Watching the World

Obesity​—A Growing Global Concern

Obesity among both adults and children is “rising to alarming levels around the world” and now includes some of the poorest countries, reports The Lancet. According to University of North Carolina economist and nutrition epidemiologist Barry Popkin, this is partly due to technological advances that have enabled the extraction of edible oils from such seeds as corn, soy, and cotton. “In Asian and African countries, extra calories added to the daily diet come largely from these oils,” says The Lancet. Also, government agricultural and trade policies allow sugar to be exported at low prices, giving manufacturers a cheap product to enhance the taste of foods. Technology in many fields has also led to decreased activity and energy expenditure, which has gradually added to people’s weight. What concerns food and health experts is that obesity can lead to such chronic diseases as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.

 Strange New Organism Discovered

Scientists at the University of Regensburg, Germany, have discovered an interesting microbe on the volcanic ocean floor north of Iceland. It thrives only in scalding-hot, oxygen-free water that is rich in sulfur, notes the newsmagazine Der Spiegel. The bacteria owe their name, Nanoarchaeum equitans, or primitive riding dwarf, to the fact that they live on the surface of a much bigger organism named Ignicoccus, or fireball, on which they seem to depend for growth. With a diameter of just 400 nanometers, the microbes are so small that, according to the report, “over six million would fit on the point of a needle.” They are also unique in that their DNA does not even contain 500,000 base pairs. “Thus the primitive dwarf is the creature with the smallest known genome,” says Der Spiegel.

“Celebrity Worship”

“New psychological research suggests that worship of celebrities by the public has begun to take the place of religion in many people’s lives,” says psychiatrist Dr. Raj Persaud. Writing in The Sunday Times of London, Persaud states that the weaker a person’s religious convictions, the more likely he is to “worship” celebrities. This form of worship is demonstrated by those who are willing to pay high prices to collect items owned or touched by celebrities. Additionally, Persaud says, “celebrity worshipers” will pattern their values and life-style on those of their favorite idol, who is often perceived as incapable of wrongdoing and as “operating under a different set of rules which cannot be understood by ordinary mortals and for which allowances must be made.” The impact that celebrities have on others is also evident in the results of product endorsements and in the mimicking of crucial health-care decisions, notes Dr. Persaud. He adds: “This suggests that our worship of celebrities does indeed turn them into the most powerful people on the planet​—the equivalent of gods in our midst.”

India Has 25 Percent of World’s Blind

“India has the dubious distinction of having 12 million blind people, who constitute 25 per cent of the world’s total blind population,” says India’s Deccan Herald. A report by Youth Vision India, 2002, based on information gathered from colleges and schools in more than 40 cities throughout India, also pointed out that “more than 50 per cent of youth needing vision corrections were not even aware of the fact.” According to the findings, refractive errors and cataracts accounted for the majority of eye disorders in the country, and these were correctable. “Lack of awareness” and an “inadequate number of eyecare practitioners” are mentioned by the newspaper article as the major causes of India’s problem. It adds: “India has only 5000 optometrists, as against 40,000 recommended by the WHO.”

Inuit Bible Completed

The Canadian Bible Society has finished its 23-year task of translating the complete Bible into Inuktitut, the language of Canada’s Inuit people. Translation was a challenge. “Trying to translate a culture that had sheep, camels and donkeys and palm trees into a culture built around seals, walruses and very few plants was difficult,” said Hart Wiens, director of Scripture translation for the Canadian Bible Society. “For example, the Bible has many words for palm trees. But in Nunavut [Canada’s northernmost territory], there are no trees at all, which makes them hard to describe.” Inuktitut is the mother tongue of approximately 28,000 Canadians. According to the National Post, “the Bible is now available in more than 2,285 different languages.”

Internet Dangers

According to Britain’s biggest marriage guidance organization, Relate, misuse of the Internet often causes marital strife, says The Times of London. “Husbands and wives complain of becoming Internet widowers or widows after being left to sit alone as a partner spends hours at the computer messaging strangers in chat rooms, downloading music and games, or looking at pornography.” Internet sites that enable people to revive old romances by E-mail, as well as experience cybersex, can also threaten marital harmony. Relate offers relationship counseling to 90,000 couples a year, 10 percent of whom blame the Internet for their difficulties. And the problem is growing. Relate’s chief executive, Angela Sibson, says: “Our counsellors report that, more and more, the Internet is a relationship breaker.”

Challenge of an Aging Population

“Population ageing is a global phenomenon that has or will affect every man, woman and child anywhere in the world. . . . By 2050, the number of older persons in the world will exceed the number of young for the first time in the history of mankind,” said Ivan Šimonovic, president of the Economic and Social Council, addressing the Second World Assembly on Ageing, which was held in Madrid, Spain, in April 2002. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the assembly that in less than 50 years, the number of people who are over 60 years of age will grow from 600 million to almost 2 billion, outnumbering those under 15 years of age. He also said that 80 percent of these older people will be in developing countries. Declining birthrates and increasing longevity worldwide have contributed to major changes in the makeup of the population. The assembly has called for increased health-care workers and services to meet the special needs of older people so that they can age “with security and dignity.”

Offensive Stamps

“Religious personalities and issues on stamps can sometimes be a headache,” states Israel’s Jerusalem Post newspaper. A South African immigrant, Alan Silver, took note of one of the stamps that the postal authority had issued to mark the Hebrew months. “Using a magnifying glass, Silver saw the Elul stamp had several instances of God’s name, which by Jewish law cannot be used except for holy purposes,” says the Post. He showed it to his rabbi, “who ruled that it is forbidden under Jewish law to use the Elul stamp. One also may not buy it, he said, and if you have any, you have to put them in the collection of holy texts that are taken for burial, instead of being thrown in the garbage can.” This was not the first stamp to cause problems. One that had been designed to memorialize the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menahem Mendel Schneerson was opposed by some of his followers who claimed that he had “not died” and by others who “said it was improper for the back of a stamp showing their rebbe to be licked or the front to be canceled.” The stamp was not issued.