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Medicine Science

Cat Ownership Correlated With Heart Health 406

Posted by kdawson
from the correlation-is-not-causality dept.
Ant tips us to a story making the rounds lately, based on reporting a couple of weeks old, that owning a cat could cut your heart attack risk by one third. No such effect was seen from dog ownership, but the researchers say that could be because there weren't enough dog owners in the study population to provide meaningful statistics. The study: "...analyzed data on 4,435 Americans, aged 30 to 75, who took part in the federal government's second National Health and Nutrition Examination Study, which ran from 1976-1980. According to the data in the survey, 2,435 of the participants either owned a cat or had owned a cat in the past, while the remaining 2,000 had never done so. [The] team then tracked rates of death from all causes, including heart and stroke. Cat owners 'appeared to have a lower rate of dying from heart attacks' over 10 years of follow-up compared to feline-free folk..."
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Cat Ownership Correlated With Heart Health

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  • by alext_uk (1159375) on Monday March 10, 2008 @08:16AM (#22699064)
  • Reasons? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PhrostyMcByte (589271) <phrosty@gmail.com> on Monday March 10, 2008 @08:21AM (#22699108) Homepage

    Anyone who owns a cat has had the groggy middle of the night lights-off walk to the kitchen to get a drink, only to step on their cat's tail and get that nice shot of a adrenaline pumping through their arteries. Maybe it strengthens their heart, or trains their reactions to not get so damned surprised by things that their heart could stop.

    Then again if things like this happen often enough to have effect, maybe they just shouldn't have a cat :)

  • Pseudo-science (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Futurepower(R) (558542) <MJennings.USA@NOT_any_of_THISgmail.com> on Monday March 10, 2008 @08:21AM (#22699110) Homepage
    The story is about a common kind of mistake that shows how important it is to understand the scientific method. Someone does a study and finds that there is a statistical correlation between one phenomenon and another. Then there is a claim that one of the phenomena is the cause of the other. Actually, however, they can both be related to something else that is not understood.

    Single people die earlier than married people. The reason does not appear to be that marriage prolongs life. Apparently those who have no strong ties to another person when they are 50 or older are likely to be alone because of some huge stress in their lives. It is the stress that kills, not being unmarried.
  • by blcamp (211756) on Monday March 10, 2008 @08:23AM (#22699124) Homepage

    I like cats, and my family has had pet cats in the past, but I just can't give this "survey" very much legitimacy.

    I could find a similar "survey audience" of beer drinkers, sex addicts, computer geeks (never mind, I'm already here!), root canal patients, or ANY group, and come up with whatever "favorable result" I want.

    Just my opinion and observation, but it seems to me more like an agenda piece than an honest scientific exercise.

  • Sigh... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Xelios (822510) on Monday March 10, 2008 @08:28AM (#22699162)
    Maybe it's just me, but these "Study finds x could decrease your risk of y by z%" news stories seem to be getting a little out of hand. "The team tracked the death rates for all causes and (surprise!) found some correlation in the statistics". What's next? Study finds people who paint their walls white decrease their risk of brain cancer by 20%? Seems like they'll publish anything just to publish something.

    I mean, if this is all it takes to have a career in research then maybe I picked the wrong field. I'd be happy to run some statistics through a data miner for a university salery and grant money.
  • by tverbeek (457094) on Monday March 10, 2008 @08:30AM (#22699176) Homepage
    Clearly this proves that people with heart problems choose not to buy cats.
  • by fosterNutrition (953798) on Monday March 10, 2008 @08:33AM (#22699198) Journal
    How is that a troll? The parent points out the rather important fact that many, including (arguably) the summary, seem to miss: The study has shown a correlation between cat ownership and decreased risk of heart problems. That does not mean that cats are good for your heart, only that there is a connection. It could be something entirely different, like that (warning: the following hypothetical scenario is sourced right out of my arse) people who like cats tend to be calmer people who stress their hearts less.
  • by Skater (41976) on Monday March 10, 2008 @08:53AM (#22699366) Homepage Journal
    I see "correlated" in the title of the story, plus I see the word "could" in the summary. I do not see anywhere that the summary or title says that there is definite causation. Perhaps that's why the GP was modded Troll.
  • Re:Makes Sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mikkeles (698461) on Monday March 10, 2008 @09:05AM (#22699466)
    Perhaps. But, when you are swept away by a raging flood, your dog will try to save you; your cat will watch you drown and go looking for a new meal-ticket!
  • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday March 10, 2008 @09:07AM (#22699484)
    No, but if you live in the U.S. you may have to EAT cat food to afford health insurance.
  • Re:Ownership?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SirGarlon (845873) on Monday March 10, 2008 @09:20AM (#22699660)

    I would also point out that ownership of animals is not legally the same as ownership of inanimate objects. If I want to smash my TV with a hammer, I'm perfectly entitled to do so; cruelty to animals is a crime. In fact, I have a legal obligation to provide food, water, sanitation, and shelter to my pets. So the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (where I live) has already discarded the notion that animals are "nothing more than property". That is, they're legally considered property, but not on the same level as inanimate objects.

