Watching the World
Positive Outlook Promotes Longevity
A recently concluded study found that older people with a more positive outlook on life and aging “lived 7.5 years longer than those with less positive self-perceptions of aging,” says a paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study, conducted over a period of 23 years on 660 persons aged 50 and older, established two things: A negative attitude toward aging “can diminish life expectancy,” and a positive outlook “can prolong life expectancy.” Indeed, positive self-perceptions may contribute more to longevity than such things as low blood cholesterol and ideal blood pressure, suggests the report. It concludes by encouraging society in general to take a more positive view of the elderly by involving them in activities and to “deemphasize negative stereotypes of aging,” which people tend to accept—even if unconsciously—to their detriment.
Deadly Shopping Bags
Worldwide, it is estimated that every year more than 100,000 mammals, birds, and fish die as a result of eating or being suffocated by discarded plastic bags. In Australia alone, shoppers use 6.9 billion plastic shopping bags annually, an average of 360 bags for each shopper. Of these, an estimated 25 million plastic bags end up as litter. Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph reported late in 2002 that in order to reduce the carnage to animals, supermarkets in Australia would replace traditional plastic shopping bags with a biodegradable substitute. Although the new bags look and feel like plastic, they are made from tapioca starch and will decompose within three months. “They’re the first we’ve found here in Australia that are bio-degradable and whose cost is comparable to normal plastic bags,” says Paul Shenston, chairman of the environmental lobby group Planet Ark. A recent survey found that “81 per cent of shoppers ‘strongly agree’ that bio-degradable bags should be used.”
Aspirin and Bypass Patients
“Giving patients aspirin in the first 48 hours after heart bypass surgery can greatly reduce their risk of death and serious complications involving the heart, brain, kidneys and digestive tract.” So says a study reported on in The New York Times. Those given aspirin had a death rate that was 67 percent lower than those not given it. The rate of strokes and heart attacks was reduced by half, the rate of kidney failure was 74 percent lower, and the rate of major intestinal-tract complications was cut by 62 percent. The study, though not a randomized controlled trial, examined 5,065 patients who were treated at 70 hospitals in 17 countries. In the past, surgeons generally did not allow patients to take aspirin for several days before surgery or right afterward, fearing that it would increase bleeding. However, the study showed that there were actually fewer incidents of bleeding in patients given the aspirin shortly after surgery and that small doses—as in baby aspirin—were sufficient. It is estimated that applying these findings might save some 27,000 lives worldwide each year.
Sleep Crucial for Learning New Motor Skills
Getting a good night’s sleep soon after learning new motor skills is essential to retaining them, scientists say. While they have long known the importance of adequate sleep in regard to memorizing facts and other data, the questions remained about how sleep affected motor skills, which involve a different part of the brain. New studies in Germany and in the United States have concluded that while sleep is important for proper storing of these memories in the brain, it must occur “within a critical time frame,” according to the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. People who were taught a skill in the evening and were retested after a full night’s sleep did much better than those who received the training in the morning and were tested 12 hours later, before going to sleep.
“No Longer Wishes to Belong to the Catholic Church”
In Italy a person baptized as a Catholic who “no longer intends to be considered a member of the Catholic Church” can now have that desire satisfied, reports the newspaper Il Sole-24 Ore. Previously, requests to have one’s name removed from the register of baptisms were denied on the grounds that it “would amount to destruction of ‘traces’ of Church history.” However, after appeals were made by a number of people who had asked to be removed from the church rolls, the guarantor for the Safeguard of Personal Information authorized that the parish register of baptisms be emended with the note: “No longer wishes to belong to the Catholic Church.” Already the guarantor has asked parish priests to comply with ex-parishioners’ requests in at least three cases.
Fragmented Families Increase Housing
An international study led by Dr. Jianguo Liu of Michigan State University, U.S.A., found that even in countries whose populations are declining, the number of households is rising as families fragment and children set up homes on their own. As more homes are built to accommodate the same number of people, urban sprawl and habitat destruction increases. “A three-bedroom house, for example, uses the same amount of land and materials to build and the same amount of fuel to heat whether it is home to two people or four,” reports New Scientist. The researchers predict that if the current trend continues, there will be an additional 233 million households by 2015.
In Mexico the percentage of females between the ages of 10 and 19 who get pregnant “has increased by 50 percent in the last three decades,” states the magazine Cambio of Mexico City. This increase has occurred despite family planning programs and sex education courses in the public schools. Studies by health authorities reveal that “adolescents who smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, or use some illegal drug are four times more prone to have sexual relations at an earlier age.” Additionally, 30 percent of adolescent mothers have a second unplanned child within a year of giving birth to their first, and 50 percent bear a second child within two years. Adding to the problems associated with teen and preteen pregnancies, 60 percent of these young mothers have to raise their children without the support of the child’s father.
Nearly 65 percent of the books and documents published between 1875 and 1960 stored at the National Library in Paris are in danger of being destroyed, reports the newspaper Le Monde. This written heritage is slowly disintegrating because of the presence of sulfuric acid, which causes the pages to become brittle and crumble. About 20,000 books are deacidified yearly by the National Library services, at a cost of between $7 and $8 per book. Since the 1980’s, most books have been printed on acid-free paper.
Baptized Yes, Practicing No
“Spain is still a nation of baptized [Catholics], but each year it becomes less Catholic,” reports the Spanish newspaper El País. During the dictatorship of General Franco, “the Catholic faith was the official State religion, and all others were banned and persecuted. Going to Mass every Sunday in rural areas was an obligation, and those who dared to break such an ecclesiastical rule risked fines or reprisals,” says the paper. Nowadays the situation has drastically changed. According to a survey by the Center for Sociological Investigation (CIS in Spanish), only 18.5 percent of Spaniards attend Mass regularly. “The Catholic Church emerged alive from its self-serving complicity in the [civil] war and the Franco dictatorship, but the CIS survey shows that its gradual decline is now very difficult to reverse,” notes El País.