Saturday, June 23, 2018
Health

A pox on political leaders? Electoral winners may be losers in the longevity contest

Ever notice how robust and chipper former Republican presidential nominees Mitt Romney and John McCain are compared with a graying President Barack Obama these days?

If candidates for the highest political office in the land only knew the results of new research, they might be happier about losing an election.

A study conducted with nearly three centuries of data (but also with tongue planted firmly in cheek) has found that after an election for parliamentary leadership or the presidency, losers lived four more years than did the winners who went on to serve as heads of state.

After accounting for the fact that winners were on average a bit older than losers, the study found that politicians who bore the yoke of power live 2.7 fewer years than did hopefuls who failed to get the people's nod.

The authors' diagnosis: Despite the thrill of electoral victory, getting elected to a country's highest office "may lead to accelerated aging due to stress of leadership and political life."

That claim has been controversial. Dr. Michael Roizen, a preventive medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, has said the typical president ages two years for every year he is in office (no data are available — yet — on how a woman would age in office). To draw this conclusion, Roizen has used presidential medical records from the 1920s through today.

But in the journal JAMA in 2011, human longevity expert S. Jay Olshansky came to the opposite conclusion, drawing on the health and life spans of presidents from George Washington to the present. Olshanksy, a professor of public health at the University of Illinois, found that 23 of 34 presidents who died of natural causes "lived beyond the average life expectancy for men of the same age when they were inaugurated, even if they hypothetically aged at twice the normal rate while in office."

The new study appears in the BMJ's Christmas issue, which once a year treats readers to a collection of papers that feature silly subjects plumbed with high rigor and serious subjects explored with fanciful methods. Last year, a widely cited paper conducted a rigorous test of "male idiot theory" and concluded that, indeed, men are idiots.

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