pushed them to the side, she said.
“You might feel fine today,” Trudo said, “but 15 years from now there might be some significant problems. That’s a challenge with food, nutrition and health-related education, helping people think more about the future and not about today.”
An increasing conflict is brewing between those who perceive health risks from high sugar intake and those who see questions about their food and drink consumption as a personal attack.

Starbucks beverages. Photo by Mary Hennigan

“Our current diet culture teaches us that it’s not OK to seek pleasure from food,” Wilmoth said. “That’s what that clean eating pattern pushes, that food is solely for fuel. Food is not solely for fuel.”
Consuming highly processed food shouldn’t lead to shame, guilt or stress, Wilmoth said. Food does not determine your worth as a person.
For students who enjoy the taste of coffee, Hawley recommended cutting back on sugar and eventually switch to black coffee.
Regular black coffee is not a health risk, and 3-4 cups daily can be beneficial to cognitive performance, she said. Coffee causes a release of dopamine in the body that can be highly addictive for some people. It can also be used as an appetite suppressor and increase metabolic rate.
“You only get dopamine if something is better than you expect,” Hawley said. “So, if you’re used to all this sugar all the time, you’re needing more and more sugar to get that same dopamine response.”
The increase of sugar can be found in foods across America as industries continue to cater to the want of a higher level of sweetness, Hawley said.

NSTD07: U.S. STDs Reach Record High; Lack of Sexual Education Seen at Fault

U.S. STDs Reach Record High; Lack of Sexual Education Seen at Fault

By Mary Hennigan
The Razorback Reporter

Rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in the United States have continued to rise for the fifth consecutive year and reached the highest combined rate ever recorded, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 2.4 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were reported and young people, ages 15-24, acquired more than half of all new cases of sexually transmitted diseases, according to the CDC report concerning diseases spread through sex.

“It is really frightening,” said Zac Brown, director of communications at the Pat Walker Health Center. “To see that national number increase is really concerning to me because a lot of these kids aren’t even going to realize they have it.”

The increase of STDs reported since 2014 can be attributed to reduced access to prevention and care, according to the CDC. The agency also reported a decrease of condom use among young people and budget cuts to state and local STD programs.

Young people acquired more STDs partly from “the emphasis on partying and hook-ups,” Brown said.

Infections can be spread by any sexual contact with someone who is diagnosed with having an STD.

“Alcohol plays a big part in spontaneity,” said Kathleen Paulsen, a gynecologist at the Pat Walker Health Center.

“Casual sex,” she said, is a major factor.

Decades after the AIDS epidemic, Paulsen thinks people aren’t afraid of dying of AIDS anymore, she said. 

“HIV is manageable, but not curable,” Paulsen said. “They aren’t riled by fear, so they aren’t being cautious.”

Arkansas ranked No. 11 nationally for cases of chlamydia, No. 8 for gonorrhea and No. 18 for syphilis, according to the CDC. 

“I think the biggest underlying reason of increases is lack of education and access to contraception options,” Brown said. “When I first started here it almost amazed me how little students knew about sexual health.”

Students have reported that gym teachers taught their health class because there was no budget for it in their schools, Brown said. One student told Brown that a health teacher taught that the vagina was comparable to aluminum foil, and that with each premarital sexual act the foil would crumble and the woman would no longer be wanted.

Arkansas law doesn’t require schools to teach sexuality education or about HIV and other STD instruction, according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States 2018 report.

Many schools in Arkansas only teach abstinence, in fear of community judgment, said Mary Alice Serafini, associate vice chancellor for student affairs and the executive director of Pat Walker Health Center.

“The educational process in Arkansas is not inclusive; it is not thorough,” Serafini said. “Most of our students report that the only education they have had is abstinence.”

Koesha Davis, a freshman from Magnolia, Arkansas, received no sexual education in school, she said. Instead of learning from academia, her parents taught her what she knows about sexual health. Davis practices abstinence, she said.

Sophomore Mercedes Moore has received STD testing twice a year for the past five years. The 21-year-old from Casper, Wyoming, is the step-daughter of a nurse. Wyoming requires some form of sexual education from K-12, according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States 2018 report. Moore received only one sexual education class, she said, and that was in the fifth grade.

Jacob Jackson, a sophomore from Haskell, Arkansas, was taught one abstinence-based program during his eighth-grade year, he said. The program consisted of a slideshow that showed photos of “STDs gone wrong,” he said. Students were not taught how to prevent infection.

“It became a joke around school,” Jackson said. “No one wanted to talk about it.” 

Nationally, chlamydia reached 1.8 million cases in 2018, according to the CDC. Women accounted for 61.8% of reported cases.

Arkansas reported an almost 2% increase in cases of chlamydia in women from 2016 to 2017, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

“Within the state of Arkansas, access to women’s health is spotty,” Serafini said. “If you live in a more rural environment, you may not have access to women’s health and you may have to go hundreds of miles to get it.”

