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InvestigationsChris Hartlove

Investigations (continued)

Clues to Longer Living

“How long will I live?”

It is a tantalizing question, and one for which there is rarely a satisfying answer until it is too late. Now a group of Bloomberg School faculty and students is teaming up with an insurance giant to try to get answers, by collaborating on a study of mortality of unprecedented scale and scope.

The academic researchers are interested in understanding past increases in life expectancy so they can anticipate future increases, says Gerard Anderson, PhD, a professor of Health Policy and Management who is leading the group.

For the insurer (which did not want to be identified) a data-driven understanding of mortality may improve its decision making in a number of important ways. The results could also have profound implications for the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. A one- or two-year difference in Americans’ life expectancy in 2025 and beyond will have major implications for how long the trust funds will be solvent, says Anderson.

The insurance giant has made a unique dataset available to the researchers: records of the 14 million current and former policyholders, with all personal identifiers removed to protect privacy. “Nobody has ever had this large a dataset looking at mortality from a research point of view,” says Anderson, “so we’re kids in a candy store.”

Even more important than the dataset’s breadth is its collective depth. It contains remarkably detailed information from driving records to minutia like whether or not policyholders are scuba divers.  “All the other datasets have limitations,” says Anderson. “This one has all the pieces.”

While the researchers are still a year from publishing any results from the partnership that began in March 2012, Anderson is confident the findings will be important. “We’re going to be able to predict in much better specificity and much better ways how long people are going to live,” he says.



  • Fehmida Visnegarwala

    India 02/27/2013 01:15:20 AM

    It is very enthusing to see this important piece of research being done by Dr. Wilcox. Understanding he epidemiology and the who, when and how of suicides is the first step towards prevention. Thank you for all the good work!

  • A Schulz

    Wisconsin 02/27/2013 02:35:26 PM

    We need to change the parameters of discussion to seeing that the energy in the bullet, as released by the gun, is the major factor that determines injury and can be regulated just as we regulate other forms of energy. The 2nd A. debate can be avoided if we regulate bullets and guns as energy that is potentially dangerous for the public regardless of whether the triggering activity is anger, mental illness, video games, political disagreement, or simple mistaken identity. We don't allow the energy in a grenade in a pocket, but in many cases would be less dangerous than a handgun or high capacity rapid fire, low recoil rifle. The whole discussion has to change focus. By the way, I am a former Marine, former NRA member, gun owner, hunter, RN,middle aged, middle class, white male, exactly the demographic the NRA claims to represent. They do not represent me. Oh, I also have been assaulted 4 times by people with handguns , and if I had been armed, I would have been shot right away and my gun stolen. I take this issue both personally and professionally very seriously.

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Death and Data (3.9MB)
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