Big Data and astrology? Your health correlates with the month you were born!

The medical records of 1.7 million patients in New York City reveal a correlation between when you were born and what ailments you could face.

"Universum" by Heikenwaelder Hugo, Austria

I have never had any reason to believe in astrology and the 2011 shift in the Zodiac which changed me from a Sagittarius into an Ophiuchus (a what?) changed my life not one whit. The woo-woo idea that your life’s outcomes are dependent on your birth date and the movements of the heavens always seemed to be so specious and such a great opportunity for credulous believers to get fleeced … and now, Big Data has stepped in.

Big Data projects keep finding surprising correlations in enormous data sets that just a few years ago were completely unassailable. Imagine tackling the medical records of 1.7 million patients in New York City looking for statistically meaningful relationships between 1,688 diseases and the month people were born in. That sounds kind of nutty but that’s what scientists at Columbia University recently did and,  as they said in Shakespearean times, “stap me vitals;” they discovered strong correlations between, for example, being born in May and having a generally low disease risk while being born in October correlated with a generally high disease risk. Born in November? Watch out for acute bronchitis. Born in March? Atrial Fibrillation may be your bete noir.

Published in June this year:

The study ruled out more than 1,600 associations and confirmed 39 links previously reported in the medical literature. The researchers also uncovered 16 new associations, including nine types of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. The researchers performed statistical tests to check that the 55 diseases for which they found associations did not arise by chance.

tatonettilab diseases Dr. Nick Tatonetti/Columbia University Medical Center

This data visualization maps the statistical relationship between birth month and disease incidence in the electronic records of 1.7 million New York City patients.

According to the Columbia University Medical Center press release:

“It’s important not to get overly nervous about these results because even though we found significant associations the overall disease risk is not that great,” notes Dr. Tatonetti. “The risk related to birth month is relatively minor when compared to more influential variables like diet and exercise.”

Another intriguing finding was:

For ADHD, the Columbia data suggest that around one in 675 occurrences could relate to being born in New York in November. This result matches a Swedish study showing peak rates of ADHD in November babies.

Now, as all you well-trained data nerds know, correlation does causation so a lot more work - real science stuff - will be required to establish causation but one surprising thing remains, astrology may have some remote basis in truth. Who knew? Not me.

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