We are not just what we eat

The BBC today reports on the diets of centenarians, with the implication that following a similar diet might help other people to live past 100. To be fair on the BBC, they do give the article some balance by giving the opinions of a nutritionist. Yet there is no mention of statistics or probability.

When people live to be 110, it is a statistical anomaly irrespective of whether they had a healthy lifestyle or not. It’s quite possible for someone to smoke and eat lots of saturated fat, and live to an extremely old age. However, there will be many other people who met an early death by following the same unhealthy lifestyle. Extreme cases can’t be used to identify a trend. And we mustn’t only consider life expectancy, but also the quality of life. It can’t be much fun to live to 100 if the last 30 or 40 years of your life are largely confined to a chair or bed because of a chronic, diet-related illness.

If it means living to be 100 or even 110, I’m sure many people wouldn’t agree with the BBC that “Everyone wants to live to a ripe old age”. However, for those that do, there is one ingredient that is even more essential than a healthy diet: luck!

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