Study finds cannabis linked to increased risks for teenagers

Research that combined the results of 11 studies has found an association (but not a causal link) between cannabis use and ‘low to moderate’ mental health issues and risks of suicide amongst teenagers.

It is still not certain whether cannabis use causes increased risks, or whether people at higher risk are more likely to use cannabis (as self medication or as an escape).

NZ Herald:  New study of 23,000 teen cannabis smokers confirms link to later mental health problems

Cannabis use during adolescence is linked to an increased risk of depression and suicidal behaviour in young adulthood, a new study has found.

But the level of increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts and attempts found in United States study is only low to moderate. No link was found to anxiety.

The research combines the results of 11 separate studies published over the past 15 years that together included more than 23,000 adolescent cannabis smokers and assessed their mental health when aged 18 to 32. People with prior depression were excluded.

“This review both confirms and reinforces findings from the research literature on the adverse psychological effects of regular cannabis use by mid- to late adolescents,” said Dr Joe Boden, the deputy director of the University of Otago’s Christchurch long-term health and development study.

“The findings of this [US] study further reinforce our concerns about the public health implications of any changes we may choose to make to cannabis laws in New Zealand,” Boden told the Science Media Centre.

Boden has written previously that there is growing evidence that regular or heavy use of cannabis may increase risks of: mental health problems, other forms of illicit drug use, dropping out of school and educational underachievement, and car crashes and injuries.

The new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, does not state how much cannabis the research participants smoked, which is considered a significant omission.

And the study type could not show causal links. British experts have pointed out that as well as cannabis possibly affecting later mental health, it is plausible that people prone to mental health problems are more likely to smoke cannabis.

Dr Lindsey Hines, of the University of Bristol, said it was already known that using cannabis coincided with anxiety, depression and self-harm in teenagers.

While the US study suggested a link between early cannabis use and later issues, “we don’t know if cannabis use as a teenager is causing these adult mental health problems.

“It could be that these behaviours are all due to shared underlying risk factors, such as early adversity or genetics.”

Professor Sir Robin Murray, a psychiatry researcher at King’s College London, said that although the modest risk increase found in the US study was probably real, better-quality studies had found cannabis use increased the risk of schizophrenia-like psychosis more than the risk of depression or anxiety.

He also noted limitations in the US study, including that the researchers had not specified the quantity or type of cannabis smoked.

So this new super-study adds to the information available, but leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Risks to teenagers of alcohol use is a reason that alcohol sales are restricted to those under 18.

It should also be noted that many teenagers are already using cannabis, so whether cannabis is decriminalised or not needs to consider whether that would increase (or decrease) cannabis use amongst teenagers.

And any drug is potentially harmful to people of any age – as well as being potentially beneficial ib some circumstances.

 

Alarming NZ obesity trend – 2 million by 2030s

Obesity has become a huge health issue in the developed world, including New Zealand, to the extent that some predict that life expectancy may already be reducing.

When I was younger I could eat whatever I liked without worrying about my weight. But middle age changed that, and now I need to be constantly aware of my diet to avoid the dreaded middle aged spread.

It looks like I am in a shrinking minority.

RNZ: Two million New Zealanders will be obese by the 2030s – study

A new study is predicting two million New Zealanders could be considered clinically obese in the next 20 years.

The Otago University study found that Body Mass Index (BMI) of New Zealanders is on the rise and the average BMI is on track to be above the obesity threshold by the early 2030s.

BMI is only an approximate indicator but is commonly used as an easy measure of obesity.

An index between 18.5kg/m2 and 25kg/m2 is considered the healthy weight range – anything at 30kg/m2 or above is considered to be obese.

I’m usually near the top of the ‘healthy’ range, but that’s in part because I have relatively dense bones. I have been tested, monitored and body scanned in a University study a few years ago, and this showed I have a relatively high BMI for my height and weight.

You can calculate your BMI here: BMI calculator

Mine is 24.21, it drops by .32 for every kg I reduce.

While only one health factor the BMI is an easy way to measure trends.

Lead researcher Ross Wilson said obesity rates had tripled between 1977 and 2013.

“High BMI has now overtaken tobacco as the greatest contributor to health loss in New Zealand, which emphasises the public health importance of these findings,” Mr Wilson said.

Healthcare costs associated with treating obesity-related conditions in New Zealand were estimated to be $624 million in 2006.

Mr Wilson said given ongoing increases in obesity over the past decade, current costs were likely to be substantially higher than this.

Results from an annual Ministry of Health survey late last year showed that 1.2 million adults and 99,000 children aged between two to 14 were dangerously overweight.

