As old as Methuselah
August 8, 2019 9:55 AM   Subscribe

A new paper explores what “supercentenarians” have in common. Turns out it’s bad record-keeping.
posted by Chrysostom (80 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, this is good news for my longevity!
posted by biogeo at 10:02 AM on August 8 [13 favorites]


The paper [...] looked at something we often don’t give a second thought to: the state of official record-keeping.

Literally the first thing I think about every time I see one of these stories.
posted by penduluum at 10:03 AM on August 8 [29 favorites]


Thanks, OP. While this possibility had not occurred to me, it makes perfect sense. Will those authors who wrote about how to make it to 100 retract their work now? I’m thinking no.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:07 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I prefer anecdotal stories where supercentenarians attribute their longevity to stuff like drinking wine every day or eating a lot of cured meats or something else as nonsensical. Because if we can't yet understand longevity, perhaps we can at least foster the idea that it might find me randomly despite my terrible dietary and health habits.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:13 AM on August 8 [35 favorites]


My favorite was the lady who said she had lived so long because she drank Dr. Pepper every day.
posted by all about eevee at 10:14 AM on August 8 [8 favorites]


This is a fantastic article though.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:16 AM on August 8 [4 favorites]


It would be a big bummer if you had only intended to commit some light pension fraud by stealing your dead older relative's identity but ended up having to keep up the facade because you were officially one of the oldest people in the world and were getting news coverage and your own wikipedia entry.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:21 AM on August 8 [55 favorites]


I guess there's a lot of social incentive to claim you're fantastically old when you're only old. You may be 90 and look 90 and act 90, but you are "spectacular" for 107: "So spry! So lively! So quick-witted! So... she just keeps going!"
posted by pracowity at 10:33 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I'm wondering if it isn't also identity theft at a much earlier point. Cousin Bill needs to disappear and hey, brother Bob who kinda looks like him but is ten years older just choked on a chicken bone. Let's just give Bill Bob's papers and he can start a new life in a new town. 50 years later "Bill" is now in incredibly good shape for a octogenarian.

Or like how Jack Nicholson grew up believing that his mother was actually his sister.
posted by Mitheral at 10:35 AM on August 8 [12 favorites]




I guess there's a lot of social incentive to claim you're fantastically old when you're only old. You may be 90 and look 90 and act 90, but you are "spectacular" for 107: "So spry! So lively! So quick-witted! So... she just keeps going!"
I think it's more likely that these were people who claimed to be 70 when they were 60, because they wanted access to old-age pensions. Now they're 100, which is not a terribly unusual age to live to, but their records claim they're 110, which is a lot rarer.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:37 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


There are three secrets to my long life:
a) a clear conscience;
b) clean living;
c) telling massive lies.
posted by Segundus at 10:37 AM on August 8 [24 favorites]


The Queen is going to be furious.
posted by Flashman at 10:37 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


Especially when she finds out her mother was only 96.
posted by pracowity at 10:41 AM on August 8 [6 favorites]


Hm, I wonder how this changes the whole thing about Blue Zones where people live extra long lives (Okinawa is one of them) and we should be more like them? (Though the basic advice seems pretty sound - exercise, eat lots of greens, not much meat, etc.)
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 10:52 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


I prefer anecdotal stories where supercentenarians attribute their longevity to stuff like drinking wine every day or eating a lot of cured meats or something else as nonsensical.

Lewis Black:
"I know that there are no general rules of health because there was a gentleman living in New York a few years ago who was one hundred and fifteen. He was the oldest man living in New York, and he was doing quite well. He lived on his own, got around with no trouble, and could deal with everything that came his way. People asked him, of course, 'What's your diet? What're you eating?' He said that from the ages of ninety to one hundred and fifteen, his diet consisted mostly of three gallons of Thunderbird wine a week, and bread fried in fatback. When they asked him why he didn't fry his bread in bacon, he said that bacon was TOO LEAN. Here's a man who knew exactly what his body needed, and he lived a rich, full life on what one would think is fucking rocket fuel. And if he'd gone to a doctor, the doctor would've been, 'What the fuck is the matter with you?! You're out of control, Goddammit! You know what? You're gonna have to start eating vegetables.' And he would've, and he'd have been dead in a week!"
posted by solotoro at 11:14 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


The idea that I might live to be 100 scares the utter crap out of me.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:23 AM on August 8 [18 favorites]


I'm not surprised at all. Modern life is sooo incredibly documented that it's hard for a lot of people to understand that it hasn't always been that way.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:26 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


There is an article suggesting that the oldest woman who ever lived, Jeanne Calment, was, in fact, a fraud and that her daughter had impersonated her to avoid inheritance taxes. AFAIK, this theory is not widely accepted. Calment's life is better documented than almost any other super-centenarian. If her age isn't credible then how can you trust anyone's claim?

