Monthly Archives: March 2013

Maybe Isolation, Not Loneliness, Shortens Life

March 26, 2013 3:28 AM
People who are socially isolated may be at a greater risk of dying sooner, a British study suggests. But do Facebook friends count? How about texting?

People who are socially isolated may be at a greater risk of dying sooner, a British study suggests. But do Facebook friends count? How about texting?

iStockphoto.com

 
 

“Loneliness hurts, but social isolation can kill you. That’s the conclusion of a study of more than 6,500 people in the U.K.

The study, by a team at University College London, comes after decades of research showing that both loneliness and infrequent contact with friends and family can, independently, shorten a person’s life. The scientists expected to find that the combination of these two risk factors would be especially dangerous.

“We were thinking that people who were socially isolated but also felt lonely might be at particularly high risk,” says Andrew Steptoe, a professor of psychology at University College London.

To find out, the team studied 6,500 men and women ages 52 and older. All of them had answered a questionnaire back in 2004 or 2005 that assessed both their sense of loneliness and how much contact they had with friends and family. The researchers looked to see what happened to those people over the next seven or eight years.

And Steptoe says he was surprised by the result. “Both social isolation and loneliness appeared initially to be associated with a greater risk of dying,” he says. “But it was really the isolation which was more important.”

At first, it looked like people who reported greater levels of loneliness were more likely to die, Steptoe says. But closer analysis showed that these people were also more likely to have other risk factors, like being poor and having existing health problems. Once those factors were taken into account, the extra risk associated with loneliness pretty much disappeared, Steptoe says.

But people who spent very little time with friends and family, or at social events, were more likely to die regardless of income or health status, the team reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It’s not clear why social isolation is linked to mortality. But one possibility is that having other people around has practical benefits as you get older, Steptoe says. For example, they may push you to go see a doctor if you are having symptoms like chest pain, he says. And if you were to lose consciousness, they would call for help.

Other researchers say they are surprised and not necessarily convinced by the new study, even though they say it’s large and well-done.

“It doesn’t negate the loneliness work that’s been done to date,” says Bert Uchino, a University of Utah psychology professor. He says this study may have reached a different conclusion than earlier ones because people’s definition of loneliness is changing in the Internet age.

“People … may think that they’re connected to other people because they’re on Facebook,” Uchino says. So they may not report feeling lonely. But that sort of connection, he says, may not have the health benefits of direct contact with other people.

The different result might be because this study looked at people in the U.K., while many earlier studies looked at people in the U.S., says University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo. So in the U.K., where the culture values a “stiff upper lip,” people who live alone may be “less likely to admit to feeling lonely than are residents of the U.S.,” he says.

Whether or not loneliness raises the risk of dying, Cacioppo adds, it certainly reduces a person’s quality of life.

And it’s easy for people to do things that alleviate both isolation and loneliness, Uchino says. “Have lunch with somebody,” he says. “Take a walk. Give them a phone call. I think those are all important ways that we need to stay connected with our relationships. And I think, in the long term, it can help us.””

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March 26, 2013 · 6:16 pm

Educational Websites

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March 26, 2013 · 3:52 pm

Know Your Plastics

Know Your Plastics

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March 25, 2013 · 7:20 pm

When Is Rape Okay?

When Is Rape Okay?

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March 22, 2013 · 9:04 pm

A Surprisingly Uncontroversial Program That Gives Money To Poor People

by MARIANNE MCCUNE

March 15, 2013 5:00 AM
government check
 

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

 

“Last year, a federal program called the Earned Income Tax Credit took about $60 billion from wealthier Americans and gave it to the working poor. And here’s the surprising thing: This redistribution of wealth has been embraced by every president from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama.

“This program worked,” says Richard Burkhauser, an economist at Cornell University and the American Enterprise Institute. “And there’s not a hell of a lot of these programs where you can see the tremendous change in the behavior of people in exactly the way that all of us hoped it would happen.”

When he says it worked, he means it helped single mothers on welfare find work and get out of poverty.

