* Despite aging signs, presidents tend to live longer
* Wealth, education, healthcare help extend lives - study
By Julie Steenhuysen
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Judging by their "before" and
"after" photographs, U.S. presidents appear to age before our
eyes, adding wrinkles and gray hair with each year in office.
But contrary to conventional wisdom, a few years in the
White House do not appear to cut short the lives of U.S.
presidents, and most live longer than their peers, according to
a new study released Tuesday.
"Just because they experience what would appear to be
accelerated aging outwardly, doesn't mean they will die any
sooner," said S. Jay Olshansky, a demographer at the University
of Illinois at Chicago, whose study appears in the Journal of
the American Medical Association.
Olshansky became interested in the subject earlier this
summer when President Barack Obama celebrated his 50th birthday
in Chicago, their shared hometown.
Media coverage highlighted "before" and "after" pictures
focused on the 44th U.S. president's graying hair and deepening
wrinkles, and repeated the common refrain that the commander in
chief tends to age at twice the rate as the rest of us.
"That would imply that they died sooner than the rest of
us," Olshansky said in a telephone interview.
He decided to test that theory.
Olshansky calculated how long U.S. presidents would have
been expected to live based on their age and the year in which
they were inaugurated and compared it to how long they actually
lived. The four presidents who were assassinated were excluded
from the study.
To estimate the toll serving as U.S. president took, he
subtracted two days for every one day in office, approximating
the effects of aging at twice the normal rate. At that rate, a
four-year term would cut a president's estimated remaining
lifespan by eight years.
NOT THE STRESS THAT KILLS
Olshansky found that 23 of the 34 U.S. presidents who died
from natural causes did not appear to have their lives cut
short by the stress of leading the nation. They lived longer
than men of their same age and era - and in many instances far
For example, the average age of the first eight presidents
at their time of death was 79.8 years - during a time when life
expectancy at birth for men was less than 40.
The reason is likely the effects of advanced education and
better access to healthcare, Olshansky said.
"All of these presidents benefited from the trifecta of
exceptional wealth, almost all were highly educated and all of
them had access to medical care," said Olshansky, who noted
that there was no scientific way to directly measure the rate
of biological aging.
At the time of inauguration, the average age of presidents
in the study was 55.1, which means they managed to avoid
illness and infectious disease long enough to reach that age
and run for office.
"They have survived the early perilous decades of life,"
Olshansky said. "That is not trivial."
He said the most recent eight presidents who died of
natural causes lived an average of 1.8 years longer than the
first eight. Olshansky attributed that finding to advances in
As for the before and after photographs, Olshansky said
stress may increase the visible signs of aging, but it does not
shorten a president's lifespan.
"It is a very clever way of expressing an important
principle of what we call successful aging," Dr. William Hall,
an aging expert at the University of Rochester Medical Center,
said in a telephone interview. Hall was not involved in
But not all the presidents included in the study fared so
well, according to Olshansky, who said 11 died earlier than
expected at an average age of 62.1 years, compared to an
estimated lifespan of 67.8 years. Many of these presidents held
office between the years of 1841 and 1923, he noted.
"For some reason, in that window of time those presidents
didn't do that well," Olshansky said.
(Editing by Michele Gershberg and Paul Simao)
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