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Science Deadline

Science Deadline

In this issue: Camera project shows extent of junk food, booze ads, orca-sized toothache, and 21 medals for NZ researchers.

Issue 445, 13 Oct 2017

By putting cameras on children and recording what they captured, researchers have found Kiwi kids frequently see junk food and booze ads.

In the Kids'Cam project, researchers from the universities of Otago and Auckland put cameras on 168 kids aged 11-13, which they wore for four days as the cameras took images every seven seconds and a GPS location was recorded every five seconds.

In one study, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition & Physical Activity, the researchers found the cameras picked up 27 junk food ads on average every a day. Most commonly these were ads for sugary drinks, fast food, confectionery and snack food.

Lead author Associate Professor Louise Signal, from the University of Otago Wellington, said the research provided further evidence of the need to reduce children’s exposure to the marketing of unhealthy foods. “These junk food ads are littering children’s lives.”

Another research paper from the Kids’Cam data, published in Health & Place, found on 85 per cent of supermarket visits, the children were exposed to alcohol advertising.

Lead researcher Tim Chambers, a PhD candidate at the University of Otago Wellington, said the findings suggested a need to ban alcohol sales in supermarkets.

“Children in the study were exposed to alcohol marketing almost every time they entered a supermarket, often the exposure occurred near everyday products, like bread and milk. This suggests alcohol is just another ordinary commodity, just another product on the shelves – a ‘normal’ part of the grocery shop.”

Chambers told Radio NZ there was “a clear link between children’s exposure to alcohol marketing and their increased consumption both as a child and also into adulthood".

He said an interesting finding from the camera study was that parents weren’t taking their kids to liquor stores at all. “They weren’t actually being exposed to the alcohol when they were near liquor stores in the same way that happens in the supermarkets.”

See a wrap-up of media coverage of the studies.

Quoted: Newsroom

"I’m one of those weird people who think numbers are cool, and [believe in] the great importance of questioning everything, and constantly testing our thinking, and questioning again and questioning again.

"We too easily assume we know what to do."

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright in
her last speech in the role, which she finishes today.

Captive orca 'killer' toothache

New Zealand researchers have been involved in a study examining the teeth of captive orca.

The research team took photos of captive orca during public viewing hours at theme parks in the USA and Spain, then examined the images for signs of tooth damage.

All 29 whales photographed had some form of damage to their teeth and more than half had "been to the dentist" to have their teeth drilled.

University of Otago dentistry researcher Dr Carolina Loch said the drilling procedure left a hole that was not refilled in the way our teeth are filled after a procedure. Instead, it is left open for the rest of the animal's life and requires daily flushing with chemicals to help prevent infection.

Orca Research Trust's Dr Ingrid Visser, who has studied orca in the wild for decades, said "you just don't see this type or level of damage in the wild".

"We know that confining them in tanks is bad for the animals and this research now gives us some hard numbers to illustrate just how their health and welfare is compromised."

Two of the study authors were previously employed by the theme park and said they had witnessed whales breaking their teeth on steel gates in the park. Some of the tooth damage was so severe individuals could be identified by the specific fractures and tooth wear alone.

The ongoing need to flush out drilled cavities also meant the animals would be poor candidates for release, should the company ever seek to rehabilitate their captive orca.

More information about the study is available on

Policy news & developments

Cattle to be culled: MPI has announced about 4000 animals will be culled from five properties in an attempt to contain the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis.

Vote for your favourite bird: Forest & Bird's annual Bird of the Year kicked off this week, voting is open until October 23.

Measles/rubella eliminated: New Zealand has received World Health Organization verification that measles and rubella have been eliminated, with no cases originating within the country over the past three years.

Farewell plastic bags: Countdown and New World will both phase out single-use plastic carrier bags from their stores by the end of 2018.

Volcano evacuation support: The Government had added $700,000 to its support for Vanuatu following the evacuation of Ambae Island due to volcanic activity.

21 medals for NZ researchers

Kiwi research was honoured on Tuesdaynight at the Royal Society Te Apārangi's research honours dinner in Auckland.

The night marked 150 years since the establishment of the society, on October 10, 1867. The society's new President-elect, Professor Wendy Larner, was also announced. Professor Larner is Provost at Victoria University of Wellington and will take over as President in July 2018.

The Rutherford Medal, the society’s premier science award, was presented to Victoria University of Wellington Professor Colin Wilson for his work on supervolcanoes. His research has shown how large volcanoes behave before and during explosive eruptions, including those that created Lake Taupō, expanding our understanding of volcanoes and the hazards they pose.

In addition to the medal, he was also presented a $100,000 prize by the Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy.

The Callaghan Medal for science communication was awarded to Professor Peter Shepherd from the University of Auckland, for his work developing activities to increase the understanding of science by the New Zealand public.

The Health Research Council also presented two medals. The Liley Medal was presented to dentist Associate Professor Jonathan Broadbent, University of Otago, for a study showing a clear long-term link between a child’s upbringing and the state of their teeth as a middle-aged adult.

The Beaven Medal went to University of Auckland’s Professor Alistar Gunn for pioneering the use of mild cooling to treat babies with brain injuries at birth.

The society also announced it would present a new medal next year, Te Puāwaitanga, to recognise research that has made a distinctive contribution to Te Ao Māori and to Māori and indigenous knowledge. Two further Māori research medals will be announced next year.

The full list of recipients is available on


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