The perils of public office: Will Mr Hunt outlast Mr Zuma?

The perils of public office – A merry life but a short one. Politicians beware. Success can seriously curtail your lifespan. (The Economist Christmas edition 2015)

NHSreality speculates that it is the half truths and frank dishonesty which shorten the lifespan of politicians. 2.7 years extra, at age 83 .Will Mr Hunt be any more honest than, or will he outlast Mr Zuma? NHSreality suspects the figures wont stack up, but a spoof of this nature does brighten the holiday.

THE idea that power could corrupt physically as well as morally—that the strain of high office might damage an incumbent’s health—took a serious knock in the 1970s, with the publication of the first “Whitehall” study by Michael Marmot of University College, London. This showed that, among British civil servants, it is those at the top of the pyramid who are healthiest and live longest, even when other factors are taken into account. Being the alpha dog, Sir Michael found, is itself an elixir of life.

Research just published in the British Medical Journal, though, tells a different story. Anupam Jena of Harvard University and his colleagues looked not at civil servants, but at those who won elections to take the position of head of a government. Dr Jena compared the subsequent lifespans of 279 winners of elections in 17 countries (going back, in the case of Britain, to the early 18th century) with those of 261 runners-up in such contests who never subsequently won the top office. Using actuarial data, he concluded that winning and exercising the highest of offices in these countries takes an average of 2.7 years off the victor’s lifespan. For elected, rather than unelected politicians, then, supreme power really does look like a Faustian bargain.

Do heads of government age more quickly? Observational study comparing mortality between elected leaders and runners-up in national elections of 17 countries (2015;351:h6424 )

This entry was posted in A Personal View, Patient representatives, Political Representatives and activists, Stories in the Media on by .

About Roger Burns - retired GP

I am a retired GP and medical educator. I have supported patient participation throughout my career, and my practice, St Thomas; Surgery, has had a longstanding and active Patient Participation Group (PPG). I support the idea of Community Health Councils, although I feel they should be funded at arms length from government. I have taught GP trainees for 30 years, and been a Programme Director for GP training in Pembrokeshire 20 years. I served on the Pembrokeshire LHG and LHB for a total of 10 years. I completed an MBA in 1996, and I along with most others, never had an exit interview from any job in the NHS! I completed an MBA in 1996, and was a runner up for the Adam Smith prize for economy and efficiency in government in that year. This was owing to a suggestion (St Thomas' Mutual) that practices had incentives for saving by being allowed to buy rationed out services in the following year.

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