New Youth Vices: Sugar And Sloth v. Smoke And Drink

New studies show teenagers in Europe and North America are consuming less alcohol and cigarettes than they did even a few years ago. But other problems have worsened.

Heineken or Coke, pick your poison...
Heineken or Coke, pick your poison...
Teresa Nauber

BERLIN â€" Each generation is wilder than the last, or at least that's the common view. But it's actually not true for today's teenagers, according to a study by the World Health Organization. In fact, it shows that today's youth smoke and drink less, continuing a downward trend that began in 2010.

In Europe and North America, 25% of kids under age 13 smoked six years ago, but today that number is down to 17%.

Drinking behavior has changed too. Not long ago, parties where teenagers would binge-drink, sometimes into a coma, was a daily occurrence. But the WHO study says that just 8% of 15-year old girls drink alcohol once a week. Among older teenagers, the number is a bit higher, with 20% saying they drink alcohol regularly.

The study Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) has being conducted every four years since the 1980s. The continuous downward trend of alcohol consumption is one of Germany's biggest successes, says Martin Weber, who heads the WHO's European regional office for the health of children and teenagers.

In 2003, the study showed that 40% of German 15-year old boys drank alcohol regularly, especially sickly sweet cocktails that come in bottles, so-called "alcopops." Between 2001 and 2002, their sales grew by more than 300%. In 2004, the German government enacted an extraordinary tax on alcopops as well as requiring warning decals on the bottles. Just two years later, the number of teenagers regularly drinking alcohol fell dramatically â€" a trend that has persisted.

When it comes to consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, Germany now ranks in the middle among more than 40 countries surveyed. But in general, fewer teenagers smoke and drink today. "The number has been cut in half over the last decade," says WHO study author Jo Inchley.

But Weber cautions that there are still too many, and it should remain a priority to keep tabs on youth drinking and smoking behavior, and intervene where and when necessary.

The European countries with the most alarming statistics are Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania, where in general, children from financially disadvantaged families drink and smoke more. "Data shows that intervention is needed in order to close the gap between the rich and the poor," says Zsuzsanna Jakab, regional director of the WHO in Europe.

More taxes, fewer soft drinks

What worries the WHO most are the many overweight children who have unhealthy diets and don't get enough physical activity. On average, only about 29% of all 15-year-old boys and 37% of all 15-year-old eat fruit on a daily basis.

And sugared drinks are one of the main reasons. A study conducted in Frankfurt am Main last December showed that overweight children are more likely to drink ice tea, soft drinks and sodas than children of healthy weights.

Donner Kebab in Cologne, Germany Photo: Alex Kehr

In Latvia, the Ministry of Health has reacted to the problem much like Germany did with alcopops â€" by applying an extraordinary tax on soft drinks. The government has also banned the sales of both soft drinks and sweet and salty snacks in schools.

The numbers speak for themselves. In 2004, more than 18% of Latvian boys and 13% of its girls were drinking soft drinks daily. But now the numbers have fallen to 8% for boys and 5% for girls.

The WHO is encouraging similar policy shifts to promote physical activity. That's because young people are not only less active than they used to be, but they also participate in fewer sports as they get older, and begin to spend more time studying at home and get increasingly distracted with smartphones and social media.

Weber says sports should be a part of children's everyday life. And so he is appealing to the communities' responsibility: Cycle paths, for instance, allow children to be physically active even on their way to school.

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]


Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos


• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.


"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.


$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.


What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️


"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."


An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

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