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Living Today: Issues of modern living

By ALEX CUKAN, United Press International

LACK OF SLEEP MAY LEAD TO OBESITY, HEART DISEASE

Researchers say even losing one to two hours of sleep per night can affect metabolism and that sleep loss may contribute to the epidemics of obesity and heart disease. Losing sleep can leave people drowsy and mess up their hormones, potentially increasing the risk of a variety of diseases, according to researchers at Pennsylvania State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa.

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"There have been many studies where sleepers have been severely deprived of sleep, but we decided to mimic real life by restricting normal sleep by two hours (each night) for a week," says lead researcher Alexandros N. Vgontzas.

Vgontzas showed after a week of getting six hours of sleep, 25 healthy young adults scored worse on tests designed to measure reaction times and psychomotor skills -- enough to impair their driving ability.

"It looks like there is no such thing as optional sleep," Vgontzas says.

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Concentrations of IL-6, an immune system signaling molecule, rose by up to 60 percent in both men and women, and in men, blood levels of an inflammatory molecule called TNF-alpha rose by up to 30 percent, the researchers said.

Higher-than-normal concentrations of these molecules may lead to obesity and many chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

(Thanks to Damaris Christensen, UPI Science.)


BLACKS PERCEIVE RACIAL BIAS IN HIGH SCHOOL

Minority students, especially blacks, are more likely than white students to perceive racial biases in their high schools, according to a University of Toronto study published this month in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

When students perceive that school, which has a big impact on their lives, is fundamentally against them, there is a problem," says Scot Wortley, criminology professor and study author. The researchers analyzed data from a survey that examined 1,800 Grades 10 and 12 students from 19 Toronto high schools on their perceptions of school disciplinary practices and climate.

The researchers find that slightly more than one-third of black students surveyed -- compared to 16 percent of South Asians and 6 percent of white students, believe teachers treat them worse than students from other racial groups. More than half of the black students surveyed believe they are more likely to be suspended from school than other groups.

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"These perceptions, regardless of how and why they developed, are very important and are a real problem with respect to the educational system," says Wortley.

When students believe they are unfairly treated in school, it may lead to a more negative attitude toward education and the pursuit of conventional occupations, according to Wortley.


STUN GUN STUNNING

A pilot program has an elite Australian police unit in New South Wales using 50,000-volt laser-guided Taser stun guns, the Sunday Herald Sun reports. Only the State Protection Group's tactical operations unit will be issued the M26 Taser stun guns, which are shaped like a gun and emit a laser beam to help aim the weapon.

The laser guns fire two pronged darts that hook into clothing or penetrate the skin and send a burst of electricity through the person for up to five seconds.

"It sends the muscle groups into convulsion, dropping the person to the ground," says Forensic Behavioral Investigative Services spokesman George Hateley. This gives officers the chance to restrain a person without resorting to lethal force or injuring them, Hateley added.

State Protection Group acting Chief Superintendent Peter Gillam says the weapons will be used to subdue people who pose a risk to police and themselves. "There are no lasting side effects -- medically, they're perfectly OK, says Gillam.

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IRIS AND FINGERPRINT SCANS CONSIDERED FOR AIRPORTS

Several airlines have begun working on plans for a passenger identification system that would rely on background checks, fingerprints, iris scans and high-tech IDs to verify identities and speed security at airports. The "trusted traveler" program would give pre-screened passengers easier and quicker access through security checkpoints, The Washington Post reports.

Industry officials floated the idea last fall, but officials in the new Transportation Security Administration repeatedly declined to endorse it, saying such a system might be vulnerable to abuse by terrorists. TSA chief John W. Magaw says terrorists could infiltrate a smart-card system over a period of years. "Terrorists are patient, that's why I'm concerned," he told the paper.

The approach, however, appears to have support from Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, who urged several air carriers to develop a detailed plan.

Airline officials believe the unwillingness of transportation security officials to even test trusted traveler programs has exacerbated a falloff in travel since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, especially on shorter flights, the Post said.


BREAKFAST OF HEROES

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., has called on General Mills Co. to put New York's bravest and finest on Wheaties boxes, the New York Post reports. "In this age of celluloid superheroes, America's children have real heroes to look up to, especially in the wake of Sept. 11," the state's junior senator wrote to Steve Sanger, chairman and chief executive officer of General Mills.

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Clinton also endorses an online petition, posted at petitiononline.com, that calls for a Wheaties box featuring a New York City firefighter, police officer and transit police officer.

General Mills Vice President Tom Forsythe says the company had weighed the idea but decided it "didn't seem appropriate."

Peter Gorman, of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association of New York, disagrees. "I don't see a downside. If young kids think of firefighters and police officers as role models in their communities, that's a good thing," he says.

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