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Researchers find a way to subtract 12 years from your life

April 26, 2010 |  1:01 pm

You know that smoking is bad for your health. Ditto heavy drinking, a slovenly lifestyle or a preference for chili cheese fries over fruits and vegetables.

Lakers Epidemiologists have linked each of these behaviors to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. But few people engage in only one unhealthy habit. (C’mon, what are you more likely to be snacking on while parked on the couch watching three consecutive NBA playoff games – carrot sticks and bottled water, or chips, guacamole and beer?) So an international group of researchers – including USC cancer epidemiologist Dr. Giske Ursin – studied the effect of all four bad behaviors at once.

What defines “bad”? Smokers fill that bill, while nonsmokers and former smokers did not. Men who consumed more than 21 8-gram servings of alcohol and women who drank more than 14 servings of alcohol were considered to have poor drinking behavior. Anyone who got less than 120 minutes of exercise each week was defined as having poor physical activity, and bad diets were those that contained fewer than 3 fruits or vegetables each day.

After tracking nearly 5,000 British adults for 20 years, the researchers were able to correlate these behaviors with risk of disease and death. (In case you were wondering, men and women, average age 43.7, were equally lazy, but men were more likely to smoke, drink to excess and skip the fruits and veggies.)

The researchers found that Britons who indulged in all four bad behaviors were 3.49 times more likely to die over the course of the study than their countrymen (and women) who practiced clean living. That included a 3.14 times greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease; a 3.35 times greater risk of death from cancer; and a 4.29 times greater risk of death form any other cause.

Overall, 96% of those with healthy behaviors were alive at the end of the study, compared with 85% of those with the worst health habits. “The increase in mortality risk from no to 4 poor health behavior was equivalent to an increase in chronological age of about 12 years,” the researchers wrote.

The study will appear in Tuesday’s edition of Archives of Internal Medicine.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Are these Lakers fans eating green salads while watching a playoff game at Busby’s sports bar? Doesn’t look like it. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times