Friday, June 25, 2010

For a long life, upbringing may trump education (?)

The attribution to upbringing below is entirely unsupported by the data. Given the hereditary nature of many ailments, the much more likely conclusion from the data is that good genes, not education per se, give educated people longer lifespans

Good health and a long life may have more to do with how you grew up than how much education you have under your belt, research from Denmark hints.

Studies, including the Danish one, have generally found that people with more education tend to live longer and are healthier than those with shorter transcripts. But in the small Scandinavian country, much of that effect vanished when comparing twins who differed in how long they had been in school.

"We were interested in the social inequality in health that we see on the population level," said Mia Madsen, a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern Denmark, Odense, who worked on the study. "What's so great about the twins is that you can use them to get a little closer to understanding that inequality."

Madsen said her study was one of the largest of its kind so far. Tapping into national data from 1921 to 1950, she and her colleagues searched for same-sex or identical twins whose educations differed in length and at least one of whom had died.

The researchers found more than 2,000 twin pairs. Overall, the ones with no more than seven years of study -- the minimal requirement -- were about 25 percent more likely to have died. But when comparing twins within each pair, both for identical and same-sex twins, that difference became much less pronounced and could have been due to chance. "The social inequality seems to get smaller when you account for genetics and upbringing," said Madsen. "Maybe it's an indication that very early life conditions play a big role later on."

She added that an earlier study, based on the same data, had found a similar pattern in the twins' general health, also stressing the importance of early life conditions. What those might be is still up in the air, but Madsen said unhealthy eating habits were one likely culprit.

Still, the researchers said the picture wasn't clear-cut. When focusing on those twin pairs who had the largest difference in education -- at least eight years -- they did find a positive effect on life span.

Madsen said her findings seemed at odds with some of the research from the US. "When I look at the twin literature on social inequality, I see two different pictures in Denmark and the US," she said, noting that the two countries had different access to healthcare. "It makes sense that your social position and education in adulthood would matter more in the US than in Denmark."

Maria Glymour, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said twin studies were sometimes hard to interpret because twins with the right differences are hard to come by. Even with a study as big as this there is still a lot of uncertainty, she told Reuters Health by e-mail. "To the extent that there are differences between the results of this study and prior work in the US, it is likely due to study design differences, not necessarily differences in medical care," she said.

"Inequalities in health by education level have been shown in many countries with universal access to medical care, so these inequalities must partially be driven by other pathways." However, Glymour said the idea that some of the tie between education and life span might be explained by early life conditions was important. "It would help us understand the most important ways to focus resources for children."


Britain's evil white middle class students

Big brother is watching how much alcohol you drink. What you put into your mouth is no longer your business.

There is no doubt that middle and upper class British people do drink but they also learn how to control it or not, as desired. Both the present British Prime Minister and the present Mayor of London are, for instance, former members of Oxford's hard-drinking and aristocratic Bullingdon club. The grog would seem not to have done them much harm

Researchers have warned of a “drinking culture” in schools with large numbers of white, middle-class children. Schools filled with pupils from relatively wealthy homes were more likely to be gripped by alcohol problems, it was claimed, raising their chances of indulging in other “risky behaviours” such as drug taking, smoking and shoplifting.

The study, commissioned by the Department for Education, also said that girls were more likely to drink than boys.

The conclusions come amid concerns over a rise in binge drinking among middle-class adults in recent years. A comprehensive study last year claimed that middle aged, professional Britons are more likely to exceed recommended daily levels of alcohol consumption than the working-classes, with twice as many drinking every night of the week.

In the latest study, the National Centre for Social Research analysed drinking patterns among 14- to 17-year-olds in England. The report – based on data from an on-going survey of 15,500 young people – found some 55 per cent had tried alcohol by the age of 14. Numbers increased to 85 per cent among 17-year-olds.

It added: “We also found some evidence of a ‘drinking culture’ in certain types of school, with pupils more likely to drink in schools where there was a higher proportion of white pupils or pupils who did not receive free school meals, regardless of their own ethnicity.”

The study said that children who drank alcohol were "more likely to take part in risky behaviours". This included smoking, trying cannabis, shoplifting and graffiti. They were also more likely to hang around with groups of friends, go to parties and have negative attitudes to education.

The report added: "We found that girls were slightly more likely to have tried alcohol than boys up to the age of 17."


Calif. gets $416M to turn around failing schools

Pissing into the wind

State education officials say the federal government has awarded $416 million to California to turn around dozens of its lowest public schools.

Jack O'Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction, said Thursday that California received the money from the U.S. Department of Education's School Improvement Grants program.

School districts can apply for grants of $50,000 to $2 million to turn around 188 "persistently lowest achieving schools" that state education officials identified in March.

To get the grants, districts will have to take drastic measures to reform the struggling schools, such as converting to a charter school, replacing the principal, firing half the staff or closing entirely and sending the students to another school.


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