The Pat Walker Health Center provides a “Get Yourself Tested” clinic that tests for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Tests are urine-based and results take two to three business days. Staff members send a secure message through the online patient portal with the results.

“I can’t stress this enough: STDs are treatable if caught early enough,” Brown said. 

Left untreated, STDs will continue to spread through sexual contact. Those who are diagnosed with having an STD are at a risk of detrimental health issues and could become infertile.

Testing is critical.

The Washington Regional Health Center has agreed to a partnership with the Pat Walker Health Center to provide students with free HIV, AIDS and STD testing from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 4 on the third floor of the Arkansas Union.

Early Intervention Key to Help Find Autistic Children in the Arkansas Delta

Early Intervention Key to Help Find Autistic Children in the Arkansas Delta

On-going research by a UA associate professor is helping provide resources to families with autistic children in rural Arkansas.

By Kirsten Baird
The Razorback Reporter

To open avenues to greater resources for rural areas, training is given to individuals who provide support to the families of autistic children living in the Arkansas Delta, said an associate professor in the UA College of Education and Health Professions.

“My research area is in the area of autism spectrum disorders,” said UA associate professor Peggy Schaefer-Whitby, who was recently elected vice president of the Council of Exceptional Children Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities, a national organization. “I really look at educational strategies to help teach and ameliorate some of the problems that people with autism have to face.”

Because autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that conditions may vary, there are certain strengths and challenges that vary among individuals. There are different levels of learning, problem-solving, and thinking, based on where an individual is on the spectrum, said Schaefer-Whitby, who was honored by the Arkansas Alumni Association for her work in the Delta..

“Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication,” according to the Autism Speaks organization.

The Arkansas Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Program, managed through UAMS, received a four-year grant of $2.17 million, which enables researchers to conduct a statewide study.

The program looks “at all 8-year-olds in the state to see how many kids have autism, and they look at every county in the state,” Schaefer-Whitby said.

About one in 77 children in Arkansas are diagnosed as having autism, according to a report by the disabilities monitoring program.

With that data, Schaefer-Whitby and her team recognized that in southern Arkansas, far fewer children were diagnosed as having autism. Specifically, she said that fewer African-American children were diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorders.

“About 50-75% of kids on the autism spectrum, with good intervention, have really good outcomes,” Schaefer-Whitby said. “There is about another 25% of kids that we don’t really understand why. But, if we don’t diagnose these kids, and we don’t get these kids into interventions and these families the services they need, we are going to have long-term care for these kids, and the societal cost is greater.”

Deciding that it was time to figure out the reason behind the discrepancies in the data, Schaefer-Whitby followed the pathway of her research, rented an apartment in Helena, Arkansas, and lived there for one year. She needed to become part of the community before she could have an impact on that community, she said.

“I worked with UAMS East, Kids for the Future, Partners for Inclusive Communities, and Arkansas Autism Outreach Center,” Schafer-Whitby said. “We started going down to the Delta and set up an advisory board, and we would meet monthly with them to determine kind of what we need to focus on services down here.”

Another research project Schaefer-Whitby is conducting has to do with the factors other than the lack of resources that contribute to autism.

“I’ve been working on a qualitative study where I’m really looking at, and talking with families about their lived experiences of having a child with autism,” Schaefer-Whitby said.

Although research confirms that factors such as low socio-economic status impacts the ability to access service providers and resources, there are also other factors to consider that may have an impact on autism diagnosis, Schaefer-Whtiby said.

“I do believe there are some cultural variables that impact access to services and whether or not a family will step up to access those services,” Schaefer-Whitby said.  Most of the families that have been validated through interventions are confirmed to be white, upper class, wealthy families.

“One of the strategies that I promote is that we need to look at family systems and family routines and adapt our behavioral interventions to meet their family context and the routines within their family system,” Schaefer-Whitby said.

Schaefer-Whitby is working toward finding each of the variables that attribute to families in rural areas hesitating to access services for their children.

“The other thing that I find when I meet with these families is that really we’re more alike than different, that we all want to do what’s best for our children, and we want the best outcome for our children” Schaefer-Whitby said.

Perspective is another big aspect that Schaefer-Whitby attributes to the differences in culture within the Delta. 

“When we start looking at quality of life and stress related to these families, it’s perspective,” Schaefer-Whitby said. “Many of these families really look at the disability, or the impact of the disability on the family system, a little differently.”

Because of the different perspectives, Schaefer-Whitby has found that families are sometimes better able to cope with the impact that the disability has on their family structure.

In addition to cultural differences between urban and rural areas, there is also the matter of access to resources that is difficult for families to receive.