Those figures have been increasing since 2011, with a rise of nearly 6 percent and 4 percent, respectively from 10 years ago.

Otago University Professor of medicine Jim Mann said those were terrible statistics but he was not surprised.

I’ve participated in a number or food studies in his department.

“My main reaction is one of continuing dismay … the population [for obesity] is horrendous, we’ve got an epidemic of obesity so it’s a good reminder that we’ve got one enormous problem in New Zealand,” he said.

Weight is a result of a fairly simple equation – energy consumed (via food) versus energy used.

But controlling weight is increasingly difficult for an increasing number of people.

As a population we are increasingly inactive, and also eat more, as well as eating a greater quantity of highly processed high energy foods and drinks.

One recent fad is using blenders to render more fruit and vegetables than you would normally consume into an easily digestible (and unnatural) mush. Why not just eat an apple or banana or orange?

One major problem is marketing – it is increasingly common to be urged to consume unhealthy amounts of relatively unhealthy foods. And many people are susceptible to this marketing.

I want to stay healthy as long as I can and live as long as I can, and make reasonable efforts to increase my odds.

One simple positive change is to train myself to look for quality of food, and less of it. In my youth I was largely interested in quantity. Smaller better servings are actually more enjoyable when you get the right sort of mindset.

One of my biggest motivations is from my determination to not get a pot gut. There are plenty around to keep reminding me what I should avoid – but it is something that can happen very quickly if you over indulge and under exercise.

Many people get trapped in overweight bodies. Once you have one it can be very difficult to turn things around, and even more difficult to keep things turned around.

One problem is that we are genetically programmed to stock up on fat reserves when there is an abundance of food, but unlike our ancestors we always have an abundance of high energy sugary fatty foods readily available.

So we need to retrain ourselves. That’s an ongoing challenge, but success can be quire rewarding. As rewarding as extending our lives, potentially substantially.

Bias against atheists

An international study claims that there is bias against atheists in countries around the world, with the only exceptions being in Finland and New Zealand. Our tolerance to religion and our tendency to keep religion to ourselves are likely factors.

RNZ: Study shows international bias against atheists

According to a new study, some atheists even have an in-built “anti-atheist bias” when it comes to judging a person’s morality.

But anti-atheist bias was strongest where there are high numbers of believers, like the United Arab Emirates, United States and India.

A diverse bunch of biased countries.

Only New Zealand and Finland did not exhibit a clear bias against atheists.

The study, put together by an international team and published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, was based on the responses of more than 3000 people across 13 countries and five continents.

Across the study group, it was found people were twice as likely to believe the killer was an atheist.

Study co-author Will Gervais, a psychology professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, told news agency AFP: “It is striking that even atheists appear to hold the same intuitive anti-atheist bias.

“I suspect that this stems from the prevalence of deeply entrenched pro-religious norms.

“Even in places that are currently quite overtly secular, people still seem to intuitively hold on to the belief that religion is a moral safeguard.”

But apparently not so in New Zealand. Which doesn’t surprise me, generally here people have no idea whether people are religious or not, and don’t care if they are because it impacts little outside where the practice their religion.

And a significant proportion of the Kiwi population are virtual atheists or are barely or nominally religious.

Study: teenage violence a serious problem

According to a NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse paper Dr Melanie Beres that has just been released teenage violence and sexual abuse are serious problems – we already knew that but this has quantified it.

NZ Herald: NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse study on adolescent relationship violence revealed

Report’s findings

  • Up to 60 per cent of high school students have been in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship.
  • 29 per cent of New Zealand secondary students reported being hit or harmed by another person in the previous year.
  • 20 per cent of female and 9 per cent of male secondary school students reported having experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in the previous year. The majority of incidents were perpetrated by a boyfriend, girlfriend or friend.
  • 21 per cent of women who stayed in women’s refuges were aged 15-19 years.
  • ​About 9 per cent of New Zealand secondary school students said they were attracted to people of the same-sex, or unsure of their sexual attraction, and up 3 per cent identified as transgender or unsure of their gender identity.
  • ​Compared with other New Zealanders, adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 have the highest rates of intimate partner violence, according to the New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey.
  • ​Intimate-partner violence is perpetrated by and against people from all communities, ethnic groups and socio-economic backgrounds, but marginalised groups are at higher risk.

Dr Melanie Beres:

“Adolescence is a key time where we learn about how to have intimate relationships”.

