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Made New Year Resolutions? Improve the Odds of Keeping Them

Jan. 6, 2009 — Need a little help making–but, most important, keeping–some resolutions for the New Year? To give you a boost, we’ve compiled a list of healthy and worthy changes to make, along with corroborating research from a variety of experts at the University of Utah.

1. Stop talking on your cell phone while driving-with or without a headset.

Several studies by U psychology professors David Strayer and Frank Drews have found that hands-free cell phones are just as distracting as handheld models because the conversation is the biggest distraction. They also have shown that when young adults talk on cell phones while driving, their reaction times become as slow as reaction times for senior citizens, and that drivers talking on cell phones are as impaired as drivers with the 0.08 percent blood alcohol level that defines drunken driving in most states.

David Strayer, 801-581-5037,

2. Get out and walk.

The age of your neighborhood may influence your risk of obesity due to the ease with which you can walk around. A study, co-authored by U demographer and professor of human development and family studies Ken Smith, linked the body mass index (BMI) of nearly a half million Salt Lake County residents to 2000 Census data and found that residents were at less risk of being obese or overweight if they lived in walkable neighborhoods-those that are more densely populated, designed to be more friendly to pedestrians and have a range of destinations for pedestrians. Knowing that, park the car and walk anyway.

Ken Smith, 801-581-7847,

3. Talk to your kids about money.

Keeping youngsters in the dark about a family’s financial struggles is not a good idea, says Beth Garn, a family economics instructor at the University of Utah. The best approach is to be direct. If you have to cut back on extras, explain why-that money is a little tight. But reassure them that they will be taken care of. Never tell them, “Don’t worry about that.” They need to discuss their worries so you can help them cope. Garn says children as young as five can begin receiving a small allowance and learning how to save. (Excerpted from an interview in the Tampa Tribune, 12/23/08)

Elizabeth Hunsaker Garn, 801-585-1097,

4. Volunteer.

“How can you think globally and act locally if you’ve never been abroad?” asks U of U student June Hiatt when explaining her decision to participate in the Bennion Center’s trip to Bolivia to learn about service beyond her own borders. Volunteers participated in a school building project in the village of Suriquina in the high-lying Altiplano region of Bolivia.

Jennifer Bauman, associate professor of undergraduate studies at the University of Utah, is another volunteer acting locally. Recent data from the National Center for Children in Poverty show that 39 percent of children in Utah live in low-income families Having witnessed that reality while volunteering at the Neighborhood House-a low-income daycare facility located on Salt Lake City’s west side-she has been combating child poverty in her own way, by sponsoring the second annual Child Poverty Awareness Week at the U.

Linda Dunn, Bennion Center, 801-587-5826,
Jennifer Bauman, Undergraduate Studies, 801-585-3266,

5. Recycle, build green.

“Demolishing a building and replacing it with a completely new building of equal size and materials, with no recycled content, creates a significant material flow (new materials into a building and demolition debris removed from a jobsite) that is more than seven times greater than when simply rehabilitating or restoring the existing building,” says Robert Young, U professor of architecture.

Recycling on this scale means considerable savings of materials and energy, with positive economic and environmental consequences. Not only does historic preservation or rehabilitation save the energy first used to construct a building, but it prevents new energy from being spent on the extraction of raw materials and the construction of a new building.

Robert Young, 801-581-3909,

6. Work for world peace.

A new study conducted by researchers at the U lead by Cecilia Wainryb, professor of psychology, is one of the first to consider how growing up in a war zone affects children’s moral development. Colombian children living in war zones exhibited an understanding that stealing or hurting others is wrong. But when asked to consider revenge as a motive, many said it is acceptable to steal or hurt others for revenge. These vulnerabilities were more pronounced among teenagers.

Cecilia Wainryb, 801-581-6123,

7. Stop smoking (and, kids, don’t even start).

Robert Weiss, professor of human genetics at the U and lead author of a recent study on nicotine addiction and genetics found that one common genetic variation (called a ‘haplotype’) for the nicotine receptor in the nervous system put European American smokers at greater risk of heavy nicotine dependence as adults, but only if they began daily smoking before the age of 17. A second haplotype actually reduced the risk of adult heavy nicotine dependence for people who began smoking in their youth.

The researchers studied 2,827 long-term European American smokers and found that people who began smoking before the age of 17 and possessed two copies of the high-risk haplotype had from a 1.6-fold to almost 5-fold increase in risk of heavy smoking as an adult. For people who began smoking at age 17 or older, presence of the high-risk haplotype did not significantly influence their risk of later addiction. The high-risk haplotype is common in the three study populations, and European American populations in general, ranging in frequency from 38 percent to 41 percent.

Robert Weiss, 801/585-3435,