It has frequently been speculated that presidents and other world leaders age faster while in office.
However, evidence to support this has remained anecdotal and limited to graying hair and wrinkles.
But a new study, published in the British Journal of Medicine, has shown that politicians elected to lead a country may experience premature death.
“A previous study of U.S. presidents found no evidence of accelerated aging. Our goal was to revisit this issue, focusing on a broad sample of countries and comparing world leaders to those who ran in elections but were not elected,” Anupam Jena, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, and lead author of the study, told Metro. “We chose the latter as a comparison group because they are arguably similar in socioeconomic status but happened not to win election and therefore be exposed to the stress of leadership.”
Scientists examined the health-related issues of 279 elected leaders to 261 runner-up candidates from 17 countries. They calculated a number of years each competitor lived after the last election they took part in and compared this data to an average life span of candidates with the same age and sex. The results showed that elected heads of state lived at least 2.5 years less.
According to Jena, current candidates of the 2016 U.S. presidential election may also have to pay a mortality cost for being elected.
“The stress of governance could lead to earlier mortality as many studies suggest a link between stress and adverse health outcomes,” Jena added. “Also, the job is busy, which means investments in health could be less likely to occur. And the last possibility is assassinations, which tend to be very uncommon and do not affect our basic findings.”
In the future, scientists are keen to adopt this approach to study mortality risks in other potentially stressful jobs, such as CEOs.