From the article:

When you’re looking for something exceptionally rare, your data set will be dominated by errors and false positives.

I've seen this idea expressed before, but never so concisely and clearly.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:28 AM on August 8 [24 favorites]


My grandmother and all of her siblings lived to a very old age. All past 90, two past 100. None of them did anything special. They enjoyed life, had normal food and drink, and worried like other people. I think a lot of longevity is genetic. Could they have lived another ten years? I don't know. None of them wanted to. When you reach a certain age, your friends are dead or demented, and even though you love your kids and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the connection to the things that shaped you as a person are gone.
posted by mumimor at 11:30 AM on August 8 [9 favorites]


Hey, this is interesting. I wasn't sure if Lewis Black was actually referring to a real person in his little piece up there, but he was!

The dude was 105, though, not 115.

You can't live to 115 eating that shit.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:32 AM on August 8 [7 favorites]


You can't live to 115 eating that shit.
What, vegetables?
Psht! I lived to 115 just the other day eating that shit!
Longest goddamned day of my life.
posted by evilDoug at 11:54 AM on August 8 [10 favorites]


I attribute my longevity to scrupulously avoiding dying.
posted by srboisvert at 12:04 PM on August 8 [7 favorites]


Hmm, this is an area in which the population size is small enough that it seems weird to me to draw conclusions from correlation rather than just...digging deep into some individual cases to try and determine how accurate supercentenarians' purported ages actually tend to be? I mean I know the whole point is that the record-keeping is bad all down the line, but surely there's a way to go further than just "the records are pretty murky, we can never truly know".
posted by dusty potato at 12:07 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


(I'm also fascinated to learn that there are Jeanne Calment identity switch truthers, even though their claims seem...spurious.)
posted by dusty potato at 12:15 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I think we're in the middle of an era when there will be lower proportions of really old people because of the ubiquity of pollutants, and that dodgy record keeping will be trotted out to allay the legitimate concerns that recognizing that would otherwise inspire.
posted by jamjam at 12:22 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


The dude was 105, though, not 115.

My partner's grandfather, though he didn't drink or smoke, lived to 104 and he ate a kielbasa a week. So maybe there's something to that?
posted by Ashwagandha at 12:29 PM on August 8


The actual article is a good read too. It ends with a provocative thought experiment:
Physical possession of valid documents is not an age guarantee. Consider a room containing 100 real Italian supercentenarians, each holding complete and validated documents of their age. One random centenarian is then exchanged for a younger sibling, who is handed their real and validated birth documents. How could an independent observer discriminate this type I substitution from the 99 other real cases, using only documents as evidence?

This hypothetical error cannot be excluded on the basis of document consistency: every document in the room is both real and validated. In addition, a real younger sibling is also likely to have sufficient biographic knowledge to pass an interview. As such, any similar substitution error has the potential to indefinitely escape detection...

This issue presents a substantial problem for remarkable-age databases, embodied in a deliberately provocative, if seemingly absurd, hypothesis:

Every ‘supercentenarian’ is an accidental or intentional identity thief, who owns real and validated 110+ year-old documents, and is passably good at their job.
posted by crazy with stars at 12:34 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I legit plan on living to 120 and have been saying so for years. I'm 45, so I've got...some work to go, but I have pretty good genes (grandparents all lived into their 90s) and I keep close tabs on the stuff they say helps you live a long and happy life (low stress, decent income, exercise, social connections, etc.).

Plus (to counter jamjam's point), the medical sciences keep advancing. Think of all the discoveries and innovations that will take place over the next 75 years! Maybe I'll be on my third heart and second brain, but I'll hopefully still be around to see what life is like in 2095.

Maybe they'll have figured out jetbacks by then and I'll die like Buck Rogers!
posted by Phreesh at 12:38 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


As per a number of recent articles, medical advances to this point are mainly increasing longevity by prolonging the period of ill health and inanition before death.
posted by jamjam at 12:47 PM on August 8 [16 favorites]


Maybe I'll be on my third heart and second brain, but I'll hopefully still be around to see what life is like in 2095.

