Simple questions predicted health risk

Bjarne NesThis spring the first data from a large British health survey and information database, called the UK Biobank, was published in The Lancet. UK Biobank consist of more than 655 different measurements of demographics, health and lifestyle factors from about 500 000 middle-aged to elderly brits. The aim of the study was simply to rank all the information, spanning from number of white blood cells and preferred handedness to number of vehicles in your household, by their statistical association with risk of premature death from different diseases within 5 years. Then the researchers developed a prediction score based on the strongest predictors for each sex.

Read also: Stored for the future

blodtrykkOne of the intriguing findings of the study was that measures that could be obtained by a simple verbal interview, without physical examination turned out to be the strongest predictors. Simple metrics such as our self-reported health status and our preferred walking pace was highly predictive in both sexes and across different causes of death. In otherwise healthy people, smoking remained the strongest predictor. Unfortunately, cardiorespiratory fitness measurements were not included in the analysis, but based on our own and others research, we think some simple measure of fitness certainly would be among the most important variables.

Read also: Senior Olympics – Aging and fitness

The innovative things about this study is maybe not their findings itself, but the way of presenting their data. Beside publishing a report in a highly recognized medical journal (that still probably will be read mostly by researchers and doctors), all their background data and results is presented in an easily understandable and user-friendly way on an interactive website that everyone can enjoy, Ubble. Today, most adults seek out health information online and there is expressed, and justifiable, concern that the massive amount of information available potentially lead to overdiagnosis and anxiety. On the other hand, such researched based tools may help people to increase their self-awareness and understanding about the main determinants of good health and provide an incentive for positive lifestyle changes.

This is the same approach we have used with our online fitness calculator, where everyone, by answering a few simple questions, can estimate their fitness number and the corresponding risk of future heart disease. In the future we think such tools may also help doctor-patient communication and interaction and improve shared decision making when it comes to preventing lifestyle related disease.

Read also: High fitness reduces risk of atrial fibrillation

If you want to take the test, or learn more about how different factors are related to health among the brits, it is important to underscore that most of the variables on the website do not directly cause disease, but are merely markers of health status. Therefore, the study may be more suitable to raise new, important questions about what is determining our health, than providing the absolute answers. Hence, if you find yourself at high risk, following the traditional advices of smoking cessation, a healthy diet and exercise are the preferable first step towards improved health status. Not to buy a new car.

Bjarne Nes, Post Doctor at CERG


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s