Tobacco companies targeting young children

Tobacco companies in India are targeting schoolchildren as young as eight years for sale of their products through strategic advertising and distribution, says a study released in early January by the NGOs Consumer Voice and Voluntary Health Association (VHA) of India. The study titled India Tiny Targets Report highlights that nearly half of vendors stationed around schools sell tobacco products.

Consumer Voice and VHA surveyed 243 schools and 487 points of sale (PoS) in 20 cities across six states — Delhi, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Telangana — and found that about half of the PoS (225) sell tobacco products to under-aged children. Street vendors were the most active of the 225 points of sale with most vendors advertising tobacco products around schools and offering discounts and distributing free samples.
“The tobacco industry must be held accountable for their suggestive advertising which targets school children. Our schools are not safe so long as the tobacco industry continues to lure our children into buying their deadly products,” says Bhavna B. Mukhopadhyay, chief executive, Voluntary Health Association of India.

Caffeine intake in pregnancy linked to low birth weight

Pregnant women who consume caffeine — whether it’s in the form of coffee or tea — are more likely to deliver infants with low birth weight than those who abstain from this stimulant, says a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (November 2018). Researchers at the University College Dublin evaluated 941 mother-child pairs born in Ireland and found that in the highest caffeine consumption group, the risks of delivering babies with abnormally low birth weight or short gestational age at birth were twice higher.

“Based on the consistent associations we observed, and because many pregnancies are unplanned, we recommend that women who are pregnant or seeking to become pregnant limit their intake of caffeinated coffee and tea,” says lead study author Ling-Wei Chen, a researcher at University College Dublin.

While coffee is the main source of caffeine in most parts of the world (approx. 100 mg per cup), it is less known that tea contains a significant amount of caffeine as well (33 mg per cup). The World Health Organisation recommends an intake of less than 300 mg of caffeine per day.

Headbands to monitor children’s concentration

Headbands that monitor concentration levels by reading brain signals were trialled on 10,000 Chinese schoolchildren in January, reveals the Massachusetts-based start-up BrainCo which has designed the headband and conducted the trial. The company’s Focus 1 headbands, which use electroencephalography (EEG) sensors to detect brain activity, can help teachers identify pupils who need additional assistance.

Teachers monitored pupils’ attention spans using an app which receives information from the headbands. Lights on the front of the devices also show different colours for varying concentration levels, flagging to the teacher if students are not paying sufficient attention. According to BrainCo founder and chief executive Bicheng Han, the trial led to improved scores of all student participants, who needed to spend less time on homework.

However, neuroscientists have questioned the device’s effectiveness and the technology has also raised privacy concerns.

Uncles/aunts’ genes hold key to longevity

The key to longevity can be found in the genes of long-living uncles and aunts not necessarily parents, reveals a new study published in Nature Communications (January). Researchers at Leiden University, Netherlands and University of Utah, USA, report that an individual’s chances of dying early are significantly reduced, even if parents did not live to be old, if aunts and uncles are among the top survivors in the family. The research team analysed the genealogies of 314,819 people from 20,360 families.

“We observed the more long-lived relatives you have, the lower your hazard of dying at any point in life. Longevity is heritable, but that primarily applies to persons from families where multiple members are among the top 10 percent survivors of their birth cohorts. The key to a long life can probably be found in the genes of these families,” says lead author Niels van den Berg, a doctoral student in molecular epidemiology at Leiden University.

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