Five things to consider before ordering an online DNA test


File 20180404 189824 p1u05b.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
DNA testing has its risks, including that you don’t know who will own your genetic data.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Jane Tiller, Monash University and Paul Lacaze, Monash University

You might be intrigued by what your genes could tell you about your ancestry or the health risks hidden in your DNA. If so, you’re not alone.

Fascination with personal genetics is fuelling an explosion of online DNA testing. More than 12 million people have been tested – 7 million through ancestry.com alone. Amazon reported the 23andMe online DNA test kit as one of its top five best-selling items on Black Friday in 2017.

But while online genetic testing can be interesting and fun, it has risks. Here are five things to keep in mind if you’re considering spitting in a tube.

1. Understand the limits of what’s possible

Keep in mind the evidence behind claims a DNA testing company makes. Some companies list the science that backs up their claims, but many don’t.

DNA testing can be used to tell your ancestry and family relatedness quite accurately, but companies claiming to predict wine preferences or children’s soccer prowess from DNA are in the realm of fantasy.

There is also a lack of regulation on this issue to protect consumers.

Genetic testing products like 23andMe are exploding in popularity.
from shutterstock.com

2. Make sure you’re prepared for the information

Genetics can tell us many things, some of which we may not be prepared for. You may go in looking for information on your ancestry, but could find out about unexpected paternity. Or you might discover you’re at risk of certain diseases. Some of these have no cure, like Alzheimer’s disease, which could only leave you distressed.




Read more:
Genetic testing isn’t a crystal ball for your health


Some products can test for genetic changes in the BRCA genes that put you at risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Other online genetic interpretation tools can take raw data from ancestry DNA tests and, for a small payment, provide a wide range of disease risk estimates, many of which have been brought into question by the scientific community.

Think carefully about whether you really want to know all this information, and whether it’s valid, before you proceed.

3. Consider the medical follow-up you might need

If something serious is discovered in your genes, you might need the results to be professionally interpreted, or to have genetic counselling to come to terms with what you’ve learnt.

Some genetic information can be complex and difficult to interpret, and have medical implications for you and your family. Relying on the internet for interpretation is not advised.




Read more:
A little bit of knowledge: the perils of genetic tests for Alzheimer’s disease


Does the DNA testing company offer any counselling or medical services? If not, are you hoping your GP or genetics clinic will provide this? You might find GPs are not adequately trained to understand DNA results, and public genetics services have very long waiting lists. This means you might be left on tenterhooks with a potentially distressing result.

Before you spit into a tube, be prepared for what you might discover.
from shutterstock.com

4. Think how the results may affect your insurance

In Australia, private health insurance can’t be influenced by genetic test results. But life insurance companies can use genetic test results to discriminate against applicants, with little consumer protection. All genetic test results known to an applicant at the time of a life insurance application must be disclosed if requested, including internet-based test results.




Read more:
Australians can be denied life insurance based on genetic test results, and there is little protection


Once you have a result that indicates increased risk of disease, the life insurance company may use this against you (by increasing premiums, for instance), even if the scientific evidence isn’t solid. This applies to life, income protection, disability and even travel insurance.

5. Consider who will have access to your DNA and data

Some online genetic testing companies don’t comply with international guidelines on privacy, confidentiality and use of genetic data. Many online testing companies retain DNA samples indefinitely. Consumers can request samples be destroyed, but sometimes have difficulties with this.

Some online testing companies have been accused of selling access to databases of genetic information to third parties, potentially without the knowledge of donors. You might have to plough through the fine print to find out what you have consented to.




Read more:
Take an online DNA test and you could be revealing far more than you realise


The ConversationIn many ways, it is wonderful we now have access to our personal DNA code. However, as always, understanding the limitations and risks of fast-moving medical technology is very important.

