There is no longer any doubt: We are entering a mass extinction that threatens humanity’s existence.
That is the bad news at the center of a new study by a group of scientists including Paul Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Ehrlich and his co-authors call for fast action to conserve threatened species, populations and habitat, but warn that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.
“[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event,” Ehrlich said.
Although most well known for his positions on human population, Ehrlich has done extensive work on extinctions going back to his 1981 book, Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species. He has long tied his work on coevolution, on racial, gender and economic justice, and on nuclear winter with the issue of wildlife populations and species loss. Read more »
The world’s population will increase from today’s 7.3 billion people to 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion at century’s end, John R. Wilmoth, the director of the United Nations (UN) Population Division, told a session focused on demographic forecasting at the 2015 Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM 2015) today in Seattle.
The UN projection suggests there will not be an end to world population growth this century unless there are unprecedented fertility declines in those parts of sub-Saharan Africa that are still experiencing rapid population growth. The UN estimated the probability that world population growth will end within this century to be 23%.
Wilmoth’s presentation–”Populations Projections by the United Nations“–was made as part of an invited session titled “Better Demographic Forecasts, Better Policy Decisions” held here today.
Wilmoth told the audience that according to models of demographic change derived from historical experience, it is estimated the global population will be between 9.5 and 13.3 billion people in 2100. In the United States, the population is projected to add 1.5 million people per year on average until the end of the century, pushing the current count of 322 million people to 450 million, he said.
The primary driver of global population growth is a projected increase in the population of Africa. The continent’s current population of 1.2 billion people is expected to rise to between 3.4 billion and 5.6 billion people by the end of this century. The continent’s population growth is due to persistent high levels of fertility and the recent slowdown in the rate of fertility decline. The total fertility rate (TFR) has been declining in Africa over the past decade, but has been doing so at roughly one-quarter of the rate at which it declined in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean in the 1970s.
In some African countries, the TFR decline appears to have stalled. For instance, in Nigeria–the continent’s most-populous country–the high fertility rate would result in a more than fourfold projected increase in total population by 2100–from 182 million to 752 million people. Wilmoth said although there is considerable uncertainty about these future trends, there is a 90% chance Nigeria’s population will exceed 439 million people in 2100, which is nearly 2.5 times its current size.
Looking more closely at the global projections, Wilmoth said Asia, with a current population of 4.4 billion, is likely to remain the most populous continent, with its population expected to peak around the middle of the century at 5.3 billion, and then to decline to around 4.9 billion people by the end of the century.
The UN report also examines the level of population aging in different countries, noted Wilmoth. One such measure is the potential support ratio (PSR), which is equal to the number of people aged 20 to 64 divided by the number of people aged 65 or over and is frequently considered the number of workers per retiree. Japan currently has the lowest PSR at 2.1, followed by Italy at 2.6.
In the United States, where the median age of the population is expected to increase from today’s 38.0 years to 44.7 years in 2100, the PSR is projected to decline from 4.0 to 1.9. Other countries that will experience sharp declines in their PSR by the end of the century are the following:
- Germany, current 2.9 to projected 1.4
- China, current 7.1 to projected 1.4
- Mexico, current 8.7 to projected 1.4
- Bangladesh, current 11.2 to 1.6
Only five countries are projected to have a PSR above 5.0 in 2100: Niger, Somalia, Nigeria, Gambia and Angola. Niger is expected to have the highest PSR by the end of the century at 6.5.
These results have important policy implications for national governments. Rapid population growth in high-fertility countries can exacerbate a range of existing problems–environmental (resource scarcity and pollution), health (maternal and child mortality), economic (unemployment, low wages and poverty), governmental (lagging investments in health, education and infrastructure), and social (political unrest and crime), explained Wilmoth.
Developing countries with young populations but lower fertility–such as China, Brazil and India–face the prospect of substantial population aging before the end of the century. The new projection suggests these countries need to invest some of the benefits of their demographic dividend in the coming decades toward provisions for the older population of the future such as social security, pensions and health care.
A study comparing preferences and willingness to pay for end-of-life treatments between advanced cancer patients and the general population of older adults has shown that patients are willing to pay more for all aspects of a good end-of-life experience compared to what healthy older adults believe they would pay if in a similar situation. Yet, both groups are willing to pay more to be free of pain and to die at home rather than for treatments that moderately extend life. The research, led by members from the Lien Centre for Palliative Care (LCPC), was recently accepted for publication in the journal Health Policy and will be presented on Oct. 8, 2015 at the LCPC-SHC Palliative Care Symposium.
Faced with an ageing population and rising rates of chronic diseases, Singapore has been forced to revisit how best to finance health services for the Pioneer Generation and is interested to understand the perspective of those most at risk, which includes older adults and patients with life-limiting illnesses, such as advanced cancer.
Past research has shown that caregivers place a much higher emphasis on life extension and are willing to pay greater amounts for moderately life extending treatments than patients. However, it was not known whether the preferences of patients and the general population were aligned.
Led by Professor Eric Finkelstein and Assistant Professor Chetna Malhotra from the LCPC, a centre of Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore (Duke-NUS), the study surveyed 542 adults aged 50 years and older and 332 advanced cancer patients in Singapore. The former group was told to assume that they were recently diagnosed with advanced cancer, and both groups were asked to select their most-preferred end-of-life scenario over a series of options.
