As you know if you’re a regular reader, I’ve been yelling and screaming for years about the lousy science that convinced Americans heart disease is caused by eating too much fat and cholesterol. From Ancel Keys on down, researchers jumped to conclusions based on weak associations. Big muckety-mucks in our government bought into the lousy science, and the rest is history.
So it’s refreshing to learn that researchers are revisiting the whole “what causes heart disease?” issue and applying rigorous scientific thinking for a change. Here are some quotes about an enlightening new study as reported in Medical Daily online:
Over the years, researchers have gathered several risk factors for heart disease ranging from not making a lot of money, to smoking, to stress. Now, a new study shows just how the use of Twitter can help dictate what populations are at risk of coronary heart disease: by identifying which users are tweeting about negative emotions like anger, stress, or fatigue.
A few of my blog readers and Twitter followers have complained that I don’t tweet often enough. Well, now you know why. I’ve suspected for a long time that tweeting causes heart disease, but I kept that suspicion to myself – meaning I didn’t tweet about it.
If you’re a health and history buff like I am, you know that heart disease in America plummeted during World War Two, then spiked after the war ended. But you may not have connected that dot to the fact that the Defense Department restricted tweeting during the war. I’m a pro-freedom type of guy, but I understand their reasons. General Eisenhower couldn’t afford to have soldiers sending out tweets like:
The military didn’t prohibit tweeting entirely at first. But soldiers pretty much gave up after seeing their tweets go into the world like this:
The final clampdown on tweeting came after the other side started engaging in what became known as Dirty Twitter Tricks.
So tweeting plummeted and, interestingly, so did heart disease. After the war, tweeting skyrocketed and, again, so did heart disease. So I think these researchers are on to something.
The study, led by Johannes Eichstaedt at the University of Pennsylvania (in collaboration with others) and published in the journal Psychological Science, found that a county’s tweets about negative emotions were associated with a higher risk of heart disease for that community, while tweets that were more positive were associated with a lower risk.
Okay, so it’s angry or negative tweets doing the damage here, not tweeting in general. I stand corrected. Nonetheless, I believe my observations about tweeting and heart disease both spiking in the years after World War Two are still relevant.
McCarthy died at age 48. Let that be a warning to all you angry tweeters out there.
Here’s how the researchers made this discovery:
The researchers studied public tweets from 2009-2010, scattered across 1,300 counties. Language considered negative — such as the word “hate” or swear words — were associated with heart disease mortality, while more positive messages involving words like “friends” or “wonderful” were linked to a lower risk of heart disease mortality.
Just wanted to protect my heart a bit before moving on.
It wasn’t necessarily the people writing negative tweets who were dying of heart disease, however: rather, the tweets were indicative of a higher rate in certain communities.
Wait a minute … you mean this stuff doesn’t affect the person actually doing the tweeting?!
“The relationship between language and mortality is particularly surprising,” H. Andrew Schwartz, an author of the study, said, “since the people tweeting angry words and topics are in general not the ones dying of heart disease. But that means if many of your neighbors are angry, you are more likely to die of heart disease.”
Well, hell’s bells! All these years, I’ve been operating on the theory that if you’re surrounded by angry neighbors, you’re more likely to die of a gunshot wound. Now it turns out those neighbors sitting at their computers and sending angry tweets all day can give you heart disease.
I’m reminded of something Rocky Angelucci wrote in his book Don’t Die Early: predicting your odds of suffering a heart attack based on your cholesterol score is like predicting your odds of a suffering a heart attack based on your zip code. And here I thought he was making fun of cholesterol scores. Turns out he was ahead of the curve on the neighbors give you heart disease theory.
Well, that’s it, then. I’m going to start following my neighbors on Twitter. If I see angry or negative tweets, I’ll respond with something like Knock it off, ass@#$%!! You’re raising my risk of a heart attack, dumb-@#$%!!
“Psychological states have long been thought to have an effect on coronary heart disease,” Margaret Kern, assistant professor at the University of Melbourne and an author of the study, said in the press release. “For example, hostility and depression have been linked with heart disease at the individual level through biological effects. But negative emotions can also trigger behavioral and social responses; you are also more likely to drink, eat poorly and be isolated from other people which can indirectly lead to heart disease.”
So let me follow the logic here … hostility and depression are linked to heart disease. Check. People who send angry tweets are more likely to be angry and depressed. Check. So in counties where lots of people are sending angry tweets, the rate of heart disease is higher, even though it’s not the tweeters who are having the heart attacks. Check. Add it all up, and you get the conclusion if many of your neighbors are angry, you are more likely to die of heart disease.
Well then, you’d better move out of that angry county as soon as possible. Move to a county where people are nice and friendly – like ours, for example. I remember visiting a bank to set up our accounts shortly after we moved here. By the time the new-accounts manager and I were done, I knew her children’s names and the fact that her husband collects unusual knives. She was so sweet, I felt a little guilty for not hugging her on the way out. And as our local paper once pointed out, this county has the highest longevity in Tennessee – which prompted the writer to suggest the state should find a way to move more poor people here so their health would improve.
Of course, there’s another way to look at it: positive people are more likely to be both financially successful and healthier. They move to counties that are considered “nice” and are also more expensive. Negative people are more likely to end up with bad health and bad finances. They live in the less-desirable areas they can afford. So angry tweets and heart disease end up being correlated if you divvy up the data by county. Same old, same old: it’s adherers vs. non-adherers.
Which means …
But I don’t consider that an angry tweet or anything.