“If our introduction to relationships is around issues of power and control and emotional abuse this can influence later relationships in life”

“Boys are taught to be tough, strong and in control. They are taught that they should want sex and it’s their job to initiate and ‘get’ it.”

“Girls are taught to be polite and to be nurturers by looking after the feelings of others . . . They are cautioned that being “too sexual” is a risk for them because boys cannot control themselves.”

“There was talk that they are good boys who made a mistake rather than looking at their behaviour and saying this is a problem, there’s a bigger issue here.”

“This is not just about these two individuals, this is actually about a social problem we have in the ways young men are taught to perceive young women and talk about young women.”

“If we are serious about solving this issue we need to put more resources into primary prevention to look at building healthy relationships rather than intervening when things are already pear shaped.

“It’s about learning how to value other things in men and women.”

Newstalk ZB: Revealed: Damning stats show teenage abuse a serious problem in NZ

Paper author Dr Melanie Beres, of the University of Otago, said there are two separate issues at play.

She said it shows “the severity of what does and can happen in adolescent relationships”.

“It also speaks to the lack of support around those individuals, in terms of needing to seek that support,” she said.

Dr Beres said violence within adolescent relationship often falls through the cracks.

“We think that they’re fleeting and that next week they’ll have a different love interest, so that also extents to the way in which adults think about violence in adolescent relationships.”

Big problems with no easy or quick solutions, but more has to be done.

Spanking gets spanked in US study

A US study that looked at half a century of research has found that spanking was generally ineffective and counter productive in disciplining children,  and “both spanking and physical abuse were associated with the same detrimental child outcomes in the same direction and nearly the same strength.”

This will be looking at physical punishment rather than the occasional tap on the backside.

University of Texas: Risks of Harm from Spanking Confirmed by Analysis of Five Decades of Research

The more children are spanked, the more likely they are to defy their parents and to experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties, according to a new meta-analysis of 50 years of research on spanking by experts at The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan.

The study, published in this month’s Journal of Family Psychology, looks at five decades of research involving over 160,000 children. The researchers say it is the most complete analysis to date of the outcomes associated with spanking, and more specific to the effects of spanking alone than previous papers, which included other types of physical punishment in their analyses.

“Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognize as spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviors,” says Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. “We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children.”

Hitting kids teaches the kids that hitting is an acceptable way to deal with behaviour they don’t like. It’s not.

“The upshot of the study is that spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children. Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do,” Grogan-Kaylor says.

Parents and ex-children will cite situations and childhoods where physical punishment has been effective, and in some cases it may have the desired immediate effect, but in general it has negative consequences.

Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor tested for some long-term effects among adults who were spanked as children. The more they were spanked, the more likely they were to exhibit anti-social behavior and to experience mental health problems.

They were also more likely to support physical punishment for their own children, which highlights one of the key ways that attitudes toward physical punishment are passed from generation to generation.

This shouldn’t really be surprising. It has become socially unacceptable to hit partners and friends and people on the street or wherever, and the same should apply to children – in fact more so. A powerful adult hitting a vulnerable child just doesn’t look good, nor does it make sense.

Many of us grew up in an age where physical punishment at home and at school was normal (I got whacked a lot at school but not at home). We have had to learn better ways of disciplining – and there almost always are better ways.

The researchers looked at a wide range of studies and noted that spanking was associated with negative outcomes consistently and across all types of studies, including those using the strongest methodologies such as longitudinal or experimental designs. As many as 80 percent of parents around the world spank their children, according to a 2014 UNICEF report. Gershoff notes that this persistence of spanking is in spite of the fact that there is no clear evidence of positive effects from spanking and ample evidence that it poses a risk of harm to children’s behavior and development.

Both spanking and physical abuse were associated with the same detrimental child outcomes in the same direction and nearly the same strength.

“We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors,” she says. “Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.”

That may alarm some people, especially those with some guilt about their own methods of disciplining, but we can and should all learn from our mistakes and our mistaken belief in the use of old fashioned violence.

Gershoff also noted that the study results are consistent with a report released recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that called for “public engagement and education campaigns and legislative approaches to reduce corporal punishment,” including spanking, as a means of reducing physical child abuse. “We hope that our study can help educate parents about the potential harms of spanking and prompt them to try positive and non-punitive forms of discipline.”

All parents are imperfect and make mistakes and do things we may regret, especially under pressure. And there is a lot of relentless pressure on parents.

But we should learn to do better and to teach our kids (and grand kids) better ways of behaving, by example. We should now accept that spanking and smacking and whacking and other forms of physical punishment are outdated and inappropriate – and generally ineffective.

