From Our 2011 Archives

Do U.S Presidents Live Longer Than the Average Joe?

Better Health Care Access, Education, and Income Help Explain Longer Life, Research Suggests

By Cari Nierenberg
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD, FAAP

Dec. 6, 2011 - Yes, the job seems to turn them gray and age them before our eyes, but a new study shows that being president of the United States may not actually shorten a man's life.

In fact, those holding the highest elected office in the land tend to live longer than other men who were the same age when they first took office. This was true even when factoring in that American presidents are thought to age twice as fast while in office.

The study appears in the Dec. 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

To understand how aging affects the presidency, longevity researcher Stuart J. Olshansky, PhD, included data from 34 American presidents who died of natural causes.

For those no longer living, he looked at the commander in chiefs' ages at inauguration and at death. This was compared to death records for other men who were the same age when the presidents entered the White House.

For living presidents, the study looked at the men's ages when they first took office and their estimated life span. This was compared to the expected life span for same-aged peers.

Health to the Chief?

One doctor has suggested that the typical president ages two years for every year in office. And if you compare photos of the men when they enter and leave the White House, they do look older -- with more gray hair (or less hair) and more wrinkles.

To account for aging twice as fast, Olshansky subtracted two days of life for every day the president held office from their estimated life span.

Two-thirds of American presidents who died of natural causes lived longer than other men in the country during that same time period. Their average age at death was 78; their estimated age at death with "accelerated aging" was 67.

The actual life span for all 34 presidents who died of natural causes was 73 years on average. Presidents who died younger than expected lived to 62 rather than an estimated 67.8 years.

All living presidents have already had a longer life than their peers or will likely do so.

"This study found no evidence that U.S. presidents die sooner, on average, than other U.S. men," writes Olshansky, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health.

He suspects that's because all but 10 presidents went to college. They also were wealthy and could afford the best medical care, factors that affect longevity.

Clearly, the stress of the job takes a toll on the appearance of our nation's leader. And lifestyle habits, such as smoking or being overweight, can speed up aging.

But whether the outward changes -- the gray hair and wrinkles -- occur faster for presidents relative to other men of the same age is unknown, Olshansky says.

SOURCE: Olshansky, S.J. Journal of the American Medical Association, Dec. 7, 2011.

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