Written and researched by Bob Murray, PhD
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Warning Over Child Animal Cruelty
November 26, 2001
Children who commit acts of violence against animals are more likely to grow into violent adults -- perhaps even killers -- says a researcher.
Phil Arkow, Chair of the Child and Animal Abuse Prevention Project in the US, told the BBC that children who become obsessive or preoccupied with cruelty against animals were on a dangerous path.
Interviews with more than 100 US serial killers showed that most had a history of some form of animal abuse in their childhoods. Other researchers say they have found a link between animal abuse and later risk of domestic violence.
Many children, particularly boys, commit some kind of cruel act against an animal, at some point in their childhood - and few of these become a danger to society. However, Arkow said that where possible, any signs of this sort should be nipped in the bud -- either by firm parental control, or by counselling. "Research shows that schoolyard shooters often had some instances of animal cruelty in their background. But nobody thought much of it -- they thought that boys would be boys. However, these boys grew up to be violent men."
Parents who spot their children harming an animal should make the point of reproaching them, he says. "The first thing they should do is talk to the child, let the child know that this is not normal, that the animals have feelings, that it's just not the polite thing to do."
In America, some veterinarians are taking part in a program which looks for signs of abuse in family pets brought to them and uses that as a warning sign of other types of violence in the home, such as domestic abuse.
And where do these kids get the idea that mis-treating animals is OK? Try biology lessons where they kill live frogs and dissect them, a point made forcefully in the movie ET. BM
Read more in BBC News
Read more in our Health News Archive story "Future Criminals Can Be Spotted Early"
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Prosper and Live Long!
November 10, 2001
A while ago we reported that studies showed that success and fame in life tended to increase longevity (see our health news story
Oscar Winners Live Longer), now a new study from Scotland, reported in the British Medical Journal shows that being wealthy can have the same effect.
According to the study, poor people who live into middle age tend to die of the same causes as their more affluent peers, but to die earlier.
The study identified the 70,365 surviving men and women in Scotland in 1974 who had been born there in 1920, and analyzed death and economic data about them until 1997, when they were 77. During those 23 years, about half of those alive in 1974 died; slightly more men than women died.
The economic data showed striking contrasts in death rates: 44 percent of the men in the richest fifth of the group died between the ages of 54 and 77, while 72 percent of the men in the poorest fifth did. Among the women, 30 percent of the most affluent women died, while 50 percent of the poorest did.
The poorest members of the group died of smoking-related causes slightly more often than the richest, and poor women died more often of cancer.
The researchers wrote that their findings clearly showed that no specific diseases were related to deprivation. "Rather," they added, "it is as though deprived people have the same mortality pattern as affluent people who are seven years older."
Similar studies have shown even greater disparities in the death rates of rich and poor in the US. BM
Read more in the British Medical Journal
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It's Safer to Be Married
October 26, 2001
According to a report published by the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, the rate at which men were killed by their wives or companions fell by close to two-thirds over the last 20 years. The rate at which men killed their 'ultimate partners' also fell, though by only by the one-third drop in overall homicide rate. Unfortunately women represented about two-thirds of all victims.
There were strong regional differences. Murders were more frequent in the South. There were also racial differences in the murder pattern.
In 1981, white men and women were victims of such crimes in roughly equal numbers. But by 1998, white women were twice as likely to be killed by an intimate partner as white men. In other words, women were not killing as many men. Blacks of both sexes were victims more often, but the decline for blacks was steeper, too: the number of women killed dropped 48 percent; for men, the decrease was 76 percent.
The researchers speculated that the sharper decline in the homicide rate for men was related to various social and legal movements that had given better alternatives to women in abusive relationships.
Women tend to stay in abusive relationships if they were abuse victims in childhood, and particularly if the abuser was her father or some older male. But why do men keep killing women? So much more research is needed on this topic. BM
Read more in The NY Times
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New Link Between Sexual Abuse and Eating Disorders, Emotional Problems
September 4, 2001
Nearly one in ten girls and one in twenty boys report experiencing violence and/or being raped on a date. Those who were victims of date violence and rape also reported having higher rates of disordered eating, suicidal thoughts and attempts and lower scores on measures of emotional wellbeing and self-esteem.
These rather alarming statistics come from a survey of 81,247 ninth and twelfth grade boys and girls in Minnesota public schools.
Significant changes in mental health can be a signal to parents, health professionals and educators that abuse may be occurring in these adolescents' dating experiences, said the authors.
These findings were reported at the American Psychological Association's (APA) 109th Annual Convention in San Francisco, CA.
Psychologist Diann M. Ackard, PhD, LP, in private practice in Golden Valley, MN and public health nutritionist Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPH, RD, of the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, used the 1998 Minnesota Student Survey to assess the health attitudes, behaviors and experiences of ninth and twelfth graders.