Difficulties replicating scientific studies

Maggy Wassilieff posted: Major overhaul of science and science publishing long overdue.

According to a recent survey published in the journal Nature, more than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments.

Linking to BBC: Most scientists ‘can’t replicate studies by their peers’

Science is facing a “reproducibility crisis” where more than two-thirds of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, research suggests.

Has scientific study become too complex to easily replicate? Or are too many studies poorly done?

From his lab at the University of Virginia’s Centre for Open Science, immunologist Dr Tim Errington runs The Reproducibility Project, which attempted to repeat the findings reported in five landmark cancer studies.

“The idea here is to take a bunch of experiments and to try and do the exact same thing to see if we can get the same results.”

You could be forgiven for thinking that should be easy. Experiments are supposed to be replicable.

The authors should have done it themselves before publication, and all you have to do is read the methods section in the paper and follow the instructions.

Sadly nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth.

After meticulous research involving painstaking attention to detail over several years (the project was launched in 2011), the team was able to confirm only two of the original studies’ findings.

Two more proved inconclusive and in the fifth, the team completely failed to replicate the result.

“It’s worrying because replication is supposed to be a hallmark of scientific integrity,” says Dr Errington.

A lot of science must be ok, the world continues to advance through many areas of science. For example new drugs do seem to be effective in part at least.

But if scientific study can’t meet a fundamental requirement of sound research – being able to be replicated – then there should be major concerns.

Concern over the reliability of the results published in scientific literature has been growing for some time.

According to a survey published in the journal Nature last summer, more than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments.

Is that because of a lack of understanding of how to do the experiments? Or poor initial research?

The reproducibility difficulties are not about fraud, according to Dame Ottoline Leyser, director of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge.

That would be relatively easy to stamp out. Instead, she says: “It’s about a culture that promotes impact over substance, flashy findings over the dull, confirmatory work that most of science is about.”

Similar in a way to journalists and media tending more towards glitz and click bait and doing less investigative research on things that really matter.

She says it’s about the funding bodies that want to secure the biggest bang for their bucks, the peer review journals that vie to publish the most exciting breakthroughs, the institutes and universities that measure success in grants won and papers published and the ambition of the researchers themselves.

“Everyone has to take a share of the blame,” she argues. “The way the system is set up encourages less than optimal outcomes.”

Hence, presumably, Maggy suggesting “Major overhaul of science and science publishing long overdue.”

“Replication is something scientists should be thinking about before they write the paper,” says Ritu Dhand, the editorial director at Nature.

“It is a big problem, but it’s something the journals can’t tackle on their own. It’s going to take a multi-pronged approach involving funders, the institutes, the journals and the researchers.”

But we need to be bolder, according to the Edinburgh neuroscientist Prof Malcolm Macleod.

“The issue of replication goes to the heart of the scientific process.”

Writing in the latest edition of Nature, he outlines a new approach to animal studies that calls for independent, statistically rigorous confirmation of a paper’s central hypothesis before publication.

“Without efforts to reproduce the findings of others, we don’t know if the facts out there actually represent what’s happening in biology or not.”

Without knowing whether the published scientific literature is built on solid foundations or sand, he argues, we’re wasting both time and money.

“It could be that we would be much further forward in terms of developing new cures and treatments. It’s a regrettable situation, but I’m afraid that’s the situation we find ourselves in.”

So will anything change?

Not only is suspect research a problem – if there are a lot of questions about research reliability then it allows doubts to be raised even over good research.

Study: medical cannabis reduces health costs

Research now supports the assumption that in places that allow the use of medicinal cannabis the rates of painkiller abuse and overdoses “fell sharply”. This reduces costs.

“The results suggest people are really using marijuana as medicine and not just using it for recreational purposes.”

Washington Post: One striking chart shows why pharma companies are fighting legal marijuana

There’s a body of research showing that painkiller abuse and overdose are lower in states with medical marijuana laws. These studies have generally assumed that when medical marijuana is available, pain patients are increasingly choosing pot over powerful and deadly prescription narcotics. But that’s always been just an assumption.

Now a new study, released in the journal Health Affairs, validates these findings by providing clear evidence of a missing link in the causal chain running from medical marijuana to falling overdoses.

The study found that, in the 17 states with a medical-marijuana law in place by 2013, prescriptions for painkillers and other classes of drugs fell sharply compared with states that did not have a medical-marijuana law.

The drops were quite significant: In medical-marijuana states, the average doctor prescribed 265 fewer doses of antidepressants each year, 486 fewer doses of seizure medication, 541 fewer anti-nausea doses and 562 fewer doses of anti-anxiety medication.

