The over-arching theme of Dr. Jim Hudziak’s work is that what we do changes gene expression through epigenetic modification and influences the plasticity of our brain structure and function, and, ultimately, how we think, feel and behave.
“Our brains are the home of our emotions, beliefs, and behaviors. All of us, at one time or another, have experienced emotional and behavioral problems. These emotional and behavioral problems precede and lead to general medical problems and most of society’s struggles. Some of us struggle more than others and the explanation for why some struggle and others do not is now better understood as the interaction between genetics and environmental factors. Emotional behavioral and the majority of general medical problems occur in the face of stress experienced across life. Adult psychiatric and general medical problems are very difficult to treat. Preventing the damage of these adverse environments leads to decreased adult psychiatric and general medical problems. Thus to achieve better general medical health for a society we first have to promote better emotional behavioral health. WE HAVE THE SCIENCE AND NOW THE MANDATE TO BUILD HEALTHY BRAINS”
-Jim Hudziak, MD, Creator and Director of the UVM Wellness Environment (WE)
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- Transitional age youth (TAY) with their associated transitional age brains (TAB) are at high risk for negative health outcomes, high rates of psychiatric illness, suicide attempts, and morbidity and mortality.
- In the context of the TAB, the high-risk living environments sometimes found in college combined with little or no external regulatory support are associated in some cases with profoundly negative statistics on alcohol and drug use, emotional behavioral health, and perhaps low 6-year graduation rates.
- These statistics led to the design, development, and implementation of a neuroscience inspired, incentivized behavioral change program at the University of Vermont called the Wellness Environment (WE).
- WE argues that the prescription of an incentive-based, behavioral change, contingency management program with brain-building activities simply makes good scientific, programmatic, and financial sense for colleges and universities as they attempt to support TAY to graduation.
- Over the past 2 decades, there have been substantial developments in the understanding of brain development.
- Progress in neuroimaging has allowed us to better understand the nuances of the development of cortical, subcortical, and white matter structures.
- Modern neuroscience, genomics, and epigenomic studies allow us a lens through which to develop an understanding of transitional age youth (TAY) behavior from a neurodevelopmental perspective.
- Developing brain building health promotion and illness prevention approaches for TAY will likely yield reductions in morbidity and mortality, enhance individual life trajectories, and have a life-long impact.
- It is feasible to collect high-quality data including daily surveys on college students in this program related to key outcomes, including drug and alcohol use, health-promoting behaviors, academic performance, and continued enrollment/retention.
- Over the course of an academic year, participation in both periodic and daily surveys was high, suggesting a full evaluation of the Wellness Environment program is a reasonable goal.
- According to institutional data provided by the University of Vermont Student Affairs, students living in the Wellness Environment residential hall during the 2017 to 2018 academic year had 81% fewer alcohol/drug incidents and 46% fewer student conduct violations than students living in typical residence halls