nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
See here for more discussion.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

STUDY: Increased Infant Head Trauma During The Recession...Not Yet Validated

Unfortunately, this is an unpublished study, and has not been peer-reviewed.  Also the numbers are small.

Researchers try to be alert to changing social and economic influences on health.  Sometimes a casual observation can lead to a formal assessment of a health risk.  On occasion, policies to mitigate or prevent harmful socioeconomic impacts can be implemented.

Since the recession began, there have been literally thousands of articles about rates of crime, abuse, drinking, name it...all trying to show that when things are bad, bad things happen.  It sounds stupid, when you say it like that, but that's the underlying concern.  Most of these studies are rapidly performed and poorly controlled, so they don't help much.

But that doesn't slow down the media.  They report them all, in this case (USA Today Your Life blog, Apr 16).

This study, performed by a third-year medical student is being presented at a scientific meeting.  But, since it has not been peer-reviewed or published, the results casn't be accepted uncritically.

We all remember the studies of crime back in the 90's that resulted in public demand for greater protection...only to learn that crime rates were already falling...and have continued to fall.

Also, recall the debacle back in the radical feminist heyday about spouse abuse during the Superbowl game.  It was widely circulated in the press and advocacy literature that a study had found that spouse abuse doubled during the timeframe that the Superbowl game was being played.  The unspoken assumption was that husbands and other males were beating up on women as a result of their violent tendencies.  This was a period when the "All men are rapists" theology was being preached.

And, come to find out, no such study existed.

So, here's what the med student found:
"A total of 43 cases of NAHT [non-accidental head trauma] occurred in the 31 months of the recession period (December 2007 through June 2010), compared with 50 cases during the 72 months of the non-recession period (December 2001 through November 2007), which represented a 101% increase."

No data on how the rates changed and when, exactly.  From 2001-2010 there were 93 cases of NAHT in infants under 2.  These are relatively small numbers.  No information is yet available on whether changes in diagnostic criteria or more accurate reporting could be ruled out.  While the results are alleged to be "significant"  the article doesn't say "statistically" significant, and gives no figures for that analysis.  Overall, trauma decreased during the recession, and accidental infant head trauma also went down, according the their data.

But, as usual, the press picks up on this preliminary progress report for its inflammatory value.

Studies like these are sometimes a valuable guide to prevnting harm due to socioeconomic changes.  Just as often they are a red herring (like the study of leukemia in children living close to electrical transformers...cherry-picked and biased data that took several years to de-bunk.).

Those who are predisposed to a belief that the recession can lead to greater intentional infant trauma will believe, despite the limitations.

The press can always jump the gun to sell the news, but the rest of us need to wait for the science to be validated.

Then we can talk about health policy.

Doc D

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