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Simple questionnaire can predict a person's risk of dying in next five years

Factors like a person’s usual walking speed are used to calculate their score.

Image: woman with laptop image via Shutterstock

RESEARCHERS IN SWEDEN have developed a score from a series of questions which predicts a person’s risk of dying within five years, for people aged between 40 and 70 in the United Kingdom.

The scoring system uses measures which can be obtained by simple questionnaires without the need for any physical examination.

Factors like a person’s usual walking speed and self-rated health can be used by doctors to identify high-risk individuals for further treatment.

‘Ubble age’

Using the questionnaire, people can calculate their personalised five-year mortality rate and what the authors of a new study published in The Lancet call an ‘Ubble age’.

This is the age where the average mortality risk in the population is most similar to the estimated risk of the individual. To calculate this age, a dedicated interactive website was developed by a UK charity that helps people make sense of scientific and medical claims.

Participants are asked about a dozen questions.

Anybody in the UK between 40 and 70 years old can use the website.

To create the score, Professor Erik Ingelsson from Uppsala University and Dr Andrea Ganna, from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, analysed data collected between 2006 and 2010 from nearly half a million adults aged between 40 and 70 years from the UK Biobank.

They used a statistical survival model to assess the probability that 655 specific demographic, lifestyle, and health measurements could predict death from any cause and six specific causes, in men and women separately.

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How the info works

The research shows that self-reported information, such as usual walking pace and illness and injuries in the past two years, is generally a stronger predictor of death and survival than biological measurements, such as pulse rate and blood pressure.

Surprisingly, self-reported walking pace is a stronger predictor of death risk in both men and women than smoking habits and other lifestyle measurements.

The performance of the score was validated in 35,810 participants enrolled at two Scottish centres, and was found to have around 80% accuracy in men and women.

“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,” Ganna said.

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.

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