Science Confirms the Obvious 2008
The findings may be no-brainers (yes, you do get sick in winter), but these studies uncover hidden truths in conventional wisdom
Scientists learn that rock stars party hard and teens buy stuff to feel cool. Well, duh. But there’s more insight behind these findings than you might think.
Launch the gallery here to learn why exactly materialistic teens are insecure, vacations are better sans cell, loneliness sucks and more.
And if you have a hankering for more of the obvious, check out Laura Allen’s weekly column here, where you can also subscribe to an RSS feed._
Materialistic Teenagers Are Just Insecure
The Findings: Why are kids so concerned with having a cool cellphone? Lan Nguyen Chaplin of the University of Illinois and Deborah Roedder John of the University of Minnesota looked for a connection between self-esteem and materialism in children aged 8 to 18. They observed a big drop in self-esteem in kids aged 12 and 13 that accompanied the “use of material possessions as a coping strategy for feelings of low self-worth.” But even a small boost in self-esteem, in this case kind words from acquaintances written on paper plates, caused them to forget their insecurity—and material obsessions—for the day.
Why Bother? Because, as Chaplin points out, her study could have practical benefits for material girls and boys. Keep kids’ self-esteem high, and they’ll be happier. They might also stop bugging you for a Wii.
Unathletic Kids Are Unpopular at School
The Findings: Janice Causgrove Dunn of the University of Alberta studied 99 boys and 109 girls in Western Canada in grades four through six, finding that those students who were perceived by others as having good athletic skills were more popular, while the seemingly uncoordinated often felt dissatisfaction and isolation.
Why Bother? Because no one had thought to study the phenomenon before, yet it’s crucial to understanding how social strata form among students. aWe knew there was a common-sense link between lack of athletic skill and loneliness,a Dunn says. Although much research relied on that assumed link, she couldn’t find a single study to back it up, so she undertook it herself. aIt’s funny how many colleagues have said athank you’ for finally having something to cite.a
Sleep and Caffeine Combat Sleepiness
The Findings: French scientists gave 12 participants in their early 20s and 12 in their 40s either coffee, decaf or a 30-minute nap in the car and then tested their wakefulness during a 125-mile highway drive. Coffee was the overall winner, perking up almost all the drivers. The nap refreshed the young, but it didn’t do much for the older group.
Why Bother? Because late-night and early-morning hours see an unusually high number of fatal car crashes, and understanding why is one key to avoiding road fatalities. aMany young drivers are involved in sleep-related accidents, and up to now people thought it was related to a behavior, like nightclubbing,a explains Pierre Philip of the Sleep Clinic in Bordeaux, France. But the victims may be young shift workers relying on the wrong pick-me-ups. Taking note of age may be key in developing effective strategies for keeping late-night workers, such as truck drivers and doctors, alert. Bosses might send 20-somethings off for quick Zs and (envious) middle-aged workers to the coffee shop.
Vacations are Better Without your Cellphone
The Findings: Organizational psychologist Dov Eden and his team at Tel Aviv University studied 800 college professors in the U.S., New Zealand and Israel, finding that those who stayed connected to work through devices like their cellphone don’t get the psychological arespite reliefa from chronic job stress that a vacation is supposed to provide.
Why Bother? Because time off is as important to productivity as work itself. Ongoing job stress can lead to burnout and chronic diseases, so effectively refreshing workers is a plus for employers and employees. (Eden’s research indicates that within three weeks of a 14-day vacation, for example, stress levels rise back to pre-vacation levels. He suspects that frequent short vacations may be more productive than an occasional long hiatus.) Bring the phone, however, and you’re still at work. aWork cellphones and company e-mail at the pool is not a vacation,a says Eden, who reserves his phone for emergencies. aPeople who do this are shackled to electronic tethers.a
Rock Stars Live fast, Die Young
The Findings: Killjoy Mark Bellis and his colleagues at the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University in England examined the lives of 1,064 North American and European musicians written up in the book All-Time Top 1,000 Albums, comparing their post-fame death rates against the general population. It turns out that between 2 and 25 years after hitting it big, the rocker mortality rate is two to three times that of their non-rocker peers.