Jane Tiller, Ethical, Legal & Social Adviser – Public Health Genomics, Monash University and Paul Lacaze, Head, Public Health Genomics Program, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Mum, dad and two kids no longer the norm in the changing Australian family


File 20171220 4965 1shr6f1.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Grandparent-led families are increasingly significant in Australia.
Shutterstock

Brendan Churchill, University of Melbourne

The image of the typical family – mum, dad, and two kids – still permeates how we define and understand the family in contemporary Australia. This ideal saturates our screens and newsfeeds and was at the centre of the marriage equality debate, underscoring the pervasiveness of the nuclear family as the dominant family form in our consciousness.

However, this conceptualisation masks the true nature of Australian families, which has changed significantly in recent decades. As sociologists and demographers have long known, the Australian family is as diverse and different as the country’s terrain.

Drawing on data from the 2016 Census, we know there are more than 6 million families in Australia. This is a significant increase from the 5 million or so families counted at the 2011 Census.

Figure 1 – Family composition.
2016 Census – Counting Families, Place of Enumeration

Of these 6 million families, the most-common family form (as illustrated in Figure 1) was the couple family with no children (37.76%). The next-most-common was couple families with dependent children under the age of 15 (30.64%).

These proportions confirm that the nuclear family is no longer the most common family form in Australia. One-parent families with dependent children comprise around 8% of all Australian families.

Reflecting this move away from the traditional, nuclear family and the rise of more couple families without children, is the size of families. In 2016, around 30% of all families were two-person families. A further 27% were four-person families.

Figure 2 – Family blending.
2016 Census – Counting Families, Place of Enumeration

Most couple families with children in Australia are so-called “intact families” (89.94%), consisting of at least one one child who is the natural or adopted child of both partners in the couple.

However, families are becoming increasingly more “blended”, as couples dissolve (due to separation, divorce or death of a partner) and new families are formed.

Blended families are a small proportion of modern Australian family forms, accounting for just over 3.7% of all families. This includes families with two or more children, at least one of whom is the natural or adopted child of both partners and at least one other child who is the step-child of one of them.

A further 6.3% of families are step-families. Here, there is at least one resident step-child, but no child who is the natural or adopted child of both partners.

Grandparent-led families are also increasingly significant.

Grandparents already play a significant role in Australian family lives through the provision of informal child care, but there are now just over 60,000 grandparent families in Australia (which a significant increase from estimates in 2004, which found around 22,500 grandparent families). Of those, 53% of grandparent families are couple families with grandchildren and 47% are lone grandparent families.

Figure 3 – Family composition by same-sex.
2016 Census – Counting Families, Place of Enumeration

The 2016 Census gathered information on same-sex couples. Compared with opposite-sex couples, these data show that family forms differ across sexual orientation.

Overall, around 15% of same-sex couples had children. Female same-sex couples were more likely to be in couple families with dependent children (20.67%) compared to male same-sex couples (3.10%), or opposite-sex couples (37.8%).

However, same-sex couples were still more likely to be in couple families with no children than were opposite-sex couples, and they were more likely to have smaller families. Of those, around 54% of male same-sex couples with children and 51% of female same-sex couples with children had one-child families. One-third of same-sex couples had two children.

In comparison, 36% of opposite sex-couples had one child, and 42% had two children.

What these data from the 2016 Census show is just some of the diversity within the Australian family. While the idealised nuclear family of the past is no more, this does not mean that the family as a social institution is in decline, or that families in contemporary Australia are at risk.

The ConversationBut it does mean families are changing. Our political leaders should reflect on this diversity to ensure social policies reflect these differences, so that all families are well supported.

Brendan Churchill, Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Silly Season Break

I wasn’t going to have a break from posting blog posts over Christmas – New Year, but I have now decided that I will. I’m just too tired not to have a break. So at some point I’m going to go bush, throw up the tent and read some books (modern-style). I could really use the break right now. Still, from time to time I may post something I come across. This will be an extended period, from the time I post this update, through to the middle of January 2018. From that point I’ll get back to more regular posts.

So let me take this opportunity to wish you all a great Christmas and New Year, and enjoy the time with family and friends if you can. – now something for a parting laugh

Census data shows just how bad we’ve been at closing inequality gaps

Nicholas Biddle, Australian National University and Francis Markham, Australian National University

The latest round of 2016 census data shows that the gig economy has taken hold in Australia, that there has been a huge surge in fitness, beauty and barista jobs; and that even though we’re working less, women still do the most housework.