But most strikingly, the typical physician in a medical-marijuana state prescribed 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers in a given year.

pot_prescriptions4

The study ran a similar analysis on drug categories that pot typically is not recommended for — blood thinners, anti-viral drugs and antibiotics. And on those drugs, they found no changes in prescribing patterns after the passage of marijuana laws.

“This provides strong evidence that the observed shifts in prescribing patterns were in fact due to the passage of the medical marijuana laws,” they write.

“The results suggest people are really using marijuana as medicine and not just using it for recreational purposes.”

But pharmaceutical companies have been strongly opposing liberalisation of cannabis laws.

These companies have long been at the forefront of opposition to marijuana reform,funding research by anti-pot academics and funneling dollars to groups, such as the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, that oppose marijuana legalization.

Pharmaceutical companies have also lobbied federal agencies directly to prevent the liberalization of marijuana laws.

Cannabis is easy to grow and products are difficult to patent so companies cannot protect their markets except by cutting competition out of the equation through laws.

In what may be the most concerning finding for the pharmaceutical industry, the Bradfords took their analysis a step further by estimating the cost savings to Medicare from the decreased prescribing.

They found that about $165 million was saved in the 17 medical marijuana states in 2013. In a back-of-the-envelope calculation, the estimated annual Medicare prescription savings would be nearly half a billion dollars if all 50 states were to implement similar programs.

Presumably states in the US would also benefit from sales taxes and reduced policing costs.

The New Zealand Treasury has estimated (Legal cannabis could collect $150 million a year but Bill English isn’t pursuing it):

Collecting an extra $150 million a year in tax revenue at a time when the health, education and housing sectors are all screaming out for money – sounds like a no-brainer, right?

The catch? Legalising cannabis.

This week Nelson lawyer Sue Grey revealed through an Official Information Act request some informal notes from Treasury, which calculated that legalisation would not only generate money,  but also save $400m a year on enforcement of drug prohibition.

So allowing the legal use of medical products derived from cannabis would have significant health benefits and significant cost benefits.

But Bill English and National continue to oppose any liberalisation of cannabis laws.

So people suffer more than they should, or they openly flout the law:

Helen Kelly: ‘My back is broken and I only have months to live but I’m pain free’

Tumours have broken Helen Kelly’s back and she only has months to live but illegally taking cannabis means she’s pain free.

The former Council of Trade Unions president was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in February last year and was initially given about seven weeks to live.

“I am going to die very soon, there’s no cure, it’s grown like crazy.”

“Cannabis is the only thing that gives me relief, it lets me sleep all night.”

“I’m not a hippy but I’m amazed how it works…people use it on their arthritis with incredible results.”

“It’s wonderful – but illegal.”

The Government could quite easily make a real difference to many people’s lives, people who are suffering.

Treasury has even provided Bill English with a cost benefit analysis. The US study backs this – it “found that the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative fell significantly, once a medical marijuana law was implemented”.

English and National refusing to consider any law change is hard to comprehend.

More generalist and careerist MPS

A new study has put numbers to what has often been suggested – that today’s MPs have less traditional backgrounds (like farming and unions).

A third of MPs are political careerists with limited experience outside public service and politics. “Over 30% of them have entered Parliament after careers exclusively spanning government, public sector or politics.”

“If you have no real career other than politics, you are unlikely to want to rock the boat. Challenging the establishment will seldom be in a career politician’s best interests.”

New Zealand MPs are now less likely to be from traditional careers in business and unions, and more likely to be generalists who turn to politics as a career, according to a study released today.

The study, by political researcher Geoffrey Miller and public relations expert Mark Blackham, researched and compared the career histories of all 121 Members of the current Parliament.

They found that business owners, agriculturalists and unionists have a falling share of voice in their traditional parties, and have been replaced by people with no specific career interests, or careers limited to government and politics.

Miller said 23% of National MPs had experience working in a business, and only 10% of Labour MPs had worked in a union.

Miller said that while Parliament had become more ethnically and gender diverse under MMP, the range of prior occupations was becoming increasingly narrow.

Miller added that younger MPs were especially likely to be beholden to the parties they represented because of their decision to pursue politics as a profession.

Blackham said the rise of generalists reflected both a change in employment patterns in the wider community, and a perception that politics was an employment option as well as a calling. Almost a fifth of MPs had no definable career before politics.

“Parliament is reflecting something ordinary people are experiencing; the tendency to go through a range of jobs rather than a single career. Wide experience of life may well help MPs to understand the public they represent.

