Is Your Health Future Determined by Your Genes?

by | Jul 26, 2022 | Resilience

Image: Shutterstock

A study of birth and death rates in over 54 million family trees found that "good genes" aren't the main cause of good health.

Are “good genes” really the key to living a long life? Scientists who analyzed the birth and death rates in over 54 million family trees, encompassing more than 400 million people, concluded that at most, genetics account for 7 percent of life span differences.

The researchers studied the life spans of persons born from the 19th to the mid-20th century, as most born later than that would still be alive. When they correlated the length of life of parents and children, siblings, spouses and more distant family relations it became clear that genes weren’t the dominant factor.

For example, the life spans of spouses were more similar than that of sisters and brothers. The study found this pattern extended to other non-blood relations such as siblings-and-law, cousins-in-law and aunts or uncles-in-law. The correlation held for early deaths as well as for long lives.

The researchers concluded that the genetic heritability of human longevity is “far less than previously estimated.” Trends in length of life within family trees, they said, were more likely the result of other things families could (or could not) pass along, such as wealth, education, healthy diet and habits, access to clean water, cultural affiliation and neighborhood environment.

The family data came from de-identified family trees published on the website of Ancestry.com. Catherine Ball, chief scientific officer for Ancestry and one of the study’s authors, underscored the impact of marital decisions, noting that it’s not the norm for “a teetotaler to marry a party girl or an ultra-marathoner to marry a couch potato.”

None of this contradicts the possibility that genes can predispose some people to certain diseases, but the word “predispose” reflects a tendency, not a certainty. As reported in an earlier news brief from eSavvyHealth, Harvard researchers found that four of the six factors that kept people happy and healthy long into their lives had to do with their health habits.

It’s the mission of eSavvyHealth to help you gain the ability to make healthy choices, and to understand why they are healthy. Click here to see some of the resources that are currently available.

Fundamentals of Health Alliance

Fundamentals of Health Alliance

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The Fundamentals of Health Alliance works to publish useful and reliable information about nutrition and health. Their mission is to empower readers to be informed with honest, non-biased information about food, nutrition and the vital components of health.

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