The Slightly Overweight Live Longest

Warning: uncontrolled correlation. Do not act upon in any way. Married people live longer and are heavier. Sick, smokers, and drug addicted people lose weight. Body-image conscious dieters may eat unhealthily. Bicyclists are killed in droves. Muscle shows up as higher body mass index just the same as deadly beer-belly flab. Women (who live a few years longer than men) are fatter than men.
Nonetheless, a meta-analysis shows that it’s the overweight (BMI 25-30) who have the lowest all-cause mortality. Hazard ratios (1 is more risk):

 0.94 (95% CI, 0.91-0.96) for overweight, 1.18 (95% CI, 1.12-1.25) for obesity (all grades combined), 0.95 (95% CI, 0.88-1.01) for grade 1 obesity, and 1.29 (95% CI, 1.18-1.41) for grades 2 and 3 obesity.


If you happen to be not-fat and are pursuing safe diet+exercise without obsessive stress and self-denial, you certainly shouldn’t try to put on weight after hearing about this correlation (which is statistically robust but, probably explained away by the average causes of being slightly overweight, not a consequence of being overweight).

I do find it plausible that being slightly overweight has both harms and benefits, though. Supposedly it’s when you have a fat belly (especially visceral fat under the abs) that you get most of the harms.

Stolen Children, Lovelorn

very good: The Stolen Children

good: Lovelorn (Gönül yarasi)

Harms Common in Modern Medicine

(correlation / causation warnings apply)

A recent study found tonsillectomies associated with a 50% increase in heart attacks. (I write about tonsillectomies here.)

Are tonsillectomies unusual? Several recent news stories suggest no, they aren’t. Failure to tell patients the full risks of medical treatment may be common:

1. Undisclosed risks of hernia surgeryFrom the Wall Street Journal: “More than 30% of patients may suffer from long-term chronic pain and restricted movement after surgery to fix a hernia … studies show.” The article says “many patients don’t consider” this risk — meaning they don’t know about it. A Berkeley surgeon named Eileen Consorti told me I should have surgery for a hernia I could not detect. I have previously written about her claim that evidence supported her recommendation when no such evidence existed — or, at least, no one including her has ever found it. I  said I wanted to see the evidence because there were risks to surgery. She replied that none of her patients had died. I was shocked by the incompleteness of her answer. There are plenty of bad outcomes besides death — as the Wall Street Journal article shows.

2. Undisclosed risks of sleeping pills. A book called The Dark Side of Sleeping Pills by Daniel Kripke, a professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego, goes into great detail about risks of sleeping pills that few doctors tell their patients. For example, one study found that “patients who took sleeping pills died 4.6 times as often during follow-ups averaging 2.5 years [than matched patients who did not take sleeping pills]. Patients who took higher doses (averaging over 132 pills per year) died 5.3 times as often.” Insomnia alone was not associated with higher mortality. Tomorrow I will post Dr. Kripke’s answer to the question “why did you write this book?” Here is a website about the dangers of Ambien.

3. Undisclosed risks of anticholinergic drugsFrom the NY Times: “After following more than 13,000 British men and women 65 or older for two years, researchers found that those taking more than one anticholinergic drug scored lower on tests of cognitive function than those who were not using any such drugs, and that the death rate for the heavy users during the course of the study was 68 percent higher. That finding, reported last July in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, stunned the investigators.” Anticholinergics are “very very common” said a researcher. They include many over-the-counter drugs, such as “allergy medications, antihistamines and Tylenol PM”.

4. Undisclosed risks of statinsA recent NY Times story says “the Food and Drug Administration has officially linked statin use with cognitive problems like forgetfulness and confusion, although some patients have reported such problems for years. Among the drugs affected are huge sellers like Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor and Vytorin.” Prior to this official linkage, the reports of forgetfulness and confusion were mere anecdotes that evidence-based medicine proponents ignore and tell the rest of us to ignore.

