Friday, July 10, 2015

What are the odds?

If you could figure out how many years you had left to live, would you want to know? The researchers behind UbbLE, short for UK Longevity Explorer, are betting that you would. If you want to take the test go here

Based on health data collected from 500,000 participants between the ages of 40 and 70 in the United Kingdom in a separate study called UK Biobank, lead researchers Andrea Ganna, Ph.D, and Professor Erik Ingelsson, M.D., Ph.D., created an 11- to 13-question survey that can calculate your risk of dying in the next five years. The disclaimer on the UbbLE website says you must be between 40-70 to get an accurate result.
This isn't the first death risk calculator available on the Internet, but Ganna and Ingelsson believe theirs is more accurate than the rest. "Our calculator is unique in the sense that is scientifically rigorous (not all the calculators are based on scientific evidences)," says Ganna. "Moreover, it uses a very large study (UK Biobank) for development. Finally, the selection of the variables to include in the score is un-biased and the algorithm could choose between 655 potential measurements. This increases the predictive power of our score."

How It Works

Eleven questions may seem pretty slim, but Ganna and Ingelsson analyzed the association between 655 demographic, health, and lifestyle variables from the Biobank study and what actually happened to the study’s volunteers. They then selected a combination of questions whose answers best corresponded with death—or not—within five years.
The easy-to-answer questions in their Risk Calculator touch on 10 categories, including early life factors, psychosocial factors, and health history, and range from, “What is your age?” to “Have you ever been told you have cancer?” and “How many children have you given birth to?”
According to the researchers, the self-reported health assessments were the two strongest predictors for both men and women across all causes of death:
  • How would you rate your overall health? (Excellent, Good, Fair, or Poor)
  • How would you describe your usual walking pace? (Brisk pace, Steady average pace, Slow pace, or None of the above)
For healthy participants who had never had a serious illness in their lives, the best predictor was past tobacco smoking.
It wasn’t just data from the initial study that convinced Ganna and Ingelsson that their criteria and algorithm were right on. “The calculator was validated in 35,000 participants that were not used to create the score,” says Ganna. “In this new sample, we achieved a prediction accuracy of 80 percent.”

Interpreting Your Results

The Risk Calculator doesn’t tell you how long you, an individual, will live, but rather thelikelihood of whether you will die in the next five years. For example, if your result is 4%, that means if you were in a room of 100 people who share your exact age, gender, and risk profile, 4 of you would pass on in the next five years. But it wouldn't necessarily be you.
Along with a risk percentage, you results also include an UbbLE age that corresponds to that risk, meaning the age of someone in the UK who has the most similar risk of dying in the next five years. If your UbbLE age is lower than your actual age, congrats! That means you're less likely to die in the next five years than the average person your age in the UK.

A Note for Skeptics

You might be thinking, “But this calculator is for Brits! They drink tea all the time and ride double-decker busses! How can it predict MY lifespan?” Ganna and Ingelsson believe the prediction will work “fairly well” for people from other countries, provided your home country shares certain factors with the UK. “It is likely that the prediction works fairly well in countries that are similar to UK in terms of distribution of demographic and socioeconomic factors, provision of healthcare and lifestyle and risk factor distribution,” they say. 

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