The World’s Healthiest Countries

According to the Bloomberg Global Health Index, which includes such factors as life expectancy, access to health care, and malnutrition, these are the world’s healthiest countries:

The top ten nations were:

  1. Italy
  2. Iceland
  3. Switzerland
  4. Singapore
  5. Australia
  6. Spain
  7. Japan
  8. Sweden
  9. Israel
  10. Luxembourg

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The Perils Facing Modern Scientists

At a time when human flourishing — if not survival — hinges on scientific progress, the pursuit of academic research has never been more challenging. British physicist Peter Higgs, the Nobel Prize winner best known as the namesake of the Higgs boson subatomic particle, wrote a piece in The Guardian some years back observing that in today’s academic climate, breakthrough work like his own couldn’t happen “because of the expectations on academics to collaborate and keep churning out papers”. Continue reading

The World’s Most Empathetic Societies

Empathy, which is broadly defined as the ability to feel or understand another person’s experience or perspective, is considered by many to be a foundational part of morality and ethics. But putting oneself in another’s position, and relating with their pain, joy, beliefs, and other mental and emotional states, one can better learn how to treat others and what constitutes positive or negative behavior.

It can thus be reasoned that individuals with a high level of empathy will most likely be kinder, more understanding, and more cooperative with others; a society composed of mostly empathetic people should similarly see higher rate of pro-social activities and values, such as more charitable giving or less crime. But only very recently has a study been done to measure which societies have the most empathy, and how or if that translates to greater societal health. Continue reading

The Most Efficient Healthcare Systems in the World

According to the most recent Bloomberg Health-Care Efficiency Index, Hong Kong has the most efficient healthcare system in the world, a position it and close runner up Singapore have held since 2009. During the same span of time, Spain and South Korea climbed up to third and fourth place respectively, with Japan dropping two places but remaining at a very respectable fifth.

Here are the full results of all fifty-five countries measured.  Continue reading

The Globalization of Plutocracy

According to a 2015 paper by American political scientist Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt University, the gap between the rich and poor — and the subsequent unresponsiveness of government to the needs of the majority — is not just a feature of United States, as a multitude of studies have revealed. The struggle between the haves and have nots seems inextricably tied to our species, varying only be degree.

For example, in almost every nation Bartels studied, the wealthy were generally and categorically opposed to social spending, even during bad economic times. Continue reading

The Problem With Early School Days

The vast majority of public schools in the U.S. start earlier than 8:30 a.m. Like most American students, I took this as a given, albeit begrudgingly — we all struggled to get up and get focused for school, and it only got harder with each passing year. Naturally, many people chalk this up to the laziness and entitlement of adolescence. But mounting scientific research is finding that getting up really early, and being thrown into a cognitively-intensive bloc schedule, is bad for both the health and education of youth. Various leading public health authorities are urging an end to this practice. Continue reading

Fifty Terms in Psychological and Psychiatric You Should Not Use

If like me you take an active interest in the mental health field — whether in the context of advocacy, academia, or casual curiosity — this article from Frontiersan open-source science publisher, is an excellent place to start. It lays out fifty common psychological and psychiatric terms that are, unbeknownst to most people, confusing, archaic, misapplied, or just plain wrong.

These range from pop culture concepts like “brainwashing” to seeming innocuous expressions like “genetically determined”. Continue reading

Let Children Be Children

[We] don’t have faith in young children. And we don’t really have faith in ourselves. And we’ve been programmed to believe that the more enrichments we can add on [the better].

I think boredom can be a friend to the imagination. Sometimes when kids appear to be bored, actually they haven’t had enough time to engage in something. We quickly whisk it away and move them along to the next thing. And that’s when you say, “How can I help the child to look at this in a new way? To try something new, to be patient.”

You’ve really kind of adultified childhood so kids really don’t have those long, uninterrupted stretches of time to engage in fantasy play. And because we’ve kind of despoiled the habitat of early childhood, a lot of times they don’t know what to do when given that time. So we kind of have to coach them.