Then we have a Ship of Theseus problem instead.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:52 PM on August 8 [13 favorites]


Typologies of extreme longevity myths

When I used to travel in Balochistan for work, I often came to villages with a very elderly and well-respected man or woman who was proudly declared to be 150 years old or more. It certainly helps that birth records were not kept, but even more, I imagine an inflated age estimate is just a (conscious or unconscious) sign of respect, especially in cultures where old age is valued.
posted by tavegyl at 12:58 PM on August 8 [9 favorites]


It's clear what we must do. The next time a supercentarian appears we have to cut off their leg and count the rings.*

*Stolen from a song by "The Damned"
posted by jclarkin at 1:02 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


As a human interest story, I love finding out that the world’s oldest people are probably accidentally or purposely misleading us all! From a scientific perspective.... oh, all that wasted time looking for the secrets of long life! Instead we’ve figured out specifically what the diet and lifestyle of a grifter is!
posted by Secretariat at 1:07 PM on August 8 [7 favorites]


I suspect this is also true of all the 25 to 35 year old cats on reddit.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:09 PM on August 8 [8 favorites]


My partner's grandfather, though he didn't drink or smoke, lived to 104 and he ate a kielbasa a week.

That's all!?!?
posted by me3dia at 1:23 PM on August 8 [11 favorites]


I was a bit skeptical when I read "CONGO, The Epic History of a People" (By David Van Reybrouck), but who knows?

From the NYT review:
[Was Étienne Nkasi a] 126-year-old man, one of the oldest men who ever lived? Born three years before King Leopold took control of Congo? Van Reybrouck checked and double-checked. Nkasi knew the names of missionaries apparently held only on records in Belgium. He personally knew Kimbangu, who was born in a nearby village. “Kimbangu was greater than me in pouvoir de Dieu, but I was greater in years.” Nkasi died in 2010, aged 128. Van Reybrouck says he met Nkasi for the first time right after Barack Obama won the presidency. “Is it true,” Nkasi asked in wonderment, “that a black man has been elected president of the United States?”
posted by haemanu at 1:31 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


You're gonna have to start eating vegetables.' And he would've, and he'd have been dead in a week!"

The story goes that the a certain now-passed relative of mine lived to be an old age (90 something?) as a regular smoker. Her doctor told her that at a certain point it was necessary for her to maintain the smoking habit because stopping would have placed too large of a toll upon her body.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 1:42 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]




I have now gone down a rabbit hole of verification of claims of extreme old age. This piece, "On the age validation of supercentenarians" by Michel Poulain, presents the case of an Antonio Todde as the paradigmatic example of a well-validated supercentenarian: born in Sardinia in January 22, 1889 with surviving birth record and baptism record, dying in January 2002.

But what if the guy who died in 2002 was in fact Antonio Todde's eight-year-younger brother Giuseppe Todde, who supposedly died at the age of 30 in 1921? And perhaps it was Antonio Todde who died in 1921?

Unprovable speculation, but it's very difficult it is to link old identification documents with a specific person a century later.
posted by crazy with stars at 2:06 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


It reminds me of the situation the US government faced during the Chinese Exclusion Act, when Chinese immigrants had a large incentive to perform identify fraud in order to enter the United States (and who can blame them?). It's the same basic problem: when people come to you with legitimate documents, how can you prove these documents map onto these people?

Over the Exclusion period the US government made the entry and verification process more and more time-consuming and onerous, but without much success (as became clear in the Confession period of the 50s and 60s). That is, official government records tend to work only when the people involved are cooperative and honest.
posted by crazy with stars at 2:16 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I can now look forward to the day when I can start my age-lies forwards again instead of backwards. It'll make me feel like a teenager again!
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 2:24 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


The example you give, crazy with stars, was actually the case for the formerly-oldest-person-who-ever-lived, Shigechiyo Izumi, who died in 1986 at the supposed age of 120. Apparently he had an older brother who died very young and there is evidence that he was given that brother's name. That would have made him 15 years younger than he claimed to be.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:25 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


It's only ever been just chances and likelihoods anyway. Improve your chances by doing healthy things, make your chances worse by doing unhealthy things. But in a world with 7 billion people, someone out there has made it to 100 by drinking kerosene, exfoliating their skin with lye, and poking sticks into their eyes.
posted by tclark at 2:27 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I don't have a specific cite, but I have this memory of reading that some reports of super-super-centenarians in the Caucasus may have been due to men having claimed to be older decades earlier to avoid military service.

