Today’s NYT had a story about an experiment in caloric restriction as an aid to longevity. There’s evidence that mice who eat like birds live longer, but replicating these results in primates is a different deal.

Now preliminary results are in on a long-term study of rhesus monkeys. They live an average of 27 years with a maximum of 40. On the front page of the Times there’s a picture of Canto, age 27, who lives on celery, and Owen, 29, who eats whatever the heck he wants. Owen looks like hell.

Both rhesus monkeys are going grey in the chest hairs, but Canto still has a sharp profile. Owen is hunched over. A face lift won’t help him, he needs a whole body lift. Maybe Canto is going to look a lot worse in a couple of years but probably not. He’s going to be a Clint Eastwood type of old guy. But will he outlive Owen?

The article is pretty fast and loose with percentages, but doesn’t say how many rhesus monkeys there actually are in the study, and says that the difference in mortality in the 2 groups is statistically insignificant. So what does that mean?

Also, I heard from one of my sources that Canto is an irritable, bad tempered, snappish kind of rhesus monkey. Owen is a mellow kind of guy. I don’t blame Canto–if you’ve ever been on a diet you will understand. Give Canto a bowl of ice cream and I’ll bet you’ll see a total personality change.

Clearly more research is needed. And more numeracy, and more science classes in our high schools. Too many reporters play fast and loose with percentages and probabilities without reporting the raw numbers or context.

My conclusion is that if you look at yourself in the mirror and wish you were a little smaller, some caloric restriction would be a good idea. If you are already skinny and hope to live to be 100 there is no good evidence that your sacrifice will be rewarded. And you might get hit by a bus. Then you’ll wish you ate that cheesecake.

But a physical therapist said a great thing–if it’s physical, it’s therapy. Whatever you can safely and reasonably do, do it when you can. Food is a blessing. Say grace.

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