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DEPARTMENT OF OBVIOUS: Studies We May Not Have Needed
November 15, 2011
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Economic and medical research is often important - it offers us a new context for the world we live in, helps expose surprising behaviours and tendencies, and offers useful insights into our health. But some studies that get reported in the media could seem like they're just restating the obvious, with lots of fun percentages thrown in.

Are these "obvious" studies still worthwhile? Dr. Rajendra Kale, interim Editor-in-Chief for the Canadian Medical Association Journal, believes they are: "It may be an obvious result - I can't generalize about that - but studies like this are important because they help to quantify the size of the effect." And that quantification, in Dr. Kale's experience, helps doctors and experts to act on the issue in question in an informed way.

So while the studies below may seem obvious to us non-scientific research types, medical and economics professionals find them informative thanks to the numbers they provide:

Watching Too Much TV and Not Exercising Can Lead to Depression
The 'American Journal of Epidemiology' just released a Harvard study of 50,000 women in the U.S. And the findings are not that surprising. Apparently, women who exercised 90 minutes a day or more were 20 percent less likely to be diagnosed with depression than those who exercised 10 minutes or less a day. And those who watched three hours or more of television a day were 13 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression than those who hardly ever watched TV. It seems pretty obvious that people who are inactive and sitting in front of the television for hours on end might be more prone to depression, and it also seems impossible to separate cause from effect: are they depressed because they're watching TV, or are they watching TV because they're depressed? That's a little less than obvious.

Most Smokers Want to Quit But Can't
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has some news about cigarette smoking that might not surprise you if you are, or have ever met, a smoker: most of them want to quit but can't. The study found that 68.8 percent of current smokers say they want to quit, and 52.4 percent tried to quit during the past year. One mildly disturbing fact that does crop up in the report: 48.3 percent of smokers who saw their doctors in the past year say they were advised to quit smoking. Does that mean that 51.7 percent were advised not to? Now that would be an interesting study...

Beautiful People Make More Money
So... did anyone not know this? According to 'Beauty Pays', a new book by economics professor Daniel Hamermesh, beautiful people earn more money, are likely to be happier than average people, and tend to marry good-looking, highly educated spouses. For the purposes of the study, Dr. Hamermesh defines beauty by the shape of a person's face, "by its symmetry and how everything hangs together". Good-looking women earn four percent more than their average-looking counterparts, and good-looking men three percent more. Without his study, we wouldn't have these hard numbers - but do we really need them?

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