Twitter And #HeartAttacks?

      61 Comments on Twitter And #HeartAttacks?

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.


61 thoughts on “Twitter And #HeartAttacks?

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I had to look up “Roseto Effect,” which made me angry, so I tweeted about it. I enjoyed this description from Wiki:

      From 1954 to 1961, Roseto had nearly no heart attacks for the elsewhere high-risk group of men 55 to 64, and men over 65 enjoyed a death rate of 1% while the national average was 2%. Widowers outnumbered widows, too.

      These statistics were at odds with a number of other factors observed in the community. They smoked unfiltered stogies, drank wine “with seeming abandon” in lieu of milk and soft drinks, skipped the Mediterranean diet in favor of meatballs and sausages fried in lard with hard and soft cheeses.

      Meatballs fried in lard … there’s your answer.

      1. Apicius

        Don’t you love how the conclusion at the end of that wiki page states that the low heart attack rates were due to the cohesive and tight knit community, and because the families were run by the men? Here’s the quote from wiki: “Housewives were respected, and fathers ran the families.” So, they completely skip over the “meatballs in lard” as the conclusion, and go straight to good ol boys club and misogyny.

        My money’s on the meatballs and lard hypothesis 🙂

          1. guruglue

            If God didn’t intend for women to do all the cookin’, He wouldn’t have filled ’em full of milk and eggs.

        1. Bryan Harris

          I wonder if they might have got a few confounders or the causality backwards.

          It seems like it would be easy to not worry about the Joneses, to have a cohesive community, respect housewives, and whatever other things, when there is less stress. And there might be less stress when you eat meatballs fried in lard and drink copious amounts of wine with hard and soft cheeses.

          1. Tom Naughton Post author

            I’m stressed with my current programming project. I may have to do my own “meatballs and copious amounts of red wide with hard and soft cheeses” experiment to see if it helps.

            1. David

              I’m reading a book now that claims the Roseto people were so immune to disease “despite a shocking 41% of their calories from fat”. Of course, the healthy fats in the diet could never be considered as one of the positive factors.

  1. Paul B.

    There was no heart disease before twitter.

    There were no murders before guns.

    There was no shake before bake.

    Which came first? Can? or Can Opener?

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Well, clearly nobody would have bothered inventing the can if can openers didn’t already exist.

      1. jackisback

        My local Baja Fresh restaurant proudly claims “No Can Openers!”
        I have always suspected they still use canned food, but find a different way to open them in an effort to sound healthier.

          1. Apicius

            Ah…but they say nothing about jars! Surely they must have tons of jars of preserved tomatoes, jalapeños, peeled garlic, soup mix, sauce mix, salsas, etc.

            1. Arturo

              And let’s not forget frozen food slabs. There’s nothing like the taste of avocado pulp and preservatives to define that characteristic taste of chain restaurant guacamole.

              [Though in fairness, normal guacamole should be easy enough to make that enough places would do it from scratch, but perhaps I’m being overly optimistic. ]

            2. Jim Butler

              Actually, we freeze avocados. When they’re on sale 10/$10, we buy a bunch. I scoop them out, slightly mash them, and place them in the quart-sized ziplock bags, flatten them out, then put them in the freezer. I usually do 2 per bag. Works well.

  2. Boundless

    > … is like predicting your odds of a suffering a heart attack based on your zip code.

    Jack Kruse might disagree with you there (on non-native EMF grounds).

    Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if ZIP codes correlate when used to rank locales by population density (which is also apt to correlate to stray RF, but don’t tell Jack).

    Speaking of correlations & heart attacks, have a jaw-dropping gander at:

  3. Kathy in Texas

    So glad to see you are back in fine form! I’ve missed that. I envisioned you on stage, microphone in hand, pacing back and forth.

  4. Bubbles

    There’s a guy in my graduate program who is doing some work on mood detection and Tweets, and I don’t know how these people don’t see how useless an exercise it is. Algorithms tend to code something like “I’m not feeling happy today” as positive because it says “happy”, while something like “She said yes, holy sh*t, I’m getting f*ckin married!” as negative because of the cursing. And, upon hearing about this guy’s research and reflecting upon my own tweeting habits, my main thought was “THANK GOD NOBODY ON TWITTER IS EVER SARCASTIC!”

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Excellent point. If words like “friend” and “wonderful” are coded as positives, how would their algorithm interpret “My friend just got fired after 20 years on the job. Ain’t life wonderful?”

  5. Rae Ford

    This post reminds me of a study where they tried to link bras to breast cancer because near 100% of female breast cancer sufferers have worn a bra.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      We should approach every observational study by reminding ourselves that 99.9% of everyone who died last year had eaten spinach or broccoli within the previous five years.

  6. Frank

    Luke 21: 25 “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; 26 men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”


    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Well, when you have millions of college graduates who can’t find a job, the obvious cure for high unemployment is to flood the market with even more college graduates.

