Editor's Choice

Tick tock, how long have I got?

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j414 (Published 26 January 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j414
  1. Rebecca Coombes, head of news and views
  1. The BMJ
  1. rcoombes{at}bmj.com

The old song tells us “Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.” The factors that help predict our life spans provide a clear theme in The BMJ this week. First is the (broadly) good news, from the UK Office for National Statistics: we are all living longer. A girl born in 2015 can expect to live to 83, a boy to 79. The potential causes of variation around average life expectancy are many: genetic inheritance, lifestyle, wealth, employment, and, as John Appleby writes (doi:10.1136/bmj.j346), “consumption of everything—from education to recreational drugs to healthcare.” Our intrepid economist gamely plugs his personal details into a range of online “death clocks” in a bid to cut through the uncertainty and generate a hard life endpoint. Basic ONS life tables suggest that May 2040, about a month after Appleby’s 82nd birthday, is the sobering answer. But the death clocks produce a bewildering range “from 67 (eek!) to 89 (yay!).” He concludes that death clocks should come with a health warning.

After the quick fix of online prediction tools comes a slower cooked but vastly more significant perspective. David Batty and colleagues (doi:10.1136/bmj.j108) provide evidence of a possible predictor of mortality among patients with cancer. Using unpublished data pooled from prospective cohort studies, they find that anxiety and depression may be linked to an increased risk of death from some cancers. The findings are observational, but the authors say they add to the growing evidence that psychological distress could be predictive of certain physical conditions.

From emerging evidence to evidence that is being tragically overlooked. Many thousands of lives were cut short in west Africa in the recent epidemic of Ebola virus disease. A new analysis by a team of international experts reports that a faster, more coordinated response could have prevented 11 000 deaths (doi:10.1136/bmj.j280). Suerie Moon and fellow authors examined seven reports on the global response to Ebola, which they found all largely agreed on what went wrong and what needs to be done. But, they warn, the world will be no better prepared for the next pandemic unless we get increased resources and new monitoring and accountability mechanisms. The clock is ticking.

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