Watching the World

Global Epidemic of Obese Children

“Obesity among children is becoming a global epidemic and the problem must be tackled at its junk-food roots,” reports The New York Times. “According to the International Obesity Task Force, more than 25 percent of 10-year-olds in a number of countries across the world are overweight or obese.” Malta (33 percent), Italy (29 percent), and the United States (27 percent) lead the list. One quarter of children between four and ten years of age in Chile, Mexico, and Peru are overweight or obese. In some places in Africa, more children are found to be overweight than underweight. Why are so many obese? “The average [U.S.] child sees 10,000 food advertisements per year, 95 percent of them for fast food, soft drinks, candy and sugared cereals​—all high-profit and nutrition-poor products,” answers The Washington Post. “Marketing campaigns link fast food and soft drinks to toys, games, collectibles, movies and popular personalities. . . . Is it any wonder that children now consume about 15 percent of their total calories from fast food, 10 percent from sugar-sweetened soft drinks and only half the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables?”

 Bees Deter Elephants

The elephant population in Kenya is rising, but this has brought problems. Marauding elephants destroy trees and crops, and elephants trample to death an average of one person every two weeks. However, Oxford University biologist Fritz Vollrath has discovered a possible deterrent. When elephants disturb a beehive, he notes, “they are not cavalier about it. They run and the bees will follow them for miles.” The bees sting the elephants in vulnerable areas around the eyes, behind the ears, under the trunk, and on the belly. Vollrath put occupied and unoccupied African honeybee hives in some of the trees growing in an area of bush frequented by elephants. New Scientist reports that the animals avoided all the trees with the occupied hives and one third of those with empty hives. But they attacked 9 out of 10 of the trees that had no hives. Vollrath also found that elephants avoid the sound of angry bees even when it is played over loudspeakers.

Late News, Prompt Reaction

“Skyscrapers are a foreign concept to the Masai who live in this corner [Enoosaen] of Kenya, where the tallest things on the vast horizon are the acacia trees and giraffes that feed on them,” notes The New York Times. “So when Kimeli Naiyomah returned recently to this tiny village from his studies in the United States, he found only the vaguest understanding among his fellow Masai of what had happened in that far-away place called New York on Sept. 11. Some in this nomadic community of cattle raisers had missed the story entirely.” When Naiyomah, who was visiting Manhattan on September 11, told villagers what he had witnessed firsthand some eight months earlier, sadness enveloped them, and they wanted to do something to help. The result was that 14 cows, one of the most cherished things a Masai could offer, were donated to aid the victims of the disaster. But with transportation a problem, the U.S. embassy official who accepted them said that he would “probably sell the cows and buy Masai jewelry to give to America,” the Times reported.

Girl Bullies

“Bullying among boys tends to take the form of physical aggression,” reports the Toronto Star newspaper, while “among girls, the tactics are much more psychological and emotional.” It is said that as girls enter their teenage years, they experience an increasing measure of fear and anxiety, including anxiety about how they are viewed by the opposite sex. Behavioral experts believe that “girls may compete over their ‘pretty-power quotient,’ spurred by sexy media images.” Denise Andrea Campbell, former president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, says: “Many girls don’t know how to deal with their feelings of anger and jealousy directly.” Therefore, those feelings “come out in indirect, punishing ways.” Girls may target other girls, using tactics such as the silent treatment, dirty looks, gossip, and rumors.

Workplace Stress

“Almost one in five Canadians say they are so stressed that they have considered committing suicide to relieve the pressure,” reports The Globe and Mail. What is the source of this stress? In a survey of 1,002 individuals, 43 percent cited their work. “In the modern workplace, we are pushing people to their physical and psychological limits,” says Shimon Dolan, an organizational psychologist and professor at the University of Montreal. “The pressure to perform is tremendous but, at the same time, there is great uncertainty​—you don’t know if you will have a job tomorrow.” How do Canadians deal with stress? Exercise is the most popular way, says the Globe, “followed by reading a book, hobbies and playing sports, socializing and spending time with family.”

Reading With Parents Calms Children

“Regular reading with a parent can significantly reduce antisocial behaviour among disruptive children who fight, steal and lie,” reports London’s newspaper The Times. In a ten-week study conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry that involved more than 100 Inner London five- and six-year-olds, parents were instructed to “turn off their mobile phones before sitting down to read with their children, outline the story before starting and take time turning pages and looking at pictures.” The results “provided clear evidence that simple, focused parenting programmes could be highly effective in improving behaviour from a very young age,” the paper states. “What children really want is attention,” said research leader Dr. Stephen Scott. “They can get this through reading with their parents.”

Happy Volunteers

“People who devote their time to unpaid work say they are significantly happier with their job, working hours, community connections and spirituality than any other group,” reports The Sydney Morning Herald. A survey conducted by a team of researchers in Australia found that volunteer workers were “very satisfied with their health, amount of leisure time and how they spend it,” says the report. Deakin University Professor Bob Cummins noted that Australia’s volunteer work force is huge​—32 percent of Australians do some unpaid work. The Herald also reported that those who worked over 60 hours a week​—mostly women who were caregivers—​“were more satisfied with their health and their work than people who worked fewer hours.”

Sailing the Northeast Passage

On its fourth attempt, a team of German explorers succeeded in navigating a 60-foot [18 m] sailboat through the Northeast Passage, reports The Independent of London. This sea route hugs the usually icebound northern coastline of Russia. It was first traversed in 1879 by Swedish explorer Adolf Nordenskjöld, with a steam- and sail-powered ship. “I have never seen the passage so free of ice as it was this summer,” said team leader Arved Fuchs. “We think this was due to a combination of global warming and freak wind conditions, which kept the pack ice clear of the coast and allowed us to get through.” With the help of a microlight seaplane and satellite pictures of ice pack movement, but without icebreaker assistance, they completed the 8,000-nautical-mile [15,000 km] journey from Hamburg, Germany, to Provideniya, Russia, on the Bering Sea, in 127 days. On board, the men lived on astronaut rations. Still, one said: “The only hardship came from living in a small space with 11 other people for four months.”