This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Dogs Are Good for Your Health!

Thanks to Todd Gardner and several others for pointing to a great study reported on by BBCNews showing that dogs are associated with better health among their owners than among people without dogs. The analysis is drawn from a large population-based longitudinal database in Sweden and the findings were just published in Scientific Reports.
We aimed to investigate the association of dog ownership with incident cardiovascular disease (CVD) and death in a register-based prospective nation-wide cohort (n = 3,432,153) with up to 12 years of follow-up. Self-reported health and lifestyle habits were available for 34,202 participants in the Swedish Twin Register.
Their overall conclusion is as follows:
[I]n a nationwide population based study with 12 years of follow-up, we show that dog ownership is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in single households and with a reduced risk of cardiovascular and all-cause death in the general population.
Taken together, we believe our longitudinal population-wide design provides the most robust evidence so far of a link between dog ownership and health outcomes, although bias from reverse causation, misclassification and confounding cannot be excluded.
Note that the authors are careful about the direction of causation. It may be that healthier people are generally more likely to have dogs, but even if that were true it doesn't negate the possibility that dogs can improve your health.

The one caveat that I would throw into the mix is that dog ownership is not always associated with loving the dogs. Our current German Shepherd was abandoned by its owner at a high-kill animal shelter here in Southern California when he was about one year old. Fortunately for Larry Bear (our name for him--his photo from just a few minutes ago is below) and for us, he was rescued by Coastal German Shepherd Rescue, and then he "rescued" us as we gave him his forever home. He's good for our health, and we're good for his health--it's a nice combination
.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Land Grabs and Hunger in Africa

A few days ago I posed the question: Can we keep feeding a growing population? My answer was don't bet on it, and other news this week speaks to some of the problems. Yesterday Reuters reported that the United Nations now estimates that the number of hungry people in Africa rose by 10% in 2016, pushing the overall number to 224 million. The explanation given was that the combination of conflict and climate change has made it harder to grow and distribute food in the sub-Saharan region. 

Keeping in mind that Africa has the fastest growing population in the world, what happens there has a huge impact on the global hunger picture. And one of the things happening in Africa is a land grab by wealthier countries who want to increase food productivity not necessarily for Africans, but rather as a source of food for themselves. Timothy Wise of the Small Planet Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts (and also a senior researcher at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University) has been studying these issues for some time now and his group recently sent out this summary of some of the events he has been covering:
Tim was in Maputo October 23-24 for the Trinational People’s Conference on ProSAVANA, the controversial Mozambique-Brazil-Japan agricultural development project widely denounced by local farmers and communities as a land-grab. Fifty farmers took turns lecturing ProSAVANA director Antonio Limbau that they did not want large-scale foreign investments, they wanted support for their own food production. Tim has covered the conflict since 2014 (see previous articles here and here). This year he has also researched a controversial Chinese rice project; look for an in-depth report on the project soon.
While in Maputo, Tim presented at an African Union-sponsored three-day conference on “Climate Smart Agriculture,” the new catch-all term for agricultural practices that mitigate and adapt to climate change. He was part of an ActionAid-sponsored event on agro-ecology, where he laid out the evidence supporting a transition to soil-building agro-ecological practices, in contrast to the Green Revolution practices of monoculture fed by synthetic fertilizers. Colleagues from Zambia and Malawi presented case studies, and Tim offered observations of the successful project he’s seen in Marracuene, Mozambique. (See articles here and here.)
The point is that Africa needs its land to grow food for its rapidly growing population and it needs help (meaning investments, but not ones that are essentially confiscatory) to implement sustainable methods for increasing per acre productivity. The region's population growth will not be sustainable if Africans are routinely taken advantage of with respect to their agricultural land.