In the 1930s, in the early days of welfare, many of the women who received it were widows. Americans didn’t think single mothers should have to work, so the government paid them to stay home. But by the ’90s, the idea of paying people not to work seemed backwards to many Americans. If moms want to get paid, many thought, they should get a job.

The Earned Income Tax Credit started as a small program in the 1970s and was expanded under President Reagan. But it was President Clinton who turned the program into what it is today — one that effectively gives low-wage working parents a big bonus. For some workers making around $15,000 a year, that bonus can now reach nearly $6,000. As the name suggests, the money is paid out like a tax refund, when workers file their income taxes.

Mirian Ochoa was on food stamps, in debt from a divorce and caring for a son in special ed. On her long commute to work, she remembers going past McDonald’s every day and smelling the french fries but telling herself, “You have to say no, because I have to pay my rent.”

The first year she got the credit, Ochoa received $3,000. Over the years, she says, the credit allowed her to pay off debts, get an associate’s degree in accounting, get off of food stamps, and move to a better school district for her son. “I found an apartment there, and I changed my son’s life,” she says.

This gets to one feature of the credit that economists love — something that goes back to Milton Friedman, one of the most influential conservative economists of the 20th century. He argued that, rather than creating lots of targeted programs for poor people, the government should simply give them money and let them decide how to spend it — even if, like Mirian Ochoa, they sometimes spend $1,000 to take their son to Disney World and Universal Studios.

Her son’s favorite part was the Incredible Hulk roller coaster. “He’s small, little fat boy, and running and saying, ‘Mother, come with me, do the ride,’ ” she says. I say ‘No, it’s too much, I cannot do it. But go! Go!’ “

To Ochoa, this was money well-spent. Her ex-husband had promised the trip to her son but never came through. And she says taking him was a key moment in his life. Now he’s in college, studying graphic design in Orlando, Fla.

The Earned Income Tax Credit is not perfect. It doesn’t help people who can’t get work. Some people game the system. Others are eligible but never collect. But while most programs to help the poor are constantly under the magnifying glass, this one has expanded every decade since the 1970s. Encouraging poor people to work and giving them a boost for keeping at it remains relatively uncontroversial. For now.”

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March 22, 2013 · 8:16 pm

Swedish Mannequins Spark Internet Praise-A-Thon

By  – Thu, Mar 14, 2013 3:21 PM EDT

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“A clothing store in Sweden is being hailed by women around the world after a photo of two surprisingly curvy mannequins were photographed and posted online.

Dressed in skimpy lingerie, the mannequins displayed softer stomachs, fuller thighs and generally more realistic proportions than the traditional department store models. For comparison, most mannequins in the U.S. are between a svelte size 4 or 6—a departure from the average American woman who is a size 14. 

On Tuesday, a blogger at Women’s Rights News posted a photo of the department store mannequins to Facebook and the response was overwhelming. “It’s about time reality hit…” wrote one out of almost 2,500 commentators. “Anybody saying these mannequins encourage obesity or look unhealthy, you have a seriously warped perception of what is healthy. I guarantee the “bigger” mannequin in the front there represents a perfect BMI” wrote another. As of Thursday, the photo had garnered almost 50,000 likes and shared almost 15,000 times. That’s a lot of attention for a hunk of fiber glass and plastic. 

There were rumors that the mannequins were on display at H&M in Sweden but a spokesperson told Shine: “The image is not from an H&M store. At this time, we are not using this type of mannequin, but we do not rule of the possibility of doing so in the future.” 

Mannequins have been around for thousands of years but their function in fashion is fairly recent, first appearing in store windows in the 1800s during the Industrial Revolution when window panes were installed in stores to display the latest fashion trends. Throughout WW1 and the Depression, mannequins changed their outfits and body proportions to reflect society at that time. Cut to the 1960s, when British mannequin firm Rootstein began modeling their dolls after pop culture and fashion icons to reflect runway trends at the time. 

