Most parents can't tell if their kid is obese
London, March 30 (IANS) Parents of obese children may not be able to recognise that their kid is overweight unless they are at very extreme levels of obesity, new research led by an Indian-origin scientist shows.
Moreover, the study published in the British Journal of General Practice found that parents are additionally more likely to underestimate their child's weight if they are Black or south Asian, from more deprived backgrounds or if their offspring is male.
"If parents are unable to accurately classify their own child's weight, they may not be willing or motivated to enact the changes to the child's environment that promote healthy weight maintenance," said senior author Dr. Sanjay Kinra, reader in clinical epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
The team from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and University College London (UCL) discovered that 31 percent of parents (915) underestimated whether their child's Body Mass Index (BMI) reading fell in overweight or obese category.
Highlighting this discrepancy, Kinra found that only four parents described their child as being very overweight despite 369 children being officially identified as very overweight according to the BMI cut-off.
"Measures that decrease the gap between parental perceptions of child weight status and obesity scales used by medical professionals may now be needed in order to help parents better understand the health risks associated with overweight and increase uptake of healthier lifestyles," said study co-author professor Russell Viner from UCL's institute of child health.
The identification of gaps between parental perceptions and official guidelines, and variations seen in different demographics of the population, may help us evaluate how effective public health interventions for obesity in children are going to be in different groups of the population, Kinra concluded.
Dad was neutral towards marriage, conversion: Yuvan Shankar Raja
Chennai, March 30 (IANS) Southern composer Yuvan Shankar Raja says his father Illayaraja was never against his decision to convert to Islam, and subsequently marry a Muslim. He says the music maestro was neutral towards his conversion and marriage.
In 2014, Yuvan converted to Islam for unexplained reasons and married Jaffrunnisha earlier this year.
"My father was neutral towards my decision to convert to Islam and my third marriage. He couldn't attend my wedding owing to the short notice and his work commitments. We were welcomed with open arms when I returned home after marriage," Yuvan told IANS.
He still prefers to be called Yuvan, and hasn't changed his name.
"Yuvan is my identity. I don't want to change that. Nothing about me changed except that I've embraced Islam," he said.
The composer is gearing up for a concert.
"The last few years were tough. I wrapped myself in a shell and stayed away from all sorts of rumours and gossips. I've finally come out and I intend to concentrate on my work. I'm looking forward to perform live in Thirunelveli on May 9," he added.
NASA's Mercury mission given last lease of life
Washington, March 30 (IANS) NASA engineers have lifted the orbit of the Mercury probe - currently operating on an extended mission and almost out of fuel - and delayed its inevitable impact into Mercury's surface by up to a month.
Launched in August 2004, the $450 million MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging (Messenger) mission is currently orbiting our solar system's innermost planet.
In March 2011, Messenger became the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury.
"We decided on a strategy that includes five maneuvers in as many weeks to keep the spacecraft within a tight altitude range of 5 to 39 km above the surface of Mercury at closest approach," said Jim McAdams, Messenger mission's design lead engineer from Johns Hopkins University in a statement.
The next such maneuver is scheduled for April 2.
With these maneuvers, Messenger could keep observing Mercury till April 30.
After this, the probe will succumb to the force of the Sun's gravity and spiral down to its doom on Mercury, Space.com reported.
So far, the probe has yielded the best-ever maps of Mercury.
It also discovered carbon-containing organic compounds and water ice inside permanently shadowed craters near the rocky world's north pole.
Messenger's final days of operation will prioritise observations made by the spacecraft's magnetometer (MAG) and neutron spectrometer (NS), mission team members informed.
Vidyut Jammwal won't be part of Sujoy Ghosh's next
Mumbai, March 30 (IANS) Actor Vidyut Jammwal, who is most popular for his work in "Commando", has confirmed he won't be part of filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh's next project, which will be based on the novel "The Devotion of Suspect X", also featuring Saif Ali Khan and Kangana Ranaut.
"I didn't see myself in a film of this genre. I'd met Sujoy a few times but I hadn't signed any contract or committed myself to the film. It (the story) sounded interesting, but it just wasn't for me. Sujoy is a great director with an amazing sensibility and I'd like to work with him in the future," Vidyut said in a statement.
The actor has two films in the pipeline for release - "Yaara", directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia opposite Shruti Haasan, the shoot of which is almost complete; and "Commando 2", which will be produced by Vipul Shah and will start soon.