But if we look past these headlines, the Census gives us a unique insight into the economic outcomes of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, single parents, those entering the labour market and those coming to the end of their working life.

What we see is geographic divergence in Indigenous employment, declines in employment for single parents and the young, and the news is mixed for those entering retirement age.

Indigenous employment outcomes

One of the targets of the Closing the Gap strategy (which is slated to undergo a “sweeping overhaul”) is to “halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade (by 2018).”

But the latest census data shows that there has been no demonstrable improvement in employment outcomes over that decade, or even in the five years between the 2011 and 2016 Censuses.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/K2V9h/4/

Specifically, 44.1% of the adult Indigenous population was employed in 2016, compared to 44.2% in 2011. Over this period, employment rates for Indigenous women increased by 1.3%, but fell for Indigenous men by a similar amount.

For the total Australian population, there has been a decline in the employment-to-population ratio over the same period (61.4% to 60.2%). On this measure, there has been a small convergence between the Indigenous community and the total Australian populations. However, this will not lead to a closing or even a halving of the gap any time soon.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/tPrXD/2/

This national-level stagnation also hides considerable geographic variability, as shown in the map below.

In remote Australia, employment has fallen dramatically in most regions, with employment-to-population ratios plummeting by more than 15% in some regions. Much of this decline is likely attributable to the phasing out of the Community Development Employment Projects scheme and its replacement with a work-for-the-dole program whose participants are classified as unemployed.

Clearly, current employment policies are failing to create sufficient jobs for Indigenous people in remote Australia.

In more populous areas, Indigenous employment has grown steadily, especially in NSW where employment growth has been particularly rapid and has been accompanied by substantial population increase.

Change in Indigenous employment-to-population ratios across Australia, 2011 – 2016, by Indigenous Region.

There are many good arguments for rethinking the Closing the Gap targets. However, they have had the benefit of highlighting policy failure and success. Hopefully a renewed focus on strengths and positive achievements does not diminish this accountability.

Single parent families

According to the Census, there was 959,543 single parent families on the night of the Census. Of these, around 54.2% were employed, 5.9% were unemployed and the remainder not in the labour force. By comparison, in 90.6% of couple families with children, at least one parent was employed in 2016.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/UloEE/2/

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/ZCdL3/1/

Through time, there are slightly fewer single parent families where the parent is employed as a percentage of all single parent families (54.7% in 2011 compared to 54.2% in 2016).

That is, despite considerable focus on childcare, significant changes to welfare policy, and a number of active labour market policies and changes to employment support, a child in a single parent household is less likely to have that parent employed than five years ago.

From a policy perspective, we should be careful about forcing single parents to work when they have caring responsibilities that cannot be substituted. However, we have to do better in providing the support, training and employment environment where those single parents who do want to work are able to.

This includes ensuring childcare is sufficiently flexible, affordable and of high quality, trialling targeted interventions that boost skills and employability, and lessening the conditionality of parenting payments that reduce the incentives for recipients to find work.

New labour market entrants and those of retirement age

The current labour market is clearly working for some, but not others. Two groups for whom employment is particularly important are the relatively young and those at the end of their working lives.

For the young, early exposure to long periods of unemployment or underemployment can be very costly throughout their lives. Early periods of unemployment predict employment outcomes across their life.

For those nearing retirement age, maintaining an active and conscious engagement with the labour force (on their own terms) can support health outcomes and financial stability.

Focusing on the young, to start with, we can look at the 25-29 year old population. For the majority of this group, school and post-school education is mostly finished, and child care and other responsibilities are yet to have kicked in. Over the last five years, however, employment for this group has gone backwards.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/xyyBr/3/

Among the 25-29 year old group, the unemployment rate has increased from 5.9% to 7.1%, whereas the employment-to-population ratio has decreased from 78.4% to 77.1%.

