Thursday, December 06, 2007

Birth date can affect personality

This is an old controversy but there does appear to be something in it. Update: Prof. Brignell is very skeptical

ASTROLOGY may usually be dismissed as harmless superstition, but scientists are discovering that the date we are born can affect our later lives. Research has revealed the time of year a person is born can influence his or her personality, health and even whether they are male or female. But rather than being written in the stars, studies are showing that it is the season of birth that predisposes individuals to different traits.

In the northern hemisphere, women born in May will display more impulsive behaviour while those whose birthday falls in November will be more reflective. Men born in the spring will show greater persistence than those born in winter. Other research has shown that people born in the autumn will tend to be physically active and excel in football while those born in the spring will be more cerebral and may be better suited to chess. Those born between September and December are more prone to panic attacks while there is growing evidence that schizophrenia is higher among those born in the late winter and early spring.

"It is exactly what you would expect if it were temperature related," said Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, who has examined the link between luck and the season of birth. "Many of the effects reverse in the two hemispheres." Professor John Eagle, a psychiatrist at Aberdeen University who has studied the relationships between season of birth and mental health, added: "The two main culprits are diet and the seasonal fluctuations in nutrition, and the increase in infections during the winter."

Astrologers have seized on the findings as evidence that the stars influence personality. But scientists insist there are biological reasons behind the effects.


Obesity rates have leveled off

They have probably now reached a plateau that reflects the reduced level of physical activity which is now typical -- which makes the very common alarmist projections of vastly increased future obesity levels look predictably silly. Straight-line projections of trends in biological phenomena should be the province of morons but sadly they are not. Attention-seekers just find them too useful for their purposes.

Obesity rates in U.S. women seem to be staying level, and the rate in men may be hitting a plateau now, too, according to a new government report released Wednesday. With more than 72 million Americans counted as obese, adult obesity rates for both sexes seem to be holding steady at about 34 percent, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

The rates are still too high, said Mark Swanson, a researcher who studies childhood obesity and school nutrition at the University of Kentucky's College of Public Health. "Until the numbers start to go the other direction, I don't think we can consider this a success at all," he said.

The adult obesity rate has generally been climbing since 1980, when it was 15 percent. The entire adult population has grown heavier, and the heaviest have become much heavier in the last 25 years. Obesity is major risk factor for heart disease, certain types of cancer and type 2 diabetes.

The CDC's new report is based on a comprehensive survey by the federal government that includes physical examinations. The results are based on what was found in about 4,400 adults ages 20 and older in 2005 and 2006. About 33 percent of men and 35 percent of women were obese. The new rates were slightly higher than the 31 percent and 33 percent reported in 2003-2004 surveys. However, in generalizing the results to the U.S. population, researchers calculated a margin of error that swallows up the differences between years. In other words, the increases were not considered statistically significant. The obesity rate for women has been about steady since 1999-2000, at around 33 percent. But the male rate trended up, from 27.5 percent in 1999-2000.

The new CDC report compared data over four years. While it looks like the male rate is leveling off, more years will be needed to confirm a trend, said Dr. William Dietz, a CDC expert. If there is a trend, perhaps women are having an influence on the eating and exercise habits of men, Dietz added. Childhood obesity rates for 2005-2006 have not been released yet. Through 2003-2004, they were rising.

So what might be behind leveling adult rates? Increased exercise is one possibility. Last week, the CDC released results of a national telephone survey that found that about half of men and women reported getting regular physical activity in 2005, an increase from the rates reported in 2001. Physical activity prevents new cases of obesity, but it's not clear that explains the new findings, CDC officials said.

Experts believe reducing consumption of high-calorie and fatty foods have an impact. Some restaurants cut back their super-size servings in recent years and that may be helping, said J. Justin Wilson. He's a senior research analyst for the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition of restaurants and food companies.

In the new report, obesity was most common in adults aged 40 to 59. There were large differences by race for women - the female obesity rates in the 40 to 59 age group were 39 percent in white women, 51 percent in Mexican-American women and 51 percent in black women. However, there were no racial or ethnic disparities in the male obesity rates, the CDC said.

The report also found that about a third of obese adults had not been told by a doctor or health care provider that they were overweight. That statistic has held about steady from earlier years, said Cynthia Ogden, a co-author of the report.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.

10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correla-tion coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic condi-tions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his anal-ysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.


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