Modern-day mannequins have long been critiqued for having tiny proportions. In 2007, British health officials demanded that stores on London’s fashionable High Street stop using stick-thin models in an effort to reflect the wide range of sizes and shapes of British women. In 2010, Club Monaco came under fire for featuring mannequins with protruding spines and clavicles. And in 2011,GAP was chastised by bloggers for mannequins with bone-thin legs modeling the “Always skinny” jeans display. “I’m wondering what the internal project name for this was at Gap HQ,” wrote one blogger. “Death-camp chic’? ‘Ana Pride’? ‘Famine fashion forward?”

And male mannequins haven’t escaped scrutiny either. In 2010, Rootstein debuted male dolls under their “Young and Restless” collection modeled after teenage boys with 35-inch chests and 27-inch waists. The company had to defend its decision to use smaller models to eating disorders groups. 

As much as the public contests these down-sized mannequins, when designers have attempted to create dolls that reflect real-life proportions they’re met with criticism, even disgust. In late 2012, when a Reddit user posted a photo of an “obese mannequin” in satire, commentary ranged from “Ew, fat people”, “It’s embarrassing how obese America is” and the amusing, “He’s not fat, just big foamed.” 

A recent published in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that women’s self esteem takes a nosedive when exposed to models of any size, so maybe there is no easy answer. But as long as mannequins are influencing people to buy fashion, reflecting real-life bodies is a step in the right direction.”

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March 22, 2013 · 8:11 pm

Steubenville Rape Victim Asks for Donations to Battered Women’s Shelter

by Laura Beck

 

“In the wake of the Steubenville verdict, many are feeling helpless about what to do now. Mobilizing around programs that teach everyone — especially children — the value of personhood, even if that person happens to be a woman, has become a very worthwhile cause — and it’s exciting to witness the powerful conversations happening around the subject. Let’s keep it going!

Another way people want to contribute is financially. Awesomely, loads of folks apparently inquired about donating to the legal fees of the victim. Back in January, Jane Doe’s attorney, Bob Fitzsimmons, who took the case pro bono, said that the family wished for all donations to go to the Madden House in Wheeling, an emergency safe-shelter for women who are rebuilding their lives. Since her legal fees are covered, this seems like a fine way to honor her wishes, and help ladies at the same time.”

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March 22, 2013 · 8:05 pm

10 Things I Learned During My First Year of Self-Employment

10 Things I Learned During My First Year of Self-Employment.

 

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Filed under Life Tips, Spotlights

Cash Back On Broccoli: Health Insurers Nudge Shoppers To Be Well

by ALLISON AUBREY

March 19, 2013 4:43 PM
A shopper at a branch of South African retailer Pick n Pay in Johannesburg. Health insurer Discovery offers rebates on health food at the chain to its members who enroll in a health promotion program.

A shopper at a branch of South African retailer Pick n Pay in Johannesburg. Health insurer Discovery offers rebates on health food at the chain to its members who enroll in a health promotion program.

SIPHIWE SIBEKO/Reuters /Landov

 

“At $2.50 a pound, broccoli may seem too expensive. But cut the price by 25 percent, and our thinking about whether we should buy it may change.

study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine concludes that rebates on healthy food purchases lead to significant changes in what people put in their grocery carts.

It was actually South Africa’s largest insurer, Discovery, in partnership with Vitality Group, that decided to offer 10 percent and 25 percent cash-back rebates to members of its health promotion program on fruits, vegetables, non-fat dairy and other healthful foods at one supermarket chain. (To get the 25 percent rebate, members had to fill out a questionnaire.)

Researchers at the RAND Corporation then looked at their spending on these foods and found that they increased 9.3 percent (calculated as a ratio of spending on healthy food to total food spending) with the 25 percent rebate. A 10 percent rebate nudged people to buy healthier stuff, too, just a little less — a 6 percent increase.

“People did react fairly strong,” says Roland Sturm of RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif., the study’s lead author. Even the smaller rebate was “enough to change behavior.”

The analysis looked at the purchases of more than 170,000 households, 60 percent of which were eligible for the rebate.