It didn't get in the way of this famous ad campaign, though.
posted by gimonca at 2:28 PM on August 8


... he said that bacon was TOO LEAN.

I can just see Black furiously jabbing his pointer fingers as he says that.

Update: I found the clip (DailyMotion, ~7:40), and damn if he didn't do exactly that!
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:48 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


So basically old people can't be trusted.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 3:20 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


It seems like it would be incredibly easy for mistakes and deception to happen where families give a child the same name as one who had previously died. One of my grandmothers has the same name as a sibling who died of scarlet fever several years before she was born. She's only 90 though, so nobody's raising any questions yet.

I'll be heading back to Minnesota for a visit next month when my other grandmother turn 102. While she's had ups and downs healthwise she's in remarkably good shape for somebody who's eaten ice cream pretty much every day of her life and insists on dessert after any meal that isn't breakfast. One of her brothers made it to 104 and though it's likely that genetics plays some role in longevity, living in a place with good healthcare certainly has helped. I think one of the most overlooked factors is having a robust social web of family and friends, which is something that many of the "blue zones" seem to have in common.
posted by theory at 3:40 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


Any time I think of people living to an old age despite any sort of healthy living, my mind instantly turns to Keith Richards. He is 75 and still playing shows, and I am convinced that he will outlive me.
posted by MysticMCJ at 3:44 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


When I was a child during the Cold War the Soviets used to point proudly to a region in the Ukraine where men routinely lived to be 120 years old as an example of the superiority of their communist system over crass capitalism. After the USSR fell, journalists and scientists flocked to the place to find the secret of long life. Turns out the Orthodox priests in that remote rural area had engaged in a decades-long conspiracy to alter birth records to keep as many men as possible out of the Red Army. So this article made complete sense, and the statistics of fraud also seem plausible.
posted by seasparrow at 4:11 PM on August 8 [13 favorites]


As an aside, I have two great-aunts still alive on my Mom's Dad's side. The oldest turns 100 this November.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 4:14 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


It seems like it would be incredibly easy for mistakes and deception to happen where families give a child the same name as one who had previously died. One of my grandmothers has the same name as a sibling who died of scarlet fever several years before she was born.

Great-Grandpa was married four times, and the oldest son from each marriage had the same first name.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:18 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


That's all!?!?

Well it was a full sized one. He also regularly ate rollkuchen with corn syrup.
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:09 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Hm, I wonder how this changes the whole thing about Blue Zones where people live extra long lives (Okinawa is one of them) and we should be more like them? (Though the basic advice seems pretty sound - exercise, eat lots of greens, not much meat, etc.)
The advice seems pretty sound based on what? The suspected fact that people don't tend to live longer there?
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 5:36 PM on August 8


Identity fraud used to be a lot easier than it is now, because birth certificates weren't crosslinked with death certificates in a database anywhere the way they are now. You found a death record of someone who had died in infancy, got a copy of their birth certificate, and boom, you had a name and Social Security number, and built your new identity around that. If you weren't picky, you might go with someone whose birthdate was several years previous to your real one.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:47 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


The Japanese government checked on their post-centenarians some years ago, and found that thousands of them couldn't be traced or had been dead for decades. The man listed as Tokyo's oldest citizen was still at home, but had been dead for 30 years while his relatives collected his pension.

Personally, I dread the idea of another fifty-odd years of everything getting worse.
posted by Fuchsoid at 6:37 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


Guyagonalize’s grandmother lived to 105, and she freely attributed her long life to genetics and staying active. She also went through two or three bottles of wine a week, which she always drank heavily mixed with seltzer. This hilariously scandalized my in-laws, because goodness gracious, whatever will all the other centenarians think! But pretty much until the last few months she was a glorious, goddamn force of nature, and we miss her very much.

His other grandmother made it to 101, but she was convinced it was all the butter and cream the nursing home wouldn’t let her eat that had kept her alive thus far. Thankfully she had at least a decade to bitterly inform everyone of this fact, and I have yet to see anyone enjoy a lobster roll as much as she did at her 100th birthday celebration.
posted by Diagonalize at 7:41 PM on August 8 [7 favorites]


Really liking this "Dread Pirate Jeanne Calment" angle.
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:53 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


As per a number of recent articles, medical advances to this point are mainly increasing longevity by prolonging the period of ill health and inanition before death.