Talking about "Yaara", he said: "I'm really excited about it. It's been a tremendous experience playing characters that span age groups across every aspect.
"The vibe on the sets is so positive and everyone is very upbeat about the film. Working with Tishu sir again has been a phenomenal experience and I've gained such nuanced learnings from him are hard to explain in words".
Vidyut hopes the sequel to "Commando" takes the franchise forward.
"'Commando' was very special to me and will always be. I'm hoping the sequel takes the franchise forward on an even larger and grander scale. Vipul Shah is at the helm of the project, so he is the only person who can speak about the finer details," he said.
Gene Saks dies of pneumonia at 93
New York, March 30 (IANS) Tony-winning director Gene Saks, who helmed many Neil Simon's plays on Broadway, passed away at his home here. He was 93.
His wife Keren told New York Times that the cause of Saks' death on Saturday was pneumonia, reports aceshowbiz.com.
Saks, who was born November 8, 1921, in New York City, trained for acting at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School while attending college at Cornell University.
He made his acting debut in Broadway's "South Pacific" in 1949 and his TV debut in 1951 on "Out There".
He turned into a director in 1960s and shared a long-term professional relationship with Simon.
He directed Simon's Broadway plays which included "Biloxi Blues", "Brighton Beach Memoirs", "Jake's Women", "Rumors", "Lost in Yonkers", "Broadway Bound", "The Odd Couple" and "California Suite".
Saks then directed seven feature films based on Simon's Broadway plays, including "The Odd Couple", "Barefoot in the Park", "Last of the Red Hot Lovers" and "Brighton Beach Memoirs".
He won three Tony Awards for Cy Coleman-Michael Stewart's musical "I Love My Wife" and Simon's plays "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Biloxi Blues".
Saks is survived by his wife Keren and their daughter Annabelle, his two children Matthew and Daniel from his marriage to Bea Arthur, and three grandchildren.
Beach swimmers at antibiotic-resistant bacteria risk
London, March 30 (IANS) If you love to swim and surf at your favourite beach and enjoy underwater scuba diving, read on. According to research, swimmers and surfers in coastal areas are at risk of exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria like E. coli.
E. coli bacteria can cause severe food poisoning symptoms such as abdominal cramps and diarrhoea.
Using data gathered across England and Wales in 2012, scientists at the University of Exeter's medical school estimated that over 6.3 million water sport sessions resulted in one type of bacteria resistant to an important class of antibiotics known as third-generation cephalosporins (3GCs) being swallowed.
"Our research establishes recreational use of coastal waters as an additional route of exposure. With millions of people visiting beaches each year, there is a risk of people ingesting E. coli and it looks like water-users' exposure to all resistant bacteria could be even higher," explained lead researcher and microbiologist Dr William Gaze.
The team considered surfers, sea swimmers, divers and kayakers and found that while only 0.12 percent of E. coli found in coastal waters and rivers running into beaches were resistant to 3GCs, this number was enough to present a potential risk of exposure to water users.
Surfers and sea swimmers were among those at highest risk of exposure, due to their tendency to swallow more water.
The study also showed that people's risk of exposure to resistant bacteria is closely related to water quality at a given beach.
"Although this research has established that coastal waters are a potential source of exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria, we are not recommending that people stop visiting the beach," Gaze noted.
Natural environment has many established benefits for health and wellbeing and this kind of research will help us ensure people can still make the most our coastal resources in safe environment, the authors concluded.
The research was presented at the Society for General Microbiology's annual conference at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham recently.
Big data reveals genetic clues in humans
Washington, March 30 (IANS) After analysing big data about a key protein, computer scientists at Washington University in St. Louis have discovered its connection in human history as well as clues about its role in complex neurological diseases.
Through a novel method, Sharlee Climer and Weixiong Zhang discovered a region encompassing the gephyrin protein - master regulator of receptors in the brain that transmit messages - on chromosome 14 that underwent rapid evolution after splitting in two completely opposite directions thousands of years ago.
Those opposite directions, known as yin and yang, are still strongly evident across different populations of people around the world today.
Malfunction of the gephyrin protein has been associated with epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and other neurological diseases.
The research team used big data from the "International HapMap Project", a public resource of genetic data from populations worldwide designed to help researchers find genes associated with human disease, as well as from the "1000 Genomes" project, another public data source of sequenced human genomes.