“But there is a less creditable trend toward seeing politics as an employment option. For these MPs, the job follows a working life solely in government or politics. This is a new phenomenon.”

Three major conclusions from the report:

  1. The traditional difference in economic sectors represented in the major political parties is extinct;
    National now has proportionately few farmers or business people.
    Labour has few unionists or blue collar workers, but is strongest in MPs with varied non-specific employment experience.
    The Party with proportionately the most business experience is New Zealand First.
    The party with proportionately the most activists is the Green Party.
  2. One third of our politicians have only ever worked in political jobs. Over 30% of them have entered Parliament after careers exclusively spanning government, public sector or politics.
  3. MPs are now reflecting the wider employment trend of having multiple careers or having worked in a wide range of jobs. Nearly 20% of all MPs have had ‘multiple’ careers.

MPWorkExperience

Noteworthy findings

  1. 34% of MPs have a career history entirely working for the government in some form.
  2. The biggest category was “multiple” careers – where MPs have worked in various employment, and not followed a particular career or field of expertise. Labour had proportionately the greatest number in this category (one quarter of its MPs)
  3. The single most common career has been employment in the business world (19 MPs, and generally management work, not entrepreneurial or operational), followed by a career in government (15 MPs).
  4. There are 10 career politicians (vs. 12 MPs in previous Parliament).
  5. Labour Party now has a notable presence of MPs with careers in the Maori sector (5/32 MPs in 2015 compared to 3/34 MPs in 2014).
  6. New Zealand First remains dominated by MPs with business experience, particularly within SMEs.
  7. The Green Party remains dominated by those with a Unionist or Activist background (5/13 MPs).
  8. The two Maori Party MPs both have a background in education.
  9. Between the 50th and 51st Parliaments, Labour has seen a decrease in MPs with unionist backgrounds (3 vs 5 MPs).
  10. National has fewer agricultural MPs than the previous parliament (6 vs 9 MPs)

National MPs have a wider variety of backgrounds than Labour MPs but part of the reason for this is there are nearly twice as many.

MPNationalWorkBackgrounds

MPLabourWorkBackground

I think that two significant factors behind choices to stand for Parliament now are:

It can be much more high profile with the chance of high media and opponent examination.

The time and cost commitment to standing as a candidate with a chance of being elected is high, especially standing for electorates. You pretty much have to dedicate several months at least to full time campaigning.

This is easier for people already employed by parties.

This isn’t as necessary for small parties (Greens and NZ First) where political unknowns can get in via their party list placement.

But even NZ First’s most recent MP, Ria Bond, a hairdresser from Invercargill, had spent time working for NZ First MPs in Wellington.

Pill popping pandemic

Medicines do a lot to improve health and save lives, but they are easily overused which creates different problems.

Ageing Well is doing a study into problems with taking too many drugs, especially by the elderly, although pills can be dished out in big dollops to children too which is another concern.

We have a bit of ill popping popping pandemic, where long term multiple prescription drugs can cause more problems than they resolve.

I’ve seen this happening when my step-father was first put into hospital care after his health had deteriorated quite quickly. After a while doctors reviewed all the pills he was popping and reduced them significantly. His health improved significantly as a result.

So Ageing Well is studying this and setting up a database of elderly patients.

One News reported: Too many pills pushing NZ’s elderly into care prematurely

A new push is underway to tackle the growing concern of our elderly being forced into care prematurely due to their pills.

International studies show 15 to 20 per cent of hospitalisations among older patients are caused by either the side effects of their drugs or overmedication.

“As you get older you tend to accumulate more long-term medications and they kind of build-up,” says Canterbury DHB geriatrician Dr Nigel Millar.

“Each one has a good reason behind it, but every so often you’ve got to think is this the right mix of medications?”

Now, as part of the government’s Ageing Well National Science Challenge, Otago University has launched a study to test a new electronic monitoring system, to see if it can accurately predict which elderly patients are most at risk.

Elderly are commonly on multiple medications that all have numerous potential side effects and it’s often difficult to monitor each drugs’ effectiveness and the outcomes of those medicines interacting.”

The study is comparing patient outcomes on a world-leading Ministry of Health database of 80,000 elderly patients’ health information, with results from a newly-developed electronic measure called the Drug Burden index or DBI.

Details from Ageing Well: Drug Burden Index

Medications clearly have benefits for patients. However, all medications have side effects.   Commonly now many patients are on multiple medications.

