You know those online tests you can take to determine your “real age”, the age your health is supposed to reflect. These tests usually promise you that you can make yourself “younger” by adjusting your lifestyle, hereby populating the idea that health is something you choose. Now of course it is true that lifestyle has an impact on health, especially in western cultures, but there are a number of factors influencing someone’s health that are entirely or largely beyond that person’s control. These factors may be considered in “real age” tests, too, and, if these tests really aim at any form of accuracy, they should. However, since these tests also populate the idea that you have your health in your own hands, there is some risk of blaming and shaming of people with less-than-optimal health, even if there is nothing within their lifestyle that contributes to their conditions.
For example, the main Dutch “real age” test includes questions about your family history or present illnesses. For example, females are asked whether ovarian cancer runs in their family. Since family history is the biggest risk factor for ovarian cancer, and people cannot choose their genetic family, there is little a woman can do about acquiring this disease. Nonetheless, the presence of ovarian cancer in your family, raises your “real age” considerably. The same goes, by the way, if you suffer from depression, migraine, arthritis or even nearsightedness. I always say that I don’t wear glasses, so my visual impairment is negatively correlated with my “real age”.
The number of prescription and over-the-counter drugs you take, is also presumed to be a factor in your “real age”: the more drugs you take, the higher your “real age”, regardless of the fact that you usually take drugs in order to preserve as much health as possible. Of course, drugs have health risks, and sometimes these health risks may be worse than the health risks if one doesn’t take the drug. However, this should be an individual choice. The simple fact that you take prescription or over-the-counter drugs, should not be an indication of poor health, let alone that it should be even remotely suggested that you can lower your “real age” by quitting a drug you need to stay healthy.
Of course, body mass is also an indication of “real age”. It doesn’t occur to the creators of these tests that people come in all sizes, and that fat does not by definition equal poor health. Along these lines, fat is also always assumed to be the result of a poor lifestyle, and can therefore always be gotten rid of. It is probably no coincidence that “real age” tests are usually sponsored by diet companies.
Lastly, social factors are presumed to play a role in one’s “real age”. I am consistently advised to make more friends, reduce stress and get a dog (why not a cat, by the way?). Of course, if there were fewer stressors in my life, that would be great. It would also be nice if I could actually make more friends, although quite likely that could actually raise my stress level. Getting a dog is not an option because of my living circumstances. So apparently I choose to be unhealthy because of my poor social life.
Of course, as I said, all of these factors do contribute to one’s health. In that sense, it is logical that “real age” tests include these risk factors. However, in that case it should not be populated that a high “real age” is an indication of poor choices, and this is exactly what these tests suggest.
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