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Observations Yankee Doodling

The key to longevity

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 25 September 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6456
  1. Douglas Kamerow, chief scientist, RTI International, and associate editor, BMJ
  1. dkamerow{at}

Can we help people live longer with better medical care?

Almost six years ago, in my first Observations column for the BMJ, I wrote that the secret to a longer life is something that doctors can do very little to affect: patients’ level of education.1 It seems that not much has changed.

As I write this, the lead story on the front page of the New York Times announces (yet again) that poorly educated Americans die younger than those who have had more schooling; now, however, it also seems that the life expectancy of those lacking a high school diploma is actually getting shorter.2 This raises the previously unimaginable possibility that at least some part of a generation of children could actually die younger, on average, than their parents.

The Times article cited a recent study by S Jay Olshansky and colleagues that found that US men and women with less than 12 years of education in 2008 had life expectancies similar to US adults in the 1950s and 1960s.3 Further, when you include race as …

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