News Roundup: High-Calorie Kiddie Meals, Toxic Salads, and More


Restaurants dish out too many calories to kids
Heading out for a family dinner at KFC, Taco Bell, Chick-fil-A, or another chain? Just about any kid's meal you choose there will deliver a high-calorie punch. Of 1,474 possible choices at 13 major restaurants, the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that 93% exceeded a kid-friendly 430 calories per meal, according to the Associated Press. Subway’s kids meals came out the best, with 12 of 18 choices at 430 calories or less. But six chains (Applebee’s, TGIFridays, Outback Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and IHOP) didn’t disclose their calorie info when asked, which might leave parents wondering—are their meals better or even worse?

Celebrity chef accidentally touts toxic plant
British celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson accidentally recommended a poisonous plant as a tasty addition to salads, according to the BBC News. Worrall Thompson meant to recommend fat hen, a wild herb, in the August issue of the magazine Healthy & Organic Living, but instead mentioned the plant henbane, which can cause hallucinations, drowsiness, and disorientation. Consuming large amounts of the plant can even be life-threatening. The magazine’s editors informed readers of the mistake. “It’s a bit embarrassing, but there have been no reports of any casualties,” Worrall Thompson told the BBC. “Please do pass on my apologies.”

Extra-big stretchers for Olympic athletes
Olympic organizers are supersizing clinical beds and stretchers for basketball players, according to Reuters. Players like Yao Ming and LeBron James are some of the tallest in the world, with an average height of 6-foot-6 (Ming is nearly 7-foot-5). The new stretchers for Wukesong stadium, the site of the Olympic basketball games, are 7 feet 10 inches long, compared to the previous 5 feet 10 inches. We’ve heard about extra-big medical equipment before (such as ambulances and chairs), but it's usually made for patients who are struggling with obesity.

Many preteens catching violent flicks
A poll in the journal Pediatrics suggests that 13% of children aged 10 to 14 have watched extremely violent, R-rated movies like Gangs of New York, Scary Movie, and other flicks aimed at the over-18 crowd. Dartmouth Medical School researchers analyzed 2003 survey data from more than 6,500 children and found that violent movie watching was more common with boys, minorities, and children with relatively poor grades or less educated parents. It’s not clear at what age the children started watching R-rated movies.

Do you know where that dollar's been?
U.S. dollars are more likely than other countries' paper monies to be coated with cocaine, according to Chemists at the University of Valencia in Spain determined that Spanish bills are the most highly contaminated in Europe. (It's perhaps no coincidence that Spain is the primary point of entry for cocaine into Europe.) The detected drug levels, which were in the microgram range, are presumably not high enough to get anyone in trouble…or high. (A gram of cocaine would fill about half a tea bag; a microgram is one-millionth that amount.) And the contamination isn't that surprising. Cocaine and other drugs are traded for cash, and users often sniff the drug with a rolled banknote, the researchers noted in the journal Trends in Analytical Chemistry.

Coupling up, and staying together, may stave off dementia
It appears that shacking up may be good for your brain. Swedish researchers examined 1,449 Finnish people, once at age 50 and again two decades later, and found that unmarried middle-aged people (whether widowed, single, divorced, or separated) were more likely to develop cognitive impairment than those in relationships. Those who stayed single their whole lives doubled their risk of dementia; those who divorced after midlife tripled it. Compelling, yes, but experts say there's a chance that early symptoms of dementia may keep some people out of relationships to begin with, rather than the other way around. Or, as the study's author suggests, the cognitive stimulation of living in a relationship—and sharing ideas, working through problems, finding compromises—may protect against dementia.

Sensitive saliva sensor may mean bye-bye, blood samples
Hate needles? Groundbreaking work by scientists at UCLA may lead the way to a future in which medical tests require a mere drop of saliva instead of a vial of blood. As reported by the National Institutes of Health, the researchers have developed an ultrasensitive optical sensor that can detect concentrations of proteins in saliva samples, enabling scientists to gauge risk levels for developing certain diseases. Saliva naturally contains much lower concentrations of protein than blood, so the new technology involves filtering out optical interference and bringing the scans close to the fidelity achieved in today's blood-protein tests.