In the U.S., Wal-Mart and a company called HumanaVitality are now testing a similar healthful food incentives pilot program. Members of HumanaVitality, a partnership between the Vitality Group (owned by Discovery) and health insurer Humana, save 5 percent when they buy foods with the Great For You label at Wal-Mart.

But is a 5 percent rebate, or discount, enough to motivate people to change their shopping patterns? It’s not clear. HumanaVitality will find out when they analyze the results in September.

Derek Yach of the Vitality Group acknowledges that a 10 percent rebate would be better than 5 percent. As my colleague Dan Charles has reported, Yach, a former PepsiCo vice president, and Vitality Group, are at the forefront of this movement to try to incentivize wellness.

But Yach says the findings of the RAND study suggest that diets can be shifted. And this, he believes, has huge implications for public policy.

Some two-thirds of healthcare spending is linked to lifestyle diseases such as obesity, Type-2 diabetes that can be prevented or controlled by healthier diets and lifestyle. So the insurers sponsoring these incentive programs are hoping they’ll help curb future healthcare costs.

While the study is among the first to evaluate a large rebate program, it’s important to look at what shoppers did with the cash they got back. Did they use the 25 percent savings on broccoli to buy doughnuts? Nope — they increased their spending on healthy foods.

But incentive programs have also been known to fall flat. As we’ve reported, researchers at the University of Buffalo found that subsidizing healthy food led to the unintended consequence of people spending more on high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. This was a small study that took place in a simulated market setting, not a real grocery store.

But this new study shows that over the long-term, it may be possible to nudge people towards wellness by consistently making healthy food cheaper.”

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March 22, 2013 · 8:01 pm

Mosh Pit Math: Physicists Analyze Rowdy Crowd

by GEOFF BRUMFIEL

March 22, 2013 3:02 AM
Fans in the mosh pit during the performance of Liturgy at the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park, Chicago, on July 14, 2012.

Fans in the mosh pit during the performance of Liturgy at the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park, Chicago, on July 14, 2012.

Roger Kisby/Getty Images

 

“Physics and heavy metal don’t seem to have a lot in common, but Matt Bierbaum and Jesse Silverberg have found a connection. Both are graduate students at Cornell University. They’re also metal heads who enjoy going to concerts and hurling themselves into mosh pits full of like-minded fans.

About five years ago Silverberg took his girlfriend to her first gig. “Usually I would jump in the mosh pit,” he says. “But this time I wanted her to be safe and have a good time, so we stayed out on the side and watched things from there.”

While he was watching, he realized that the motion of people in a mosh pit looks kind of like molecules moving in a gas.

“It was basically just this random mess of collisions, which is essentially how you want to think about the gas in the air that we breathe,” he says.

Physicists have worked out the basic rules that describe this kind of motion, so Bierbaum and Silverberg decided to look for the rules of motion in moshing. They went to concerts and studied videos from YouTube. Silverberg emphasizes that no tax dollars went toward buying concert tickets — the study is a labor of love.

Using just a few variables, like how fast people moved and how dense the crowd was, Bierbaum and Silverberg created a mathematical model that they presented at this week’s March meeting of the American Physical Society. Using a mixture of simulated moshers and standing fans, they could reproduce mosh pits, circle pits and other common collective motions that take place at metal concerts. You can try some simulations for yourself in their mosh pit simulator below.

It’s not just the metal heads that obey these kinds of basic mathematical rules, says Andreas Bausch, a researcher at the Munich Technical University in Germany. Flocks of birds and schools of fish do similar things. So do car drivers. Now concertgoers can be added to the list, he told NPR in an email. “This is indeed cool stuff.”

The new mosh pit research could be interesting for another reason. In emergencies people panic, and the movement rules they follow change. Mosh pits might provide clues about the new rules.

“We hope that this will provide a lens into looking at other extreme situations such as riots and protests and escape panic,” Bierbaum says.

They plan to continue their research, while rocking on.”

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March 22, 2013 · 6:51 pm