Africa's obesity problem

obese For a continent that is usually associated with hunger and malnourishment, it may surprise you to learn that Africa is falling victim to a condition that has typically been a Western concern - obesity. According to the World Health Organization, more than one-third of African women and a quarter of African men are estimated to be overweight, and both statistics are set to rise to 41 percent and 30 percent, respectively, over the next decade. South Africa faces the worst problem, with 56 percent of adult women classified as overweight or obese. There is concern that, with impoverished African health services already strained with the task of treating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, weight-related illnesses may prove to be a burden too many. As Michael Birt contends in FP's September/November issue,

...economic growth and development is hastening the arrival of rich-world diseases before poor countries' health systems can prepare." 

Also, check out our "Battle of the Bulge" Prime Numbers piece for a closer look at obesity on a global level.


The Polonium puzzle

One of the more intriguing aspects of the Litvinenko assassination and investigation is why the killers would have used such a bizarre and dramatic method. If this story is correct—and I don't know that it is—investigators have already traced the substance back to a particular Russian reactor. Surely whoever initiated the plot knew that the material would be traced. Two explanations seem most likely. First, someone is trying to frame Vladimir Putin by ensuring both that the killing was as dramatic as possible and that it gets quickly linked to the Russian state apparatus. The second and far more chilling possibility is that Putin or his associates ordered the hit and wanted everyone to know it was them. Some experts have pooh-poohed the idea of a Kremlin connection.

There was no benefit to Putin or Russian intelligence services to have a highly publicised operation like this." 

But was there really no motive? Aside from the benefit of removing a nettlesome critic, can't a demonstration of ruthlessness itself be useful to a politician? The Kremlin might have calculated that the fear and awe generated by the killing would outweigh the opprobrium. It's better to be feared than loved, after all.