Being a better neighbor linked to better heart health

Be nice to your neighbors because it may just help keep your heart healthier:

For the latest research, the University of Michigan team used data from 5,276 people over 50 with no history of heart problems, who were participants in an ongoing Health and Retirement Study in the United States…

At the start of the project, the respondents were asked to award points out of seven to reflect the extent to which they felt part of their neighbourhood, could rely on their neighbours in a pinch, could trust their neighbours, and found their neighbours to be friendly.

When they crunched the numbers at the end of the study, the team found that for every point they had awarded out of seven, an individual had a reduced heart attack risk over the four-year study period.

People who gave a full score of seven out of seven had a 67 percent reduced heart attack risk compared to people who gave a score of one, study co-author Eric Kim told AFP, and described the difference as “significant”.

This was “approximately comparable to the reduced heart attack risk of a smoker vs a non-smoker,” he said.

“This is an observational study so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect,” the statement underlined.

While this research doesn’t establish direct effects, it introduces additional reasons for being a better neighbor. Would conclusive findings that this would help people’s health be more convincing to Americans than civic or moral arguments? Focusing on health could have a more individualistic emphasis – “I’d like to live longer” – though health could also be viewed on a community-wide scale – fewer heart problems mean less community money spent on healthcare.

It is also interesting that this relies on self-reported accounts of neighborliness. Is this fairly accurate? This could be measured in a variety of ways: number of conversations or visits with numbers, participation in local groups, and reports from neighbors about the neighborliness of others. Of course, it could be that perceptions of being a good neighbor matter even more than actual actions. Yet, I wonder how this lines up with the typical shocked accounts suburbanites present when one of their neighbors is accused of a crime.

US “White alone” population grows as more Hispanics label themselves as white

The Census Bureau has changed their racial categories over the years. The change made in the 2000 Census regarding Hispanics now leads to an interesting finding: more Hispanics are labeling themselves “white alone.”

The shift is due to recent census changes that emphasize “Hispanic” as an ethnicity, not a race. While the U.S. government first made this distinction in 1980, many Latinos continued to use the “some other race” box to establish a Hispanic identity. In a switch, the 2010 census forms specifically instructed Latinos that Hispanic origins are not races and to select a recognized category such as white or black.

The result: a 6 percent increase in white Americans as tallied by the census, even though there was little change among non-Hispanic whites. In all, the number of people in the “white alone” category jumped by 12.1 million over the last decade to 223.6 million. Based on that definition, whites now represent 72 percent of the U.S. population and account for nearly half of the total population increase since 2000…

Some demographers say the broadened white category in 2010 could lead to a notable semantic if not cultural shift in defining race and ethnicity. Due to the impact of Hispanics, the nation’s fastest-growing group, the Census Bureau has previously estimated that whites will become the minority in the U.S. by midcentury. That is based on a definition of whites as non-Hispanic, who are now at 196.8 million…

“What’s white in America in 1910, 2010 or even 2011 simply isn’t the same,” said Robert Lang, sociology professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, citing the many different groups of European immigrants in the early 20th century who later became known collectively as white. He notes today that could mean a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant in upstate New York or Jews and Italians in the lowest East side of Manhattan.

Fascinating – we have heard for some time now that within four or so decades, the percentage of whites within the United States would drop under 50%. But if more people see themselves as white, then it might be some time before this comes to pass.

I would be very interested to see who exactly has changed their self-identification from Hispanic to white. (We could also raise the question of whether those who categorize themselves as white are treated as white by others.) The article suggests it is second or third generation Hispanics and this would fit common sociological models: it is about at that point when immigrants assimilate more with the dominant group. If this is the case, does this suggest some widening gaps between Hispanics who have been in the United States longer versus those who are more recent immigrants?

What does this mean for debates about immigration? Implicit in some of these debates is the idea that Hispanic immigrants are not assimilating enough, hence a call for “English first” and limiting immigration. But if Hispanics are following a fairly typical American model where it takes a bit of time for new immigrants to become accepted as and/or see themselves as white, then more people can rest assured.

60% of British teenagers, 37% of adults “highly addicted” to their smartphones

A recent British study found that many teenagers are “highly addicted” to their smartphones:

Britons’ appetite for Facebook and social networks on the go is driving a huge demand for smartphones – with 60% of teenagers describing themselves as “highly addicted” to their device – according to new research by the media regulator, Ofcom…

The study, published on Thursday, also shows that smartphones have begun to intrude on our most private moments, with 47% of teenagers admitting to using their device in the toilet. Only 22% of adults confessed to the same habit. Unsurprisingly, mobile-addicted teens are more likely than adults to be distracted by their phones over dinner and in the cinema – and more would answer their phone if it woke them up…

Of the new generation of smartphone users, 60% of teenagers classed themselves as “highly addicted” to their device, compared to 37% of adults.

Ofcom surveyed 2,073 adults and 521 children and teenagers in March this year. The regulator defines teenagers as aged between 12 and 15, with adults 16-years-old and above.

Perhaps these results are not that surprising but it leads to several thoughts about addiction:

1. Since this is self-reported, couldn’t the percentage of teenagers and adults who are “highly addicted” actually be higher? If asked, how many people would admit to being “highly addicted” to things that they were actually addicted to?

2. That this many people were willing to say that they are “highly addicted” suggests that this addiction is probably considered to be normal behavior. If everyone or most people are actually addicted to using their smartphones, doesn’t this turn into a norm rather than an addiction in the eyes of the public? In twenty years, when these teenagers are the ones running these surveys, they may not use the same language or terms to describe phone/mobile device/computer use.

The poor cleaniness of home kitchens

Occasionally, one can find stories about how dirty homes can be. Here is more evidence, this time regarding unclean kitchens:

The small study from California’s Los Angeles County found that only 61 percent of home kitchens would get an A or B if put through the rigors of a restaurant inspection. At least 14 percent would fail — not even getting a C.

In comparison, nearly all Los Angeles County restaurants — 98 percent — get A or B scores each year.

On its own, these are interesting results: restaurant kitchens are generally more clean than home kitchens. But there is more to this story: how exactly researchers found out about the kitchens.

The study, released Thursday, is believed to be one of the first to offer a sizable assessment of food safety in private homes. But the researchers admit the way it was done is hardly perfect.

The results are based not on actual inspections, but on an Internet quiz taken by about 13,000 adults .

So it’s hard to use it to compare the conditions in home kitchens to those in restaurants, which involve trained inspectors giving objective assessments of dirt, pests, and food storage and handling practices.

What’s more, experts don’t believe the study is representative of all households, because people who are more interested and conscientious about food safety are more likely to take the quiz.

A more comprehensive look would probably find that an even smaller percentage of home kitchens would do well in a restaurant inspection, he suggested.

On one hand, this sounds like innovative research that is the first to provide a broad overview of the cleanliness of American kitchens. On the other hand, the way the data was collected suggests one should be wary about making definitive conclusions.

The online quiz is also reliant on self-reporting.