Questions on date violence and rape, binge-eating behavior, self-esteem, emotional wellbeing, suicide and physical and sexual abuse by adults were included in the survey.
Adolescents who had abusive experiences, say the authors, are more likely to have disordered eating behaviors and poor psychological health. Experiencing both date violence and date rape leads to a higher risk of developing an eating disorder and other mental health problems than experiencing either date violence or date rape alone, according to the study.
Those experiencing both date violence and rape, said the authors, were more likely to have higher rates of binge-eating, fasting, taking diet pills, vomiting and taking laxatives over the past year than peers who had not experienced date violence or date rape.
"Disordered eating behaviors may be a way for youth who have been abused to project the painful experience onto their body," explain the authors. "They punish their body for the abuse or try to manipulate their body into becoming 'unattractive' to others and hope to reduce the likelihood of repeated experiences."
We have always seen eating disorders as a possible indicator of abuse in childhood. This study confirms that hypothesis. BM
Reported in Uniscience
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Most Young People 'Couch Potatos'
September 4, 2001
Most young people admit to taking absolutely no regular exercise at all. A survey has revealed that seven out of ten under-25s are fully paid up members of the couch potato club.
Not only do they lead far less healthy lifestyles than the over-55s, they also appear to be complacent about nutrition.
Only 53% think they eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables and the majority of under-25s know more about TV soaps than key aspects of healthy living.
Six out of 10 had no idea how much water they should drink daily, while 29% of those who did answer were wrong with most of them significantly underestimating the amount.
In contrast, 70% of people aged 55 or over considered themselves to be healthy eaters. While 66% of women said they had a balanced diet, only 44% of men made the same claim.
Psychologist Dr David Lewis, who analysed the findings, said: "It seems clear that a significant proportion of young people are putting their future health at risk, either through indifference or downright ignorance.
"They blithely assume that ill health is something that happens to others. Sadly this is far from true with physicians reporting such health risks as high blood pressure and furred arteries among the under 25s, with young males being most at risk."
Research has shown that a healthy diet and physical exercise need to begin early in life to prevent build up of potentially fatal coronary calcium deposits than can lead to heart disease.
Much research has shown that the healthiest generation in Britain are those whose early childhood was during the war years of 1939-1945. This was largely because their diet was regulated by rationing and it was before the age of the TV generation. BM
Read more on BBC News
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Another Blow To The Medical Model!
September 4, 2001
Will the demand for complementary and alternative medicine fade or is it here to stay? While US medical schools are developing complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) course work, and managed care organizations are providing some coverage for CAM therapies, little data existed to answer this question. Until now.
A new study by Harvard Medical School researchers, looking at trends over the past half-century, suggests that CAM is indeed here to stay for the foreseeable future.
The study, which appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine, examined trends in the use of 20 different CAMs, covering everything from acupuncture to yoga, among representative sociodemographic groups across the continental US.
"The findings really dispel two ideas, namely that complementary and alternative medicine is just a passing fad, and that it is used by one particular segment of society," said Ronald Kessler, Harvard Medical School professor of health care policy, who authored the study.
The use of alternative treatments was independent of gender, ethnicity, and level of education. Regional trends and city versus rural differences were also absent. Most of the 20 therapies have steadily increased in popularity since the 1960s, with the largest overall growth rate occurring during the transition from the 1960s to the 1970s.
Data compiled from over 2,000 interviews did show a trend towards the use of these therapies in younger respondents; by age 33, 7 out of 10 post-baby boomers (born 1965-79) had used some type of CAM, compared to 5 out of 10 baby boomers (born 1945-64), and 3 out of 10 pre-baby boomers (born before 1945). However, in all age groups the use of CAMs has steadily increased since the 1950s.
While all therapies showed increased usage over the decades, the study yielded interesting insights into the timing of societal adoption of particular therapies. In the 1960s, four particular therapies increased: markedly-commercial diet programs, lifestyle diet therapy, megavitamin therapy, and self-help groups. The 1970s showed increased use of biofeedback, energy healing, herbal medicine, and imagery. During the 1980s, massage and naturopathy increased, while yoga decreased in popularity. The 1990s showed particular increased adoption of aromatherapy, energy healing, herbal medicine, massage, and yoga.
One of the things I become very suspicious of is western-educated physicians who suddenly either become converted to alternative modalities of the most outrageous kind (crystals, past-life regression etc etc) or who try to co-opt alternative therapies into their practices seeing them as the next profit-center. BM
Reported in Uniscience
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Report Shows Americans Have More 'Labor Days'
September 4, 2001
A report issued by the International Labor Organization found that Americans added nearly a full week to their work year during the 1990's, climbing to 1,979 hours on average last year, up 36 hours from 1990. That means Americans who are employed are putting in nearly 49 1/2 weeks a year on the job.
