Dr. Ron’s Research Review – July 3, 2013

© 2013

This week’s research review focuses on electricity as a cause of disease.

Samuel Milham hypothesized that the 20th century epidemic of the so-called diseases of civilization including cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes and suicide was caused by electrification not by lifestyle. (Milham 2010)

The slow spread of residential electrification in the US in the first half of the 20th century from urban to rural areas resulted by 1940 in two large populations; urban populations, with nearly complete electrification and rural populations exposed to varying levels of electrification depending on the progress of electrification in their state. It took until 1956 for US farms to reach urban and rural non-farm electrification levels.

Urban death rates were much higher than rural rates for cardiovascular diseases, malignant diseases, diabetes and suicide in 1940. Rural death rates were significantly correlated with level of residential electric service by state for most causes examined.

Frank de Vocht calls this a textbook example of a phenomenon widely recognized in epidemiology as the ‘‘ecologic fallacy’’. Ecological associations do not necessarily reflect associations at an individual level, which is an artefact of heterogeneity of risk factors within groups that are compared. More likely, however, is that the associations observed by the author are a consequence of differences in age structure and socio-economic predictors between urban and rural areas and southern and northern US states. (Vocht and Burstyn 2010)

Dr. Ron


Article

Historical evidence that electrification caused the 20th century epidemic of "diseases of civilization"

         (Milham 2010)  Download

The slow spread of residential electrification in the US in the first half of the 20th century from urban to rural areas resulted by 1940 in two large populations; urban populations, with nearly complete electrification and rural populations exposed to varying levels of electrification depending on the progress of electrification in their state. It took until 1956 for US farms to reach urban and rural non-farm electrification levels. Both populations were covered by the US vital registration system. US vital statistics tabulations and census records for 1920-1960, and historical US vital statistics documents were examined. Residential electrification data was available in the US census of population for 1930, 1940 and 1950. Crude urban and rural death rates were calculated, and death rates by state were correlated with electrification rates by state for urban and rural areas for 1940 white resident deaths. Urban death rates were much higher than rural rates for cardiovascular diseases, malignant diseases, diabetes and suicide in 1940. Rural death rates were significantly correlated with level of residential electric service by state for most causes examined. I hypothesize that the 20th century epidemic of the so called diseases of civilization including cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes and suicide was caused by electrification not by lifestyle. A large proportion of these diseases may therefore be preventable.

Historical "evidence" that electrification caused the 20th century epidemic of diseases of civilization and the ecological fallacy

         (Vocht and Burstyn 2010) Download


Reference

Milham, S. (2010). "Historical evidence that electrification caused the 20th century epidemic of "diseases of civilization"." Med Hypotheses 74(2): 337-45. [PMID: 19748187]

Vocht, F. and I. Burstyn (2010). "Historical "evidence" that electrification caused the 20th century epidemic of diseases of civilization and the ecological fallacy." Med Hypotheses 74(5): 957-8. [PMID: 20018454]