Wealth does not equal mental health?

July 27, 2011

According to a new cross-national survey published in BMC Medicine, people living in wealthier counties are more likely to have experienced a depressive episode than those living in low and middle-income countries.

89,000 people in 18 countries were surveyed for major depressive episodes using a standardized set of questions. Approximately 15 percent of those living in 10 high-income nations reported having at least one depressive episode in their lifetime, The Huffington Post reports. For lower-income countries, the incidence was 11 percent.

No matter the location, it was found that women are almost twice as likely to experience depression. In wealthier countries, low-income respondents have double the risk of experiencing a depressive episode.

According to the research team:

“On one level, it seems counterintuitive that people in high-income countries should experience more stress than those in low- to middle-income countries. However, it has been suggested that depression is to some extent an illness of affluence.”

The countries found to have the highest prevalence of a depressive episode are:

  1. France– 21 %
  2. United States– 19.2 %
  3. Brazil– 18.4 %

The countries found to have the lowest incidence are:

  1. Mexico– 8 %
  2. India– 9 %
  3. South Africa– 9.8%

Lead study author Dr. Evelyn Bromet, a professor of psychiatry at State University of New York at Stony Brook, says the fact that the same interview was used in all 18 countries is a potential weakness of the study. The standardized questions may not capture depression as well in low-income countries where mental health is not as widely discussed and where citizens may be less likely to open up to a foreign interviewer.

To see the full list, click here.


New York Times Ombudsman Rebukes his Own Paper for Reporting Lapses on Natural Gas

July 18, 2011

By STATS senior fellow Jon Entine

The New York Times’ public editor, Arthur Brisbane, finally weighed in on the much-criticized reporting on natural gas by DC-based Ian Urbina—and it came as a sharp and almost unprecedented rebuke of the reporting techniques and ethics of its national editor and staff.

The Times has raised eyebrows across the ideological spectrum for its “Drilling Down” series—what has appeared to many to be a year long un-nuanced attack on natural gas and the shale gas extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing. A slew of commentators, from liberal Joe Nocera (of the very same Times) to Scott Anderson of the Environmental Defense Fund to almost every energy expert, from MIT to Wall Street, have made hash of claims by a faction of environmentalists, previously hyped in a series of articles by Urbina, that fracking poses extraordinary environmental dangers.

But the Urbina ‘the sky-is-falling’ express went off the rails completely on June 25 and 26 with two front page stories asserting that shale gas reserves are being hyped by the natural gas industry. Urbina and the sources he selectively quoted suggested parallels to Ponzi schemes, Enron and the housing bubble.

Scientists at MIT and elsewhere, who have confirmed massive shale gas reserves but whose research was not even referenced in the piece, immediately issued sharp rebukes of the Urbina narrative. As I noted in a critique for RealClearPolitics, the Times’ article left out key editorial framing details, such as the dubious credibility of the only two identified sources. And as Michael Levi of the Council of Foreign Relations pointed out in his blog, this latest critique of shale gas consisted almost entirely of cherry picked comments from anonymous sources:

 There’s a pattern: Urbina was clearly looking for negative views of shale gas, and had no problem finding them. Given the massive size of the industry, and the number of financial bets being placed upon the sector, that shouldn’t be a surprise. What is a surprise is that Urbina hasn’t done much to put them in context.

Finally, Mr. Brisbane jumped into the fray and Urbina was put temporarily on ice. The public editor’s conclusions were not pretty. He criticized the stories for painting a complex issue with “an overly broad brush and didn’t include dissenting views from experts who aren’t entrenched on one side or another of the subject.”

The Times’ only identified shale gas critics were fringe critics—one earns her living as a goat and cheese farmer and has been at war with a major natural gas company, Chesapeake, for years, although the Times failed to disclose this. Their views have been knocking around the Internet for years with no takers from serious journalists—until Urbina took the bit.

In what by public editor standards is an extraordinarily harsh rebuke, Mr. Brisbane concluded, “My view is that such a pointed article needed more convincing substantiation, more space for a reasoned explanation of the other side and more clarity about its focus. … [T]he article went out on a limb, lacked an in-depth dissenting view in the text and should have made clear that shale gas had boomed.”

Perhaps most distressing was the shrill self-defense response posted by National Editor Rick Berke and his deputy Adam Bryant within minutes after Mr. Brisbane’s sad but reasoned analysis appeared. The best they could muster was “facts are facts.” They didn’t address the many omissions pointed out by Brisbane.

It was farcical to see them squirming to defend the cherry picking over the credentials of the only identified critics. Deborah Rogers was presented as a Federal Reserve official with experience in finance and energy when she’s a small businesswoman with a self-interested personal and legal conflict against the natural gas company that she criticized.

But most disconcerting was their attempt to rewrite the focus of their badly muddled piece. Brisbane made the point that Urbina threw a cloud over the entire natural gas industry and the defensive non-response was pathetic. As Brisbane noted, the piece repeatedly referred to “natural gas companies” and “energy companies” as behind a Ponzi scheme-like hysteria. In response, the embattled editors sidestepped their muddled reporting, saying that the article was not addressing all of the natural gas industry but only independents—yet there is zero evidence from the piece even hinting that that was Urbina’s thesis.

The Times is a great newspaper—the only remaining consistently reliable news outlet in this country, and probably the best in the world. Thankfully it has the integrity to wash its dirty laundry in public. That should make for quality journalism going forward. But if it’s own editors can’t swallow the medicine and own up to their reporting and ethical failings than such public acts of cleansing will end up being little more than performance art.

Jon Entine is a senior fellow at the Center for Health & Risk Communication at George Mason University and at STATS.


Can texting help you quit smoking?

July 8, 2011

Will text messages now find a place among smoking cessation methods such as nicotine gum? New research shows that smokers who received encouraging text messages through a program called “txt2stop” were twice as likely to quit smoking after a period of six months, compared to smokers who did not receive the motivational text messages.

The study, conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, consisted of 5,800 smokers divided into two groups. One group received supportive text messages related to the quitting process, while the other group received text messages thanking them for being in the study.

After the six month period, the participants were tested for traces of nicotine in their saliva through the presence of a chemical called cotinine. Of the 2,911 smokers who received the motivational text messages, 10.7 percent were found to be smoke free, compared to only 4.9 percent of the 2,881 smokers in the control group.

According to CNET, txt2stop worked well among all age and social groups in the study.

The researchers note that txt2stop was not the only support tool used by the study’s participants. TIME reports almost 40 percent of the smokers used other quitting methods in addition to texting.

This study is published in The Lancet.


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