By following the Precursors cohort of
doctors over their lifetimes, researchers have been able to
identify a slew of predictors of later disease. Some findings
have proved to be landmark. A sampling...
Coffee consumption and heart disease
The physicians who drink large amounts of coffee have a higher
incidence of developing heart disease, according to reports first
published in 1986 by lead author Andrea LaCroix (New England
Journal of Medicine), and later by Michael Klag (Annals
of Epidemiology, 1994). Ongoing work finds interesting
connections between chronic coffee consumption and high blood
Depression and heart disease
Male physicians who experience at least one episode of clinical
depression are more than twice as likely to develop coronary
artery disease as their non-depressed counterparts. Depression
appears to be an independent factor, after accounting for
traditional risk factors such as high cholesterol, smoking,
obesity, etc. Reported in the Archives of Internal
Medicine, 1998. Lead author, D.E. Ford.
Cholesterol and heart disease
As early as 1956, Caroline Bedell Thomas was positing high
cholesterol as a potential predictor of future heart disease
(American Journal of Medical Science). More definitive
studies followed over the decades.
Family ties and cancer
The physicians who went on to develop cancer had much lower
scores on the "Closeness to Parents" scale as medical students.
Lack of closeness to parents, particularly the father, was
extrapolated to be a significant predictor of developing cancer.
Reported in Psychosomatic Medicine, 1979. Lead author,
Caroline Bedell Thomas.
Stress and suicide
Of the 21 medical school alumni who had committed suicide by
1988, all had exhibited high sensitivity to stress as students.
Especially significant: responding to stress with irritability
and urinary frequency, followed by trouble sleeping, loss of
appetite, and desire to be alone. Reported in Suicide and
Life-Threatening Behavior, 1991. Authors: Pirkko Graves and
Caroline Bedell Thomas.
Personality types and illness
The study classified participants into one of three personality
types: Alpha--slow, solid, self-reliant, assimilates to new
situations gradually. Beta--rapid, cool, spontaneous, clever,
focused on present. Gamma--irregular, uneven, brilliant, moody,
most demanding. Alphas had the least incidence of major medical
disorders (suicide, cancer, mental illness), while Gammas had the
most. Reported in Johns Hopkins Medical Journal, 1979.
Lead author, B.J. Betz.
Temperament and mortality
The study derived three different models of temperament.
Participants classified as "tension-in" (reacted to stress by
becoming very anxious and tense, exhibited symptoms of insomnia,
loss of appetite) were 2.6 times more likely to die before age 55
than were those described as "stable" (calmer overall, more
self-contained in reactions to stressful situations). Reported in
the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 1994. Lead author,
Body weight and diabetes
Those participants who were overweight at age 25 were more than
three times as likely to develop diabetes in middle age, compared
with thinner members of the cohort. Reported in the Archives
of Internal Medicine, 1999. Lead author: Frederick
Medical specialties and divorce
Psychiatrists had the highest rate of divorce (50 percent),
followed by surgeons (33 percent). Internists, pediatricians, and
pathologists had much lower rates (less than 24 percent).
Reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, 1997.
Lead author, B. Rollman.
Joint injury and arthritis
Physicians who suffered joint injuries when young are three times
more likely to go on to develop arthritis of the knees. Reported
in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 2000. Lead author,
Occupation and preventive care
More than a third of physicians reported they had no regular
source of medical care--and 7 percent of that group reported
treating themselves. These physicians were also less likely to
take such preventive measures as colon, prostate, or breast
cancer screenings. Reported in the Archives of Internal
Medicine, 2000. Lead author, C.P. Gross.
The Study of a Lifetime.
Return to June 2001 Table