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Is obesity a social contagion?

With rates of obesity in Australia only marginally behind the United States and tracking at the same pace, mathematical and social modelling on the projection of obesity rates in America is sobering reading for Australians.

The most recent statistics on the weight and health of the Australian population paints the grim picture of one in four adults classified as obese (defined as a body mass index above 30 kg/m2). When overweight is added to this, 63% of adult Australians are likely carrying more weight than what is good for them. These rates have been consistently rising for the last three decades and do not appear to show any signs of slowing.

Can Aung San Suu Kyi turn Myanmar around?

Myanmar’s transition from authoritarianism has been given a boost by the announcement at the World Economic Forum meeting in Naypyitaw that Aung San Suu Kyi run for the presidency in 2015. Yet despite this unsurprisingly news and the world’s increasing acceptance of this once pariah state, deep structural problems look set to challenge the country’s reform process.

Myanmar must change its constitution to allow Suu Kyi to run by removing a ban on political leaders with family abroad. But this also applies to senior members of the current government, so that change is expected.

Myanmar’s recent seven-point agreement signed with the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) has also been a step in addressing challenges to the country’s reform process. However, the agreement is, to date, just an agreement to limit fighting and to discuss a ceasefire. It is not yet a ceasefire, much less a comprehensive peace agreement. International reports of its success have been greatly exaggerated.

The KIO and its armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army, have been fighting the central government since just after independence in 1948. Although it is the largest of Myanmar’s groups that have been fighting the central government, they are not alone.

Sporadic fighting also continues in Shan State South, and the Wa and Kokang autonomous regions continue to run narco-territories in the north-east of Shan State. These are now based mostly on amphetamines, which have largely replaced the more vulnerable opium.

The cultural and economic divide between the ethnic majority Bama (Burman) and Myanmar’s numerous minorities, including the 12 "ceasefire groups", remains as wide as ever. The people of central Myanmar continue to face serious poverty, but the outlying ethnic minorities experience even more debilitating conditions.

Lack of education is arguably the biggest problem facing the ethnic minorities, with Burman language teachers either refusing to work in non-Burman areas or leaving soon after they arrive. Without education, much less in a language they understand, minorities remain trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and alienation. This, in turn, pushes them into illegal trade and drives armed resistance to the government.

With continuing armed threats to the state, the army -- the Tatmadaw -- continues to be the state’s institutional centrepiece. This is what led to the military’s seizure of power five decades ago, and it continues to insinuate itself into Myanmar’s "reformist" future. Suu Kyi is seen as leading the reform movement, but her views on Myanmar’s ethnic problems and the unity of the state places her closer to the military than to most ethnic groups.

As with many developing countries, the Myanmar army is deeply involved in its own business interests, both to fund itself and to enrich its officers. As Myanmar opens to the outside world, military businesses are partnering with outside companies to take advantage of the new economic openness. The "reform" process makes good business sense to the country’s military and business elites, and this alone will ensure greater economic openness. It also reduces military accountability to a civilian government.

And not all are happy with the pace or direction of reform. While reflecting historical anti-Muslim sentiment, last week’s anti-Muslim rioting in Lashio and recent rioting in towns between north of Yangon up to Mandalay and, of course, in Rakhine State, is believed to have been organised by forces wishing to limit the reform process.

Such forces include Tatmadaw recalcitrants, but also associated business interests and the more chauvinistic of the Buddhist community, notably under the banner of the ultra-nationalist ‘969’ movement. In this contest for Myanmar’s future, the country is very unlikely to return to its dark past. But the reform process may not go as far as many are suggesting, or would like.

The path of Myanmar’s change is increasingly being acknowledged as less than direct, with a number of detours, an occasional dead end and some unhelpful excursions along the way.

After the 2015 elections, Myanmar is likely to have a more representative and less overtly military dominated government. But, until or unless it can resolve its ethnic issues, its reform process may remain crippled by the defects that are characterising its birth, President Aung San Suu Kyi or otherwise.