The young adult labour market is not what it was pre-global financial crisis (the unemployment rate for 25-29 year olds in the 2006 Census was 5.6%), or at the peak of the mining boom. Clearly the macro-economy matters, but we also need to trial and adjust new types of active labour market support for young adults.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/IYKvz/3/

As a society, we are going to be increasingly reliant on those at the end of their working lives to support and mentor people entering the labour market, to maintain the tax base, and to support themselves as they prepare for retirement.

Here, the news is a bit more positive, though not completely so. It is true that the employment-to-population ratio has increased for 60-64 year olds (from 50.3% in 2011 to 53.8% in 2016). However, the unemployment rate for this group has also gone up (from 4.1% to 5.8%).

More people are working, but more people are actively looking for work. On balance, this is probably positive, but we also need to make sure that we are minimising the incidence and effects of age-related discrimination.

Delving into the employment statistics in the 2016 Census tells a more nuanced story than is evident from the monthly Labour Force Survey. In particular, remote Indigenous employment and outcomes for single parents show deeply concerning trends. Policy measures may need urgent consideration to increase employment opportunities and ameliorate poverty among these population groups.


The Conversation**Correction and Editor’s note: This article was updated on 25 October to correct the first chart on Indigenous employment outcomes. The chart had previously misstated the figures on those employed, unemployed and the total labour force. The Conversation apologises for these editing errors and thanks reader John Blake for alerting us to them.

Nicholas Biddle, Associate Professor, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University and Francis Markham, Research Fellow, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Five lessons from Tokyo, a city of 38m people, for Australia, a nation of 24m


File 20170706 18401 1osijpf
Tokyo, seen here from the Skytree tower, is home to more people than any other city on Earth but has managed to remain highly liveable.
Brendan Barrett, Author provided

Brendan F.D. Barrett, RMIT University and Marco Amati, RMIT University

Population growth has profound impacts on Australian life, and sorting myths from facts can be difficult. This article is part of our series, Is Australia Full?, which aims to help inform a wide-ranging and often emotive debate.


The release of 2016 Census data provides a good opportunity to reflect on the future growth of Australian cities. And what better example of the future to use than Tokyo?

Frequently the subject of futuristic visions, the city went through one of the world’s most rapid post-war population growth periods. The Greater Tokyo area has a population of 38 million – almost 60% more than the population of Australia. Yet Tokyo remains one of the world’s most liveable metropolises.

How can Australian cities replicate this conjuring feat while retaining their own high levels of liveability? We identify five lessons from Tokyo’s experience.

Lesson 1: manage urban growing pains

Tokyo was devastated at the end of the second world war. The city experienced rapid rebuilding and growth. The population of the central Tokyo prefecture, which is home to 13.5 million people, increased from 3.5 million in 1945 to 11.6 million in 1975.

This 30-year growth spurt happened at a rate almost twice that predicted for Greater Melbourne, for example, from 4.4 million today to 8 million by 2050.

Tokyo’s rapid growth had a number of negative impacts. These included very significant environmental pollution. The basic approach during this period was to grow first and clean up later.

The consequence for Tokyo was disorganised patterns of urban development – sprawl. The answer involved tighter planning controls and land re-adjustment programs to improve environmental conditions and ensure infrastructure was effective.

The lesson here for Australian cities is that, in the face of rapid population growth, better forward planning is the only way to avoid or minimise negative side effects.

Lesson 2: Introduce metropolitan governance

A critical factor in Tokyo’s liveability is the role of metropolitan governance in ensuring good planning and co-ordination.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government was established in 1943. In contrast, for Australian cities a metropolitan level of co-ordination is the exception rather than the rule. With Greater Melbourne, for example, the Victorian Planning Authority plays an important role but lacks oversight from local political representatives. The governor and the assembly members in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, on the other hand, are accountable to the electorate.

Tokyo’s governor, pictured campaigning for the July 2 assembly elections, is one of the most powerful politicians in Japan.
Brendan Barrett, Author provided

The Tokyo government also has considerable political autonomy since it generates 70% of its revenue from local taxation. In 2014, it had a budget of ¥13 trillion (A$151 billion) – on a par with Sweden’s. This makes the governor of Tokyo one of the most powerful politicians in Japan, second only to the prime minister.