I think there’s a little bit of a repair process that we need to engage in. Because if you’ve got a kid who’s used to going to a million lessons and only uses toys that have one way of using them and then, suddenly, you put them in a room with a bunch of boxes and blocks and say, “Have fun!”, the kid’s gonna say, “Are you kidding me? What?!”

— Erika Christakis, in an interview by NPR’s Corey Turner,
What Kids Need From Grown-Ups (But Aren’t Getting)”

The Countries That Support Free Speech The Most

This past spring, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey of over 40,000 people across 38 countries to find out how much they supported free expression, ranging from criticisms of the government to sexually explicit comments in public. The following map shows the results:

Here’s Vox’s take on the results:

People in Western countries, like America, Poland, and Spain, tend to be more supportive of free expression, while those in the eastern parts of the world — like China, India, Japan, and Turkey — are generally less supportive. And the U.S. stood out as more supportive of free expression than anyone else.

Still, the 38 countries surveyed by Pew were broadly supportive of free expression — with a few exceptions. For instance, a global median of about 52 percent of respondents said the media should not be able to publish information that’s sensitive to national security issues. And respondents outside the U.S. generally seemed to favor restrictions on specific types of speech, including that which may offend religious or minority groups

Overall, there was a clear divide between east and west on this issue, with the former less supportive of free speech than the latter (and African nations being somewhat in the middle ground). Nevertheless, most countries were generally pro-free speech, with respondents expressing hangs ups mostly towards sexually explicit content or anything that may be offensive to certain ethnic or religious minorities. This was the case even in the U.S., which is generally more comfortable with political speech than with anything sexual. Continue reading

How Much Should You Sleep?

Restfulness is one of the most elusive things in modern society. It seems like no one is getting enough sleep these days. But how much is enough in the first place? Nine hours has long been the widely accepted position, but recent research has shown that the optimal amount varies by age range, as well as other factors, namely when people sleep (e.g. sleep is more restful when done during the night than during the day, even if the amount is the same).

The National Sleep Foundation, an American nonprofit organization, released new guidelines on the preferred amount of sleep for the average person of a given age range. Based on a two-year study, as well as a meta-analysis of hundreds of other studies by leading sleep experts, the ground has offered the following recommendations:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours (previously 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours (previously 14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours (previously 12-14)
  • Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours (previously 11-13)
  • School-age children (6-13): 9-11 hours (previously 10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours (previously 8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours (previously the same)
  • Older adults (65 and older): 7-8 hours (new age category)

More from The Atlantic:

These new recommendations do little in the way of upsetting the old, with minor variations and clarifications for older adults and young children. And the numbers may vary among people with medical conditions, and among the few outliers who still function optimally outside of these ranges. But these are the amounts that the panel wants people to consider “rules of thumb.” The issuance of new guidelines, however familiar they are, serves at least in an effort toward awareness amid an ongoing public-health effort to rebrand sleep deprivation as less of a testament to mettle and more of a serious medical hazard.

The evidence against too much sleep is not as strong as the evidence against too little, though getting too much sleep has been linked with increased risk of near-term mortality. Still some experts argue that it’s unclear if sleeping beyond nine hours is inherently dangerous to adults. In relation to poor health and failure to thrive, deviating from these sleep ranges can either be a cause or an effect.

In practical terms, the panel also reminds people, familiarly, of the benefits of avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the hours before bed, exercising as a means to better sleep, and the reprehensibility of bringing a phone into bed. Because ultimately, the National Sleep Foundation implores us today, evoking the scythe: “Humans, like all animals, need sleep, along with food, water, and oxygen, to survive.”

Speaking for myself, seven hours seems to be the magic number. Any more or less and I feel “off” in some way. I can also attest to the importance of avoiding technology — especially screens — at least an hour before bed. Since I have cut back on that bad habit (for the most part) and upped my physical activity, I have been enjoying far more restful sleep — which in turn has markedly improved my anxiety, depression, and ability to concentrate.

What have your experiences been?