This is a subject of great contention among demographers. Many serious researchers come to the opposite conclusion. See the Wikipedia article on compression of morbidity.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:00 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


I suspect this is also true of all the 25 to 35 year old cats on reddit.

Leave Creampuff out of this. The reason I know his age is real is that he's a black and white cat and those things do not give a fuck. The one I had as a kid lived to 24 with a tumour on its leg for the last year, and my parents finally put her down so who's to say how long she could have limped along for.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:14 PM on August 8


Related cat followup I just remembered: The vet for some reason told us Kitty (that was her name, we are an unimaginative people) was for some reason not lactose intolerant the way most cats were. So we gave her milk every day, so the fact that Creampuff lived on bacon, red wine, coffee and asparagus and lived so long checks out. I think the last 5 years of Kitty's life happened because she remembered tuna exists and eventually refused to eat anything else.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:21 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


The article says that Okinawa has one of the lowest life expectancies in Japan, but looking at the charts, it seems to be the third highest age for women (out of 47 prefectures, and just slightly lower than average for men.

I wouldn't think that prefectural statistics like this would be in dispute, so I wonder what's going on.
posted by Umami Dearest at 10:34 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


My paternal grandmother lived until 99.5 which was supported by the fact that she was a lifelong Red Sox fan who had been born in 1918, a year in which the Sox won the Series. In 2004, 2007 and again in 2013 and I was scared that she would die that year, the Sox winning the Series as the bookends to her life. She lived until 2018 but not quite long enough to see their win that year.
posted by bendy at 1:51 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


my great grandmother lived to 108. i have no doubts as to the veracity of her age, because she really did seem that old physically (though perhaps due to her busy family/social life she was in remarkably good shape mentally), and it seems well documented.
like many of the aforementioned anecdotes, she attributed her longevity to a glass of cherry whisky in the evening, lots of butter, her abusive husband having died in the '70s (if asked "do you miss him?" she would respond "good riddance! he used to beat the crap out of us!"), perogies and headcheese, her garden, and family. amongst all my family she is far and away still my biggest inspo even though she's been gone a decade now (and would be even if she didn't live insanely long to boot)
posted by LeviQayin at 2:07 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


I finally got to see that actual study (abstract), and it claims:

Finally, the designated ‘blue zones’ of Sardinia, Okinawa, and Ikaria corresponded to regions with low incomes, low literacy, high crime rate and short life expectancy relative to their national average

I've only looked at Okinawa, but this assertion simply isn't true. Okinawa has relatively high life expectancy compared to the Japanese average, not "short life expectancy," while the crime rate is pretty close to the national average.

As for the Okinawan diet, according to the USDA: "Okinawa, with only 1.1 percent of the total Japanese population, is responsible for over 90 percent of the total luncheon meat consumption in Japan."

So perhaps one of the keys to a long and healthy life is...Spam.
posted by Umami Dearest at 3:33 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


Sardinia also has a low crime rate, as a whole. Is the author referring to specific areas within those two regions? Is the “blue zone” the entirety of these islands, or some subregion?
posted by haiku warrior at 3:46 AM on August 9


Here's a OECD report on Sardinia. High life expectancy, low crime. I couldn't find an education level measure, but I don't believe anyone is illiterate. There are certainly many who have only a basic education.
I know a lady who was once a school teacher in Nuoro, then the poorest region in Sardinia, and the place where the bandits reigned. But that was more than 60 years ago, today the economy is much improved and the crime rates are lower than the Italian average.
posted by mumimor at 4:25 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


There may be a problem with looking at current crime rates and life expectancies to judge the veracity of the paper’s statement on blue zones, life expectancy and crime. Shouldn’t the statistics from 1920-1940 be more pertinent?
posted by Emmy Noether at 4:40 AM on August 9


Shouldn’t the statistics from 1920-1940 be more pertinent?

Maybe, but the paper itself uses present tense when discussing these statistics.
posted by Umami Dearest at 5:29 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


The closest statistic I could find is that Okinawa has the lowest median age of any Japanese prefecture. Of course that just means that there are more young people in the population than average, not that people have a shorter lifespan.
posted by Umami Dearest at 5:37 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


So can we conclude that the correlate to debunky-sounding shit that someone just makes up to look superrational and get clicks is racism?
posted by Grangousier at 5:38 AM on August 9




I'm not surprised at all. Modern life is sooo incredibly documented that it's hard for a lot of people to understand that it hasn't always been that way.