The side effects of medications can lead to falls, fractures and potentially early admission into aged residential care. It is hard for health professionals to take into the account of all the side effects of medications.

To deal with this a new scale has been developed call the drug burden index (DBI). This scale adds up the side effects of medications and presents it in a way that is easily interpretable to health professionals.

This study assesses if the drug burden index predicts adverse effects (such as falls and fractures) after taking into account other comorbidities that older people may have (such as poor mobility and reduced memory).

The study will also have strong links with other research in the National Science Challenge and will assess if high amounts of medications are associated with loneliness, social isolation and depression.

Further detail:  Drug Burden Index

Debate continues on alcohol and violence

Following the previous post  Alcohol, violence and inhibitions here are more comments on the alcohol and violence debate at The Standard post Not all research is created equal.

Psycho Milt:

“This report’s lie by omission is that alcohol weakens those inhibitions.”

What lie by omission? First, saying that alcohol lowers inhibitions is a very different thing from saying that alcohol causes violence. Second, Fox’s statement “violent people were more likely to act violently in certain situations” assumes the situation “inhibitions lowered by alcohol.” What exactly is the complaint about Fox’s research, other than that you don’t like the resulting recommendations?

Macro:

“First, saying that alcohol lowers inhibitions is a very different thing from saying that alcohol causes violence.”

Tell that to the Police, Ambulance staff, and staff in Hospital Emergency rooms around the country. You might also try telling that to all the battered women, beaten by intoxicated partners.
It’s not the greatest leap of reason, to move from
“Intoxication lowers inhibitions” to
“Intoxication increases the propensity for those with a violent disposition to behave violently”.
Had Fox actually said that, then the report would not have been published, because it would have admitted that alcohol was a prime factor in many instances of violent behaviour. But No! we have the weasel words
“violent people were more likely to act violently in certain situations”
The lie is in the deliberate omission that alcohol is involved.

But Macro has omitted many things that Fox wrote in her report about alcohol’s involvement.

Psycho Milt:

Her point is that the person’s culture and personality bestowing them with a predisposition to violence is the prime factor, so she’s hardly likely to declare alcohol the prime factor. Alcohol is incidental, contributing no more than a lowering of inhibitions. It’s true that in some people, the lowering of inhibitions is a very bad idea because their true selves are malicious and violent, but the bottom line is that the problem isn’t the recreational drug, it’s the loathsome creature using it. Policy that directs itself to the drug rather than the loathsome creature is a waste of effort.

Magisterium:

“There is overwhelming historical and cross-cultural evidence that people learn not only how to drink but how to be affected by drink through a process of socialisation…Numerous experiments conducted under strictly controlled conditions (double-blind, with placebos) on a wide range of subjects and in different cultures have demonstrated that both mood and actions are affected far more by what people think they have drunk than by what they have actually drunk…In simple terms, this means that people who expect drinking to result in violence become aggressive; those who expect it to make them feel sexy become amorous; those who view it as disinhibiting are demonstrative. If behaviour reflects expectations, then a society gets the drunks it deserves.”

Heath, D.B. (1998). Cultural variations among drinking patterns. In M.Grant and J.Litvak (eds.), Drinking Patterns and their Consequences. Washington: Taylor & Francis.

Magisterium then explains the different approaches to alcohol and violence from a health perspective versus a behavioural perspective:

There is a big divide between people studying alcohol from a health perspective and people studying alcohol from a behavioural perspective. The former tend to have as a baseline the position that alcohol is a poison and poisons are bad for your health so we should research alcohol’s health impacts; the latter tend to have as a baseline the position that drinking alcohol is something that people do and what people do is interesting so we should research the things that people do with and without alcohol.

Thus we have Doctor of Anthropology Anne Fox publishing a paper that says “alcohol doesn’t cause violence, violent people cause violence” so Miss Nicki Jackson, Auckland Uni PhD student in the Dept of Health and Medical Science calls the report “completely flawed”. These two people speak different languages, and I wonder why the Herald contacted a person working academically in the field of health and medicine to comment on a report in the field of human behaviour.

In the world of human behaviour and how alcohol affects it, the defining work of academic scholarship is MacAndrew, C. and Edgerton, R. (2003) “Drunken Comportment: A Social Explanation”. Aldine, Chicago. If you haven’t read it and you’re not familiar with its conclusions then you really shouldn’t be making claims on how alcohol affects people’s behaviour. Because some very clever people have done decades of research involving people and cultures all over the world and they know more about this shit than you, and their findings have been critiqued and dissected and reproduced by other very clever people. And if you don’t know what conclusions all that research produced then you really shouldn’t go around claiming that alcohol causes violence, because you’re like someone claiming vaccines cause autism because everyone knows that because you saw it on Facebook.

