Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Who’s Smarter - Democrats or Republicans?

Summary: Results that break along partisan lines beg the question: Who's smarter - Democrats or Republicans? You must read to find out!

Okay, that’s a loaded question. Back in March we asked “Who Leads Healthier Lives - Democrats or Republicans?” but with that we could actually back up our claims with statistics.

Ultimately, we said:

“the most realistic conclusion to make is that political ideology has little-to-no bearing on the well-being of an individual. A more obvious trend is healthiness by region - those living in the Western states tend to be particularly healthy while those living in the Rust Belt and Appalachia are among the unhealthiest of Americans.”

When it comes to brain health - however - we see some very obvious partisan lines.

A new study on brain health by state finds that “blue states” were healthier than the “red states.” Although the study did not focus on politics at all, it was not difficult to put two-and-two together.

According to this “Index of Brain Health” the top ten “brainiest” states in the country (including the District of Columbia) are as follows:

1) Washington, D.C.
2) Maryland
3) Washington state
4) Vermont
5) Connecticut
6) Colorado
7) Massachusetts
8) New Jersey
9) Maine
10) New Hampshire

With the exception of Colorado - a swing state - all of the top ten are solid Democratic-supporting states.

Conversely, these are the bottom ten “brainiest” states:

42) Indiana
43) North Dakota
44) South Carolina
45) Arkansas
46) Kentucky
47) Tennessee
48) Mississippi
49) Alabama
50) Oklahoma
51) Louisiana

With the exception of Indiana, all of these states went for Sen. John McCain in last year’s presidential election, and all ten are considered fairly reliable for Republicans.

For those Republicans who are undoubtedly upset with this so far, let me reassure you that this isn’t all about “intelligence.” U.S. News & World Report explains the study:

Diet represented 36 percent of each state's score. Of several factors used to calculate the brain-healthfulness of the foods each state eats, sales of fish and DHA-fortified foods were weighed most heavily; they made up 10 percent and 12 percent, respectively, of the diet score. Measures of the population's physical health accounted for 25 percent of each state's overall score; mental health accounted for 24 percent; and social well-being 15 percent. In all, 21 measures went into calculating each score. The creators of the index examined existing data on these metrics for all the states and the District of Columbia. The data came from agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

You don't have to be a genius to understand why the index, dubbed the "life's DHA Index of Brain Health," was based partly on DHA consumption. Its developer and sponsor, Martek Biosciences Corp., produces dietary supplements and products rich in DHA omega-3 fatty acids, including the life's DHA brand. Studies suggest omega-3s can be important to healthy brain development.

"Our goal was to draw attention to the fact that your brain health isn't solely genetic—that you get to modify it," says Michael Roizen, a doctor of internal medicine and anesthesiology, author and adviser for the index.

The District of Columbia was at the top of the pack, thanks to the high amounts of fish and DHA omega-3-fortified foods and supplements consumed there, the quantity of fruits and vegetables its residents eat and the fact that many of the capital's residents are bookworms. (Interestingly, Alaska tied with D.C. in the rate at which residents read for personal interest.)

Also receiving high marks were Connecticut (ranked fifth brainiest overall), thanks in part to the quality of its education system; Massachusetts (ranked seventh), for its high rates of health insurance coverage; and New Jersey (ranked eighth), for having one of the lowest rates of psychological distress in the nation…

…"The results show that the majority of the top-10-ranked states border or are near the Atlantic or Pacific oceans," says Michael Roizen, author and adviser to the Martek index. "One hypothesis is the accessibility of fish with its healthy fats and protein."

Louisiana, the "least brainy" state, tied with Mississippi and Utah for the highest rate of involvement in religious and spiritual activities—something Martek considers a positive indicator for brain health. That measure determined 5 percent of each state's total brain health score. In addition to its low sales of fish and DHA-fortified foods, and moderately low fruit and vegetable consumption rates, the Bayou State, along with Kentucky, has the lowest breast-feeding rate in the nation. Breast-feeding naturally provides DHA omega-3, which Martek's report on the index cites as "important for brain development of infants."

At the time we simulated a possible correlation between a state’s politics and the health of its residents, we found that it wasn’t too likely that one had much to do with the other. Somehow, I doubt that this study was much more than an outlier to that conclusion. As we said at the time, though, “finding correlations between party-affiliation and things like healthiness are very interesting, and we hope to see more studies and discussions like this in the future.”

Despite the fact that these correlations still seem a bit dubious, it was indeed very interesting and we’re glad we found it.

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