Americans work 137 hours, or about three and one-half weeks, more a year than Japanese workers, 260 hours (about six and one-half weeks) more a year than British workers and 499 hours (about 12 1/2 weeks) more a year than German workers, the report said. The Japanese had long been at the top for the number of hours worked, but in the mid-1990's the United States surpassed Japan, and since then it has pulled farther ahead.
"It's unique to Americans that they continue to increase their working hours, while hours are declining in other industrialized nations," said Lawrence Jeff Johnson, the economist who oversaw the labor organization's report. "It has a lot to do with the American psyche, with American culture. American workers are eager to make the best impression, to put in the most hours."
Among the reasons for the large differences between the United States and other countries are that Europeans typically take four to six weeks of vacation each year while Americans take two to three weeks. And while American employers kept adding overtime during the 1990's, in France the government reduced the official work week to 35 hours.
Juliet Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College and the author of The Overworked American, said one reason for the nation's longer average work year was that American workers seemed to be increasingly squeezed during booms and busts alike. "All the direction seems to be for longer hours," Ms. Schor said. "In expansions, companies keep giving more work to their workers, and in recessions, there will be downsizing and fewer people working, but the workers who remain have to work longer hours to retain their jobs."
A few years ago the magazine American Demographics did a survey of American attitudes to work. They found that although Americans say they want more leisure time and more time with their families what they do in fact is the exact opposite. It may be that the increasing hours that people in the US work may well have something to do with the collapse of relationships and the social alienation people feel outside of the workplace. There is also ample evidence to support the contention that humans who work longer hours are more prone to spousal and child abuse, both of which are rising in the US. BM
Read more in The New York Times
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Schools and Drug Cos Rebuked for 'Pushing' Drugs on Kids
August 22, 2001
Our article "Running from Ritalin" has suddenly become much more topical with the news (NY Times August 19) that there is increasing pressure on parents from both drug companies and schools to put children on controlled drugs. Some of Ritalin's competitors are breaking with 30-year-old international marketing restrictions to advertize controlled drugs directly to parents, selling the idea that drugs may be the answer to their children's problems in school. And in some cases schools themselves are pressuring parents to give their children these drugs.
Ritalin and similar drugs are used to treat children who are suspected of having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Many psychiatrists and clinical psychologists are unsure whether these disorders even exist.
State legislatures are, at last, moving to prevent schools from recommending or requiring that parents put their children on medication. Last month, Minnesota became the first state to bar schools and child protection agencies from telling parents they must put their children on drugs to treat these and similar disorders. In October, Connecticut will go a step further when a new law takes effect prohibiting any school staff member from discussing drug treatments with a parent to assure that such talk comes only from doctors. Similar bills have been introduced in Arizona, New Jersey, New York, Utah and Wisconsin.
The political concern comes as producers of the drugs have begun an advertizing campaign that is unparalleled in spending and technique. In the back-to-school section of this month's Ladies' Home Journal, for example, tucked among the ads for cereal, bologna and Jell-O pudding, are three full-page advertisements for the ADHD treatments.
In one, for the new drug Metadate CD, an approving mother embraces her beaming son as the drug itself is named and promoted. This is a first. Metadate CD, like Ritalin, Adderall and similar drugs, are what are known as Schedule II controlled substances, the most addictive substances that are still legal. (Schedule I drugs like heroin and LSD are illegal.)
In keeping with a 1971 international treaty, such controlled substances have never been marketed directly to consumers, only to doctors. There is, however, no federal law to prevent drug companies from doing it. Yet the new magazine advertisement by Celltech Pharmaceuticals, the British maker of Metadate CD, states: "Introducing Metadate capsules. One dose covers his ADHD for the whole school day."
The ads are beginning to worry drug enforcement officials. Terry Woodworth, deputy director of the Office of Diversion Control of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said, "We have had a 30-year agreement with the pharmaceutical industry not to advertise controlled substances. Celltech has stepped up and beyond everyone else by advertizing a drug with a high potential for abuse." He said the campaign could have "diplomatic repercussions" and that Celltech had been recently asked to stop.
And the ads for Metadate and similar drugs have been effective, according to Dr Lawrence H. Diller, a behavioral pediatrician in Walnut Creek, California, who wrote a book called "Running on Ritalin." Parents coming to see him have begun asking for the drugs by name.
There have been many cases where schools have insisted that children take the behavior =odification drugs. One case cited in the NY Times story is of Patricia Weathers in Millbrook, NY. Mrs Weatrhers said her son's school told her to put him on Ritalin in first grade. By fourth grade, he was showing signs of severe anxiety, she said, chewing his clothes and paper. When Mrs Weathers took him off the drugs, she said, the school called the state's office of child protective services and accused her of medical neglect.
