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Daniel Ruth

Scientists prove to be masters of the obvious

In my next life, which apparently could come sooner than I'm planning on, I would like to come back as a fancy-pants scientific researcher who receives gobs of money to study obvious stuff, such as: Is sleep good for you?

Perhaps I could examine the effect of putting one foot in front of the other, which is known to cause — walking. It's just a theory, of course. Or at long last maybe I could finally get down to the bottom of that nagging question: When the sun comes up in the morning, does this represent the start of a new day? Just asking.

This seems like a pretty good gig, engaging in groundbreaking research to reveal things we already know. You have to admit, it sure is steady work.

This week the Archives of Internal Medicine published the results of a seminal British survey. It claims if you live like a lazy, smoking, deep-fried Twinkie-addicted, half-potted sot, whose only exercise is climbing onto a bar stool, there is a greater likelihood you'll go to that happy hour in the sky at least 12 years earlier than those who are … well, those who are boring. Who knew?

This is hardly a Eureka moment in the annals of intellectual inquiry.

Apparently the study tracked some 5,000 British adults over a 20-year period — presumably from pub to pub — to confirm if you toss down enough liquor, consume fatty foods, smoke heavily and regard exercise with all the enthusiasm of Falstaff confronting a treadmill, there is a very keen probability you will eventually really face the ultimate last call.

(Just out of idle curiosity, you have to wonder what kind of shape all these academics were in after spending 20 years hanging out at the Pig & Thistle watching Clive and Beatrice tossing back more pints of Guinness than a soccer hooligan and sucking down pack after pack of Rothmans.)

More pointedly, these scholars learned that of some 314 people whose lifestyles made Amy Winehouse look like Denise Austin, 91 of them keeled over before the research could be completed. They probably knew what the final results were going to be anyway.

The two-decade-old British investigation concluded if you light up, consume more than three alcoholic beverages a day for men (two pops for women), treat your body as the Temple of Doom and religiously avoid fruits and vegetables because all they do is take up space on the plate that could better used to accommodate french fries, you are basically toast — albeit with a nice schmear of marmalade.

It took 20 years to figure this out? Twenty years of statistics, graphs, charts, observation — all to arrive at the stunning realization that if you live like a dissolute wastrel sooner or later (mostly sooner) you are going to literally become dead meat?

And oh, yes, the researchers also noted all this living face down in a pint of beer will not only end your life a dozen years earlier than your life expectancy but make you look 12 years older than you actually are. Put another way, you may die earlier from being a fat drunk, but when you check out to that buffet line in the sky you will pretty much look like you are supposed to look as an older fat drunk.

Life does have a way of evening things out, doesn't it?

It is unclear exactly how much it cost to have a cadre of eggheads spending 20 years tracking how British citizens love their toad-in-the-hole with a side order of mead.

But whatever it cost was probably a pound too much to simply confirm that living an unhealthy life results in an untimely death. This doesn't even rise to the level of Duh.

Then again the news wasn't entirely foreboding for those whose lifestyle is something out of Richard Burton meets Keith Richards.

For while the scientists were spending 20 long years schlepping around the British Isles watching whether 5,000 people were either properly eating their green peas and asparagus (ugh, icky, yeech!) or getting hammered in the smoke-filled Ye Olde Holy Hand Grenade, elsewhere some more valuable scholarly probing was under way.

Down in Brazil, Health Minister Jose Temporao announced everyone would be better off if they just had more sex. He also recommended dancing and eating healthy foods is probably a good idea, as well. Probably so.

There was no indication exactly how much peer-reviewed, academically rigorous research went into the health minister's thinking. But you have to admit if you are going to study an area such as life expectancy, focusing on how often people get randy in order to extend their respiration is an infinitely more interesting area of qualitative/quantitative inquiry.

Why, this sort of highly detailed research could consume the attentions of a scholar 24/7 for years — decades even.

Scientists prove to be masters of the obvious 04/29/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 29, 2010 8:17pm]

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