Sophistication needed in cyber defence strategies

Original Article: ABC DRUM

We are now seeing true sophistication in the planning and implementation of cyber attacks. In the lead-up to the federal election both major parties must make public their future policies and strategies for protecting Australia against the growing cyber risk, writes Matthew Warren.

The recent cases reported on ABC Four Corners regarding the alleged stealing of information from Australian corporate and government systems highlights the potential threat of cyber espionage.

The ABC Four Corners program Hacked! presented the view that Australia is the victim of an ongoing cyber espionage campaign and the specific target is Australian corporate and government computer systems and the data contained within these systems.

Pay attention if you want to lose weight

Attentive eating is a hot topic in nutrition research. A recent review of the research to date finds that mindful eating can be a powerful behaviour change in helping with weight loss.

Diets come and go, yet few offer any real long-term solution for weight loss and weight maintenance. An overall change in lifestyle and behaviour is fundamental to addressing decades of slow weight gain and failed dieting.

One very simple strategy to help with weight loss, so simple that it puts to shame many complex dietary recommendations, is to be more mindful when it comes to eating. Mindfullness can be described as learning to pay attention to the present moment experience and to let thoughts and feelings come and go without providing judgement.

Why is China interested in helping war-torn Mali?

In a move that has raised as many questions about its wider intent, China has announced it will send between 500 and 600 troops to Mali under a post-French UN peacekeeping mission. While the move is being welcomed in Mali as an international contribution to helping control Islamist fighters holed up in the exposed mountains in the north of the country, some external observers are viewing the contribution with a more jaundiced eye.

Mali is due to hold elections in late July, following a coup against its elected government last year.

Despite opposing the use of peacekeepers as international interference when it joined the UN in 1971, since the early 1990s China has deployed troops to 13 internationally sanctioned theatres, including to East Timor and a non-combat mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It currently has more than 2000 troops deployed in UN peacekeeping operations.

China does not have any direct economic or diplomatic interests in Mali. But it has been increasingly making its presence felt in Africa as it continues to search for more resources to help fuel its growing economy. China currently has investments across Africa estimated at more than US$100 billion.

China’s main involvement in Africa is in Sudan, Algeria, Zambia and South Africa, with lesser investments in Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria and eight other countries. China’s trade with Africa began to take off around 2003, jumping ahead around 2007, corresponding to the establishment of the private equity China-Africa Development Fund. According to the China Development Bank:

"CADFund works differently from economic aid to Africa in that it is not allocated by nation but independently operated and based on market economy principles, the Fund invests in projects and requires investment benefits."

Last Saturday, the chairman of China’s Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, Zhang Dejiang, said China was willing to work with African countries to "advance the China-Africa new-type strategic partnership to a higher level". Chinese President Xi Jinping's visited Africa in March to promote the "strategic partnership".

China’s troops in Mali are not expected to be on the front line fighting the Islamist insurgents who, until France’s intervention in January this year, had seized the north of the country and threatened to overthrow Mali’s government. However, the move is being seen as a further illustration of China’s increasingly proactive, indeed assertive, international policy.

As with its "assistance" elsewhere, after the troops’ deployment, China is expected to ask for a reciprocal favour. Mali is the world’s third largest producer of gold, and one of the poorest countries, with a per capita income of $1.25 a day.

Legitimising lethal male violence: why defensive homicide needs to be abolished

 This article was first published at The Conversation on the 29th May 2013

Research published last week revealed that from November 2005 to September 2012, 18 of the 22 cases of defensive homicide in Victoria resulted from homicides perpetrated by a male offender upon a male victim. 
 
Just one case during this period involved a male perpetrator and a female victim. In contrast to the dominant use of the offence by males, there have been just three female offenders convicted of defensive homicide in the first seven years of the offence’s operation.

For the full article, please see: https://theconversation.com/legitimising-lethal-male-violence-why-defens...

