Ramadan and medical risk

‘If you know someone in southeastern Uganda who is having a baby next year, you should hope with all your heart that the baby isn’t born in May. If so, it will be roughly 20 percent more likely to have visual, hearing, or learning disabilities as an adult.
Three years from now, however, May would be a fine month to have a baby. But the danger will only have shifted, not disappeared; April would now be the cruelest month.


The economists Douglas Almond and Bhashkar Mazumder have a simple answer for this strange and troubling phenomenon: Ramadan. […] Islam calls for a daytime fast from food and drink for the entire month of Ramadan. Most Muslim women participate even while pregnant; it’s not a round-the-clock fast, after all. Still, as Almond and Mazumder found by analyzing years’ worth of natality data, babies that were in utero during Ramadan are more likely to exhibit developmental aftereffects. The magnitude of these effects depends on which month of gestation the baby is in when Ramadan falls. The effects are strongest when fasting coincides with the first month of pregnancy, but they can occur if the mother fasts at any time up to the eighth month.’

From chapter 2 of Superfreakonomics, a book I as previously mentioned on the twitter am currently reading. Do note that the largest risk is at the point in time where the woman is least likely to be aware that she’s even engaging in risky behaviour that might hurt her child. There’s both the likelihood that she doesn’t know that she’s pregnant and there’s the timing issue; a pregnant woman say in the third trimester has probably known for a long time that she’d be pregnant during the fasting period and she’s had plenty of time to seek medical advice, whereas a woman who’s just gotten pregnant is far less likely to know all the relevant risks relating to her pregnancy, of which fasting is but one of many. And yes, I am well aware that this is far from the only relevant effect of Ramadan – it also ie. increases the risk of traffic accidents.

Unfortunately I don’t think mentioning these things to a female muslim will make her much less likely to choose to fast – however maybe I’m wrong. My ‘gut feeling’ is this: The higher the perceived costs of this practise, the more the female will feel like a ‘pure muslim’ when doing it; the more reinforced will be her conviction that she’s a better person than people who do not fast. I mean – if fasting is just a stupid ancient practise devoid of any meaning, you’d be a bloody moron to do it, right? So you make up stories to make the behaviour look ‘reasonable’. Also, if you don’t defend the madness, you’re not part of the group, you can’t be trusted, and the madder the madness is, the better it works as a selection mechanism because it gets easier to tell the difference between the truly mad and the posers. There’s a reason religion is still around. One of the more efficient ways to make people believe stupid things is to make doing stupid things seem like the smart thing to do. Once you get used to doing stupid things, believing stupid things will come completely natural to you. That’s why god invented prayer. No, wait…

August 14, 2010 Posted by | books, islam, medicine, religion | 4 Comments


From a brilliant post by Katja Grace:

“Discrimination’ can mean all sorts of things. One of the main ones, and what it will mean in this post, is differential treatment of people from different groups, due to real or imagined differences in average group features. Discrimination is a problem because the many people who don’t have the supposed average features of a group they are part of are misconstrued as having them, and offered inappropriate treatment and opportunities as a result. For instance a capable and trustworthy middle aged man may miss out on a babysitting job for which he is truly the best candidate because the parents take his demographic information as reason not to trust him with their children.

This means that ‘discrimination’ is really a misnomer; this problem is due to lack of discrimination. In particular lack of discrimination between members of the groups. […] Even if observers can’t discriminate perfectly, more ability to discriminate means less misrepresentation.”


“The usual solution suggested for ‘discrimination’ is for everyone to forget about groups and act only on any specific evidence they have about individuals. Implicitly this advice is to expect everyone to have the average characteristics of the whole population except where individual evidence is available. Notice that generalizing over a larger group like this should increase the misrepresentation of people, and thus their inappropriate treatment. Recall that that was the original problem with discrimination.”


“if you want to stop discrimination because it causes people to be treated as less than they are, then work on making it easier to discriminate between people further, rather than harder to discriminate between them at all. Help people signal their traits cheaply and efficiently distinguish between others. In the absence of perfect discrimination between individuals, the other end of the spectrum is not the next best thing, it’s the extreme of misrepresentation.”

I seem to remember making some of the same points not long ago here.

August 14, 2010 Posted by | economics | Leave a comment



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