Sent: 21-05-2006 21:17:28
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Death Becomes You - Lester Wills
The fact that we are all going to die is something none of us tends to dwell on. The question is, can we affect when and how we are going to die? Some new research has revealed some rather unexpected factors.
The book Status Syndrome is based on 25 years of research by Michael Marmot, a world-renowned and highly respected scientist who is an adviser to the World Health Organisation. In the early 1960s he conducted what became known as the Whitehall Studies which showed that even among white-collar employees with steady jobs, there is a clear social gradient in health. Quite simply, those higher up the ladder had better health and lived longer
This led the author, to roam the globe researching the puzzle of the relationship between health and social circumstances. He went all over the globe, from the US to Russia, from the Mediterranean to Australia, from southern India to Japan. He found that similar patterns existed in all these places that controlled our lives and opportunities for good health.
He says that "despite the widespread belief that molecular biology will soon vanquish disease, there remains the discomforting fact that health can be predicted to an astonishing extent by being poor, feeling poor and being made to feel poor".
Many have asked, why do some people live longer than others. In many cases the answer appears to be clear, better diet, access to healthcare and exposure to fewer diseases. But in others, the answers are less obvious.
Why for example, does a Japanese man outlive an Australian man by an average of one and a half years or a British man by an average of four years? The research tackles such issues as why the poor more likely to get heart disease, AIDS, cancer, mental illness and all of today's other common killers? It also considers who experiences most stress - the decision-makers or those who carry out their orders?
The following is a quote from the book;
"Go on a 12 mile subway journey from Washington DC to suburban Maryland. Life expectancy for men at the city end is 20 years shorter then for men in the wealthy suburbs. Being at the bottom of the social pile is bad for health, but so is not being at the top."
Seemingly small social differences in education, job title, income, even the size of your house or apartment have a profound affect on your health. For example, actors who have won an Oscar will live on average three years longer than those who have not!
Marmot says that his research shows that the social gradient in health is related to the nature of the society in which we live and work. He goes on to state that study of such gradients in primates demonstrates that the usual suspects, medical care, health behaviours etc, do not provide the answers. The brain plays a very important part in the process. The psychological experience of inequality has a profound affect on our lives.
Marmot has shown that all societies illustrate the same pattern. There is a discernable downward gradient from high status individuals (and their partners) who live longer, with more satisfying, healthier and contented lives, even if performing stressful jobs, to those of even fractionally lower status.
What counts it seems is not just the gratification of being admired and respected by others, social status provides two crucial props to good health and personal well-being. Namely, how much control we have over our lives and what role we play in society. These it seems are crucial elements in the equation.
Surprisingly, income appears to have little impact as Marmot says that money does not buy better health. "Money is only important as a marker. Income per se is not important"
It is highly unlikely that when a person graduated from college that they realized that they had increased their lifespan. Marmot found that people with Ph.Ds live longer than those with Masters degrees. Those with a Masters live longer than those with a Bachelors degree, while those with a degree live longer than those who left school early.
Whilst I had good reasons for doing my Ph.D., I did not realize that increasingly my lifespan was one of them!
Details of the book for those who are interested are as follows:
Status Syndrome: How Our Position on the Social Gradient Affects Longevity and Health by Michael Marmot
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