Lifespan increases observed in the United States and elsewhere throughout the developed world, have been attributed in part to improvements in medical care access and technology and to healthier lifestyles. To differentiate the relative contributions of these two factors, we have compared lifespan in the Old Order Amish (OOA), a population with historically low use of medical care, with that of Caucasian participants from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS), focusing on individuals who have reached at least age 30 years. Analyses were based on 2,108 OOA individuals from the Lancaster County, PA community born between 1890 and 1921 and 5,079 FHS participants born approximately the same time. Vital status was ascertained on 96.9% of the OOA cohort through 2011 and through systematic follow-up of the FHS cohort. The lifespan part of the study included an enlargement of the Anabaptist Genealogy Database to 539,822 individuals, which will be of use in other studies of the Amish. Mortality comparisons revealed that OOA men experienced better longevity (p<0.001) and OOA women comparable longevity than their FHS counterparts. We further documented all OOA hospital discharges in Lancaster County, PA during 2002-2004 and compared OOA discharge rates to Caucasian national rates obtained from the National Hospital Discharge Survey for the same time period. Both OOA men and women experienced markedly lower rates of hospital discharges than their non-Amish counterparts, despite the increased lifespan. We speculate that lifestyle factors may predispose the OOA to greater longevity and perhaps to lesser hospital use. Identifying these factors, which might include behaviors such as lesser tobacco use, greater physical activity, and/or enhanced community assimilation, and assessing their transferability to non-Amish communities may produce significant gains to the public health.
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