The Tokyo government’s approach has always involved strong interventionist policy and considerable emphasis on infrastructure development, with a reliance on public-private partnerships to get results.

Lesson 3: Commit early to world-class public transport

Public-private partnerships to develop metropolitan railways has been a standard approach in Japanese cities for most of the 20th century and continues to underpin Tokyo’s success as a global city. For example, the Mitsubishi Corporation played an instrumental role in developing the Marunouchi district around Tokyo Station. The latter was built in 1914 and connected intercity stations in a loop decades before other cities.

These public-private interventions have cemented Tokyo’s status as a transit-oriented metropolis. The city has by far the highest public transport usage in the world.

Compared to other major cities like Seoul, London, New York and Beijing, Tokyoites rely far more heavily on public transport, cycling or walking to get around. In Tokyo prefecture, rail accounts for 48% of trips, bus 3%, cycling 14% and walking 23%. Private car use accounts for only 12% of trips.

A continuous investment in rail networks above and below ground would ensure Australian cities can better accommodate predicted population growth. A fascinating map designed by Adam Mattinson shows what a subway system for Melbourne could look like based on the Tokyo model. To achieve this may require that the tram system moves underground – almost certainly a pipe dream.

In Tokyo prefecture, 48% of trips are by rail as everyone lives within ten minutes’ walk of the subway station.
Brendan Barrett, Author provided

Lesson 4: Decarbonise the economy as it grows

Tokyo was lucky to be able to grow rapidly in an era when climate change was not the recognised problem that it is today.

The challenge for Australian cities will be to grow their economies while reducing their greenhouse gas emissions to match the per capita levels for Tokyo, and then to cut them much further. The World Bank calculated that in 2006, per-capita emissions for Sydney were 20.3 tonnes of CO2, compared to 4.89 tonnes for Tokyo.

Tokyo is also seeking to cut its emissions by 30% by 2030 compared to 2000. In Australia, Plan Melbourne, for example, aims to achieve a target of net zero emissions by 2050 even while the population continues to grow.

While investments in low-carbon public transport will be central to meeting this target, it is also essential to pursue ambitious energy efficiency and renewable energy targets.

Tokyo is aiming for a 38% drop in energy consumption and a rise in renewable energy from 8.7% in 2014 to 30% of electricity generation in 2030. The good news is that Plan Melbourne sets a target for renewables of 40% of electricity generation by 2025.

In a decarbonising city, mothers ride electric cycles with babies and shopping on board.
Brendan Barrett, Author provided

Lesson 5: Prepare to age with dignity

Along with declining emissions intensity, Tokyo’s population is likely to start shrinking. The population of central Tokyo is expected to rise from 13.5 million today and peak in 2020 before declining to 7.1 million by 2100. The population of Greater Tokyo is expected to peak around 38.5 million about the same time.

The population of Australian cities will plateau at some point, as in Tokyo. The next lesson would be how to deal with an ageing demographic and potential population decline.

As recently argued based on the census, a result of declining home ownership is the likelihood of couples deferring the decision to have children. A knock-on effect could therefore be a more rapidly ageing Australian population.

The Tokyo of today is certainly no utopia, due to its vulnerability to earthquakes and other natural disasters, high house prices, homelessness, rising inequality, a lack of multiculturalism and a proportion of housing as rental accommodation that dwarfs Australia’s (47.9% compared to 30.9%).

Yet the largest settlement on the planet offers useful lessons – historical, present and future – that can guide the urban policies of other countries.


The ConversationYou can read other articles in the Is Australia Full? series here.

Brendan F.D. Barrett, Senior Lecturer, Program Manager, Masters on International Urban and Environmental Management, RMIT University and Marco Amati, Associate Professor of International Planning, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bloom and boom: how babies and migrants have contributed to Australia’s population growth


File 20170627 29088 qdwoq7
Even without immigration, new data reveals Australia’s population would continue to grow.
blvdone/Shutterstock

Tom Wilson, Charles Darwin University

Population growth has profound impacts on Australian life, and sorting myths from facts can be difficult. This is the second article in our series, Is Australia Full?, which aims to help inform a wide-ranging and often emotive debate.


