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IQ and disease

30 Jun, 2010

The Guardian has a story today about a study linking higher levels of disease to lower IQ in warmer countries. As one of the researchers, Chris Epping, puts it:

“The effect of infectious disease on IQ is bigger than any other single factor we looked at. Disease is a major sap on the body’s energy, and the brain takes a lot of energy to build. If you don’t have enough, you can’t do it properly.”

“The consequence of this, if we’re right, is that the IQ of a nation will be largely unaffected until you can lift the burden of disease.”

It’s an interesting theory, and one that reminds me of other — though unrelated — studies by one of our research fellows.

Dr David Batty, from the MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow, has conducted numerous studies into how IQ affects different health behaviours. His studies have uncovered associations between lower IQ and risk of death, cardiovascular disease and suicide.

Batty’s work and the new study present two interesting sides to the two-way relationship between intelligence and health.

Batty’s research suggests that education initiatives aimed at raising IQ levels could also have a beneficial health effect, while the new study suggests that relieving the burden of infectious disease could also help raise IQ levels. Both suggest that simplifying health messages could promote a better understanding of how disease works, and better behaviours to prevent it.

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