There are members of my family who came to the United States as refugees and who did not have much reliable birth paperwork, having been born in southeast Asia in the 1940s/1950s.

In the chaos of fleeing, coming separately, lost papers, inconsistent records, etc., some of them have ended up with paper ages a couple of years older than their actual ages and with a completely arbitrary birthday. And of course with modern life, once you have a birth date on one document you have to keep it consistent for all following documents.

It's had some mildly ironic consequences; for one, two of the members of my family have the opposite age relationship -- so Uncle A is older than Aunt B in real life, but on paper Aunt B is older than Uncle A. (Even if they don't know their birthdays, the year was known and the relative age relationship was obvious from childhood.) But it's also had some not-as-nice consequences, where some of them have reached retirement age but can't actually retire, because they are (say) 68 years old in real life but only 62 on paper.
posted by andrewesque at 6:29 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I read the paper, but statistics are not my forte. I hope some mefite who is good at them will read it.
I do remember once being reminded by a statistics prof that median longevity is not necessarily indicative of how old people got. We were talking about the Middle Ages, where the median age of death was something like 35. But that didn't mean no one got old, though obviously a lot didn't. I meant that a huge percentage of all children died before their first year, an other huge group died before their second year, and so on. If someone lived till puberty, they actually had a fairly good chance of a long life. This pattern would fit very well in Sardinia in the years relevant to this study.

Also, in the paper, there is an underlying assumption that smoking, drinking, poverty, and illiteracy should not enrich for remarkable longevity records. IMO this is very much as seen from a 21th century perspective where poor and illiterate people eat industrial food products and have easy access to tobacco and alcohol.
No one in Sardinia would be smoking or drinking in excess, because they were poor. They couldn't afford the tobacco in huge amounts, they relied on their own production of food and drink and had to work hard to provide it. But because it's in the Mediterranean, even subsistence farmers would have fruit and veg as the main foodstuffs, some whole grain flour for pasta and bread and a small amount of meat, fish, cheese and eggs. They would also walk a lot and work hard outdoors. Basically what any doctor would advise you to do today.
When I visited Sardinia for the first time, in 1983, many people in Nuoro were still living this life, with almost no money, but good, healthy food and most of the recreative activities outdoors and with friends and family rather than inside in front of the TV, in spite of the hard work they also did.
posted by mumimor at 6:52 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Umami Dearest: "The closest statistic I could find is that Okinawa has the lowest median age of any Japanese prefecture. Of course that just means that there are more young people in the population than average, not that people have a shorter lifespan."

I think "median age" is the statistic the article is referring to:

"For example, Okinawa has the highest number of centenarians per capita of any Japanese prefecture and remains world-famous for remarkable longevity. Okinawa also has the highest murder rate per capita, the worst over-65 dependency ratio, the second-lowest median income, and the lowest median lifespan of all 47 Japanese prefectures [23]."

"median lifespan" is a bit of a confusing term. The article cites at [23] Japan's vital statistics webpage but I couldn't find the specific statistic in question.
posted by crazy with stars at 8:37 AM on August 9


My husband and I bought my mid-90s grandfather a bottle of Welsh whisky in commemoration of a trip we took to Wales where we visited the distillery. My grandfather died a few months later, and when we went down for the funeral and assorted clearing-up we assumed we'd be taking the remains of the bottle back with us but by damn if he hadn't drunk the entire thing.
posted by telophase at 9:00 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


"median lifespan" is a bit of a confusing term.

It's the age for which half the population die before they reach that age, and the other half live past that age. I guess you can probably calculate it from census data or something, but the only citation I could find states it outright says that it's 83.8 years in Okinawa vs. 82.3 years for Japan as a whole, so I'm really puzzled.
posted by Umami Dearest at 9:07 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I went on a pretty deep dive into the life tables available (including some help from google translate on the ones not available on English) and I'm not able to find any sources that confirm that, either.
posted by mosst at 10:03 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


There is a zipfile containing some R code in the supplementary material section on bioRχiv.

I've read the code, but I don't know R well enough to figure out how the author came up with his lifespan data.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:07 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I've been aging non-monotonically for a decade now. My children find it infuriating. I had planned to knock it off this year as I entered my forties, but it's too silly to quit, so after turning thirty-nine in 2015, 2017, and 2018, this summer I turned forty-three.

If I'm still alive in sixty years, I'm gonna turn a hundred and fifty. Nobody can stop me. The party will be amazing.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 7:35 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]


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