Watching the World

Pitching Junk Food to Kids

A growing number of nutritionists are accusing fast-food companies of conducting “a blitzkrieg that perverts children’s eating habits and sets them on a path to obesity,” states an article published in Tokyo’s IHT Asahi Shimbun newspaper. “Television remains the most powerful medium for selling to children,” says the report, but in addition, food companies are “finding every imaginable way to put their names in front of children.” Movies, games, Internet sites, arithmetic books, and a wide array of dolls and toys all bear food-company advertising. Why advertise to children? “It’s the largest market there is,” states Texas A&M marketing professor James McNeal. However, Professor Walter Willet of the Harvard School of Public Health says: “The vast majority of what they sell is junk. How often do you see fruits and vegetables marketed?”

 Water-Bottle Safety

A University of Calgary, Canada, study found “alarmingly high levels of bacteria in water bottles that were reused without being cleaned,” reports Better Homes & Gardens magazine. In the study more than 13 percent of bottles used by elementary school students exceeded safe bacteria levels. The bacteria included fecal varieties​—likely because of the students’ poor hand-washing habits. One researcher suggests that water bottles should be washed out regularly with hot water and soap and should be allowed to dry completely before each refill.

Music Lessons and Memory

New research reveals that “children with music training develop a far better memory and vocabulary than children without such training,” reports the Globe and Mail newspaper of Canada. According to Dr. Agnes Chan of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, studying music stimulates the left side of the brain, improving overall brain function and permitting the brain to do better at other tasks​—such as verbal learning. Verbal and visual memory tests were conducted on 90 students between the ages of 6 and 15. Those who had musical training could recall significantly more words than untrained students. The longer they continued musical training, the better their verbal learning performance was. “It’s like cross-training for the brain,” said Chan. She believes that those who study music “will probably find it easier to learn in school.”

How Many Stars?

The Daily Telegraph of London reports: “Astronomers have worked out that there are 70 thousand million million million​—or seven followed by 22 zeros—​stars visible from the Earth” by telescope. The astronomers, from America, Australia, and Scotland, “counted all the galaxies in one small region of the universe close to the Earth” and estimated how many stars each contained. From that figure they then extrapolated the number of stars in the rest of the sky. “This is not the total number of stars in the universe, but it’s the number within range of our telescopes,” said Dr. Simon Driver of Australia, who led the team. “Even for a professional astronomer used to dealing in monster numbers, this is mind-boggling.” With the naked eye, only a few thousand stars can be seen from the darkest places on earth, and only 100 from a large city.

Low Tire Pressure

“One fatal highway accident in 17 is directly related to tire condition,” states a communiqué in the French magazine Valeurs actuelles. Studies by the Michelin tire company showed that “in 2002, 2 out of 3 vehicles had at least one tire that was constantly low on pressure.” According to Pierre Menendes, director of technical communication for Michelin, “drivers wrongly think that too much pressure can make their tires burst and that this is more dangerous than too little pressure. It is the complete opposite.” When tire pressure drops too far below normal, braking slows down, tires do not grip the road as well on curves and, notes the report, “a sudden turn of the wheel can lead to a loss of control.” Moreover, as pressure decreases, the tire changes shape. This causes its components to heat up, which can result in sudden tire failure.

French Faith on the Wane

In France “religious practice is wearing away,” reports the French daily Le Monde. Although 73 percent of the French population claim to be religious, only 24 percent believe that God’s existence is “certain.” Another 34 percent said it is “probable,” while 19 percent said “improbable” and 22 percent said his existence is “impossible.” A mere 12 percent of those questioned attend a religious service at least once a week, and 25 percent pray “every day” or “often.” Sociologist Régis Debray said that people are going from a religion based on beliefs to one based on membership. “Religion is becoming an identity card,” he declared.

Seashell Trumpets

“Ancient Peruvian trumpets made from Strombus conch shells may have been used for signalling over large distances,” reports New Scientist magazine. Researchers have discovered 20 decorated conch-shell trumpets in Peru, each modified to provide a mouthpiece. In the laboratory the trumpets produced a sound level of 111 decibels​—comparable to the level produced by a pile driver. “In the quiet Andean hills the strident sound of the trumpets would have carried at least four kilometres [2.5 miles],” says New Scientist.

Cashless Wedding Gifts

At traditional Turkish weddings, well-wishers festoon the bride with jewelry and the groom with money. But in Turkey, as in many other lands, credit cards are making inroads into society. At one recent wedding in Antalya, the bridal couple brought a portable credit card reader to the festivities, reports the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Friends and relatives slid their cards through the machine to deposit money in the couple’s bank account and then adorned the bride and bridegroom with the printed receipts.

Beehive Heating

To survive cold winters, honeybees generate heat “by shivering with their flight muscles,” reports the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. But the temperature within a hive is not uniform. The bees’ average body temperature decreases from 85 degrees Fahrenheit [30°C] at the core of the hive to 55 degrees Fahrenheit [12°C] or lower at the outside. Scientists at the University of Graz, Austria, have found that bees in the middle of the hive shiver a lot more than those close to the walls. In this way the bees reduce the amount of heat lost to the outside and thus lower their winter food requirements. The question remains: How do the bees in the warm, cozy core of the hive know that they must produce more heat than the bees nearer the outside?