Healthcare expenditure -v- life expectancy

A smart way to reduce the risk of confusing correlation with causation, especially when comparing different countries, is to plot the two variables of interest over time.

Here’s a nice example, showing that it’s likely the US has a less efficient healthcare system than other rich countries, and that the low life expectancy is not due to other confounding variables (e.g., having a higher homicide rate – something which has actually decreased over the time period shown).

More here by Lane Kenworthy


The age of reason

Could you imagine getting either of these questions wrong today?

The source presentation is here and the key takeaways are to start estate planning early, and to strongly consider converting capital and assets into annuities that will secure an automatic income to live on, thus avoiding the need to make complex financial decisions at a time when cognitive decline has already set in.

Daily Mail or the daily espresso in the morning?

An article today on the BBC regarding research into coffee consumption and depression led me to look up what the Daily Mail had published. The BBC headlined with “Coffee may prevent depression”, whereas the Daily Mail opened with “Coffee is good for you“.

The BBC at least mentioned that the 50,000 study participants were all US female nurses and linked to the research article, though neither revealed that the mean age of those involved was 63. The Daily Mail also adds in a bit of science which is just plain wrong, “…caffeine works like antidepressant pills by stopping the production of certain hormones such as serotonin”.

Both give the figure that those who drink between 3 cups per day were 15% less likely to suffer depression without giving the absolute risk difference (there were only 2607 cases of depression total over the ten years in the study.) A rough, back-of-the-envelope calculation gives “Out of 10,000 quite old women, half of which drink coffee, there will be 27 cases of depression amongst the non-drinkers this year and only 24 within the coffee-drinking group.” I guess that’s why I don’t write headlines.

The BBC article mentions other factors in the study, and how the initial headline statistic might come down once they are controlled for. The Daily Mail does not. Neither article considers whether this small difference is casual or correlative (coffee drinkers perhaps being less depressed because the reason they drink coffee in the first place is because they have lots of friends to meet up with at Starbucks).

courtesy of


Going postal – workplace deaths

Don’t get on with the people you’re working with? You’re more likely to die.

This study began in 1988, with baseline medical assessments performed on 820 healthy employees. Over the next 20 years there were 53 deaths amongst the group, and after controlling for variables and running regressions one main relationship was found:

…risk of mortality was significantly lower for those reporting high levels of peer social support. People with little or no “peer social support” in the workplace were 2.4 times more likely to die during the study.

Stressed by being told what to do all the time? You’re more likely to die.

A longitudinal study, conducted on 18,000 British civil servants – the so called Whitehall Study – found that

…even after accounting for genetic risks and behaviors like smoking and binge drinking, civil servants at the bottom of the pecking order still had nearly double the mortality rate.

Sitting down all day? You’re more likely to die.

Electrical activity in the muscles drop, and calorie consumption rate drops to about a third of what it would be if standing up, and there is a growing body of research that shows that exercising several times a week does not counteract this, such as from this research Alpa Patel, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, which tracked 123,000 Americans over 14 years

…who spent six hours or more per day of their leisure time sitting had an overall death rate that was about 20 percent higher than the men who sat for three hours or less

Spend £2 more on wine

The average price point for a bottle of wine bought in the UK is £4.50.

At that level, 56% is tax. Add on to that marketing, packaging, distribution, and perhaps only 50p is the cost of the wine itself.

Spending an extra £2 at this price point is likely to increase the quality of grapes used by 2x or more.

Happy holidays

Apparently don’t expect to be too happy on the first day of your holiday:

An article on holiday happiness, based in part on this study from which comes the chart above, offers these other bits of advice:

Take more short trips rather then a few long ones

… 2010 study concluded that two- to six-day vacations are the most beneficial to our well-being.

Don’t return on a Sunday

A study published in the Journal of Leisure Research shows that if we return on a Thursday or a Friday, we can insulate ourselves from the shock of job demands and prolong the holiday happiness boost