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News and Trends
October 25, 2010


Costume Disaster
Roommates Who Click
Sparkling Green
End of the Road for the Metric Highway?
'Washroom' in Name Only?
Broccoli, by Prescription

Costume Disaster
Lady Gaga is likely to become this Halloween's hottest celebrity guise, but when it comes to getups that convey a message, political ghouls like Barack-ula and Rogue Zombie Sarah Palin are out and corporate horror is in. All across the Gulf Coast and the country, the costume flying off the shelves consists of a green jumpsuit covered in oil with BP in a sunburst logo over the left breast. The BP stands for "bad planning," according to its creator, a New York company called Fun World. The company plans to produce more than 10,000 of the $40 suits, with several dollars from each sale going to families affected by the spill. "People might love or hate Obama," says Scott Morris, owner of the largest costume wholesaler. "Everyone hated the spill."

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Roommates Who Click
Amelia Dudley of Baltimore and Maddi Gilje of St. Louis, new roommates at New York University, both share the same bedtime, eat vegetarian food, advocate for animal rights, and like indie rock acts Bright Eyes and Regina Spektor. It's not just great luck—theirs was a match made on URoomSurf.com, one of several Web sites that match roommates based on personal habits and interests. College housing officials say that "roommate self-selection" empowers students. Others worry it robs students of an opportunity for exposure to someone with different experiences and opinions. Facebook may have played a part in pressuring colleges to cede control of the roommate process: Housing officials often find themselves besieged by students and parents who look up assigned roommates and don't like what they see. "I really didn't want to leave it to chance," says Gilje.

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Sparkling Green
As people look for ways to be kinder to the environment, some countries are trying to make it less appealing to buy environmentally suspect water bottles. Italy, among the world's top consumers of sparkling water, now has 215 public fountains that provide not only flat water but sparkling as well. The fountains save 2,300 1.5-liter plastic bottles each day. Now France is giving it a try: Paris has just installed its first sparkling water fountain, and if it catches on, will install more. The French consume about 40 gallons of bottled water per person each year, one of the highest rates in the world. (Americans consume about half as much.) "More than 90 percent of the environmental impacts from a plastic bottle happen before the consumer opens it," says Allen Hershkowitz, a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Oil for plastic, oil for shipping, oil for refrigeration—and in the end, most of the bottles end up in landfills.

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End of the Road for the Metric Highway?
The U.S. is the only major country that hasn't adopted the metric system. (Libya and Myanmar are the two other holdouts.) Along Interstate 19 in Arizona, however, distance is measured in kilometers—a throwback to the U.S.'s failed experiment with the metric system in the 1980s. Now the Arizona Department of Transportation says the signs' days may be numbered. They're old and need to be replaced, and if officials have their way, the new signs would be like all the others in the state, with distances in miles. Some who live along I-19 don't care for the signs, saying they look foreign and are confusing. But many local business owners say their customers know them by the current exit signs and want them left alone. Though there are some scattered metric signs in the U.S.—mostly near the borders with Canada and Mexico—I-19 may be the only interstate highway that is almost completely metric, according to the U.S. Metric Association, which still hasn't given up trying to get the U.S. to make the switch.

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'Washroom' in Name Only?
Spies have been infiltrating public bathrooms across the U.S. in the name of science, and some of what they've been witnessing is, well, filthy. About one-third of men observed in a restroom at Atlanta's Turner Field stadium and 20 percent of people using restrooms at Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal in New York City did not wash their hands, according to a recent study. The researchers, from Harris Interactive, stood in restrooms while pretending to fix their hair or makeup. Among their observations was that women tended to be more responsible hand-washers than men. Even at Turner Field—where men scored lowest for any of the locations observed㭞 percent of women exercised proper hygiene before exiting the bathroom. Still, the researchers say the overall numbers for hand washing are the highest since 1996, indicating that perhaps the threat of H1N1 flu is driving home the importance of hand washing.

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Broccoli, by Prescription
The usual job of a farm stand is to sell fresh fruits and vegetables. But in Massachusetts, they're doing double duty as pharmacies. Doctors at three health centers have begun writing "vegetable prescriptions"—actually, dollar-off coupons—to be filled at local farmers markets, in an effort to curb obesity in children of low-income families. Massachusetts was the first state to promote farmers markets as hubs of preventive health, in the 1980s, and now 36 states have followed suit. Doctors involved will track how the program affects participants' eating patterns and monitor health indicators like weight and body mass index. Some researchers say vegetable vouchers alone won't cure obesity because some families won't be able to afford fresh produce once the program ends. But Boston's Mayor Thomas Menino is optimistic. "When I go to work . . . I see kids standing at the bus stop eating chips and drinking a soda," he says. "I hope this will help them change their eating habits and lead to a healthier lifestyle."

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