Battle Of The Bulge: Half Of Czech Republic Soldiers Are Overweight

Facing surprisingly high obesity rates, the Czech military is forced to crack down on high-fat diets. Some, however, have pointed out that certain plump generals set a bad example for the troops on the ground.

A Czech soldier (Jametiks)
A Czech soldier (Jametiks)

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The Czech Republic's top military brass is cracking down…on calories. After a recent report found that half of the 22,000 soldiers in the Czech army are overweight, orders have come down to halt the helpings of pork roast, dumplings and beer.

The military is also considering using appetite suppressants for soldiers who struggle with alimentary discipline. Czech Defense Ministry Chief of Staff Vlastimil Picek has ordered more fitness checks at all ranks, which comes after his predecessor Jirí Sedivy's pointed out that officers and the (particularly overweight) generals should be on the front line in the battle of the bulge.

"They ought to set the example for their subordinates," Sedivy said.

Experts attribute part of the problem to the changeover from a conscription to professional army, which saw the average age of soldiers rise significantly to 37, which inevitably means more struggling with weight problems.

The Ministry of Defense has requested that recruitment campaigns target younger men who stand a higher chance of having washboard abs.

Defense Minister Alexandr Vondra, who does not himself match the sought-after profile, came to the soldiers‘ defense, saying: "I've never seen anything other than slim, muscular soldiers at the barracks. Politicians, and journalists too, should take a good long look at themselves before casting aspersions."

One newspaper commentator harked back to the good old days when Czechs served in the Austro-Hungarian army. He recommended having the soldiers drilled mercilessly by somebody along the lines of 2nd Lieutenant Dub ("I'm nasty. I make everyone cry.") in Jaroslav Hašek's satirical novel Good Soldier Svejk.

That members of the Czech army would - like Svejk - also be subjected to enemas is, thus far at least, only a rumor.

Read the full story in German by Hans-Jörg Schmidt

Photo - Jametiks

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Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — 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.

Addictions to sex and social media

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.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

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.

Les Echos
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