5. Undisclosed risks of metal-on-metal hip replacements. They leak dangerous amounts of metal (e.g., cobalt) into the rest of the body. “Despite the fact that these risks have been known and well documented for decades, patients have been kept in the dark,” says a recent article in the BMJ. By 2007, the danger was so clear that a British regulatory committee said that patients must sign a form saying they’ve been warned. This didn’t happen — a surgeon told the BMJ that “surgeons were unaware of these discussions.” Other materials could have been used.


Donnie Darko, Lincoln, Timothy Green

very good: Donnie Darko (i saw the “director’s cut” which sounds like it was worse than the original)

good: Lincoln (a bunch of chill Lincoln moments. cool old man spinning yarns. Spielberg’s virtuous historical figure worship. it worked. a few laughs, even)
poor: The Odd Life of Timothy Green (kids’ movie, in all the worst ways)

King of Mountain Status: +1 Year Alive

From a Freakonomics podcast, we hear how apex status (Nobel prize, Oscar, Baseball hall of fame, etc) extends lifespan about a year (assuming their non-controlled model passes the usual correlation-is-not-causation hurdles), and being nominated but losing doesn’t do it: 

 Research shows that people who buy annuities tend to live longer – and not just because they are the kind of people that have the money to buy annuities to start with. It’s apparently that little extra incentive of the annuity payout that keeps people going.

I’d say it’s rather more likely adverse selection - those with private info about their ability and intent to live a longer, healthier life are more likely to convert their savings into an annuity. Also, such a decision is just one of many conscientious, risk-averse behaviors, some of which probably extend lifespan. Though I am sympathetic to their fanciful story - “make my decision to buy an annuity a good one by holding on a year longer” reminds me of the sunk-cost fallacy and wanting to avoid admitting a mistake. Also, people who run out of money (didn’t buy an annuity) might die soon after - if only from the stress of managing the last fumes in their tank.


John Cleese on creativity (36 minutes)

Creative people are just good at getting in a mood where they’re able to explore and play, without restricting the play toward some purpose, without pressure, without anxiety.

Comrades, Together, Chronicle, I’ve Loved You So Long

good: Comrades: Almost a Love Story, Together, Chronicle

decent: Il ya longtemps que je t’aime

Pina, Holy Motors, Dark City, Together

good: Pina, Holy MotorsTogether

fair: Dark City (corny soul-is-not-merely-brain sci-fi with a touch of style)

ok: Blazing Saddles (very few laughs, but some good ones - what was nervous-making then doesn’t hit now)

Evil, Looper, Dark Knight, My Grandfather’s People

great: Evil

good: Looper, My Grandfather’s People

dumb: The Dark Knight Rises

Thyme and Curcumin (Turmeric) Reduce Inflammation

Vioxx (the heart-disease cover-up scandal drug that killed thousands) selectively inhibited an inflammation-causing thing called “COX-2”. It turns out that thyme significantly inhibits it also (but clove, rose, eucalyptus, fennel, and bergamot - also part of herbal remedy folklore - do not) - study. I assume thyme doesn’t kill people like Vioxx does, but large doses of any herb might at least upset your stomach. Thyme is also useful in treating acne.

Also, curcumin (naturally in turmeric, but maybe not enough to help) is one of the better treatments for rheumatoid arthritis - study.

Homeland, American Horror Story

good: Homeland s1-2 (in spite of annoyingly crazy yet always-right protag.),
American Horror Story s1

decent: American Horror Story s2

Sleepwalk With Me, Delicatessen, Mondays in the Sun

good: Sleepwalk With MeDelicatessen, Mondays in the Sun

Aging Sperm

A Stanford study claims that older-age fathers promote longevity in the population.

But old-age male sperm has more random mutations (another 2 per year of father’s age, usually bad, of course, but out of 1.6 billion or so, probably mostly harmless), so this means more losers even though those who reproduce are going to have better long-life-promoting genes. 

It turns out that the mother’s contribution to mutational load is constant (because the eggs were produced earlier?); the benefits of younger motherhood come from elsewhere. Still, older fathers aren’t unambiguously awful; mutational load aside, it may be general health more than just age that’s at work in reducing older men’s sperm quality.

