June 16, 2015

How Likely Is It that You'll Die Within Five Years? Take this One-Minute "Ubble Age" Test

Researchers have developed a test – a simple series of questions – that accurately assesses the risk of dying in the next five years for Brits aged 40-70. Results were published June 3, 2015 in the online journal "The Lancet."

Interested in learning YOUR risk? The link to the test appears at the bottom of this post and takes about one minute to complete. Men need answer only 13 simple questions; women, 11. Remember, the calculations are based on data from people in the UK. So, if you live elsewhere, the accuracy of your assessment is correspondingly compromised.

Andrea Ganna and Eriuk Ingelsson from Karolinksa Institutet and Uppsala University in Sweden carefully evaluated data from a large-scale project called UK Biobank. Between 2006 and 2010, that project had collected 655 health and wellness measurements from 498,103 British volunteers aged 40-70.

Those measurements included blood tests, physical information and biological stats. In addition, all the study participants completed detailed questionnaires about the health and lifestyles.

Next, Ganna and Ingelsson monitored the half million Biobank participants until February, 2014. For those study participants who had died, the researchers used info from the Health & Social Care Information Centre and the NHS (National Health Service) Central Register to determine the causes of death.

From this huge data base, the researchers created two tools.

1) The Association Explorer
In concert with cause-of-death information, the researchers used the 655 UK Biobank measurements previously assembled to determine how closely each of those measurements was associated with death within five years.

Ganna and Ingelsson then calculated what they called a “C-index” for all measurements; the higher the C-index for any particular measurement, the more accurate a predictor of death within five years.

A C-index of 50-60% is considered a poor predictor, 60-70% moderate, 70-80% good, 80-90% very good and >90% is considered excellent.

The data led the two men to these conclusions:
  • The variables that most accurately predicted death from all causes within five years did not need to be measured by physical examination, but could be reported by individuals in response to a questionnaire. For example, asking people to rate their own (“self-reported”) overall health and to describe their usual walking pace were two of the strongest predictors in both men and women for different causes of death. Overall, walking pace was a stronger predictor than smoking habits and other lifestyle measurements. In fact, men aged 40-52 who reported their usual walking pace as "slow" had a 3.7 times increased risk of death within five years than those who answered ‘steady average pace’.
  • The variables that were most accurate at predicting death differed between men and women. For example, the strongest predictor in men was "self-reported health"; in women, it was "previous cancer diagnosis." Additionally, variables were generally more accurate predictors in men. These variations could be because men and women die from different causes, respond differently to measurements and questionnaires, or simply because men and women are biologically different.
  • For individuals who didn’t have any major diseases, measurements of smoking habits were the strongest predictors of death within 5 years.
  • Psychological and socioeconomic variables were the strongest predictors of “external” causes of mortality, such as suicide and accidental falls.
  • Most variables proved less accurate in predicting mortality in older individuals compared with those who were younger, but still within the 40-70 age range.

2) The Risk Calculator
Based on this information from the Association Explorer, Ganna and Ingelsson created their Risk Calculator.

When they learned that the questionnaire-based variables provided the most dependable predictors of death within five years, they used a computer-based approach to select the combination of questions from the UK Biobank survey to create THE most accurate prediction of death. For men, it was 13 simple questions. For women, only 11.

The Risk Calculator can then determine a person’s “Ubble age” (Ubble is somehow short for UK Longevity Explorer).

If your Ubble age is higher than your actual age, you have a higher risk of dying within five years than the average person your age in the UK. Conversely, if your Ubble age is lower than your actual age, you have a lower risk than the average person your age in the UK. The Calculator will also assess your risk. For instance, a woman with an Ubble age of 56 will have a five-year mortality risk of 2.4%.

Ganna offered a caution:
The fact that the score can be measured online in a brief questionnaire, without any need for lab tests or physical examination, is an exciting development. We hope that our score might eventually enable doctors to quickly and easily identify their highest risk patients, although more research will be needed to determine whether it can be used in this way in a clinical setting. Of course, the score has a degree of uncertainty and shouldn’t be seen as a deterministic prediction. For most people, a high risk of dying in the next five years can be reduced by increased physical activity, smoking cessation, and a healthy diet.

Still, these results are new. In the past, studies typically considered risks associated with only one variable, and usually included much smaller population samples.

The researchers hope these numbers will encourage people to think about their own health more carefully, better inform public health policy and advice, enable doctors to identify and care for high-risk patients, and allow other medical researchers to use this data for future research.

Get YOUR Results
Want to take the quick and easy test? Click here.

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Various media outlets picked up the story, including:

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