In total, they looked at the genetic data from 3,438 individuals, said the study that appeared in the journal Nature Communications.
When they analysed the data, they made an interesting discovery in a sequence of markers called a haplotype, enveloping the gephyrin gene.
Using the data from the HapMap Project, they looked at the gephyrin region in several populations of people, including European, East and South Asian and African heritage, and found variations in the haplotype frequencies of each of these populations.
Those from African origin generally have more yang haplotypes, while those of European origin have more yin haplotypes.
Those of Asian descent have nearly equal numbers of yin and yang haplotypes.
Ultimately, the team expects this method will shed light on the genetic roots of disease.
Most complex diseases arise due to a group of genetic variations interacting together.
"Different groups of people who get a disease may be affected by different groups of variations. We are taking a combinatorial approach - looking at combinations of markers together - and we are able to see the patterns," Climer concluded.
WHO reiterates support towards defeating Ebola
Addis Ababa, March 30 (IANS) The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reiterated its continued support towards defeating the Ebola virus disease which has killed almost 10,000 people since its outbreak.
On the sidelines of the annual African Ministers of Planning, Economy and Finance Conference jointly organised by the African Union and the Economic Commission for Africa held in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, a session was convened on Sunday to deliberate on Ebola under the theme "Ebola: towards the recovery of the most affected countries".
Chairing the meeting, WHO's Director for Africa, Matshidiso Rebcca Moeti said that the epidemic has had a huge negative impact of multi-dimensions in the three most-affected countries - Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, Xinhua reported on Monday.
As the countries are determined to reach the mark of zero casualties, Moeti emphasised the need to have continued support from the international community until the epidemic is defeated.
"First of all, the countries are determined to get to zero. We have to stop the epidemic and we would like the support to continue until we reach that," she said.
There is a need for immediate recovery in health services, to restart education and to make sure that small business recover, she added.
The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the longest, largest, deadliest, and the most complex in history, a report by the UN Development Group said.
As of February 11, 2015, there were about 22,859 Ebola cases and a total of 9,162 deaths, the report added.
Floods ravage Kashmir Valley
Srinagar, March 30 (IANS) Floods ravaged Kashmir Valley on Monday following incessant rainfall over the past four days. Anxious people began to leave for safer places as authorities kept a watch on swollen mountain streams and the Jhelum river which was in spate.
Authorities on Monday declared floods in the Kashmir Valley.
People feared a repeat of 2014 when floods had left a trail of destruction and death in the state.
"Flood level was 22.8 feet at Sangam (Anantnag), 19 feet at Ram Munshi Bagh (Srinagar) and 11.55 feet at Ashim (Bandipora) today (Monday) morning. All officials have been ordered to report for duty and remain available at their places of posting," a top divisional administration official told IANS here.
The official added that people living along the banks of Jhelum are advised to exercise extreme caution. "Moving to safer places from vulnerable areas is advised."
People living in flood-prone areas of Srinagar city, especially those in Rajbagh, Jawahar Nagar, Gogjibagh, Wazir Bagh and some other places have already started migrating to safer places since Sunday evening.
Many shopkeepers in the Residency Road and Lal Chowk commercial hub of the city were seen shifting merchandise to safer places.
These areas had been the worst hit during the unprecedented floods last September.
Over 80 public and private properties suffered partial or total damage because of incessant rains during the last two days in the Valley.
The strategic Jammu-Srinagar highway has also been closed since Saturday. Authorities in Jammu said the highway would remain closed on Monday as well.
An avalanche warning was also sounded in the higher reaches of the state and all examinations scheduled have been postponed up to April 3.
Inter-district connectivity has also been badly affected in the Valley.
Srinagar-Gulmarg, Srinagar-Kupwara and Srinagar-Bandipora roads have been blocked due to flash floods and washing away of some bridges and culverts on these roads.
The weather office has forecast improvement in weather from Monday.
"There would be decrease in precipitation from today (Monday). Another western disturbance is likely to hit the state on April 2, but the intensity of that western disturbance is going to be much less than the one that had been active here during the last four days," Sonam Lotus, director of the local Met Office told IANS here.
US uses 'Intel Inside' model to push GM crops (Special to IANS)
The 'Intel Inside' model has become the template for deploying agricultural biotechnology from American publicly-funded research institutions and private corporations to farmers in developing countries.
