Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Bilingual babies are less easily confused

BBC news recently posted an article about a study showing that bilingual children are less likely to get mixed up when forced to multitask.

The original study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The abstract describes the study as follows:

7-month-old infants, raised with 2 languages from birth, display improved cognitive control abilities compared with matched monolinguals. Whereas both monolinguals and bilinguals learned to respond to a speech or visual cue to anticipate a reward on one side of a screen, only bilinguals succeeded in redirecting their anticipatory looks when the cue began signaling the reward on the opposite side. Bilingual infants rapidly suppressed their looks to the first location and learned the new response. These findings show that processing representations from 2 languages leads to a domain-general enhancement of the cognitive control system well before the onset of speech.
Of course, the study only dealt with bilingual children who were exposed to two languages from birth, in a one-parent, one language environment.  It would be interesting to study children who were exposed first to one language from zero to three years and then to a second language from age three, as a result of language immersion at school, for example.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Nestlé at it again

I have been meaning to post on this story for quite some time.   I have already written how Nestlé's Nido is harming African babies. Now I see that it's not just the Nido that's the problem.

A few months ago, I walked into a store that happens to be the official distributor for Nestlé products here in Tana.  I saw this display.

The idea was obviously to display ALL Nestlé products together.  The first thing that struck me was that the Nido had, once again, been placed in close proximity to the baby formula, Guigoz 1 and 2, but at least this time they were on different shelves.

Encircling the products was a yellow ribbon with a teddy bear decoration throughout and the following message:

 "Nestlé - pour une croissance saine".  

Translation: Nestlé: for healthy growth.   

Apart from Nido, Guigoz formula and baby cereal, the display contained Kit Kat, Choco Crunch cereal, and Quik chocolate powder.  All these products are supposed to be for "healthy growth".  Surely they must be joking.

Behind the cashiers was a posterboard clearly intended for employees of the store.  The posterboard had the Nestlé Nutrition logo on it and showed what employees are not allowed to do under the International Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.  No promotions.  No point of sale advertising.  No special displays.  There were diagrams indicating all these prohibitions but the writing was all in English.  Have I mentioned that Madagascar is a francophone country?

I asked to speak to the manager of the store.  I was led to his office.  He was a pretty nice French guy.  I had a friendly conversation with him and then said "I see that you are making an effort to adhere to the International Code for the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes."

I then explained that the display was in contravention of this Code.  He expressed surprise and said that he would contact Nestlé immediately, as it was they who put up the display.

I thanked the manager, went to purchase my things, and left.

The next week, lo and behold, I got a call from Nestlé Nutrition.

"We would be interested in knowing why you think the display contravenes the Code.  We are not marketing breastmilk substitutes.  We are marketing all Nestlé products together."

He wasn't joking.  This was his argument.

"Listen", I said.  "If you are going to follow Nestlé's own watered-down interpretation of the Code, you will, at a minimum, remove the Nestlé Guigoz first stage infant formula from the display. And if you are going to follow my interpretation of the Code, you will remove the first and second stage Guigoz from the display."

He still didn't understand what was wrong with keeping them in the display.

"It's advertising", I said.

"But it's not advertising the formula in particular", he replied.

"That doesn't matter", I countered.  "Putting baby formula in a display that says 'for healthy growth' is advertising the formula, whether or not you put a KitKat bar and breakfast cereal beside it."

He said he would like to meet me so that I could show him the relevant portions of the Code and he could explain to his superiors.   I agreed and we met up the following week.   By that time, the Nestlé Nutrition man had already faxed a photo of the display to his superiors in Kenya and Mauritius and asked for their opinion.

His superiors agreed with me and told him that either the milk had to be removed from the display or the ribbon had to be removed.  He removed the ribbon.

I told him that he should also put the Nido milk with the other powdered milk being sold in the store rather than in the same area as the infant formula.  He refused.  He said that he wanted to keep the Nestlé products all together.

"But you know", he said to me, when we were back in his office at Nestlé Nutrition, "we don't really focus on stores.  The stores are already informed and are generally compliant, with the odd exception now and then.  Our main job is to inform hospitals about the Code, when we deliver them our infant formula for newborns".

Now ain't that a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Which water bottle for your globetrotter kid?

We live in a developing country, which means that we don't drink water from the tap, which means that there is no potable water at the Bambina's school, which means that she has to bring a bottle of water with her every day to school.  

So the question is, which kind of water bottle should she use?

This question is also relevant for globetrotter families who are on the go and want to have one or more bottles of water on hand for the kids.

One obvious answer is your standard disposable plastic bottle of Evian or other bottled water.  But they get grody after a while and they are difficult to wash.  Plus have you ever looked at the water inside a bottle of Evian after your child has drunk from it?  There are food particles in it because kids backwash.

Another possibility is a hard plastic bottle like the kind you can buy in our local Jumbo grocery store here.  The Frenchman bought one of these for the Bambina last year and I nearly had a keniption.   Besides the fact that your water ends up tasting like plastic, the bottle itself was made in China, reeked of "new plastic" and was probably leaking polyvinyl chloride and/or Bisphenol A into the water.  That and the fact that it leaked all over and broke after about two weeks of use meant that we had to search for another bottle.

An alternative to plastic is a metal flask with a drinking spout.  There would seem to be two kinds on the market - those made of aluminium and those made of stainless steel.  Decathlon, the French sporting goods giant, sells an aluminium one (pictured above).  The Frenchman was very keen on buying these but I determined from the coding on the bottom of the flask that it was, indeed, made of aluminium and I had some reservations.  Aluminium in unlined water bottles leaches into the water, leaving a metal taste, not to mention possible concerns about alzheimers disease in the long run.  No link between aluminium and Alzheimers has been proven - yet - but it's just not something that I want to have to worry about.

Aluminium cans with a lining, such as a the famous Sigg line, come with concerns about what, exactly is in the lining.  Sigg swore that the lining in their water bottles contained no Bisphenol A - until they changed their minds and admitted that all bottles sold before August 2008 did have Bisphenol A "but only in tiny amounts".  Great.

Rather than worrying about what may be in the lining of an aluminium bottle, you can always get a stainless steel bottle instead.  Stainless steel is made of chromium, iron and nickel.  Stainless steel bottles don't generally have lining inside, as stainless steel doesn't leave a metal taste in your month and there is no danger in ingesting the molecules (iron is good for you!).   There are a few brands out their but we bought the Crocodile Creek brand at Le Bon Marché department store in Paris.