1.  Exericse improves sperm

Diana Vaamonde, a researcher at the University of Cordoba and lead author of the study said in a press release, “We have analysed qualitative semen parameters like the ejaculated volume, sperm count, mobility and sperm morphology.” [that’s what *she* said!]

For the study the men were also tested for hormone levels that included follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), testosterone (T), cortisol (C) and the T/C ratio that the researchers explain provides a better picture of the environment needed for sperm creation, in addition to giving a picture of the general health of the 31 men included in the study.

The results showed men who exercise more had faster swimming sperm that was more perfectly formed, compared to their sedentary counterparts. Exercising appears to create a more favorable environment for sperm creation that comes from healthy hormone levels.

The good news is the researchers say it only takes moderate exercise to keep your sperm in good shape.

According to the CDC, it’s possible to change a man’s sperm with healthy lifestyle changes.

2. Diet improves sperm in 45+ year old men.

3. A study finds that the risk of autism goes up considerably more in the children of older mothers in all age ranges than it does in the children of older fathers.

The older a mother is when she gives birth, the higher her child’s risk of autism, new data show.

A smaller effect also is seen for the age of the father, but only when the child is born to a father over age 40 and a mother under age 30.

All of the above are just studies of correlations in existing populations, of course. There was no control group.

Thoreau ‘Quiet Desperation’ Perversion

“most men live lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.” (referenced in this nice semi-motivational talk)

is actually a false extension of the actual Thoreau (Walden):

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.” 


 ”the song” was odd, so i checked.

Familiarity Breeds Liking

psychologist James Cutting (2003, 2006) briefly exposed undergraduate psychology students to canonical and lesser-known Impressionist paintings (the lesser-known works exposed four times as often), with the result that after exposure, subjects preferred the lesser-known works more often than did the control group. Cutting took this result to show that canon formation is a result of cultural exposure over time.

via, via

pop music works this way - if you’re not adjusted already, the latest hits mostly seem obnoxious on first listen. radio playlist programmers know which songs make people keep tuned in (and they’re not always the ones that people say they like the most). 

i’ve noticed that with repetition i can appreciate jazz which i thought at first was over-clever garbage.

Autism and Maternal Age

If it were just autism or not, then 0.15% vs 0.3%, who cares, have a baby - 99%+ likely to turn out great. 

But I imagine it’s only one of many things that go wrong more often with increasing age (with paternal age, you seem to merely get more random mutations, which on the whole are thousand-tiny-cuts detrimental to IQ,health,height,etc. - but the woman provides genes *plus* environment).

From 1990 to 1999, the risk of having a child with autism was:

  • 1.6 per 1,000 women under age 25
  • 2.3 per 1,000 women aged 25-29
  • 3.1 per 1,000 women aged 30-34
  • 3.85 per 1,000 women aged 35-39
  • 4.4 per 1,000 women aged 40 and older


(it would be funny if there’s just a decrease in permanent damage from some environmental factor (leaded gas/paint, DDT?) - then younger mothers would look better just for these past few decades, as they missed early-life exposure, and future 40 year olds have nothing to worry about - but I’m pretty sure this is just older=worse as is often the rule in everything but knowledge+experience+capital)

Parenting Advice



(probability it works: that the claim (if conditions, IQ gain) is true. probability that it applies: that the conditions apply to you). iq gain is the difference between experimental and control condition (under the ‘experimental’ column is better is the better place to be). for example, vitamins have a 10% probability of applying because the average U.S. diet has sufficient.

Horrifying New Trampoline Acrobatics Discipline

cool, until you die.

Say Anything

very good: Say Anything (pure. you have only a girl, her father, and her first love. they’re situated in exactly the right backdrop to allow meaningful, undistracted expression of just that).

Barry Lyndon, Sidewalls

great: Barry Lyndon (Kubrick! noble artistic despair)

good: Sidewalls (nice architectural shots, nice aesthetic, trite story)