Do elected leaders age faster? New research votes ‘yes’

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If the results a new study are anything to go by, Barack Obama should be thankful he is not on the ballot for next year’s presidential election; researchers found candidates who are elected to head of government age faster and are at greater risk for premature death.

[President Obama]
New research suggests elected leaders may be at greater risk for premature death.

While the study forms part of The BMJ‘s Christmas issue – notorious for its quirky and light content – the research may offer a note of caution for future presidential candidates.

Coauthor Andrew R. Olenski, of Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, and colleagues analyzed the survival of 279 nationally elected leaders and 261 runner-up candidates from 17 countries, including the US, UK, Canada, Australia and Germany, from 1722-2015.

The researchers assessed how many years each candidate stayed alive after their last election, comparing this data with the expected survival for an average person among the general population of the same age and sex at the year of each election.

Olenski and colleagues found that, compared with runner-up candidates, those who were elected as head of government lived an average of 2.7 fewer years and were at 23% greater risk of death.

This finding remained after adjusting for candidates’ life expectancy at time of last election.

While the study did not investigate the reasons why nationally elected leaders may be at greater risk for premature death, they note that previous research has suggested stress and political lifestyle may lead to accelerated aging.

“Our findings suggest that elected leaders may indeed age more quickly,” the authors conclude.

But UK parliamentarians ‘have never had it so good’

However, in a second study published in The BMJ’s Christmas issue, researchers from the UK – including John Dennis of the University of Exeter Medical School – found that individuals elected to UK parliament may benefit from a longer life.

The team analyzed death rates among 4,950 members of the two UK Houses of Parliament: members of the House of Commons (Members of Parliament, or MPs) and members of the House of Lords (Lords).

The MPs and Lords included in the study joined the UK parliament between 1945-2011.

The researchers compared the mortality of the MPs and Lords with the expected mortality among the general population at the time each member was elected. Such information was matched by age and sex.

Interestingly, the team found that death rates among MPs were 28% lower than those among the general population, while the death rates for Lords were 37% lower.

Additionally, the researchers found that between 1945-1999, the mortality gap between MPs and the general population widened significantly, which the authors say suggests “MPs may have become less representative of the population they serve” during that period.

While the team is unable to determine the exact reasons for lower mortality among MPs and Lords, they suggest it may be down to improvements in lifestyle and working conditions.

The authors also note that Conservative MPs – known for possessing a better social background – had the lowest death rates of all MPs, suggesting social inequalities may partly explain the findings.

“Social inequalities are alive and well in UK parliamentarians,” say the researchers, “and at least in terms of mortality, MPs are likely to have never had it so good.”

Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study that suggested individuals who smoke are less likely to vote in elections than non-smokers.