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A Case of Daylight Robbery

Cites a study on effects of school lighting on elementary students. Researcher Warren E. Hathaway's report to the American Psychological Association; Findings of the study, involving high-pressure sodium vapor lamps and full-spectrum fluorescent lamps with ultraviolet supplements; The suggestion that light is 'nutritional.'

Plans to improve the education of America's youth usually focus on boosting reading or math skills, but a Toronto psychologist thinks there may be an equally effective way to better performance: bright lights.

Elementary school students who spent two years working under high-pressure sodium vapor lamps had poorer records of achievement and attendance, plus far slower rates of growth and development, than those whose classrooms had full-spectrum fluorescent lamps with ultraviolet supplements, according to Canadian psychologist Warren E. Hathaway, Ph.D.

"Clearly, this study points to the single conclusion that lighting systems are not neutral with respect to their effects on people," Hathaway told the American Psychological Association.

In a study of over 325 fourth graders, Hathaway found that students who studied under the bright, daylight-like light of the fluorescent-ultraviolet bulbs were absent less often and achieved higher scores on aptitude tests than those working under the yellowish-orange sodium vapor bulbs. The "bright-light" kids also grew more quickly, had far fewer cavities, and began menstruating much earlier.

No one's sure what's happening, but the UV supplements may have something to do with it. Ultraviolet radiation stimulates vitamin D production in the skin, letting the body use calcium more efficiently and thus preventing cavities. UV light also kills bacteria, promoting good health and possibly boosting attendance-- which in turn may hike test scores--Hathaway theorizes.

Of course, UV light explains only part of what's going on, and may have different effects on adults or younger children. But if light is indeed "nutritional," as Hathaway suggests, rethinking lighting systems in schools, hospitals, etc., may be a bright idea.

PHOTO: Rethinking current lighting systems in schools, offices, nursing homes, and other places where people spend their daylight hours may be a bright idea--and nutritional to boot.