Smoking, divorce and alcohol abuse among social factors most closely associated with dying, UBC study finds
VANCOUVER -- Smoking, divorce and alcohol abuse are the top three non-biological factors most closely associated with dying, according to a new study from UBC.
The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed 57 different social and behavioural factors most closely associated with death.
The remaining factors in the top 10 in order of significance are financial difficulties, history of unemployment, previous history as a smoker, lower life satisfaction, never having married, history of food stamps and "negative affectivity."
Survey data was collected from 13,611 adults in the U.S. between 1992 and 2008. The study analyzed that data and identified which factors applied to people who died between 2008 and 2014.
Data came from the U.S. Health and Retirement Study, and the age of participants ranged from 50 to 104, with an average age of 69.
Researchers say the surveys didn't capture "every possible adversity" but give an indication of where certain factors stand in relation to others.
"For example, instead of just asking whether people are unemployed, we looked at their history of employment over 16 years," lead study author and UBC kinesiology assistant professor, Eli Puterman, said in a statement. "If they were unemployed at any time, was that a predictor of mortality? It's more than just a one-time snapshot of people's lives, where something might be missed because it did not occur."
Compared to other industrialized countries, life expectancy in the U.S. has stagnated for 30 years, which led researchers to look into other contributing factors.
Puterman added that focusing money and policy changes in these areas could potentially provide the biggest benefits.
"Smoking has been understood as one of the greatest predictors of mortality for 40 years, if not more," he said. "But by identifying a factor like negative affectivity—this idea that you tend to see and feel more negative things in your life—we can see that we might need to start targeting this with interventions."