Why Bother? Bellis says they did this study for the kids. aStars are important role models for young people,a he writes. aConsequently, the behavior and resultant morbidity and mortality associated with rock and pop stardom may have a disproportionate influence.a His solution isn’t very rock an’ roll: Encourage healthier habits.
Long Ambulance Rides Make You More Likely to Die
The Findings: Looking at four British ambulance services carrying 10,315 patients between 1997 and 2001, researchers determined that every six miles between patient and hospital increased the risk of death by 1 percent. The risks were even greater for patients with severe respiratory ailments: They had a 20 percent greater chance of death if the hospital was more than 12 miles away.
Why Bother? Because emergency rooms could become more scarce. A scheme by the British National Health Service could close several ERs in favor of big central ones. But Jon Nicholl, director of the Medical Care Research Unit at the University of Sheffield and the study’s lead researcher, says his findings suggest that a diversity of emergency services might help survival rates. aThe aone size fits all’ approach is absurd,a he says. aI’m in favor of a mix of large high-quality centers and local immediate-care centers. We need to get the right patient to the right place at the right time.a
You Catch the Flu in Winter
****The Findings:** Experiments on flu-afflicted guinea pigs revealed that the bug spreads most easily at low relative humidities and cold temperatures, with the highest transmissions at 41ºF and a humidity of 35 percent or less.
****Why Bother? **Because the flu may be easy to avoid. Scientists have long assumed that indoor crowding in winter was what spread it. But this study suggests that the flu just lives longest in dry, cold conditions. So close the window. The flu, writes Anice Lowen of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, could be fought off aby simply maintaining room air at warm temperatures and either intermediate or high relative humidities.a
Teenagers Drink to Have Fun
The Findings: A survey of 1,877 high-school seniors determined that underage drinkers imbibe for four main reasons: to experiment, to thrill-seek, to relax, and for amixed reasons,a which is the category that yielded the most problematic drinkers. aMembers of all four profiles,a the study reports, aindicated that they drink to have a good time with friends.a
Why Bother? aIt is our hope that the categories we found will help clinicians to tailor their interventionsa to individual teens, explains Donna Coffman, who conducted the study for the Prevention Research Center and the Methodology Center at Penn State University. That knowledge could help identify and treat problem drinkers before they graduate and become professional barflies.
The Findings: University of Chicago researchers investigated the physical effects of loneliness on the overall health of young, middle-aged and older people. Sustained loneliness found in the 50- to 68-year-old subjects correlated with increased blood pressure, as well as a spike in epinephrine levels, both health-risk factors for older adults.
Why Bother? Because the U.S. is becoming lonelier, with 25 percent of Americans unable to name a trusted confidante, according to the American Sociological Review. Understanding how this trend affects health is becoming more important as aging baby boomers come to dominate the population.
Standing is Better for You Than Sitting
The Findings: Marc Hamilton and his team at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that the recommended 30 minutes of exercise per day may not be enough to counteract health problems caused by sitting and sleeping the other 23.5 hours. Their research on the metabolism of rats, pigs and humans suggests that after several hours on our butts, our bodies shut down fat- and cholesterol-burning mechanisms, but standing switches those metabolic functions back on, and calorie-burning is effectively doubled.
Why Bother? Hamilton argues that since only 5 percent of Americans exercise regularly, simply staying upright by working at a standing desk or pacing while taking the occasional phone call may be a more practical first step toward good health for most Americans than asking them to go jogging on their lunch break. aWe need to focus on the fact that if sitting is a cause of disease in most people,a Hamilton says, athen avoiding sitting is the most direct and simple recommendation to start with.a