Will You Die In The Next 5 Years? New Death Calculator Estimates Mortality Risk In UK

life clock
"Ubble" website in the UK uses a questionnaire to predict your five-year mortality risk. Cristian V., CC BY-ND 2.0.

While many of us wonder when exactly we will bite the dust, most of us are glad that there really isn’t a way of knowing. Researchers in the UK and Sweden, however, decided to unsettle us all anyway in their recent study where they developed a relatively accurate predictor of whether or not a person will die in the next five years. If you are between the ages of 40 and 70 and are living in the UK, all it takes is one simple click to the new website, and a quick questionnaire to know what’s in the cards for you. That is, if you actually want to.

How It Works

According to research published in The Lancet, your five-year mortality risk boils down to one score, determined by your own answers to a questionnaire related to your self-rated health, and typical walking speed. The test requires no physical exam to determine your "Ubble age," a term they use to describe the age where your estimated mortality risk most closely matches the average mortality risk of the general population. The site, developed with Sense About Science, a UK charity aimed at educating the public on relevant medical and scientific discussions, hopes that this sort of test will help doctors distinguish who out of the population is a high risk patient in need of medical attention.

“The Ubble website allows anybody in the UK between 40 and 70 years old to calculate their ‘Ubble Age’ and their risk of dying within the next five years compared to the general population, using a set of a dozen or so questions,” said Professor Erik Ingelsson of Uppsala University in Sweden in a recent press release. “This is the first study of its kind which is based on a very large study sample, and is not limited to specific populations, single types of risk, or requiring laboratory testing.”

By examining the UK Biobank’s data from 2006 to 2010 containing information from 500,000 adults between ages 40 and 70, Professor Ingelsson and Dr. Andrea Ganna were able to create a scoring system. Using a statistical survival model, both researchers determined the probability of death by any cause, as well as six specific causes for 655 specific demographics, lifestyles and health measurements. As a result, researchers were able to determine what components were stronger indicators of higher mortality risk, and tailored their questions accordingly.

For example, researchers found that self-reported information, like typical walking pace and illness/injury history of the past two years was a stronger predictor of longevity than pulse rates or blood pressure. Researchers even found that self-reported walking pace is a stronger indicator of survival than smoking habits in men and women. Overall, it was self-reported health that researchers discovered to be the most indicative of male survival rates, while previous cancer diagnosis was the most indicative in women. Smoking, however, proved to be the strongest predictor for any case.

With this information, researchers were able to develop their scoring system for a questionnaire that asked 13 questions of men, and 11 of women. After validating the legitimacy of the score in 35,810 participants enrolled at two Scottish centers, researchers found the score to be 80 percent accurate in both men and women.

Reporter Maev Kennedy from The Guardian described her experience with the questionnaire, saying, “The risk calculator declared my Ubble age to be 53, and my risk of dying in the next five years to be 1.8 percent.” The site explained to her that this meant out of 100 women around the age of 60 with similar answers as Kennedy, 98 will survive while two will die in the next five years. She breathed a sigh of relief, as these were pretty good odds.

“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,” Ganna said. “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. 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.”

As Gana mentions, the score does not serve to scare or intimidate, but to keep individuals on a healthy track, and alert their physicians to possible concerns. Despite the shocking accuracy of the Ubble age determined by the score, this number is not set in stone. Simon Thompson and Peter Willeit of the University of Cambridge also noted the score’s drawbacks, saying, “five-year mortality is easier to predict than long-term morbidity, or quality of life and life expectancy, all of which are more important to individuals and to society.”

And thank goodness for that. Many of us may be ready to accept the risk of our mortality within the next five years, but to be able to predict our deaths down to the exact moment... well, some things are worth not knowing.

Study: Ganna A, Ingelsson E. 5 year mortality predictors in 498103 UK Biobank participants: a prospective population-based study. The Lancet. 2015.

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