Op-Ed: Yet another useless lifestyle study

Posted Sep 7, 2011 by Alexander Baron
According to the ‘Daily Express’, women should raise their glasses to a healthier old age, but we’ve heard it all before – and just the opposite.
People at a bar
People at a bar
Glenn Harper
The front page of today's London Daily Express says women should drink a couple of glasses of wine a day for added longevity. This is the conclusion of a study of 14,000 female nurses that started in 1976. The brainchild of the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston is the latest result from numerous studies of this nature that have produced all manner of contradictory results.
The two most famous such studies are the Doctors’ Study – which ran from 1951 to 2001 - and the ongoing Framingham Heart Study.
The Doctors’ Study was meant to have established the connection between smoking and lung cancer. Although this connection is now more or less beyond dispute, things are as usual not that simple; the study itself was criticised severely, and the works of Hans Eysenck, Philip Burch, and Simon Wolff among others have suggested (to put it mildly) that psychological factors, and the little matter of air pollution contribute to lung and other cancers as much as if not more than smoking. Simon Wolff believed the synergistic effects of smoking and air pollution (especially from road vehicles) was particularly great.
When the Framingham Study was set up, it was hoped it would show a correlation between smoking and cardio-vascular disease, among other things. This correlation turned out to be near non-existent, a surprising result, though not necessarily a disappointing one for smokers. In 1976, the study is supposed to have shown a connection between menopause and the increased risk of heart disease, which is a bit like saying it found a connection between age and life expectancy – exactly what is one supposed to do with a datum like that?
Another (recent) find by those who are paid to conduct medical experiments is that of height and cancer, namely tall people are at greater risk. At the end of the day, for every six studies that prove one thing there are half a dozen that prove another, or find some sort of association. One of the most amusing such associations is between television sets and diseases such as rickets. This does not mean that TV sets emit anti-rickets rays, rather than some diseases are associated with poverty, poor nutrition, etc, and that societies that have a lot of TV sets, computers, etc, tend to be free of such ailments.
At the end of the day, one must ask what is the point of such studies, and specifically what is the point of a study that attempts to link the consumption of wine by women with longevity, especially when Marie Lloyd was telling us a little of what you fancy does you good way back in 1915?
Rather than mounting expensive years’ or decades’ long studies as make-work schemes for medical scientists and their chums in Whitehall, Washington and elsewhere, the governments of the world might be better advised setting them to work to discover the actual causes of disease, and maybe to develop vaccines and other methods of combatting them, or better still, maybe they should follow in the footsteps of gerontologist Aubrey de Grey and his SENS organisation?