Johns Hopkins Magazine
Johns Hopkins Magazine Current Issue Past Issues Search Get In Touch
  Fruitful Links
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 pressure.

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, Pirkko Graves.

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 Brancati.

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, A.C. Gelber.

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.

Return to The Study of a Lifetime.

Return to June 2001 Table of Contents

  The Johns Hopkins Magazine | The Johns Hopkins University | 3003 North Charles Street |
Suite 100 | Baltimore, Maryland 21218 | Phone 410.516.7645 | Fax 410.516.5251