During her time in the Delta, Schafer-Whitby first identified three individuals who aspired to become behavior analysts. For each of those individuals to complete the 1,500 clinical hours required, she provided supervision for free.

Shannon Crozier and Jessica Love, founders of Behavior University, an online training platform specializing in therapy based on the science of learning and behavior, partnered with Schaefer-Whitby in her project.

“When we learned about the new project in the Delta, we were thrilled to see

what she was doing,” Crozier said. “As the project grew, we realized that there might be a way for us to help and so we contacted her to offer support.”

Behavior University offered to provide free Registered Behavior Technician training to 10 individuals who had been identified within the Delta. The training process includes a 40-hour online training and an observation from a behavior analyst. Schaefer-Whitby was the one to observe and certify that each of the trainees did indeed have the required skills.

“In the next several months, we’re hoping that we are going to have one behavior analyst down there and that we’ll have about 8-10 registered behavior technicians that can start working with the kids,” Schaefer-Whitby said.

“Families in rural areas lack access to many of the resources they need,” Crozier said. “Relying on people and resources in more urban centers is difficult and unreliable.”

Schaefer-Whitby hopes that through this project, there will be greater support and resources available for families living in the delta with a child in need of autism intervention, she said.

CAPS Construction Doubles Access for UA Students

CAPS Construction Doubles Access for UA Students

As students show an increase in the use of mental health care, Pat Walker Health Center staff has expanded their outreach to meet the growing need.

UA students have increased the use of Counseling and Psychological Services by 28.6 percent since the 2014-2015 academic year, according to Pat Walker Health Center data. In the last four academic years, 33.8 percent more of the student body has had at least one appointment with CAPS, data shows.

Coloring pages are offered to students waiting for appointments at Counseling and Psychological Services. Photo by Mary Hennigan.

By Mary Hennigan
The Razorback Reporter

The Pat Walker Health Center staff expanded mental health outreach to accommodate the growing need. The construction doubled the capacity for students in CAPS, said Mary Alice Serafini, associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs and executive director at the Pat Walker Health Center.

Zac Brown, the assistant director of communications at the Pat Walker Health Center, attributed the increase of students to the completion of construction at the center and the decreasing stigma behind mental illness. Instead of promoting events for Suicide Prevention Week and having students attend on their own, Brown and Mindy Wilkerson, the suicide coordinator, tried a different approach.

“We really just want to meet students where they are and find ways to speak to them,” Wilkerson said. 
In the past, she has been told by students that they would not come to events about suicide on their own, she said. Based on this, Wilkerson and the Pat Walker Health Center staff flipped strategies to reach groups of students by speaking in classrooms. 

“By going into these classes, you’re already reducing that vulnerability stigma by saying ‘I’m gonna come to you’ instead of having that strength and courage to go to an event,” Brown said.

Sophomore Elizabeth Black visited CAPS for the first time in August 2018, she said. 

“They didn’t have any room in their therapy classes so I had to see a therapist off campus,” Black said. “It was really inconvenient because I didn’t have my car. My brother had to take off work to take me.” 

After she started with an off-campus therapist, Black didn’t see a reason to return to CAPS, she said. 

“If they had room for me I would have gone more,” Black said. 

Black thinks the new construction is great, but might not be enough, she said. The best-case scenario would be to prepare for every single student.

“It’s not saying that more people are having issues with mental health, it’s saying more people are starting to get help for it,” Black said. 

During college, most students struggle with anxiety and depression, Wilkerson said. With that can come suicidal challenges and panic attacks.

Senior Caroline Praestholm is president of the UA Mental Health Awareness Organization and has personal experience with suicidal tendencies. 

“I had a twofold experience. I have gone through suicidal ideology, but my father also committed suicide when I was 17,” Praestholm said. 

Her suicidal thoughts started in high school and got severe as she started college, she said. During her freshman year, Praestholm felt isolated and overwhelmed by the college study load.

“I’m a very independent person. I didn’t want to ask for advice, so that made me feel like I wasn’t good enough,” Praestholm said. “I blamed myself for not doing well, not developing skills earlier and not connecting better with people.”

After receiving a semester’s worth of grades she was not proud of, Praestholm said it was time for a change. 

“When I got those grades back, I realized this was not working anymore and I needed to get help. Not everyone is that lucky,” she said. 

Praestholm started as a member of the Mental Health Awareness Organization. Now, as president, she distributes emails to 288 members to spread awareness of different mental health issues. 

Finding risk factors for suicide is complicated, said Wilkerson. Each person has unique individual pain and trauma and the Pat Walker Health Center wants to find ways to speak with those individuals in ways that they can hear, she said. 

“If it was cookie-cutter it would make it easier to prevent it,” Brown said. “But it’s not that black-and-white, so obviously it’s important that we’re touching on many different angles and reaching out to many diverse people.”