The scenarios were systematically varied along key features, including severity of pain experienced, amount of care required (in hours per week), expected length of survival, quality of healthcare experienced, expected cost of treatment, source of payment for treatment and place of death (at home or an institution such as a hospital). The researchers used the results to estimate the maximum amount of money participants would be willing to pay to have their preferred end-of-life scenario.
Findings showed that older adults’ willingness to pay to extend their life by one year was valued at S$1,587, which is significantly lower than what they are willing to pay to be free of pain (S$9,358), or to die at home (S$3,712). Similarly, patients’ willingness to pay to extend their life by one year (S$11,043) was much lower than their willingness to pay to be free of pain (S$43,308), or to die at home (S$19,295). Both groups also highly valued a high quality healthcare experience, which includes being treated with respect and receiving care that is highly coordinated. Overall, advanced cancer patients were generally willing to pay more for all aspects of a good end-of-life experience compared to what healthy older adults stated.
Dr Finkelstein, Director of the LCPC, noted that a plausible interpretation of the results is that healthy older adults underestimate their willingness to pay for moderately life-extending treatments when they become ill with a life-limiting condition. He suspects that they may also underinsure and/or not sufficiently save for future medical needs. “If confirmed, then mandates to purchase health coverage, as is the case with Medishield Life, could make people better off by minimising the chances of regret from past decisions.”
Dr Finkelstein further notes that the willingness to pay for one additional life year from older adults and patients is much lower than common thresholds for cost-effectiveness used in many countries. “This suggests that health reform efforts should not over-emphasise financing high cost treatments that only moderately extend life.”
Co-author Dr Chetna Malhotra advises that rather than investing heavily in high cost treatments, “Policymakers should emphasize policies that support adequate pain management and hospice home care services.”
In the most comprehensive study of the effectiveness of anti-bullying policies to date, researchers found that compliance with the U.S. Department of Education guidelines in antibullying laws reduced rates of bullying and cyberbullying–the most common forms of peer aggression. The study, which uncovered varying rates of bullying reported across the states, has important implications for educators, policy makers, and researchers. Findings will appear online in JAMA Pediatrics.
“Though bullying is the result of a complicated set of social, psychological, and peer impulses, we now see that laws aimed to reduce bullying are successful,” said Mark Hatzenbuehler, PhD, associate professor of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, who led the study with Marizen Ramirez, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health in the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health and colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “While policies alone cannot completely eradicate bullying, these data suggest that legislation represents an important part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent bullying.”
These findings are significant for many reasons, including giving a “green light” to conduct more granular studies that focus on different combinations of legislation, how implementation of these policies affects their effectiveness, and whether antibullying legislation is effective in protecting students who are most vulnerable to bullying.
Responses of more than 60,000 adolescents in grades 9 to 12 to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance were matched against data on anti-bullying legislation in 25 states obtained from the U.S. Department of Education, which commissioned a review of state law in 2011. Each state was assigned compliance scores for 16 components identified by the Department.
Findings showed there were three critical components to having successful antibullying state laws in terms of reducing both bullying and cyberbullying: a description of where schools can intervene to address bullying — for example, on school grounds only or beyond; a clear definition of bullying; and a requirement that schools have a local policy or a timeline when a policy must be in place. Training elements, enumerated groups, and communication of the policies were also effective for reducing either cyberbullying or traditional face-to-face bullying. The study controlled for state-level violent crime rates and historical bullying rates, which otherwise may have affected the results.
High school students in states with at least one component in the antibullying law were 24 percent less likely to report acts of bullying and 20 percent less likely to be cyberbullied compared to students in states without legislation. Rates of bullying ranged from a low of 13 percent reported by Alabama to 27 percent for South Dakota. Cyberbullying rates ranged from 12 percent in Alabama to 20 percent in South Dakota and an overall average of 15.5 percent. Students were considered a target of bullying if they reported being bullied on school property in the past year and a target of cyberbullying if they reported being electronically bullied (e.g., through email, texting, Websites) in the past year.
“Bullying is a common experience among children, and passing legislation to curb bullying is an important prevention strategy,” said Ramirez. “However, research on the effectiveness of these laws has been lagging. This research represents an important step in linking public health research with the practice of public health law. Moving forward, this collaboration will help identify what laws are most effective in curbing bullying in schools.”
These results follow on earlier findings that revealed far lower rates of suicide attempts among gay and lesbian youths in Oregon counties whose anti-bullying legislation mentioned sexual orientation. In that study, published in 2013, Hatzenbuehler and Katherine Keyes, also of the Mailman School, addressed the county-by-county variability of this legislation and found that more specific policies provided the most protection for lesbian and gay youth.
“Bullying and cyberbullying are significant public health issues that threaten American youth’s well-being,” said Marci Hertz, MS, lead health scientist, CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “Bullying hurts kids physically and emotionally and can affect how well they do in school. This research will help us proactively identify and put in place strategies to protect our children from bullying and bullying-related behaviors using evidence-based strategies.”
“Although more research is needed, our study is an important first step in providing guidance to legislators and school administrators about best practices to reduce bullying and to give protection to young people all over the country,” Hatzenbuehler said.
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