"You have the school psychologist, the teachers, the principal, all bombarding you, saying this is the only way to go," she said. "I fell for it, and I believe most parents fall for it. They want to do what's right for their child, and if the professionals are telling them this is right, you think, 'They must be right.'"
Like many parents who think Ritalin is overprescribed, Mrs Weathers complains that there is no scientific basis for the diagnosis of the disorders for which it is prescribed. "You can't tell me they all have this brain disorder during the school year, when during the summer they're fine," said Mrs Weathers, who now instructs her son at home.
It amazes me that you have people who say that our society is crazy and others, such as the UN, saying that there is a world-wide pandemic of such disorders as depression and ADD/ADHD. Isn't it about time we put the two together? BM
Read more in The New York Times
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Sunny Thoughts Raise Stock Prices
July 10, 2001
All you stock pickers attention! This is the news you have been waiting for! At last a real clue as to the way the market will behave. Forget Greenspan, the economy, psychics, and press pundits. It's the weather that does it!
According to a new study, daily returns at leading stock exchanges around the world are higher on sunny days than they are on overcast days.
Psychologists have long known that people tend to feel better on a warm, sunny day than they do on a cool, cloudy one. So researchers from Ohio State University and the University of Michigan studied stock exchanges in 26 countries from 1982 to 1997.
"On days when the sun is shining in the city of the leading exchange, stock trading tends to be better." says David Hershleifer from Ohio State's Fisher College of Business.
At the New York Stock Exchange, the average annual return from trading only on clear days was 24.8 per cent, while it was only 8.7 percent from trading on completely overcast days. Worldwide returns averaged 45.0 per cent on sunny days and only 16.2 per cent on cloudy ones.
"We're not saying to go out and trade based on the weather," adds Hershleifer. Rather, he suggests that people be aware of their moods when playing the stock market.
Investors, of course, want to take advantage of any useful information that can increase their profit margins. But the strategy will not work forever. "As knowledge of this effect spreads, traders will strive to take it into account," says Paul Webley, an economic psychologist from the University of Exeter. "So following the advice will dissipate the effect."
Webley believes that "virtual weather" -- computer graphics to affect your mood -- may be important in the future. "As trading is increasingly done on computer screens, by both professionals and amateurs, graphics that encourage optimism or pessimism may become more significant."
Now let me see: Buy on sunny days until a significant number of people have read this piece then go contrarian and sell. I think maybe we'll increase the value of this site by adding a stock-tips section. Sponsored by the National Weather Bureau perhaps? BM
Reported in New Scientist
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Garden of Delights for Care Home
August 8, 2001
The sensory sensations of a special garden are being enjoyed by residents at a care home for people with dementia. The garden, which stimulates all five senses, includes scented flowers, wind chimes, water features and herbs that crackle under foot.
It was the idea of Chris Rowlands, the charge nurse who runs the home. Before the garden was developed, it boasted just a solitary patch of daffodils.
But Mr Rowlands said a course he attended outlined the benefits of a sensory garden for patients with dementia. He took the ideas back to Bredon House, home to 19 dementia sufferers at Bupa's Court House care home in Malvern, Worcestershire in England. With the help of colleagues and gardener John Whitehead, he transformed the garden at a cost of just $3,000.
Mr Rowlands told BBC News Online: "Before we built this, it was unsafe and residents were unable to walk out there. Now they really enjoy it."
The garden has 'mock orange' flowers -- which as their name suggests smell fruity -- lilac, honeysuckle and jasmine. Thyme is built into cracks in the patio so that it crackles when residents walk on it, releasing the scent of the herb. Mr Rowlands said: "One of the consequences of Alzheimer's Disease is that people wander, now they can wander in this garden. It helps them relax."
He said research was being carried out into the effects of aromatherapy on dementia, with jasmine recognised as being effective in calming agitation.
The garden, developed over three months earlier this year, has also been designed so that wherever residents sit, they are facing into the garden so they do not feel enclosed.
As an evolutionary psychologist, I think I've got a handle on how aromatherapy works. Our ancestors came from the jungle and the savannah. We are genetically programmed to react to the natural scents of those environments. The scent deprivation of modern sanitized environments may well have a profoundly negative effect on those areas of our brains which specialize in emotions. This lack of natural sensory experience may contribute to a number of disorders, including depression and dementia. BM
Read more on BBC News
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About the Author
Dr Bob Murray is a widely published psychologist and expert on emotional health and optimal relationships. Together with his wife and long-term collaborator Alicia Fortinberry, he is founder of the highly successful Uplift Program, and author of Raising an Optimistic Child (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and Creating Optimism (McGraw-Hill, 2004).
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