University of Minnesota Alumni Association



"Flower Power," "Saying No to Orphanages," and "Lake Health"

Photo Credit: Free-Photos/Pixabay

Flower Power

Anyone who has sought refuge from the COVID-19 pandemic by putting their hands in the dirt understands that gardening can be therapeutic. Now, a study from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs confirms that gardening not only enhances a person’s emotional well-being but can also be a powerful tool in promoting sustainability in urban neighborhoods.

Researchers asked more than 370 randomly selected participants in the Twin Cities metro area to use an app called Daynamica, which was developed by Yingling Fan, a professor in regional policy and planning at Humphrey, who also coauthored the study. The app allows users to track their daily activities and rate how that activity makes them feel. After analyzing the data, they found that gardening at home is associated with a high level of well-being, similar to walking and biking. Vegetable gardening yields a higher level of happiness than ornamental gardening. What’s more, gardening is an activity that is pleasurable to do alone and isn’t dependent on a person’s economic class. In fact, people with low incomes reported higher degrees of well-being than those with higher incomes.

Researchers hope the study will be of interest to urban planners, who can use the findings to both make cities more livable and also improve food security issues. “It’s important to remember that 50 percent of the world’s population lives in an urban environment,” says Fan.

Published in the June 2020 issue of Landscape and Urban Planning.

Saying No to Orphanages

At a time when millions of children across the world are being separated from their families due to migration, famine, and economic hardship, a new report coauthored by a group of international experts that includes three U of M researchers makes it clear that institutionalized care is never in a child’s best interest. Using a meta-analysis of 65 years of data that compared the physical and emotional development of children in orphanages to children raised in family settings, researchers concluded definitively that family-like care offers the best environment for physical and emotional development in children who were orphaned or abandoned.

As a result, these experts say that family-based care—foster care, adoption, or living with extended relatives or community members—offers the best environment to promote physical and emotional development in children who have been orphaned or abandoned. “Perpetuating the status quo of institutional care is no longer morally defensible,” says coauthor Dana Johnson, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the U of M Medical School and founder of the University of Minnesota’s Adoption Medicine Clinic.

“Within a family we learn to be complete human beings, so depriving children of this experience is a violation of their human rights.”

The authors say that institutionalized care is especially harmful to children between the ages of 6 to 24 months, and that the longer a child is in an orphanage, the greater the developmental delays. They also note that these negative impacts can be reduced once a child is placed in a family-type setting.

Published in the June 2020 issue of The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

Lake Health

The U of M’s College of Biological Sciences recently released findings that are critical for a state that takes pride in its 10,000 bodies of waters. Lakes, it turns out, continuously leak gaseous nitrogen into the atmosphere.

Researchers in the Cotner Lab Group, run by Ecology Professor Jim Cotner, examined samples from 34 lakes in the Upper Midwest. While they already knew that lakes release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, they were surprised to find that 87 percent of their water samples were supersaturated with gaseous nitrogen. When found in excess in lakes, nitrogen can cause toxic algal blooms that can harm fish, wildlife, and even the casual swimmer.

The findings are significant because they suggest that most lakes are naturally able to get rid of excess nitrogen. Cotner’s team is now looking into whether lakes that are near farms and other agricultural land release more nitrogen into the atmosphere. They are also researching how much of the nitrogen shed by lakes is in the form of nitrous oxide, a highly potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

This study appeared in the July 6, 2020 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

As always, a hearty thank you to the University News Service for their work in compiling this information.

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