School Ties

As Waists Expand,Healthy Days Are Reduced

LubetkinAs more Americans are becoming obese, they are having fewer days of healthy life, according to a nationwide study by Erica Lubetkin, acting chair of the Department of Community Health and Social Medicine at the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education at City College, and professor Haomiao Jia of Columbia University.

Using data from 3.5 million Americans tracked by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they found the
number of healthy days per year that American adults lost due to obesity has more than doubled from 7.5 in 1993 to 17 in 2008.

"Black women consistently have the highest prevalence of obesity as well as the greatest shortening of healthy life compared to the other groups," says Lubetkin. The study, called "Obesity-Related Quality-Adjusted Life Years Lost in the U.S. from 1993 to 2008," was published in the September 2010 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The researchers also found the prevalence of obesity has nearly doubled from 14 to 27 percent over a span of 16 years. The burden of diseases associated with obesity might overwhelm recent advances in public health, like the positive health effects gained from decreasing rates of smoking, and increase the cost of health care in the country, says Lubetkin.

She points out that there's no magic bullet to eliminate the obesity epidemic, but recent strategies employed by New York City like eliminating trans fats from restaurants, posting calorie information on menu boards and drawing attention to the dangers of sweetened sodas are steps in the right direction.

"Many creative solutions will need to be implemented by a number of different organizations, health care providers, and policy makers to reverse this trend," says Lubetkin. "And these interventions must be implemented throughout an individual's life span, particularly during early childhood."

* The number of healthy days per year that American adults lost due to
obesity has more than doubled from 7.5 in 1993 to 17 in 2008.

Caribbean Discovery Adds a Branch to Primate Family Tree

RosenbergerThe minute Alfred Rosenberger saw the fossilized remains, he knew what he was dealing with: Antillothrix bernensis, a capuchin-sized extinct monkey from the Caribbean.

"There are no living examples of these animals," says Rosenberger, a biological anthropologist at Brooklyn College who led the examination of the monkey's bones found in an underwater cave in the Dominican Republic. "There is only one other specimen  of that species from the Dominican Republic that we know of."

A team of scuba divers of the ADM Exploration Foundation discovered the remains, which included a nearly intact skull, in 2008. Rosenberger has been working in collaboration with Siobhan B. Cooke, a CUNY Graduate Center student, and Dr. Renato Rimoli of the Academy of Sciences in Santo Domingo and the Museo del Hombre Dominicano in Santo Domingo on cataloging, preserving and identifying the remains -- a process that will take a few years. The next step in their research, he says, is to place this species on the family tree of New World monkeys, and then determine their adaptation and their ecological situation. An expert on the evolution of South and Central American monkeys, Rosenberger believes that Antillothrix bernensis got from South America to the Caribbean 10 million to 17 million years ago, probably accidentally.

"We're also trying to figure out when they became extinct," says Rosenberger. "[The fossil] is a window on the anatomy of ancient South American monkeys and let's not forget that it's also telling us about the past ecology of the Dominican Republic."


John Jay Report Raises 'Stop and Frisk' Concerns

Jones-BrownA report released earlier this year by the Center on Race Crime and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice sheds new light on the "stop and frisk" policing method used by the New York City Police Department.

According to the report, since 2003 the number of "stop and frisk" encounters by the NYPD has more than tripled, from roughly 161,000 to 576,000 in 2009, but only about 12 percent of those people were charged with criminal activity. "The return rate on these stops is minuscule; we would not accept that kind of return in any other profession," says Delores Jones-Brown, director of the center and lead author of the report, "Stop, Question & Frisk Policing Practices in New York City: A Primer."

Jones-Brown says blacks and Latinos were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped by the NYPD in 2009, but once stopped were not more likely to get arrested. "There needs to be a survey of police officers to determine what's motivating them to engage in stopping the people they do," she says.

Delores Jones-Brown, the report's lead author, says there needs to be a survey of police officers.


Dalai Lama at Hunter: Happiness Is 'a Basic Human Right'Dalai Lama

Tibet's Dalai Lama stopped by Hunter College while in New York for a four-day appearance at Radio City Music Hall last spring. The spiritual leader discussed education, religion and happiness with scholars of Chinese descent at Hunter's Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute and later delivered a keynote address at The Bridge Conference, a Tibetan and Chinese youth dialogue project hosted by Hunter. "We are all the same human beings, mentally, physically and emotionally," he said. "Everybody wants a happy life. That's a basic human right."

"We are all the same human beings, mentally, physically and emotionally."




Does Anyone Here Speak Babuza*?

BabuzaLinguists believe that by the end of this century, half of the 6,500 languages near extinction will die out and be replaced by national languages or world languages like Chinese, English, Russian or Arabic. That's why the Endangered Languages Initiative (ELI) at the Graduate Center is racing with time to help document them.