      1. Grant

        Tom, get a clue. Don’t you know that because of more people going to college, more stellar research like this is going to happen, and therefore fewer people are going to have problems like heart disease, and therefore fewer people are going to need to be employed? The cure for unemployment is to just let the academics move our country forward towards a milk and honey utopia, as they always have. Duh.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Full employment at long last. Everyone who can’t get a real job will be hired to conduct studies.

      2. Craig Rich

        Yeah, the logic of the anointed will never make sense to us. They are like computer programs with set answers: spend more gov’t money, increase taxes, more free education. Doesn’t matter what the problems are, these are always the solutions.

        Why would anyone think that making 2 years of college equivalent to graduating high school a good thing? We’d be forced to get even more education to stand out from the crowd, not to mention the increase in people who will waste their chance at education. If it didn’t cost you anything, why would you care if you failed a class or two?

        The only possible good consequence might be the chance for businesses to look for people with actual skills over education, since everyone would have the same qualifications. It’s a shame to say that college seldom teaches any actual skills.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          There’s another predictable consequence, though not a good one: if more public money is available for college, the price of tuition will be jacked up even more.

          1. Grant

            “There’s another predictable consequence, though not a good one: if more public money is available for college, the price of tuition will be jacked up even more.”

            Which is exactly why Obama should be given dictatorial power to set tuition prices at every college and university in the country.

          2. Bryan Harris

            “We need to wastefully over-spend everything we’ve taken from the taxpayer this year so that next year they’ll give us even more.”

        2. Grant

          “The only possible good consequence might be the chance for businesses to look for people with actual skills over education, since everyone would have the same qualifications. It’s a shame to say that college seldom teaches any actual skills.”

          That’s been my plan all along, actually. “Oh, so you weren’t stupid enough to go to college? That says a lot about you – you’re hired!” Just have to continue to wait for the economy to get bad enough that employers are finally forced to face facts, instead of simply imitating one another.

          1. Firebird

            There is nothing like a Masters Degree in Sociology to prepare you for life as as plumber.

            To that point, a friend of mine went to a college prep parochial school. Never went to college and ended up as an electrician. That was a $12,000 education over the course of four years back in the mid 1980s. He could have gone to the county vo-tech school for free to become an electrician.

            1. Jim Butler

              We were discussing college costs with a neighbor who’s daughter went to Michigan to attend Vet School.
              Since she was from out of state, she now has college loans that total $300,000. The interest on her loans is roughly $20,000/yr, or $1670/mo. And that’s just interest. Their daughter was there for the discussion. I asked her if she had it to do over, would she make the same decisions, and she replied “Of course not!…I had no idea what this amount of debt really meant!”
              I was pretty much stunned. Don’t know who owns that, but safe to say both the parents AND the kid.
              Yet another example of why the government should not be involved in the student loan business. The SCHOOLS should administer the loans. No way would Michigan State have loaned this girl $300,000 to become a vet.

            2. Tom Naughton Post author

              Unfortunately, most people that age have no idea what that kind of debt load actually means. They don’t understand that with interest, a $300,000 loan is a helluva lot more than $300,000. We’re schooling our girls in Dave Ramsey’s no-debt philosophy.

            3. Walter

              Surely if you got a degree in sociology nothing you run into in plumbing could faze you.

          2. Walter

            True, once you get through a degree in sociology, nothing you have to deal with as a plumber will faze you. Possible exception, if you end up plumbing in a nuke plant.

  7. Elenor

    Tom: “Knock it off, ass@#$%!!”
    Oops — Tom — did you check to see if *actual* swearing was required or was “euphemized” (not a word) swearing was sufficient?

    Tom: “Roseto … Widowers outnumbered widows, too.”
    Ah HA! The men lived longer because they were murdering their wives: Q.E.D.!!

    Rae: “…study where they tried to link bras to breast cancer because near 100% of female breast cancer sufferers have worn a bra.”
    (On the other hand, apparently a semi-recent study in France — looking at bra-wearers v. bra-non-wearers showed … if I remember? … a decrease in movement of lymph and a slight increase in breast cancer?)

    Tom: “We should approach every observational study by reminding ourselves that 99.9% of everyone who died last year had eaten spinach or broccoli within the previous five years.”
    YAY! This means I’ll never die!

    Glad you’re back in top form Tom!

  8. KevinF

    “The researchers studied public tweets from 2009-2010, scattered across 1,300 countries.”

    1,300 countries? That may come as a surprise to the 200 or so countries that exist on planet Earth. I wonder what other planets they got tweets from?

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      That was a cut and paste, so I swear it wasn’t my typo. I changed it to “counties,” which is obviously the correct word.

  9. Bengt

    Sounds like Sir Bedevere logic:

    “So, logically, if she weighs the same as a duck … she’s made of wood … and therefore …”
    “A witch!”

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I had a teacher in college show that scene an example of the scientific method done wrong. Great scene.


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