Dying to Grow?

Studies that show an association between a factor and a health effect should be regarded as no more than a preliminary result that points researchers toward further research and analysis. But even professional regulators, who should know better, sometimes don't, as a recent advisory about human-growth hormone shows.

Editors’Note: August 4, 2017
Legitimateobjections have been raised about the independence and integrity of thecommentaries that Henry Miller has written for Project Syndicate and other outlets, inparticular that Monsanto, rather than Miller, drafted some of them. Readersshould be aware of this potential conflict of interest, which, had it beenknown at the time Miller’s commentaries were accepted, would have constitutedgrounds for rejecting them.

STANFORD – We are constantly bombarded with information about the purported risks or protective effects of one or another food, dietary supplement, chemical, drug, or activity. In July, for example, an article in The Annals of Internal Medicine reported that people who work at least 11 hours a day have a 67% higher risk of having a heart attack or dying from heart disease than those who work 7-8 hours a day.

However, the study cannot conclude that long work hours cause cardiac disease. In fact, one of the most common misunderstandings about scientific studies is the critical difference between correlation and causation. Working long days might be only a marker for being at higher risk of heart disease. For example, it could be that highly stressed people with Type A personality who think that bacon cheeseburgers and creamy sauces are staple foods, and who already have an increased, long-term risk of heart disease, also tend to work longer hours.

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