People on the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder may live two years less on average than those at the top, according to a large-scale study. This makes social rank a bigger risk factor for illness and premature death than either high alcohol consumption or obesity, and it nearly equals the risk posed by physical inactivity, researchers said. On average, a low social rank shaved more than 25 months off the average lifespan, compared with six months for heavy alcohol intake and eight months for obesity, according to Lifepath, a European Commission-funded consortium that conducted the study. For diabetes, the risk was almost four years in lost life, and for smoking nearly five. The study was the first attempt to weigh the health risk of socioeconomic status against other “modifiable” factors, the authors said, at least in high-income countries. More Hongkongers fall within the cracks of the official poverty line, social workers charge “Low socioeconomic status is one of the strongest predictors of premature mortality worldwide, but health policymakers often do not consider it a risk factor to target,” Lifepath says. “Because these circumstances are modifiable, they should be included in the list of risk factors targeted by global health strategies,” says Silvia Stringhini, of the Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland, the lead author of the study. Smoking, drinking and physical inactivity are already the focus of national and global public health policies. Social rank could be improved by government policies on tax or education, for example, says the study, published in The Lancet . The researchers reviewed data from 48 previous studies covering more than 1.7 million people from seven countries – Australia, Britain, France, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland and the US. It conceded that the research was limited by the fact that it had used the participants’ occupation – whether a street sweeper or a chief executive – as the sole measure of socioeconomic status. Agence France-Presse Gaming, socialising and cards safeguard ageing brains Even in your 70s and beyond, simple activities including web-surfing, playing card games and socialising can stave off mental decline, new research says. Benefits were greatest in computer users and in those without a gene variation linked with Alzheimer’s disease. But even among seniors with that trait, mental decline that sometimes precedes dementia was less common among those who engaged in mind-stimulating activities. The results don’t apply to costly, computer-based games that purport to keep the brain sharp – those were not studied. The benefits were found from activities that many seniors have access to. “They don’t have to spend their life savings [on gadgets],” says Dr Yonas Geda, the study’s senior author and a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic’s Scottsdale, Arizona, campus. How to tell difference between memory loss and dementia’s onset The study was published this week in the journal JAMA Neurology . The researchers noted that the statistical link they found with reduced risk does not prove the activities were responsible. Still, says Heather Snyder of the Alzheimer’s Association, the results support the idea that “being engaged mentally is good for brain health”. The study looked at five types of activities that are thought to help keep the mind sharp: computer use; making crafts; playing games including chess or bridge; going to movies or other types of socialising; and reading books. The idea was to see if these activities could help prevent mild cognitive impairment. That condition involves problems with memory, thinking and attention that don’t interfere much with daily life but which increase risks for developing Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Almost 2,000 adults aged 70 to 93 without any memory problems participated. Associated Press Kidney function a key indicator for at-risk stroke patients A routine blood test that measures kidney function can be a valuable predictor of short-term outcomes for stroke patients, according to a study led by a neurologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre. The study team analysed data on more than 232,000 stroke patients aged 65 and older who were admitted to 1,581 US hospitals over a three-year period. The researchers found that those patients with renal dysfunction upon admission, as indicated by the estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) calculated from a blood creatinine test and basic demographic information such as age, race and sex, were significantly more likely to die while in hospital and far less likely to be discharged home. The study is published in the February issue of the journal Stroke . How more magnesium in your diet can help ward off heart disease, stroke and diabetes “Kidney disease is frequently a comorbidity in patients with acute ischemic stroke,” says the study’s principal investigator, Nada El Husseini, assistant professor of neurology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, a part of Wake Forest Baptist. “This one test done on admission to measure kidney function can be used to better inform patients with ischemic stroke and their families about what to expect.” Researchers found that in-hospital mortality was most common (29.2 per cent) among the stroke patients with eGFR scores 15 and under without dialysis and least common (9.1 per cent) among those with scores 60 and above.