Thursday, 13 September 2012

Dispatches from the front: Public Health edition

As semester constraints continue to bind, please enjoy this little interlude in our regular programming. The #PHC2012 hashtag captures tweets from attendees at the 2012 Population Health Congress in Adelaide. A few conference highlights (I'm not attending; I don't get invited to those shin-digs), from attendees via the Twitter feed. I'm surprised that Adelaide didn't collapse under the cloud of smug.

In Australia? Really? I'd bet pretty heavily against it.

Recall Blakely's prior work in this area. [and here]. I like increased life expectancy, so long as it's not achieved by forcing people to lead bland lives. The stream seemed to suggest worries about ecological footprints and life expectancy.

I'm trying!

Wilkinson, of The Spirit Level, was keynote. Recall that The Spirit Level was completely debunked by Chris Snowdon (on the right) and is viewed as unreliable by Andrew Leigh. Leigh wrote:
One set of arguments suggests that we should care about inequality for what are called ‘instrumental reasons’. Inequality, some contend, is associated with worse outcomes in areas that society cares about, such as health, crime, savings and growth. This argument is put most strongly in The Spirit Level, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. It is an argument that I used to believe. Indeed, I deeply want to be true, but my own research persuades me otherwise.[25] The closer you get to these asserted effects, the more fragile are the findings. If there are negative effects of inequality on those social outcomes, they must be extremely small. (There are also small positive effects. For example, my own work shows that inequality boosts growth, though the trickle-down process is slow.)
And, recall that Justin Wolfers destroyed the "not lead to happiness" result:
Using recent data on a broader array of countries, we establish a clear positive link between average levels of subjective well-being and GDP per capita across countries, and find no evidence of a satiation point beyond which wealthier countries have no further increases in subjective well-being. We show that the estimated relationship is consistent across many datasets and is similar to that between subjective well-being and income observed within countries. Finally, examining the relationship between changes in subjective
well-being and income over time within countries, we find economic growth associated with rising happiness. Together these findings indicate a clear role for absolute income and a more limited role for relative income comparisons in determining happiness.
Back to the twitter stream:

Prepare to be managed.

Yes. Very brave.

I assume they're looking to ban ads for fatty foods and that they're not trying to cancel reruns of Roseanne.

Ummm.... if they mean an arms-length body like Pharmac for funding decisions, that's totally justifiable. But I'm not sure that's what's here advocated.

I think this is a KPI for some folks.

Did Otago get a grant for this? Weeping.

And so you have a little glimpse into the world that the Public Health advocates are trying to bring forth.


  1. Scary stuff indeed. This road to hell may well be paved with good intentions, but is it a road we want to travel down?

  2. Clearly no-one has any free will and the government must intervene to stop them harming themselves. The government also needs to stop hoards of young people from killing themselves huffing butane;

  3. Are they really good intentions? Or simply self righteous and self indulgent.

  4. There seems to be a lot of stupid around this week.

  5. @Frank J My personal view is that these folk are well-meaning do-gooders, and that they believe that the agenda they push will benefit those people in the great unwashed who obviously aren't capable of understanding the harm they do to themselves. Undoubtedly there is an element of self-righteousness at play, but I still think that in their own minds they are proposing what they think is best for us poor unguided souls.

    Of course I emphatically disagree with them, and think do-gooders such as themselves are a great blight on society. I believe that their passion is badly misdirected and will lead to poorer outcomes in the long run.

  6. "I think this is a KPI for some folks."

    I laughed