Universiteit Maastricht

Lifestyle has large impact on premature mortality

Press release 28 July 2011

The risk of death for middle-aged women with a low “healthy lifestyle score” is just as high as that of women with no unhealthy lifestyle, but who are 15 years older. For men, this ‘ageing effect’ is approximately 8.5 years. This resulted from a  study in which a combined lifestyle score was defined by the following four factors: smoking, physical activity, nutritional pattern and body weight. The results of this study from  Maastricht University  among 120,000 men and women aged 55–69 years were published online this week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In this Netherlands Cohort Study (NLCS) the nutritional and lifestyle habits of the 120,000 research participants were measured in 1986. The information was used to calculate a healthy lifestyle score that combined four factors: not smoking, being physically active for more than 30 minutes  per day, adhering to a Mediterranean diet, and having a healthy body weight (BMI between 18.5 and 25). A traditional Mediterranean diet is characterised by high intake of vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, fish, whole grains , monounsaturated fat instead of saturated fat, low intake of meat and alcohol consumption of approximately 0.5 to 2 glasses per day. The mortality among NLCS participants since 1986 has been documented and the relationship between lifestyle and mortality has been analysed. 

According to  Piet van den Brandt, Professor of Epidemiology at Maastricht University, “Very few research studies worldwide have analysed the relationship between a combination of lifestyle factors and mortality in this way. This study shows that a healthy lifestyle can lead to significant health benefits. Not only did the risk of death strongly depend on the healthy lifestyle score, but the greatest reduction in premature deaths as a result of healthy lifestyles was seen in individuals with low or medium levels of education. Furthermore, the effects of a Mediterranean diet were more evident in women than in men. Within this diet, nuts, vegetables and alcohol intake had the biggest impact on lower mortality rates.”

The Netherlands Cohort Study was launched in 1986 by researchers at the Department of Epidemiology at Maastricht University and TNO Quality of Life. This ongoing study has provided a wealth of information and many new insights over the years on the influence of diet and other lifestyle factors on cancer and mortality rates.

Note for the press:
For more information on the contents of this press release, you can contact Dr Piet van den Brandt until 4 August on 043 388 2361 or by email at
You can contact the UM Marketing and Communications department at 043 388 5222, or by email at
pers@maastrichtuniversity.nl. For urgent matters outside office hours, call 06 4602 4992.

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