While barring the chances of assassination and accidental death, world leaders still die earlier than a “normal” person of the same age and gender, according to new research finding published in the latest issue of The British Medical Journal.
As part of the research, doctors studied the fates of 279 former heads of state and 261 people who had stood against them for office but had not been voted in. They also analyzed how long presidents and prime ministers in 17 countries – including the U.S, Britain, Canada, Germany and France – survived after leaving office, compared with losing candidates. Finally, they compared the number of years heads of state lived compared to non-leading citizens of the same age and gender.
Taking all the above into consideration, the research suggests that heads of state age faster than normal, with the job’s stress levels cutting almost three years off their life expectancy.
Lead researcher Dr. Anupam Jena of Harvard Medical School says although three years off a normal life expectancy may not sound much “To lose a few years is significant.”
“Leaders probably felt national priorities were much more pressing than eating right and exercising,” he says, citing former president Bill Clinton’s admitted weakness for fast food may have resulted in “stress eating” leading to his heart health problems.
“Maybe if there had been world peace, his lifestyle would have been different,” Jena says.
The new research flies in the face of other studies that find U.S. presidents actually live longer than those they served.
Jay Olshansky, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says his research on former U.S. presidents shows they had a longer-than-expected life expectancy, partly because they are in the wealthy one percent of the population, are highly educated, and have access to better healthcare than most.
“The stress of leading a country could accelerate the greying of hair and wrinkling of skin, but that doesn’t mean they’ll die earlier,” says Olshansky.
His comments about premature greying were highlighted at the recent meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when Obama joked about the toll public office will take on Trudeau’s youthful looks.
“I just want to point out that I had no grey hair when I was in your shoes seven years ago and so, if you don’t want to go grey like me, you need to start dying it soon before it’s too late,” Obama said.
As for Trudeau’s life expectancy, Jena predicts the prime minister, who is a keen outdoorsman, may do better than expected.
“Someone like him, who is fit, may be in a better starting position than others,” he says. “The years could be kinder to him.”