Population change has long been a topic of public debate in Australia, periodically escalating into controversy.

It is inextricably linked to debates about immigration levels, labour force needs, capital city congestion and housing costs, refugee intakes, economic growth in country areas and northern Australia, the “big versus smaller” Australia debate, and environmental pressures.

Views about the rate of population growth in Australia are numerous and mixed. At one end of the spectrum are those who are vehemently opposed to further population increases; at the other end are supporters of substantially higher population growth and a “very big” Australia.

Logically, population debates usually quote Australia’s demographic statistics. But there is value in comparing our population growth in the international context.

Average growth rates compared globally

Although growth rates have fluctuated considerably from year to year, statistics just released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that Australia’s population grew by 3.75 million between 2006 and 2016. This indicates an average annual growth rate of 1.7%.

As the chart below shows, this was quite high compared to other countries and global regions. Over the decade, other English-speaking countries such as New Zealand, Canada and the US all experienced growth rates lower than Australia’s. The world’s more developed countries in aggregate grew by an annual average of 0.3%.

The world’s population as a whole increased by an average of 1.2% per year.


https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/VAIfb/1/


According to the UN Population Division, Australia ranked 90th out of 233 countries in terms of population growth rate over the decade. The countries or territories with higher growth rates were mostly less developed countries, particularly in Africa, and the oil-rich Gulf states. The only developed countries with faster rates of growth were Singapore, Luxembourg and Israel.

Why Australia’s population growth rate is higher

There are two main reasons for Australia’s high growth.

Net overseas migration (immigration minus emigration) is one major factor. It has been generating a little over half (56%) of population growth in recent years.

Demand for immigration – to settle permanently, work in Australia, or study here for a few years – is high, and there are many opportunities for people to move to Australia. In the 2015-16 financial year about 190,000 visas were granted to migrants and 19,000 for humanitarian and refugee entry. Temporary migrants included 311,000 student visas, 215,000 working holidaymaker visas and 86,000 temporary work (skilled) 457 visas.

Over the last five years, ABS figures show that immigration has averaged about 480,000 per year and emigration about 280,000. This puts annual net overseas migration at around 200,000.

This is high in international terms. UN Population Division data for the 2010-15 period reveals Australia had the 17th-highest rate of net overseas migration of any country.

But it is not just overseas migration driving Australia’s population growth. High natural increase (the number of births minus the number of deaths) also makes a substantial contribution. Natural increase has been responsible for a little under half (44%) of population growth in recent years (about 157,000 per year).

Australia has a relatively healthy fertility rate, which lately has averaged almost 1.9 babies per woman. We also enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world.

This combination of an extended history of net overseas migration gains, a long baby boom and a healthy fertility rate has resulted in Australia being less advanced in the population ageing transition than many other developed countries.

In particular, relatively large numbers of people are in the peak childbearing ages. This means that even if migration fell immediately to zero the population would still increase. Demographers call this age structure effect “population momentum”.

Whether Australia’s population is growing too fast

While Australia’s population growth rate is high in a global context, this does not necessarily mean its population is growing too fast. It all depends on your point of view.

It is important to stress that the overall population growth rate is just one aspect of Australia’s demography. A more comprehensive debate about the nation’s demographic trajectory should consider a broad range of issues, such as:

  • population age structure (the numbers of people in different age groups);

  • the health and wellbeing of a rapidly growing population at the highest ages;

  • population distribution across the country;

  • economic growth and development;

  • the contributions of temporary workers and overseas students;

  • appropriate infrastructure for the needs of the population; and

  • environmental management and per-capita carbon emissions.

The ConversationProgress on issues such as healthy ageing, economic development,and environmental management depend on appropriate strategies to deal with these challenges. Total population numbers will often be relevant to the discussion, but they are only part of the equation.

Tom Wilson, Principal Research Fellow, Charles Darwin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.