Health and Habits

As the health policy debate cranks up, attention is properly paid to all the ways we can be healthier that aren’t medical and surgical treatment of illness. Most of these are well-known (cut down on the salt, get some exercise, stop smoking, and all that good stuff on the Kaiser ads). Some dangerous recreation is obviously bad for you, like trying the stuff on Jackass at home. And certain pets, including hyaenas, cobras, and turtles pose obvious and less-obvious risks; not keeping these creatures is an easy way to protect your health.

The surprise of the week is that a cat in your home increases your risk of death from a long list of really unpleasant ends that mostly involve an extended period of pain and disability (especially cancer) or hurt a lot (accidents), and by a lot (about 23%). [If the link takes you to a sign-in page, you can read the story at the “Continue Reading” link below] Dogs entail no such risk. (Hat tip: Kevin Drum though he misunderstands the findings of the research, perhaps because his cats have already given him a teeny bit of dementia.)

The policy implications of this finding, if further research supports it, are many. At the least, cats and cat supplies should be sold with clear warning labels. It might be appropriate to tax cat ownership to reflect the burden it imposes on the health care system (these cat-induced terminal ailments are not only miserable to endure but expensive to treat compared, for example, to a nice quick heart attack). Perhaps social pressure will suffice; isn’t it now as rude to subject guests (and irresponsible to subject children) to Tabby as to smoke at home with company?

Fortunately, shelters always have lots of dogs, so alerted cat owners should be able to protect themselves by a tradein program and not forego a furry comforting presence around the house.

Meow: Cat owners less likely to die from heart attacks, study says

(picked up by SacBee from Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

MST reporter: Maura Lerner

A study suggests cat owners are less likely to die of a heart attack or stroke than people who, well, don’t own cats.

And no, dogs don’t do the same trick.

The study, by researchers at the University of Minnesota, found that feline-less people were 30 to 40 percent more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those with cats.

Yet dog owners had the same rate as non-owners. “No protective effect of dogs as domestic pets was observed,” said the study, presented Thursday at the International Stroke Conference in New Orleans.

Dr. Adnan Qureshi, a stroke expert at the university, said he decided to raise the question because other studies have suggested pets can help reduce stress. He and his team analyzed a group of 4,435 people who had answered questionnaires about pet ownership and other risk factors.

But the cat-dog differential came as a surprise. “We don’t understand this,” he said, but “it’s probably not a coincidence.”

Asked if he owns a cat, Qureshi replied: “No. Maybe I should get one, though.”

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.