CULTURE DIGEST: Target stores reject Salvation Army kettles; Spiritual collegians have better emotional health; More teens having plastic surgery; Study: Ramadan practices changing

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The Salvation Army could lose nearly $10 million in donations this Christmas season after Target stores nationwide decided not to allow the annual fundraiser on their property.

Target stores have been key locations for the Salvation Army's bell ringers and red kettles, but the retail chain has announced a new enforcement of its solicitation policy.

"We receive an increasing number of solicitation inquiries from nonprofit organizations each year and determined that if we continue to allow the Salvation Army to solicit, then it opens the door to other groups that wish to solicit our guests," Target said in a statement, according to the Dallas Morning News Oct. 28.

A Target representative noted that the change is an enforcement of an existing policy.

Last year the Salvation Army received $93 million nationally through the red kettle campaign, which begins the day after Thanksgiving and continues through Christmas Eve. Donations support programs in the communities in which they are received. Nearly 33 million people at 9,000 centers of operation were assisted last year, according to a Salvation Army news release. Local centers provide food, clothing and shelter for the homeless as well as relief for disaster victims and assistance for the disabled.

Maj. George Hood, community relations secretary for the Salvation Army's national office in Alexandria, Va., told the Dallas Morning News about $9 million has come from collection sites at Target stores each year.

SPIRITUAL COLLEGIANS & EMOTIONAL HEALTH -- College students with high levels of religious involvement and commitment tend to be more emotionally and mentally healthy than those with little or no involvement, according to a study by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute.

"College can be an unsettling time as students struggle with change and fundamental issues about themselves and the world," UCLA professor Alexander Astin, co-principal investigator for the project, said in an Oct. 25 news release. "This study suggests that religion and spirituality can play a positive role in the mental and emotional health of students."

Students who frequently participate in religious services, compared to non-participants, show much smaller increases in feeling overwhelmed during college. Non-religious students had a 14 percent increase in feeling overwhelmed while religious students had a 2 percent increase during college, the study found.

Just 20 percent of highly religiously involved students reported high levels of psychological distress compared to 34 percent of students with low levels of religious involvement.

But the study also found that highly spiritual students struggle more with questioning religious beliefs, feeling unsettled about spiritual matters and feeling angry with God. Twenty-two percent of highly spiritual students said they had such challenges, compared to just 8 percent of students with low spiritual interest.

Researchers found that religious students typically have higher levels of self-esteem, feel good about the direction in which life is headed, and tend to drink less alcohol in college.

The UCLA study surveyed 3,680 third-year students at 46 diverse colleges and universities nationwide and is available at www.spirituality.ucla.edu/news/2004-10-25.

MORE TEENS HAVING PLASTIC SURGERY -- With the growing popularity of reality-based television shows such as "Extreme Makeover" and "The Swan" as well as other pressures to achieve an ideal look, more teenage girls are choosing to undergo cosmetic surgery.

Doctors are performing an increasing number of procedures such as breast implants, liposuction and tummy tucks on girls as young as 14, according to an Oct. 26 report in The Washington Post. Parents are now giving breast implants and liposuction as graduation or birthday gifts, The Post said, and some doctors have performed breast augmentation on baby boomer mothers and their teenage daughters.

The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported that from 2002 to 2003 the number of girls 18 and younger who got breast implants nearly tripled, from 3,872 to 11,326, The Post said. Among all age groups, about 247,000 women got implants in 2003 compared to 32,000 in 1992.

Critics say teenage girls are too young and shortsighted to understand the implications of cosmetic surgery, and since their bodies have not finished developing, additional risks may be involved.

RAMADAN PRACTICES EVOLVE -- During Ramadan, Muslims are instructed to abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn until dusk in order to focus on Allah. But a government study in Morocco found that Moroccans spend 28 percent more on food and actually gain weight during the month of fasting, according to Reuters.

And in Arab News, columnist Raid Qusti lamented the "new culture of Ramadan," in which the accepted practices during fasting have evolved in recent decades. He noted how during Ramadan people essentially switch their days and nights, staying up until dawn. Such unconventional hours for most people cause them to be irritable and sluggish if they are simultaneously attempting to hold down day jobs.

"Ramadan has changed completely in Saudi Arabia from what it was thirty years ago," Qusti wrote. "During my father's and grandfather's time, people slept at the usual time and woke up a short time before the dawn prayer to eat and then go back to sleep. They had a reasonable night's sleep and so were able to work during the day."

He too mentioned that people gain weight during Ramadan.

"They fast from dawn to dusk, only to eat three meals in the seven hours of night: Iftar at sunset, dinner about 10 or 11 p.m. and then sahoor at 2 or 3 a.m.," he wrote.

Qusti said Ramadan has become the month of satellite TV programs as people indulge in sitcoms, soap operas and too much food during the night hours.

"The new Ramadan has changed our customs beyond recognition," he wrote. "What has become of neighbors exchanging plates before iftar? What has become of the people in a neighborhood coming together for talk and discussion after taraweeh prayers? Couldn't we bring back some of these customs in place of an hour or two of satellite TV? Wouldn't we all be richer if we did?"