Archives for children



Surprising New Findings on Obesity

One of the first Freakonomics Radio podcasts we made was an episode about the (surprisingly tenuous) link between obesity and health problems. A new study in The Journal of the American Medical Association finds that “Grade 1 obesity overall was not associated with higher mortality, and overweight was associated with significantly lower all-cause mortality.”  Writing for The Daily Beast, Kent Sepkowitz explains:

Compared to people with a normal weight (a BMI less than 25), the overweight (BMI between 25 to 30) had a 6 percent lower mortality rate—and both groups had a rate about 15 percent lower than the obese, especially the very obese (BMI above 35).

The explanation for the finding is uncertain. Perhaps the pleasantly plump but not obese have an extra reserve—a literal spare tire—that confers a survival advantage should they become seriously ill, whereas the lean-iacs do not. Or maybe the thin ones were thin because of a serious illness that, in the course the various studies, killed them. Or maybe the thin ones were thin because they were chain smokers living off Scotch and potato chips. Or just maybe the occasional pig-out does soothe the soul and make for a happier, healthier individual.

(HT: Andrew Sullivan)



What’s Wrong With Cash for Grades? A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “What’s Wrong With Cash for Grades?”

(You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)

In it, Steve Levitt talks to Kai Ryssdal about whether it’s effective to pay kids to do well in school. Levitt, along with John ListSusanne Neckermann, and Sally Sadoff, recently wrote up a working paper (PDF here) based on their field experiments in Chicago schools. Levitt blogged about the paper earlier; here’s the Atlantic‘s take. Read More »



Evidence That Myopia Has a Strong Environmental Cause

Time reports on a new study on why Asians have a higher rate of nearsightedness:

It has long been thought that nearsightedness is mostly a hereditary problem, but researchers led by Ian Morgan of Australian National University say the data suggest that environment has a lot more to do with it.

Reporting in the journal Lancet, the authors note that up to 90% of young adults in major East Asian countries, including China, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, are nearsighted. The overall rate of myopia in the U.K., by contrast, is about 20% to 30%.

Read More »



An Economics Lesson from Law and Order SVU

I watched a Law and Order SVU re-run last night, remarkably one that I hadn’t seen before. In the episode, an infant dies of measles contracted from another child whose parents refuse to vaccinate her.  (Infants are not vaccinated against measles.)  This is a classic case of whether concerns about potential negative externalities outweigh the desire to keep the government from dictating private behavior (vaccination). We already permit both approaches: we mandate vaccines for children to enter public school, and allow parents (as in this TV show) the choice of not vaccinating pre-schoolers.   Read More »



Markets in the Air

I stumbled on this nifty business idea, Nanny in the Clouds, to create a market in the air for nannies. Think match.com, but for wanna-be-nannies and parents on airplanes.

A clear market failure: people on flights with kids want some help; other people on flights want to make some money taking care of kids. Social norms don’t really allow for instantaneous markets to appear (“hey, for $10 I’ll watch your kid for the next two hours so that you can take a nap” is unlikely to get many takers, I suspect). But prearranged, where the norm adheres to our expectations in the babysitter market, and we have a market helping make trades otherwise not made.  

Here is how it works: Sign up on the website, put in the flight you’re going to take, and see if any parents (nannies) signed up and are looking for a nanny (parent who wants a nanny) on the same flight. Negotiate your rates directly, and pay Nanny in the Clouds $10 if the match is made. Read More »



How to Get Your Kid to Do Chores

There’s a new iPad app for parents to incentivize children to do chores. HighScore House! sets up a market for parents and children to assign points to chores and exchange those points for rewards.

Co-founder Kyle Seaman tells us that they’ve tracked 150,000 tasks from about 6,000 users in their beta version (full version will launch in a couple months).

HighScore House! shared some data with us: 43 percent of their users are kids between 5 and 9 years old, with an average task completion rate of 54 percent. Girls have a 2 percent higher completion rate than boys. In general, kids seem to favor low-hanging fruit: lower value tasks (usually easier ones) have a higher completion rate.  Read More »



The Mathematics of Magic

I don’t particularly like math.  I’ve never been a fan of magic either.  For some reason, however, when I heard about a new book entitled Magical Mathematics written by two first-rate mathematicians, Persi Diaconis and Ron Graham, I felt compelled to buy it and read it.

I have to say that it is really good, and I would highly recommend it to any nerd.  It is a really artful melding of card tricks that are remarkable, with explanations of the underlying math concepts that are at one level so simple and clear that almost anyone could get the basic intuition for what they are talking about, but at another level so deep and difficult that it is probably hopeless for someone like me to ever truly understand.  Read More »



The Perils of Technology, iPad Edition

These days, I read a lot of books on an iPad 2 using the Kindle app. It is for the most part a very good experience, especially for recreational reading. As millions of others have noted, having an electronic device loaded up with a mini-library of e-books is especially valuable while traveling, which is when I do a lot of my reading.

The other day, on vacation with the family, I came across a pitfall. I was reading the old football novel North Dallas Forty (thanks to Henry for the suggestion, and all of you for other suggestions). It’s pretty entertaining — especially the race stuff and drug stuff. As it happened, my 9-year-old daughter was curled up beside me reading her book (The Doll People). She took at look at what I was reading. Her eyes immediately found a four-letter word. Read More »