w

"Long before it's in the papers"
June 04, 2013

RETURN TO THE WORLD SCIENCE HOME PAGE


Looking older than your age may not mean bad health

Nov. 5, 2010
Courtesy of St. Michael's Hospital
and World Science staff

Al­though most adults don’t want to look old­er than they really are, it may come as some com­fort to learn that it does­n’t nec­es­sarily point to poor health. 

A new study has found that a pe­r­son needed to look at least 10 years old­er than their ac­tu­al age be­fore as­sump­tions about their health could be made.

Few peo­ple know that when their doc­tors de­scribe them to oth­er doc­tors, “they of­ten in­clude an as­sess­ment of wheth­er the pa­tient looks old­er than his or her ac­tu­al age,” said Ste­phen Hwang of the Uni­vers­ity of To­ron­to and St. Michael’s Hos­pi­tal in To­ron­to, which led the re­search. “This long­stand­ing med­i­cal prac­tice as­sumes that peo­ple who look old­er than their ac­tu­al age are likely to be in poor health.”

The stu­dy, pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Gen­er­al In­ter­nal Med­i­cine, found that when a phy­si­cian rat­ed some­one as look­ing up to five years old­er than their ac­tu­al age, it had lit­tle val­ue in pre­dict­ing wheth­er the pe­r­son was in poor health. But when a doc­tor thought some­one looked 10 or more years old­er than their ac­tu­al age, 99 per cent of these peo­ple had very poor phys­i­cal or men­tal health.

“Physi­cians have simply as­sumed that their quick as­sess­ment of how old a pe­r­son looks has di­ag­nos­tic val­ue,” said Hwang. “It was al­so very in­ter­est­ing to dis­cov­er that many peo­ple who look their age are in poor health,” some­thing that doc­tors should keep in mind, he added.

The re­search­ers stud­ied 126 peo­ple be­tween the ages of 30 to 70 who were vis­it­ing a doc­tor’s of­fice. Par­ti­ci­pants filled out a sur­vey that ac­cu­rately de­ter­mined wheth­er they had poor phys­i­cal or men­tal health. Each pe­r­son was pho­tographed, and the pho­tos were shown to 58 phy­si­cians who were told each pe­r­son’s ac­tu­al age and asked to rate how old the pe­r­son looked.


* * *

Send us a comment on this story, or send it to a friend









 

Sign up for
e-newsletter
   
 
subscribe
 
cancel

On Home Page         

LATEST

  • Meet­ing on­line may lead to hap­pier mar­riages

  • Pov­erty re­duction, environ­mental safe­guards go hand in hand: UN re­port

EXCLUSIVES

  • Was black­mail essen­tial for marr­iage to evolve?

  • Plu­to has even cold­er “twin” of sim­ilar size, studies find

  • Could simple an­ger have taught people to coop­erate?

  • Diff­erent cul­tures’ mu­sic matches their spe­ech styles, study finds

MORE NEWS

  • F­rog said to de­scribe its home through song

  • Even r­ats will lend a help­ing paw: study

  • D­rug may undo aging-assoc­iated brain changes in ani­mals

Although most adults don’t want to look older than they really are, research led by St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto has found that looking older doesn’t necessarily point to poor health. The study found that a person needed to look at least 10 years older than their actual age before assumptions about their health could be made. Few people know that when their doctors describe them to other doctors, “they often include an assessment of whether the patient looks older than his or her actual age,” said Stephen Hwang of St. Michael’s and the University of Toronto, one of the researchers. “This longstanding medical practice assumes that people who look older than their actual age are likely to be in poor health.” The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found that when a physician rated someone as looking up to five years older than their actual age, it had little value in predicting whether the person was in poor health. But when a doctor thought someone looked 10 or more years older than their actual age, 99 per cent of these people had very poor physical or mental health. “Physicians have simply assumed that their quick assessment of how old a person looks has diagnostic value,” said Hwang. “It was also very interesting to discover that many people who look their age are in poor health,” something that doctors should keep in mind, he added. The researchers studied 126 people between the ages of 30 to 70 who were visiting a doctor’s office. Participants filled out a survey that accurately determined whether they had poor physical or mental health. Each person was photographed, and the photos were shown to 58 physicians who were told each person’s actual age and asked to rate how old the person looked.