19 October 2017

Meet the members of our Societal Advisory Board: Wilma de Rek & Hetty Linden

Dealing with information overload

In order to know what’s needed and what’s not in children's health, social wellbeing and education, DoY-researchers need connections with The Real World. With this in mind, we’ve established valuable contacts in our Societal Advisory Board. In a series of interviews we'll introduce them to you. In this issue: Wilma de Rek, science writer and chief editor of the books section at de Volkskrant and Hetty Linden, director of Civil Health at the City of Utrecht.

Wilma de Rek, whose latest book is called ‘From big bang to burn out’, writes about science in a way laymen can understand. She does so in the national newspaper de Volkskrant and in various publications that fit the literary category we call popular science. For Dynamics of Youth this means she can help out deal with untangling the intimidating amounts of research results. DoY will produce these in order to shape newsworthy stuff into stories all people will want to take in.

Jongen met tablet

Stress and children

“The book I wrote with psychiatrist Witte Hoogendijk is about our stress system. We covered it from the big bang to now, and also pay attention to what stress does to young people. I think that’s very interesting: just look at the amounts of information they are exposed to nowadays! I'm from 1963, so I know what an offline life used to be like.”

“When I was introduced to Dynamics of Youth, I talked to a researcher about sleep disorders in children. Apparently these occur much more than before: there is more noise all around, more families live in busy cities, everyone gets less hours of sleep... What kind of impact does this have on children’s development? How do children use their own capacity to cope with stress and face factors like lack of sleep and information overload? This overload increases rapidly, especially because of our wretched mobile phones. It’s the first thing my sons see when they wake up and the last thing before they go the sleep. For adults it’s the same.”

It’s necessary to scientifically explore what stress does to us, De Rek thinks. “Take this bill that recently came into effect in France, that establishes the right for employees to not be contacted by their superiors at nights and weekends. Whatever you may think of it, it is a major public sign that stress is affecting our public health. Depression and burnouts have become a societal problem.”

Everyone is getting less hours of sleep: what kind of impact does this have on children’s development?
de Volkskrant
Chantal Kemner in het KinderKennisCentrum
Chantal Kemner in the Child Expertise Center

Adding focus

At De Volkskrant editorial office, bucketloads of press releases about all things scientific come in every day. Journalists are highly trained to select the newsworthy items. “I gather Chantal Kemner has asked me to be a societal partner both for my expertise as a science writer and as a journalist: to help make information interesting and accessible for a broad audience.”

And what is DoY all about, according to De Rek? “I can’t clearly see the ultimate goals yet. The Child Expertise Center  on the other hand is very solid: its main purpose is to gather loads and loads of knowledge. What I’d like to see the a center to be the institute where everyone can go and ask all the questions they have, in order to be helped by smart people who also know which institute or expert to refer to if they don’t have the answer themselves.”

Hetty Linden: City of Utrecht

Hetty Linden, Director of Public Health at the Municipality of Utrecht, studied Nutrition and Health at the University of Wageningen, where she graduated as an epidemiologist. In as well and outside of the city of Utrecht, her department has been addressing ‘Healthy Urban Living’ as a focus point for years, so the municipality and Dynamics of Youth share several areas of interest. And as DoY is currently exploring the possibility for joint data collection with the municipality of Utrecht (as an addition to the national Youth Monitor, for example), Hetty Linden makes a perfect campus partner.

Vergaderruimte op de Uithof
Meeting at the Utrecht Science Park

Healthy children

“Our mission is to see children grow up as healthily as possible. In this respect– and other respects too, because we’re connected to all four Utrecht University-strategic themes – the municipality of Utrecht is already a partner of the Utrecht University, the Wilhelmina Children's Hospital and University Medical Center Utrecht.” The municipality of Utrecht is one of the founding fathers of Utrecht Science Park. Here entrepreneurs and businesses are linked with researchers, and together they can find out which ideas can actually be ‘marketed’.

When it comes to forming useful connections for Dynamics of Youth, Linden sees an important role for the municipality. “We can help join forces in many areas, from a governmental level to that of businesses, because we have a broad picture of what’s going on in society. And via our youth health care network, the municipality sees all youths.”

Our mission is to see children grow up as healthily as possible.
Hetty Linden
City of Utrecht
Vrolijk kind met ouders

Increasing expertise

This is where the next task for the municipality lies: ask Dynamics of Youth practical questions that could be the cornerstones for big or small research projects. “In our quest for healthy-living-for-all-children we like to be proactive, so we’re always keen to gain more knowledge on how we can do this to our best abilities. Dynamics of Youth could play a big part in increasing our expertise.”

Linden hesitates when asked for examples of liaisons where municipal experience strengthens academic knowledge (and vice versa). “There are dozens of projects that make a difference, and I don’t want to devalue any of them by naming just a few.” But, when pressed a little, she names two:

  1. The Utrecht University-pedagogy department is part of the Academische Werkplaats Transformatie Jeugd Utrecht. Here, parents and professionals join forces to shape the best possible education for children in secondary schools.
  2. Invaluable help in detecting and preventing child abuse comes from pediatrician and member of the national taskforce child abuse, Elise van de Putte (Wilhelmina Children's Hospital). Her research produced an overview of physical and psychological signs that could point towards child abuse, to be used by general practitioners and youth healthcare professionals in and around Utrecht.
Jongens voetballen samen

The near future

Is there an issue which, according to Linden, would deserve a DoY/municipality get together in the near future? “What springs to mind: how should we deal with chronically ill children for whom treatment is no longer possible? How do we make sure they are welcomed back into their neighborhood? Such a process should be accompanied warmly and professionally.”

She concludes: “There's probably a lot more going on in Utrecht that would be interesting for DoY-researchers that I just don’t know about. But that's fine. I don’t think that much general knowledge is to be expected from a campus partner. Dynamics of Youth covers such a broad spectrum!”

Dynamics of Youth

As one of Utrecht University's four strategic themes, Dynamics of Youth combines excellent child research from all seven faculties.Within Dynamics of Youth, researchers from different disciplines integrate their expertise to answer crucial questions for future generations. How can we help our children develop into balanced individuals, that are able to function successfully in a rapidly changing environment?