 

The AFL's Indigenous Round and the innocent face of racism

Friday night’s AFL match between Collingwood and Sydney marked the opening of the code’s Indigenous Round. Yet the chance for the contribution of Indigenous footballers to the game – both past and present – to be recognised and celebrated was marred by a racial taunt from a young supporter at Sydney’s Indigenous star Adam Goodes.

The round of games aimed to recognise the contribution of Indigenous people and culture to the broader Australian society. While showcasing the unique talent and pride in culture of the Indigenous community, it simultaneously noted the struggle against racism that has accompanied the achievements of many Indigenous people in this country.

Probiotics cut respiratory tract infections in athletes

Athletes undertaking endurance training over the winter months could benefit from a daily probiotic drink to cut their risk of colds and other similar infections according to the results of a recent cliinical trial.

The term probiotic refers to foods or dietary supplements that contain beneficial bacteria which are normally found in the body. Fermented milk products such as yoghurt, sour cream, buttermilk and Yakult are examples of foods that may act as probiotics. Although probiotics are not considered essential to health, the microorganisms they contain may assist with digestion or help protect against harmful bacteria by improving the workings of the immune system.

Hope for peace in Syria fades as Russia backs away

There was a moment of hope, a week ago, that there could yet be a negotiated resolution to the Syrian civil war. That hope now appears ended, with key Syrian government ally Russia backing away from what could have been international agreement on the need end the war.

Instead, the Syrian war is increasingly spilling across borders, with the Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia openly siding with the Syrian government by joining in the attack on the town of Qusair, Syria shelling the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan in particular buckling under the weight of more than 400,000 refugees.

The Syrian government’s attack on Qusair, near the border with northern Lebanon, is reported to be the heaviest artillery assault of the war. Anti-Assad regime forces still hold the town but are struggling, and its loss will put further pressure on the nearby hold-out city of Homs, also the scene of heavy fighting between Syria’s opposing forces.

Should Qusair fall, it will open a route for the Syrian regime between Damascus in the south and the sea ports at Al Hamidiyah and the Russian-based Tartus. The heavy fighting follows President Bashar al-Assad taking a hard line on the possibility of ending the civil war in an interview last weekend.

The fighting also follows the reporting drying up of weapons supplies to the anti-Assad forces. The reduced flow of weapons is a result of increasing concerns that they could fall into the hands of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra Brigade and aligned factions, as well as as result of reports of atrocities on the part of both pro and anti-Assad forces.

Assad has said he will not negotiate with "terrorists", meaning forces arrayed against his regime, and says he plans to stand for "re-election" in 2014. Assad’s statement came a day after the US criticised Russia for supplying rockets to Syrian government forces.

Russia’s supply of the rockets was in apparent contradiction of the agreement between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry early in May, to push for a Syria peace conference in June. One reading of Russia’s position is that it will support peace talks in June, but only if it can strengthen the hand of the Assad regime ahead of such negotiations.

At this stage, however, Assad is not indicating that he will participate. Anti-Assad forces, meanwhile, see his resignation as a key condition for the talks to succeed. France has also said it will boycott the talks if Assad ally Iran is invited to participate in the talks process, which Russia is insisting upon.

With the anti-Assad forces now clearly divided between the Free Syrian Army and the al-Qaeda affiliates and Western support wavering, Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers are feeling increasingly confident of turning the tide in the war. It may be, however, that this is but another twist in an increasingly complicated, bitter and prolonged war.

Can lack of sleep make you fat?

Yet another clinical study has confirmed the growing body of evidence linking inadequate sleep to obesity.

One of the more surprising factors linked to weight gain is lack of sleep. More and more research studies are finding that poor sleep patterns and insufficient sleep are closely linked to weight gain and obesity.

The mechanism linking poor sleep to weight gain is not entirely understood, but is likely related to how signals from the brain which control appetite are altered by sleep restriction. Inadequate sleep can alter the levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin while reducing production of the fullness-feeling hormone leptin. This can lead to increased food consumption without a similar increase in energy expenditure.

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