Just as the combination of Microsoft's Windows software and Intel's assurance of ever-increasing computing power drove the growth of the personal computer industry, genetically-modified disease, insect and stress tolerant traits developed for philanthropy or profit in the United States are being tailored for regional requirements by national partners for cultivation by farmers, says Vijay K. Vijayaraghavan, chairman of the Hyderabad-based Sathguru Management Consultants.
Sathguru is the South Asia coordinator for Agricultural Biotechnology Support Programme - II, a US government-funded initiative led by Cornell University to popularise GM crops. (ABSP II delicately calls itself an effort to enable farmers and consumers worldwide to make informed choices about bio-engineered products!).
In the case of insect-resistant Bt brinjal, whose release in India for commercial cultivation was stalled five years ago by then environment minister Jairam Ramesh, the gene, toxic to the fruit and shoot borer, was licensed by Monsanto, the US crop science company (2014 sales $15.85 billion) to Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco).
What was not heard in the din created by those opposed to the technology was that Mahyco had allowed Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, Varanasi's Indian Vegetable Research Institute and the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, to incorporate the gene in open pollinating varieties of brinjal, whose seed farmers could save and use for free. Mahyco reserved the right to sell hybrid seeds.
While India spurned the offer, the Bangladesh Agriculture Research institute (BARI), went ahead and released the Bt varieties in October 2013 under the same arrangement with Mahyco as in India.
Those opposing Bt cotton, the only GM crop approved in India, cite as a reason the high cost of hybrids which cannot be re-used (without loss of vigour). The seed is under price control; a packet of 450 grams cannot be sold for more than Rs 930 ($15). Farmers do not seem to mind as 95 percent of India's cotton acreage is now planted with the insect-resistant hybrids. They are possibly compensated by savings from reduction in pesticide sprays and crop damage.
Bt brinjal is being grown by 108 farmers in Bangladesh and the crop is now being harvested. Farmers have reported good gains from savings in pesticide sprays and higher prices as the fruits are unlikely to be damaged from inside.
Bharat Char, who leads biotechnology research at Mahyco, says savings can be as high as Rs.16,000 an acre.
Similarly, for late blight resistance in potatoes, the gene has been provided by the University of Wisconsin and Venganza, a private company. The potato incorporates modified bits of the late blight's own gene, through a technique called gene silencing, which enters the disease-causing microorganisms when they attack potatoes, causing them to self-destruct.
Venganza is Spanish for revenge. Local varieties incorporating the gene are being developed by the Central Potato Research Institute, Shimla, BARI and Icabiograd, Indonesia's institute for research in agricultural biotechnology.
Navigating the thicket of patents can be tricky. Vijayaraghavan explains in an article in the Journal of Intellectual Property Rights that scientists at Cornell University had found a naturally-occurring sugar called trehalose which helps plants cope with and recover from extreme stress. The university had patented a method to put the trait into rice varieties, but could not transfer it outside the US, as an MNC had secured protection for a similar technology.
A way out of the tangle was found by getting Greengene Biotech, a co-developer and co-patent applicant with Cornell, in South Korea (where the MNC did not have the patent) to make the technology available to India, with Sathguru securing the MNC's consent. The technology was transferred to Bangladesh by fulfilling the material transfer agreement guidelines and licensing obligations.
Evaluation of the transgenic seeds was done by the Directorate of Rice Research, Hyderabad, and Delhi's ICGEB, a non-profit research organization set up by Unido, a UN agency. The testing was undertaken by the Central Soil Salinity Research Institute, Karnal.
The Intel Inside model has been emulated by the Indo-Swiss Collaboration in Biotechnology to craft transgenic chickpea which is resistant to the pod borer and cowpea aphids. An agreement has been reached between Assam Agricultural University, Kolkata's Bose Institute and Swiss research organizations for the development of technologies, adherence to milestones, acquisition of relevant new skills and the regulation of intellectual property rights.
Based on the highest bid, the technology was transferred to Mahyco on a non-exclusive basis for development of pest resistant hybrids and conduct of biosafety trials.
Eight traits in 17 crops are being evaluated for safety by 32 institutions in the country. Field trials are allowed in only four states. The centre is coy about allowing commercial cultivation of GM crops. Intel Inside seems unable to overcome the opposition outside.
(30.03.2015 - Vivian Fernandes is consulting editor of www.smartindianagriculture.in, a web site supported by the crop biotechnology industry. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)