Fast Frirday Four (September 23)

A New Reason for Childhood Obesity

A new study reported by the University of Illinois identifies another reason for childhood obesity – one that I had never really thought of before.


The researchers asked children from two middle schools and two high schools about their perceptions of crime and how it affected their leisurely activities. A mostly Latino community, some were told by their parents to never go outside when they’re not around. Most did not participate in after-school sports and activities because of the danger of coming home past 3:00 p.m. And it got worse the older the students became. Older students are more aware of the dangers and also viewed as more of a threat from neighborhood gangs.

This isn’t just people overreacting, either. In a 4.4 square mile area, in 2006 alone there were 2,625 documented crimes including 1,222 thefts, 268 robberies, 22 criminal sexual assaults and 11 murders.

I don’t think most places are quite as bad as Chicago’s Little Village, but I’m sure it effects many children in similar ways in urban areas across the country.

Ultra “Cool” Material Created at Purdue

Cutting-edge science on the frontier of what is and is not known is so incredibly interesting. Take for instance a group of researchers at Purdue, who recently succeeded in doing what only a handful of teams from around the world have been able to.

The group created a crystal of ultrapure gallium arsenide. We’re talking about perfectly aligned particles down to the atomic scale, without a single impurity or mistake in the entire structure. The material allows scientists a glimpse into the strange, new world of non-standard model solid-state physics.

The material traps electrons and makes them move in only two dimensions. When the entire thing is frozen – down to just five millikelvin, close to absolute zero and 460 degrees below zero Fahrenheit – the electrons behave very strangely. They no longer obey the classical laws of physics, bounding off of each other and other molecules like billiard balls. Instead, they act as a cohesive group, obeying the laws of quantum mechanics.

The process and material may have future applications to quantum computers. But more than anything, the group is just interested in studying this weird new form of material and physics.

What’s in the Money?

How much does one’s actual income really mean? Past studies have shown that there is a minimum amount of income necessary to lead a happy life, but that income past that amount really doesn’t do a whole lot. People just find more ways to spend it and stress about it.

But the Pew Research Center recently reported that the wealth gap between American whites and blacks is the widest since the U.S. began tracking the statistic in 1984. Most people – myself included – would immediate cry foul. That shouldn’t be happening in America.

Tomas Philipson from the University of Chicago, however, says the stat is misleading and that the gap isn’t really as bad as it seems. It’s still there, mind you, and a problem. But it isn’t quite that bad.

He argues that “wealth” is much more than money. Take health, for example. There was a 75 percent spread in monetary income between black and white males in the U.S. in 1970, but that gap fell to 56 percent in 2000. When longevity was factored in, there was a disparity of 111 percent in 1970 and 76 percent in 2000.

The introduction of health into the equation shows that since white are generally healthier than blacks, the level of disparity at any single point of time is greater than the numbers show. However, black health has improved much faster relative to that of whites, suggesting that overall well-being differentials – or “wealth” – are narrowing more than the numbers show.

“The point is not to downplay the lack of convergence in incomes, which is important and the subject of much research — but rather to observe that alternative measures, such as full income including health, suggest a more optimistic view of trends in black-white disparities,” the authors wrote.

Tired of Chemicals in Your Food?

Lots of people don’t like chemicals in their food. I’m not a huge fan of it, but I also don’t want my cheese to get moldy a few days after I buy it.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota may have a compromise.

They recently patented a naturally occurring lantibiotic – a peptide produced by a harmless bacteria – that could be added to food to kill harmful bacteria. Say goodbye to salmonella, E. coli and listeria. It’s the first natural preservative found to kill a type of bacteria called gram-negative, which are usually the harmful kind.

Sure, other natural preservatives exist, but this one has a broader umbrella. It can be applied to meats, processed cheeses, egg and dairy products, canned foods, seafood, salad dressing, fermented beverages (yay beer!) and much more.

The researchers stumbled on it while sequencing the genome of bacteria. They followed up and are now looking for someone to license their discovery.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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