Observations Going Public

Finding the smoking gun: a speech by Richard Peto

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e7119 (Published 24 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7119
  1. Annabel Ferriman
  1. 1BMJ

The expert on tobacco and health describes ways to cut premature mortality

The best thing about the epidemiologist Richard Peto’s Harveian oration last week, apart from its brilliance, wit, and perspicacity, was his definition of “middle age.” Whereas a lesser man might have made it end at 60, or 65, Peto stretched it to 69, thus brightening the day for many members of the audience. He claimed the fact that he was 69 years old had nothing to do with it.

The subject of the talk at the Royal College of Physicians was “Halving premature death,” or, as he subtitled it, “Halving death in middle age,” so it mattered how this stage of life was defined. He said that he wanted to make its upper end stretch high enough to include deaths from many chronic diseases but not so old that people would claim that you were better off dead at that age anyway.

He prefaced his remarks by saying that death in old age is inevitable but that death in middle age is not. Some of his best tips …

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