Mortalityrating and GDPR

(Apr 18, 2018)

Previously our service processed a simple file format that included postcode, gender and date of birth alongside pension amount and commencement date for individuals in an occupational pension scheme. This combination of attributes when taken together is often capable of identifying "natural persons" in the language of the upcoming EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Some might choose to mitigate risk by deleting scheme data as soon as ratings complete. However, an alternative approach would be to perform ratings without requiring a combination of attributes that may be personally identifiable. How could such a thing be acheved?

An important observation is that a postcode…

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Tags: mortality, rating, GDPR, data protection

Occupational Hazard

(Jan 25, 2018)

We previously considered Sir Michael Marmot's landmark Whitehall Studies, which looked at health and mortality outcomes for UK civil servants. Sir Michael continues to research UK mortality, and has recently been drawing attention to the fact that improvements in UK life expectancy appear to be slowing down. Since 2010, life expectancy, previously increasing at around one year for every four, appears to have down-shifted to one year in every six-and-a-half for men, and every ten for women. The big question, of course, is why?

It goes without saying that national populations are never homogeneous. We've seen evidence of this both within US subpopulations and between different areas in the UK. It is therefore…

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Tags: longevity, research, mortality, employment, Scotland, socio-economic group

Of Mice and (Space)Men

(Jul 20, 2017)

It may seem obvious, but when encountering longevity research, it bears repeating: human biology is not mouse biology. For this reason, one of my resolutions for 2017 was to minimise blogs centered around rodents. But longevity science, much like Disney, finds functioning without the mouse more or less unthinkable. Our recent foray into the world of monkeys, was only delaying the inevitable. When it became obvious that mice were turning the wheel, not just for medical progress, but also towards the stars, well, I realised there's always 20181.

DNA damage has been found to accumulate with advancing age. This is unsurprising. Since simple sunlight and other aspects of our environment are considered mutagenic,…

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Tags: mortality, longevity, DNA, mice

Special Delivery

(Apr 4, 2017)

Drug molecules, without special intervention, don't apply only where we want them to. Indeed, late last year this fact landed pharmaceutical giant Reckitt Benckiser in trouble with the Australian regulator. Their "specific pain" range, despite bold claims on the packaging, was deemed to not target back pain, migraine or indeed any other specific pain. As a result, the premium pricing was ruled misleading and earned the company a AU$6 million fine. Pharmaceutical marketing departments will likely be unhappy that a regulator has decided the standard approach of deploying medication via simple blood circulation should no longer be represented as targeted.

Of course, this issue isn't simply about misleading…

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Tags: mortality, cancer, targeting

Top of the tree

(Feb 20, 2017)

What do civil servants and monkeys have in common (ignoring a purportedly greater than average interest in bananas)? This question isn't an invitation to heap scorn on the political establishment. After all, in these interesting times such an invitation seems hardly necessary. I'm referring, instead to the Whitehall studies, examining health and mortality outcomes for members of the British Civil Service. The original study began in 1968 and ran for a decade, while Whitehall II began in 1985. The findings from these prospective cohort studies continue to influence policy both nationally and internationally into the present day.

The central findings from Whitehall, however, still carry an element of…

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Tags: mortality, social status, primates, monkeys

Habit (re)forming

(Jan 3, 2017)

Behavioural risk factors such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are significant drivers of mortality and morbidity. In 2014, the UK NHS estimated smoking to be responsible for 78,000 deaths, or 17% of all deaths recorded that year. By comparison, ONS statistics that year attributed around 8,700 deaths directly to alcohol, which on the same basis would therefore equate to around 1.9% of deaths. Whilst these estimates put the relative mortality impacts in context, they take no account of wider social consequences, which are clearly another important area of debate.

The growth in use of e-cigarettes might be considered a large-scale public-health experiment. Despite fears to the contrary, a recent…

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Tags: mortality, smoking, alcohol

Cart before Horse?

(Jul 26, 2016)

Predicting the exact impact of weight upon mortality has proven to be a tricky business. That obesity is on the rise is universally acknowledged, but in recent years we have seen research studies reach differing conclusions, depending on the populations examined and the measures used. For example, there has been debate over whether the breakpoints used to analyse BMI, the most prominent weight measure are appropriate in all populations. A key issue posited, however, has been that of "reverse causality" - which in this context is usually interpreted as the failure to adjust for weight scores that are considered "healthy" under the BMI scale but in fact derive from illness-related weight-loss. The question…

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Tags: mortality, research, reverse causality, obesity, BMI

The strange case of Scotland's missing improvements

(Nov 15, 2014)

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to attend a New Scientist: Live presentation given by Sir Harry Burns entitled "Making Scotland Well Again", which was an examination of the links between social conditions and incidence of disease. We've written about mortality in Scotland before, but from his diverse roles including consultant surgeon, Glasgow's director of public health and former Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, Harry Burns has unique insight into the matter.

A core aspect of the situation for Burns is its relative recency. He reflected upon the fact that Scottish life expectancy sat around the Western European average until just after World War II. After that time, Scottish mortality simply…

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Tags: mortality, longevity, Scotland, Glasgow

Boundless Confidence?

(Feb 19, 2014)

We've talked repeatedly about a key advantage of statistical models over deterministic ones - specifically, that they provide confidence intervals in addition to a best estimate. These bounds allow us to decide how certain we can be about predictions made by the model (preferably before, say, publishing any conclusions in the national press). Confidence intervals, sadly, seldom influence the headlines. In the past few weeks, we find reports of a life expectancy of 105 for females in part of Cramlington, Northumberland. And more recently there has been excitement around male lifespan outstripping female, most notably by 13 years in Broadfield in Crawley, West Sussex. See related reports here and here.

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Tags: mortality, longevity, data quality

A Tale of Three Cities

(Oct 14, 2013)

Given my birthplace, I have a more than casual interest in the causes of excess mortality experienced by Scots beyond that explicable by deprivation alone. The phenomenon of a 30% excess in premature mortality and a 15% excess in general mortality appears most concentrated in the west of the country, to the extent of even being dubbed in some quarters the Glasgow effect.

The nub of the issue can be seen by comparing the mortality in Glasgow to two cities with comparable levels of deprivation - specifically Liverpool and Manchester:

It is worth noting that the direct sources of the excess mortality are fairly well understood - according to the Glasgow Centre for Population Health the hunt is on for the underlying…

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Tags: mortality, longevity, Scotland, Glasgow

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