 "The globalization of media and the spread of Web access around the world means that world languages are now brought to almost every corner of the globe, spreading these languages much faster than in the past," says Juliette Blevins, professor of linguistics and ELI's director.

The mission of the institute, which opened this fall, is to train graduate students in language documentation and description and to educate the public on issues surrounding language endangerment. Blevins says the institute will take full advantage of New York's linguistic diversity by matching students with speakers of languages that have no written alphabet or lack good documentation, and may not even have a writing system, like Maasalit, an endangered Nilo-Saharan language of the Darfur region of the Sudan.

"From the perspective of linguistic science, the loss of a language is equivalent to the loss of a species in the biological sciences," says Blevins. "Each language informs our view of what human language is, how it has evolved, and how it makes us different from all other living creatures on the planet."

*An endangered language indigenous to Taiwan with fewer than 10 native speakers.

"From the perspective of linguistic science, the loss of a language is equivalent to the loss of a species in the biological sciences. "

--    Juliette Blevins

Psychology Is the Name of the Game

PokerIf you're not thinking while playing poker, you're gambling, according to Blake Eastman, founder and head instructor at the School of Cards, a New York City poker school.

"Poker is about making profitable decisions," says Eastman, also an adjunct lecturer of psychology at LaGuardia Community College. "You know you're playing good poker when you're constantly asking yourself 'why.' You have to have sound reasons for the moves you make."

Founded in 2007, the school offers group lessons for intermediate and advanced skill-level students, as well as private lessons, poker parties and tournaments. Eastman, who received his B.A. and M.A. in forensic psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, lost a lot of money before he began playing professionally four years ago. Nonetheless, he says he can teach amateur players how to make the right moves in a few sessions.

"You get good by having a community of players around you," he says.
But not everyone has what it takes to win in poker.

"It takes a lot of discipline and a lot of hard work, because there are ups and downs," says Eastman, 24. "I've read every single book that has been written on poker and am still learning more about the game every day."

"If you're not thinking while playing poker,  you're gambling. "


Playing With Fire Paid Off in Many Ways

In 1985, at the peak of the AIDS epidemic in America, William M. Hoffman felt hopeless.

"My friends were dying and no one was talking about it," says Hoffman, a playwright, librettist and an associate professor of theater at Lehman College. AIDS "was a nonsubject in the mainstream media."

HoffmanTo bring attention to the crisis, Hoffman wrote "As Is," one of the first plays to tackle the AIDS epidemic in America. The 90-minute play was staged that same year off Broadway at the Circle Repertory Company and then on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre where it ran for 285 performances.

In 1986 it earned Hoffman a Drama Desk Award, an Obie, and Tony and Pulitzer Prize nominations and was one of Time magazine's best plays of the year. The Apple Core Theater Company revived the play in October -- the 25th anniversary -- for a 16-performance engagement at The Studio Theatre at Theatre Row.

"I've received lots of letters and people would stop me on the street and tell me that they have the same story; we all had horror stories about [AIDS]," says Hoffman, recounting the reaction of audiences who saw the play. "Every-one in the country had a family member or a friend or knew somebody who was affected by it."

Centered on a relationship between an HIV-positive man and his ex-lover, who comes back to care for him, the play depicts the chaos and fear that gripped the country as the disease spread. It opened to great reviews. New York Times theater critic Frank Rich wrote at the time, "Mr. Hoffman has turned a tale of the dead and the dying into the liveliest new work to be seen at the Circle Repertory Company in several seasons."

Hoffman had hoped that the play would bring attention to the crisis, but he was surprised that it had as big an impact as it did.
"When I started to write it, I didn't think that what was a little play would help deal with an epidemic," says Hoffman, who began his career at the legendary Caffe Cino, a Greenwich Village coffeehouse in the 1960s where playwrights tried out their work. "I was fortunate that I was able to put AIDS into the consciousness of the American public."
While AIDS is no longer a death sentence for many who have access to drugs that have been developed since the mid-1980s, the disease still kills thousands of Americans each year.
"A lot remains to be done because people are still contracting AIDS by the same mechanism of denial," says Hoffman. "Teenagers are especially vulnerable. The media should make a bigger noise about it."

To Hoffman the enduring AIDS epidemic in Africa has similarities to the crisis in America. "It's exactly what we went through originally -- it's a nonevent," he says. Hoffman points out that not long ago the former South African president's [Thabo Mbeki] administration was claiming that AIDS could be cured with garlic treatments. "This is an ongoing problem of denial," says Hoffman, "and this is very dangerous."

"I was fortunate that I was able to put AIDS into the consciousness of the American public. "
--    William M. Hoffman