If California can let teenagers sleep, everybody can, damnit

Damnit for emphasis because this issue frustrates me so much.  One of those cases where the science is so clear, but status quo bias, entrenched interests, and plain old “well, we’ve always done it that way” combine to conspire against the obviously far more sensible of not having teenagers wake up absurdly early for high school.  Some forward-thinking school districts around the country have been slowly catching on.  And, now, the whole damn state of California is– hooray!

California students can look forward to extra sleep in the morning once a new law takes effect.

The law, signed on Sunday by Gov. Gavin Newsom, pushes back the start times at most public middle and high schools, making California the first state to order such a shift.

Classes for high schools, including those operated as charter schools, will start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. under the law, and classes for middle schools will start no earlier than 8 a.m.

The law, which came amid rising worries about the effects of sleep deprivation on young people, is intended to improve attendance rates and reduce tardiness, said Anthony J. Portantino, a Democratic state senator who wrote the bill.

“Everybody is looking for a magic bullet with education, one that cuts across all demographics, all ethnicities and that actually has a positive, measurable increase in test scores, attendance and graduation rates without costing money,” he said in a telephone interview. “And this is it.”…

Sleep experts also hailed the move. Dr. Sumit Bhargava, a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford University and specialist in pediatric sleep medicine at Stanford Children’s Health, called the law a “triumph,” noting that adolescents’ brains are still developing and that chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of diseases later in life.

Although it might not seem like much, he said, “the effects of that one hour is something they will be feeling as 40-year-old adults,” adding that students would feel less anxious and less depressed and perform better academically. “When you give them the gift of increased sleep time, it is the biggest bang for buck that you can think about,” he said.

Downsides?  Sure.  But not near enough to outweigh these clear benefits.  So, my hope that California will show clear results soon enough that, just maybe, North Carolina, or at least Wake County, will suck it up and make this same change by the time my 3rd grader heads to high school.

The diet soda myth

You didn’t think I was going to let an Aaron Carroll Upshot post on “Five Reasons the Diet Soda Myth Won’t Die” go by without a post, did you?

There’s a decent chance you’ll be reading about diet soda studies until the day you die. (The odds are exceedingly good it won’t be the soda that kills you.)

The latest batch of news reports came last month, based on another study linking diet soda to an increased risk of early death.

As usual, the study (and some of the stories) lacked some important context and caused more worry than was warranted. There are specific reasons that this cycle is unlikely to end.

1. If it’s artificial, it must be bad.

People suspect, and not always incorrectly, that putting things created in a lab into their bodies cannot be good. People worry about genetically modified organisms, and monosodium glutamate and, yes, artificial sweeteners because they sound scary.

But everything is a chemical, [emphases mine] including dihydrogen monoxide (that’s another way of saying water). These are just words we use to describe ingredients. Some ingredients occur naturally, and some are coaxed into existence. That doesn’t inherently make one better than another. In fact, I’ve argued that research supports consuming artificial sweeteners over added sugars. (The latest study concludes the opposite.)…

5. We still don’t understand the limitations of observational studies

No matter how many times you stress the difference between correlation and causation, people still look at “increased risk” and determine that the risk is causing the bad outcome. For reporting on hundreds of thousands of people, observational studies are generally the only realistic option. With very few exceptions, they can tell us only if two things are related, not whether one is to blame for the other (as opposed to randomized control trials).

With respect to diet sodas, it’s plausible that the people who tend to drink them also tend to be worried about their weight or health; it could be a recent heart attack or other health setback that is causing the consumption rather than the other way around. But you shouldn’t assume that diet sodas cause better health either; it could be that more health-conscious people avoid added sugars.

Many of these new observational studies add little to our understanding. At some point, a study with 200,000 participants isn’t “better” than one with 100,000 participants, because almost all have limitations — often the same ones — that we can’t fix.

Dr. John Ioannidis wrote in a seminal editorial: “Individuals consume thousands of chemicals in millions of possible daily combinations. For instance, there are more than 250,000 different foods and even more potentially edible items, with 300,000 edible plants alone.”

And yet, he added, “much of the literature silently assumes disease risk” is governed by the “most abundant substances; for example, carbohydrates or fats.” We don’t know what else is at play, and using observational studies, we never will.

Okay, now back to my Diet Dr Pepper.

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