Most Americans would like to die before they turn 100

(National Geographic)

A recent issue of National Geographic came with a stunning headline: "This Baby Will Live To Be 120."

Most Americans, it turns out, would not like to be the aforementioned baby.

Pew Research on Tuesday released a survey that asked nearly this exact question-- whether individuals would, with the help of life-extending technologies, prefer to live until at least 120 or die earlier? The majority sided against longer lifespans – while thinking that everyone else would want one.

Instead, most Americans identified the "ideal" lifespan as somewhere between 79 and 100 years old. Just 4 percent of those surveyed saw an ideal lifespan as stretching beyond 120 years:

Pew identified a few reasons as to why Americans are weary of dramatically extending lifespans. Many of those surveyed thought the treatments to extend life would be offered before scientists fully understood the side effects of altering lifespans. Most surveyed thought that extended lifespans would put a strain on natural resources. And 58 percent agreed with the statement that extending lifespans to 120 years would be "fundamentally unnatural."

As the National Geographic article readily admits, we're still a ways away from the technology that would extend life for decades. While researchers have found pockets of populations that have unusually long lifespans, they're still in relatively early stages of understanding what's different about them–and whether it could be replicated. Scientific studies are still mixed.

"Experiments on 41 different genetic models of mice, for example, have shown that restricting food intake produces wildly contradictory outcomes," National Geographic's  Stephen S. Hill writes. "About half the mouse species lived longer, but just as many lived less time on a restricted diet than they would have on a normal diet. And last August a long-running National Institute on Aging experiment on primates concluded that monkeys kept on a restricted-calorie diet for 25 years showed no longevity advantage."

So, we're not quite there–and maybe the 120-year-old baby will have a change of heart on extended lifespans between now and then.



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Neil Irwin · August 7, 2013

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