Just about all anthropological research arrives at the same conclusion (I say most because I haven’t read every single paper in the world, and who knows one might disagree, but I have yet to find it): the way alcohol affects human behaviour is entirely cultural. People who get drunk don’t become violent as a matter of course; rather, people who get drunk act the way they have learned to act when drunk, or they act the way they think they can get away with while drunk, and in some cultures that means violence.

Basically, anyone who’s done any research on drunken behaviour will be completely unsurprised by Dr Fox’s research paper because, well, it just confirms everything that every other anthropological study on the topic says. They all reach the same conclusion: alcohol doesn’t cause violence.

Public health professionals all cringe when such papers are published because, like I said at the start, they’re coming from a position of ALCOHOL BAD and anything that says drinking alcohol can be a completely pleasant and uncontroversial experience for all involved is tantamount to heresy in that academic field.

A One News report had slammed Fox’s report in Lion’s research suggesting booze has little relation to violence slammed by academics

The report was funded by booze company Lion and took just seven weeks of research, suggesting alcohol has little to do with violent behaviour.

Gristle picked up on this:

7 weeks to undertake research and write a report is pretty good going. My guess is there was no research but reinterpretation of other people’s research. I doubt the report went through the normal peer reviewing by suitable qualified people.

this sounds like the “tobacco research” where the industry purposely created dubious research and skilfully placed it in the media to create the impression that the science was not settled and no regulation was required. This same approach has occurred with lead in petrol, car safety, CFCs, global warming.

The media is being played. It is a fundamental failing of the media not to have developed skills and methods to handle scientific debate and the role of self interested corporates and their supporting institutions and funded science.

It seems to me that the media can be played by different sides of the debate.

Psycho Milt addressed the 7 week diss.

The 7 weeks involved a team of researchers looking specifically at the Aus/NZ environment. There’d already been an extensive literature review, not to mention the 20 years she’d spent researching alcohol use in non-Aus/NZ situations. Writing the report took a further year.

The report states: Fieldwork commencing in July 2013. The paper was finalised in January 2015.

That’s 18 months rather than 7 weeks.

Gristle:

Of course one of the tests of research is to see how often it is referenced by leading researchers in the field. Unfortunately this process takes years.

And it is more likely to be referenced by researchers who agree with the behavioural approach to the problem rather than those who have a health perspective.

Magisterium:

this sounds like the “tobacco research” where the industry purposely created dubious research and skilfully placed it in the media to create the impression that the science was not settled and no regulation was required

No, it pretty much just confirms what every other anthropological study of the subject has concluded. It’s an entirely uncontroversial paper containing no real surprises.

Incognito:

There is nothing in the Fox Report to indicate that it has undergone anything like a peer-review. There are many assertions that are not backed up with literature citations but simply rely on her personal beliefs and experience and are subjectively worded.

”Elsewhere in this paper I acknowledge that alcohol has a very real physiological effect, but based on decades of research in the field, I am convinced that these physiological effects in no way determine a behavioural response.” [p# 15]

”As an anthropologist who has spent thousands of hours observing drunken behaviour, I can confidently assert that it is as predictable as any other ritually governed human behaviour.” [p# 16]

Magisterium:

This is a pretty good metasummary of the current understanding of drunken behaviour, drawing on the conclusions of hundreds of peer-reviewed papers:

http://www.sirc.org/publik/drinking3.html

TLDR? Everyone concludes the same thing as Dr Fox.

Incognito:

Looks interesting, thank you; will read later if you don’t mind. I do note, in passing, that the Foreword is dated 1998.

Who’s “Everyone”? Am I supposed to take this literally, in which case it is clearly incorrect?

The debate on alcohol and violence will no doubt continue, as will research.

Some questions I have from all of this:

  • If alcohol causes violence why are most people who drink alcohol not violent when drinking?
  • If alcohol causes violence are do some people only violent some times when they are drinking alcohol?
  • Why are people who are violent when drinking alcohol also violent when they are not drinking alcohol?
  • Were humans non-violent before alcohol use began (thought to be about 9,000 years ago).
  • Were Maori and other native populations non-violent before alcohol was introduced by Europeans?
  • If we had alcohol prohibition would violence reduce?

I have never become violent or felt like being violent when drinking alcohol.

Fox’s study report: Understanding behaviour in the Australian and New Zealand night-time economies

Frequently asked questions on alcohol use at CDC.