  • Re:My cats (Score:5, Insightful)

    by plague3106 (71849) on Monday March 10, 2008 @10:05AM (#22700332)
    Siamese have a bad rap, just because they can be loud. We have two in our house, and they are the friendlist most loyal cats. They love being around us and love human attention.
  • by demiurgency (1072428) on Monday March 10, 2008 @10:07AM (#22700356)
    I would be more inclined to think it's just a correlation between the two facts. Maybe 'cat people' (people inclined to own cats, which are very laid back, low-maintenance pets) are more likely to live less stressful lives. The cat may just be an indicator of other low-stress lifestyle habits. ie, cat people are more inclined to be lazy. (spoken as a lazy cat lover)
  • by keineobachtubersie (1244154) on Monday March 10, 2008 @10:08AM (#22700380)
    "The story is about a common kind of mistake that shows how important it is to understand the scientific method. Someone does a study and finds that there is a statistical correlation between one phenomenon and another. Then there is a claim that one of the phenomena is the cause of the other. Actually, however, they can both be related to something else that is not understood."

    It's not a mistake at all, and your example is terrible.

    First, what you're talking about is called a Confounding Variable http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confounding_variable [wikipedia.org]

    Second, you're making the typical mistake of assuming that because confounding variables are sometimes present that they are ALWAYS present, or not controlled for. Do you know what confounding variables were controlled for in this study before you make the assumptions you have? No you do not.

    Third, that ridiculous "correlation does not equal causation" mantra that is so often tossed about is designed like so many other easily remembered but relatively useless memes. It's not a scientific principle, it's a caution, nothing more.

    The fact is, most of the time, correlation has some effect on causation. If nothing else, it indicates a relationship worth examining.

    "Apparently those who have no strong ties to another person..."

    This makes me ask, why denounce his study then do exactly what you denounced it for?

    I can't tell you how tired I am of people getting modded insightful for misunderstanding then regurgitating something that most people who discuss this subject should understand at a base level.

    There's nothing remotely insightful about restating "correlation does not equal causation".

  • by arock99 (612650) on Monday March 10, 2008 @10:24AM (#22700660)
    In my case it would increase my risk
  • by guidryp (702488) on Monday March 10, 2008 @10:42AM (#22701008)
    Correlation doesn't equal causation.

    It could simply be that most hard driving type A folks destined for heart attacks, have less interest in Cats. Giving them a Cat wouldn't lower their actual risk.

    Cat ownership may have nothing to do with it. It just may be that calm easy going folks buy more cats, and hard drivers don't. In the absence of the cats their rate of heart attack may be unchanged, you would just need another mechanism to identify them.

  • by schweini (607711) on Monday March 10, 2008 @11:41AM (#22702018)
    May i point out that the reverse (causation implies correlation) DOES hold true, and that the whole 'it's just a correlation!' shouting doesn't actually prove whether the study is bogus or not? It still is an interesting data-point, and as a cat-surviver myself, i can only attest to many calming effect a cat, and to a lesser effect a dog might be having on their slave and master, correspondingly. I'm not saying that cats directly reduce the risk of a heart attack, but i think it's interesting that it might be a relatively strong factor playing into the combination of stuff you can do to increase your life expectancy. It might be something as simple as the happiness or the pride that a cat can couse when she decides to honor you with her presence, and starts to purr.
    And besides - weren't there a couple of studies that showed that pets in hospital have benificial effects on the patients?
  • Nobody OWNS a cat (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dekortage (697532) on Monday March 10, 2008 @12:48PM (#22703186) Homepage

    Let's get this straight. Cats only condescendingly permits us to live in the same house with them. They own us. You die less from heart attacks because it's cheaper for them to keep you alive than to find another pet human.

"Regardless of the legal speed limit, your Buick must be operated at speeds faster than 85 MPH (140kph)." -- 1987 Buick Grand National owners manual.

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