Watching the World
Medical Records—Include Television Habits?
A child’s medical records should include his television habits, recommends a group of pediatricians in Spain. According to the Spanish newspaper Diario Médico, the doctors feel that they should know how many hours a day a child patient watches TV as well as the kind of programs he sees and in whose company. Why? Because a survey conducted by the pediatricians revealed that TV viewing leads to a sedentary life-style, increased aggressiveness, the desire to buy things, impaired school performance, and the possibility of becoming a TV addict. “The pediatricians recommend that parents not install a television in the children’s bedroom or in a place where [the children] can control the programs,” says the report. “Moreover, watching television during mealtimes should be avoided, and parents should limit the children’s television viewing to less than two hours a day, although less than one hour a day would be preferable.”
China’s Population Growth
“China’s population has grown to 1.26 billion people and is getting older, better educated and more urbanized,” says abcNEWS.com. According to Zhu Zhixin, director of the National Bureau of Statistics, the population has grown by 132.2 million since 1990. The lower growth rate of 1.07 percent a year is attributed to China’s single-child birth-control policies instituted since the late 1970’s. Officials are concerned, however, because the 1999 survey revealed 117 males born for every 100 females, possibly as a result of selective abortion of girls. “Sociologists fear the skewed birth ratio will lead to a shortage of brides, worsening prostitution and the kidnapping and sale of women for marriage,” the report says.
Researchers led by Brazilian hydrogeologist Heraldo Campos have completed a seven-year project to map South America’s largest groundwater reservoirs. The Guarani Aquifer, situated under parts of Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina, has a total surface area of approximately 500,000 square miles [1.2 million km2] and holds an estimated 10,000 cubic miles [40,000 km3] of water. According to a Global Environment Facility report, “the reserve volume today would be enough to supply the entire population of Brazil for 3,500 years.” In the future this “underground treasure” may also be tapped to combat desertification, and because of the water temperature, it may be used as an alternative energy source. By mapping the aquifer, researchers hope to protect its recharge areas from pesticide and fertilizer contamination.
Increase in Skin Cancer
There has been a dramatic increase in melanoma, the most serious of skin tumors, according to Spain’s El Pais Digital news service. By the middle of the 20th century, melanoma occurred in 1 out of every 1,500 people. But by the year 2000, this number had soared to 1 out of every 75 individuals, mainly because of the tanning fashion. At a convention of the European Society for Medical Oncology, Professor J. Kirkwood stated that 40 percent of melanoma tumors involve genetic factors, while the remaining 60 percent involve excessive exposure to the sun. Women between the ages of 23 and 50 are the most affected. Kirkwood explained that during childhood and adolescence, mutations in skin pigment cells can be triggered by solar radiation, although cancer may not appear until many years later. “The skin keeps a memory of the solar radiation received,” Kirkwood noted.
Sugar Into Plastic
Scientists at Brazil’s Institute of Technological Research have discovered a new species of bacteria capable of converting sugar into plastic. Previously discovered species digest and convert sugar only after it has been broken down into smaller molecules, but “the great potential of this [newly discovered bacterium] lies in its ability to metabolize sugar directly,” says engineer Carlos Rossell. When overfed, the bacteria use the extra sugar to manufacture minute grains of biodegradable plastic, which scientists release by using a solvent. According to the researchers, “one kilogram [2.2 pounds] of plastic can be obtained from three kilograms [6.6 pounds] of sugar,” says the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo.
Dietary Fat Dulls the Mind
“A fatty diet can clog your brain as well as your coronary arteries,” says New Scientist magazine. To understand the effects of a high-fat diet on the brain, researchers in Canada “fed one-month-old rats a diet rich in either animal or vegetable fat until they were four months old.” A control group was fed a low-fat diet. Both groups were then given learning tasks. The results? The rats on the two high-fat diets “performed much more poorly than the lean rats.” Researcher Gordon Winocur said: “High-fat diets impair performance on virtually all our measures. It’s remarkable how impaired these animals are.” According to the report, the researchers feel that “fat prevents the brain [from] taking up glucose, possibly by interfering with the action of insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar levels.”
Torture for Sale
“Trade in tools of torture is on the rise,” says an article in the German newspaper Südwest Presse. According to the human rights organization Amnesty International, 150 companies around the world have allegedly joined this gruesome trade, including 30 in Germany and 97 in the United States. Their wares include not just leg irons and serrated thumb cuffs but high-voltage electroshock devices. One company in the United States was said to offer remotely controlled belts that send up to 50,000-volt electric shocks through the victim’s body. Such high-tech tools are preferred by torturers, since they hardly leave any traces on their victims.
Spiders in the Snow
In his study of crab spiders, German researcher Peter Jaeger of Mainz University “has identified 50 new varieties which flourish in the snow and ice of the Himalayas, at altitudes of up to 3,800 meters [12,500 feet],” says the newspaper The Asian Age. “Though they can be up to four cm [1.6 inches] in size, the giant crab spiders pose absolutely no danger to humans.” They lurk in crevices in the rocks or under tree bark and feed on insects, which they are able to locate easily because of their sensitive hearing. But why do these spiders not freeze in winter? Unlike their relatives in warmer climates, the Himalayan species are equipped with a “biological antifreeze,” says Jaeger. “They store highly-concentrated alcohols in their body fluids and this enables them to survive temperatures below freezing.”
Sniffing Out Diseases
A sniffing test may help in the early diagnosis of diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, reports the German science magazine natur & kosmos. A failing sense of smell appears early in the progression of Parkinson’s disease and is among the most common symptoms. Thanks to the work of Professor Gerd Kobal, a practical method of testing the level of deterioration in a patient’s sense of smell has now been developed. While the more obvious Parkinson’s symptoms, such as tremors and muscular rigidity, appear at a later stage, dysfunction in the sense of smell can be detected months or even years earlier, thanks to the newly developed sniffing test. This opens the way for treatment that may delay the progression of this presently incurable disease.
“An incredible amount of food is wasted at marriage receptions and other extravagant parties,” says the Mainichi Daily News of Japan. A government survey on food waste revealed that households wasted, on average, 7.7 percent of their food, food retailers wasted 1.1 percent, and restaurants discarded 5.1 percent of unprepared food. However, “lavish parties with buffets dumped 15.7 percent of their food items,” and almost 24 percent of the food prepared for marriage banquets “was either left over or discarded,” comments the newspaper. Only food manufacturers report “almost zero food waste.”