Smoking and other bad habits may combine to bring an earlier end to life
Researchers compare the relative effects of bad health habits on risk of dying early
THE QUESTION Do key lifestyle choices -- whether people exercise, eat right, do not smoke and do not overindulge in alcohol -- affect how long they live?
THIS STUDY involved 4,886 adults (average age, 44) who were interviewed about their health habits and then tracked for two decades. Standards deemed unhealthful were whether they smoked, whether alcohol consumption totaled three or more drinks a day for men and two or more for women, whether they averaged fewer than three daily servings of fruits and vegetables and whether they exercised less than two hours a week. In the 20-year span, 1,080 of the participants died, including 29 percent of those with the worst health habits (scoring poorly on all four standards), compared with 8 percent of those with none. The chances of dying early, no matter the cause, grew 10 percent because of poor diet, 18 percent from excessive alcohol consumption, 43 percent from smoking and 43 percent from being physically inactive. And there was a cumulative effect: The more unhealthy behaviors, the greater the risk for premature death.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Adults, especially those who do not follow recommended guidelines for exercise, eating, drinking and smoking.
CAVEATS Data on health-related habits were based on interviews done at the start of the study and did not reflect any subsequent behavioral changes. The researchers adjusted the analysis to account for preexisting conditions but acknowledged that they could have missed diseases that take years to develop, which might have affected the results. They also indicated that they may have underestimated the effect of diet on long-term health by including the consumption of only fruits and vegetables. The study did not assess whether changing behavior would also change people's risk for dying prematurely.
FIND THIS STUDY April 26 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
-- Linda Searing
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.