Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


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Fizzy drinks are bad for you – even the “sugar-free” ones

Scientists at Boston University School of Medicine followed around 4,500 people for ten years and discovered that people who drank sugary drinks were more likely to have a poor memory and a smaller brain, although there wasn’t a link with stroke or dementia. So just a shrinking brain (or brain atrophy as the scientists call it) as measured by MRI scans.

They also found that having one diet drink or more a day appeared to raise the risk of stroke threefold and there was also a link with dementia. 

It doesn’t prove causation so whether people who thought they might be at risk of dementia chose artificially sweetened drinks deliberately is one possibility.

And not everyone is convinced by the results. One researcher at Glasgow University suggested that it might be reverse causality in the case of the artificially sweetened drinks. i.e. being ill forces you to give up things like alcohol or sugary drinks.

He did concede however that sugary drinks were bad for you on several levels being a source of refined sugar and harmful to your teeth.

So while there are risks with artificially sweetened drinks the answer is not to switch to full sugar varieties but to drink water.

Don’t forget that diet drinks can actually help you put on weight

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Don’t eat yourself to death

This is not just a to-do list, but also a do-not-do list.

Almost half of heart-related deaths are caused by bad eating habits.

Researchers in the US looked at over 700,000 deaths from heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes in 2012.

Diets high in salt or sugary drinks, a lack of fruit and vegetables, and high levels of processed meats were to blame for almost half of the deaths.

So don’t:

  • eat high amounts of salt (optimal – 2g a day)
  • drink high amounts of sugary drinks (optimal – none)
  • eat high amounts of unprocessed red meats (optimal – one 100g serving a week)
  • eat high amounts of processed meats (optimal – none)

The researchers found that 45% of the people who died from the conditions mentioned above were linked to suboptimal consumption of 10 types of nutrients and ate low amounts of fruit, seafood omega-3 fats, nuts & seeds, vegetables, whole grains, and polyunsaturated fats. 

So do eat those.

Almost 10% of deaths were linked to eating too much salt and almost as many linked to not eating nuts and seeds. This was followed by not eating fatty fish (omega-3 oil), then not eating vegetables and fruit. Sugary drink consumption came next followed by low consumption of grains.

So it’s not just about cutting out the rubbish food but also eating the healthy stuff.

Interestingly men’s diets are more linked to poor health than womens’.

The researchers  – from Cambridge University and two universities in America – hope that their findings will inform public health guidelines and influence strategies to change dietary habits and improve health.


Loneliness bad for your health

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P1000496Loneliness can increase the risk of heart disease by a third and should be treated as seriously as smoking and obesity.

That’s according to researchers at the University of York. And the risk might be even higher if  loneliness leads to inactivity and a poor diet.

A million older people in Britain say they are chronically lonely. A figure that is expected to rise by 600,000 in the next twenty years.

Other studies have shown that lonely people are 50% more likely to die early, a similar risk to drinking and smoking.

Dr Victoria Valtorta, who led the research, said “What it doesn’t tell you is whether people are at greater risk of developing disease or if people who are ill are less likely to recover if they’re lonely”

She analysed 23 studies involving 180,000 people and concluded that lonely people were also more likely to get heart disease…

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A more serious North-South Divide

money_war_pound_pc_1600_wht_4731I’ve posted before on the North-South Divide but this is more serious.

First the economy. Professor of human geography Danny Dorling, at the University of Sheffield, says the government has paid far too much attention to the eurozone crisis and the banking sector in London. In the meantime the difference in economic growth between the North and South has become a chasm and the split is growing at its fastest rate since WWII.

While there has been economic recovery in the South there is little evidence of that in the North. Since the recession in 2008 the London economy has grown 12% compared to less than 3% in the East Midlands and less than 4% in Yorkshire. In Greater London 7% of shops are empty compared to twice that proportion in Yorkshire. Public sector job cuts have been more severe in the North of England. Many years ago public sector jobs were moved to  the Northern regions as part of an economic strategy to boost employment.

And when it comes to qualifications 30% of adults in London have degrees compared to half that in Liverpool and Newcastle-on-Tyne. At the other end of the age range pensioners also fare less well withmedian household wealth in the North-East of £226,000 compared to £317,000 nationally and £433,000 in the South-East.

You would expect the labour party to be making a fuss about this but Ed Miliband has ordered his party keep quiet so as not to alienate voters in the South which would undermine his “one nation” message. So political PR trumps economical reality!

stick_figure_deceased_1600_wht_7906Secondly health. People living in Manchester, Blackpool and other parts of the North-West are at much greater risk of dying than people in the South-East. The Longer Lives website from Public Health England shows that highest risk of premature death is linked with deprived areas.

Comparing 150 councils Manchester has the highest mortality rate and Bracknell, in Berkshire, the lowest. Manchester also has the highest early death rate with the highest rates for cancer, heart disease and stroke. Wokingham has less than half that rate.

There are estimated to be over 100,00 avoidable early deaths in England each year with the four leading killers: cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung & liver disease, accounting for 75% of them.

70% of early deaths are linked to deprivation and 57% to smoking.

Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, said this “shocking variation” can’t continue unchecked. “I want areas to use the data to identify local public health challenges like smoking, drinking and obesity, and to take action to help achieve our ambition for saving 300,000 lives a year by 2020”

If  you go on to the Longer Livers website you can type in your postcode and see how your area compares nationally. You can also get advice on diet, smoking and drinking.

Public Health has now been transferred from the NHS to local government and the data from the website allows councils to compare themselves with each other and learn from their health promotion schemes although the Local Government Association is worried about creating a league table.

And finally on the question of ill-health it turns out that southerners are wimps when it comes to taking time off work! 80% of employees in the North-West turned up for work every day in the last three month compared to only 65% in London.

Adeco, the recruitment agency which carried out the survey, excused Londoners by saying that people in the North didn’t live on top of each other as they did in London where people came into contact with more people and more disease on the Tube.

Overall 30% of workers were off sick for 1 day in the three months surveyed. There were marked differences by age group with 60% of 16-24 year olds taking at least one sick day but fewer than 20% of over-55s. This is probably explained by life-style differences. Other research shows that young, single males take more time off work than older married workers.