Friday 25th April 2014- The Times, front page news, above the crease. The story must be important. It is they have discovered the "Secret of longer life". Here is the skill of the journalist. Take a study just published. Read it and Identify one fact from all the results which makes the hook for the story. In this case Japanese women have the highest life expectancy. Then find a plausible association. What do we know about Japan? Ah well Sushi? - that's raw fish and Green Tea? Well that must be the cause of the long survival and there it is you have your story and your headline and your front page.
So what lies behind this news and is there any credibility in the conclusion. The Office for National Statistics published an international Compendium of Data on population statistics today. Much of the report will fuel the current debate around UK immigration as there is a substantial amount of data on population migration and enough material in the report to satisfy the needs of the pro as well as the anti-European debate and to prove either groups case!
The life expectancy data comes later and leads to the headline. Well I'm sorry to have to disappoint but I am afraid that the secret of longer life isn't about raw fish or green tea. Sadly the journalists haven't been entirely transparent with the facts. It is true that Japanese females do have the highest life expectancy at birth (86.4 years) but the country with the highest male life expectancy at birth at 80.8 years was Iceland.
Now it is true they eat a lot of fish in Iceland. In fact a recent FAO report indicates that the annual fish consumption in Iceland is 80.5kg/year compared to just 55.2 in Japan. So you could ask if fish in the diet was so important why didn't the Icelandic women top the Japanese. Well perhaps it's the type of fish, or the way it's cooked or not cooked. More likely perhaps this is simply an association which tells you nothing about causation. It could be the play of chance or any number of other factors which confound the association between the diet and life expectancy. its almost as bizarre as thinking that the amount of chocolate you eat determines the chance of winning a Nobel prize.
Dr Richard Bogle
The opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author and should not be construed as the opinion or policy of my employers nor recommendations for your care or anyone else's. Always seek professional guidance instead.