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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


A new theory on underweight babies

By Stephen Seawright

Health in brief

THERE ARE FEW MOMENTS of happiness to match the arrival of a newborn child. But those first few weeks are also critical as the infant adapts to the countless risks of life outside the womb. Generally speaking, the weaker the child, the greater the susceptibility to disease and infection during this period. This is why research by a team at the University of California in San Francisco is attracting special attention.

A study by university specialists of 300,000 women suggests the interval between pregnancies can influence the weight of a newborn child. The researchers established that, from this point of view, the ideal interval between babies is 24 to 35 months. Conceiving then is less likely to lead to a low birth weight than doing so after a short interval, defined as under six months, or after a long period, meaning more than 35 months.

Those children conceived within six months of a sibling's birth were found to be 71% more likely to have a "very low birth weight" - under 1.6 kg. Those conceived after a long interval were 30% more likely to be under 2.5 kg.

The scientists are a little baffled by their findings. "We were not surprised to find that a short period of time between pregnancies is related to low birth weight, but the connection with a long interval was unexpected," says Elena Fuentes-Afflick, a University of California assistant professor of pediatrics who practices at San Francisco General Hospital.

The greater risk from short intervals is thought to be due to the mother still suffering from complications from the preceding pregnancy. In addition, the stress associated with adapting to new family responsibilities with the newborn baby - such as fractured sleep from overnight feeds - can take a toll on the mother's health. Some adopt poor eating habits or smoke more at this time, further weakening their health and increasing the chances of a small child if they conceive during this period. The researchers still have work to do on establishing a link between later conceptions and low birth weights. They plan to examine such possibilities as poor nutrition and excessive weight gain.

Meanwhile, studies at Johns Hopkins University have come up with a different possible explanation for underweight babies. A statistical study of 53 women with a history of preterm delivery (under 34 weeks) revealed that they also gave birth to babies with a lower-than-average weight (2.17 kg compared with an average of 2.78 kg). What else did they have in common? They had received no prenatal care, suggesting advice on nutrition and health during pregnancy lessens the chances of having a small baby.


TO THE RESCUE Tea is truly the wonder beverage. It cools in hot weather and warms in the cold. It is enjoyed just about everywhere, from the country houses of England to the street stalls of Indonesia. And now scientists at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) say that, no matter how it is drunk, it may have a role to play in the war against cancer.

The researchers report that mice given tea with milk during exposure to ultraviolet rays experienced a 50% reduction in the development of skin cancer and a 70% decrease in the number of benign growths on the skin, known as papillomas. Tea is a rich source of a naturally occurring chemical called flavonoids, which scientists believe are active against a number of diseases, including cancer. This latest result also helps put to rest the fear that the addition of milk to tea would reduce its anti-cancer effects.

"Intensive research is currently underway into tea flavonoids and how they may help protect the body from potentially harmful substances called free radicals," explains Dr. Ian Record of the CSIRO Division of Human Nutrition. Ultraviolet rays generate free radicals in the skin, which in turn inflict damage on the skin cells - causing some cells to become cancerous. The researchers sounded a note of caution - that, so far, the effect of tea as an anti-cancer agent has only been explored in mice, and the implications of their findings for humans will require considerable further investigation.

POINT OF ENTRY A nasal spray that acts as a vaccine against influenza - that's what researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in Nashville, Tennessee, are working on. Dr. Thomas Boyce says the experiments are based on the theory that establishing flu antibodies in the nose, where the virus enters the body, is more effective than producing them in blood.

To test the theory, the U.S. team took a group of 19 children. Some were given a nasal spray containing the flu vaccine and the others received a placebo spray. Most of the children with the vaccine developed antibodies to fight influenza, says Boyce, but more research is required to determine if sufficient antibodies are produced to provide adequate protection.

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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