Genetics, lifestyle, diet — all are factors in living a long life. But people who pass the 100 mark — well, that’s still something of a mystery.
Eddie Aydell and Josie Cangelosi are both 101 — and they’ve been eating fried seafood all their lives.
Emma Humbrecht likes to eat gravy and rice.
And, Humbrecht — who with Aydell and Cangelosi is a resident of Ollie Steele Burden Manor — is 100.
“People who live to 100 do it in spite of a lot,” said Dr. Jeffrey Keller, a Pennington Biomedical Research Center physician who studies aging and dementia. “I know people who lived to 100 who smoked, drank and ate what they wanted. It’s almost like they were born to live to 100 or older.”
Keller said doctors and scientists are not exactly sure why some people live to 100 and beyond, but studies are under way to try to figure that out.
“A big part of it is genes. But it’s much more than that. It’s complex. Aging is complex,” Keller said.
You might, after reading the day’s obituaries, believe more people in Louisiana are living to 100 and beyond.
But Keller and Dr. Patrick Gahan, a Baton Rouge geriatrician and medical director at Ollie Steele Burden Manor, say that’s not the case.
“No. We are not seeing that. There’s no explosion of people living into their 100s,” Gahan said.
LSU demographer and sociology professor Troy Blanchard said people who live to 100 and beyond in Louisiana are outliers, a statistical term for the exception to the rule.
“We always had people in the past who made it to 100 and we have that now. In Louisiana, it’s actually amazing if people make to it 100,” Blanchard said.
The state Department of Health and Hospitals does not track the number of centenarians in the state.
U.S. Census officials have not yet released data from the 2010 census on centenarians in Louisiana.
Blanchard said the average life expectancy in Louisiana is low — only 74.2 years, according to a 2006 Harvard University Initiative for Global Health and Harvard School of Public Health study.
That is the third-lowest life expectancy in the nation, with Mississippi below Louisiana at 73.6 and the District of Columbia the lowest in the country at 72 years.
Hawaii has the nation’s highest life expectancy, at 80 years, according to the study.
Life expectancy in Louisiana is so low primarily because of the prevalence of chronic disease, Keller said.
Louisiana, like many other states in the Deep South, is plagued with more instances of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer than other states.
“We live in an area rich in risk factors. When we get chronic disease earlier in life, the effects are much more severe later,” Keller said.
Gahan said poverty is another reason for the prevalence of chronic disease and earlier death in Louisiana and other southern states.
Other issues can affect life expectancy, Blanchard said.
For instance, statistical data on homicides in places such as New Orleans and Baton Rouge show that a black men between the ages of 15 and 24 have a higher risk of dying during that time than other groups.
Although life expectancy in Louisiana is low compared to other states, Gahan said, life expectancy in the U.S. has moved up throughout the years.
Gahan said life expectancy in 1900 was 45. In 1965, that number shot up to 69.
Gahan said the 2000 U.S. life expectancy for men was 78 and for women was 81 years.
Modern medicine and better access to health care play a large role in the general higher life expectancy, Gahan said.
Dr. Eric Ravussin, a clinical investigator in obesity and diabetes at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, has worked on an aging study that tracked 277 Louisiana residents ages 90 and older over a number of years.
Ravussin and other doctors involved in the study have not yet made conclusions from the gathered data on why people live past their 90s.
“If you want to live long, pick your parents,” Ravussin said, referring to the role of genetics in long life.
Lifestyle habits also play a large part in longevity, he said.
Ravussin said Louisiana ranks second in the nation in obesity.
“Modern society encourages things like sloth and gluttony,” Ravussin said.
Still, genes and something beyond lifestyle are indicators of long life, Keller said.
Eddie Aydell, who was married and had children, grew up on a farm in French Settlement. Later, he worked at a local industrial plant as an operator before retiring at age 65.
Aydell’s daughter, 75-year-old Mary Ann Hughmark, said her father was always active. He lived alone in later years and worked in his garden often, she said.
Aydell was 98 when he entered Ollie Steele Burden Manor, Hughmark said.
“He worked very hard his whole life. But he also ate whatever he wanted,” Hughmark said.
Aydell said his family had their own smokehouse, where he and other family members made sausage.
“We killed hogs and made sausage and ate it,” Aydell said.
Josie Cangelosi’s sister, 103-year-old Chetta Cangelosi, lives with her 101-year-old sibling at the Ollie Steele elder care facility.
The sisters try to eat lunch together every day, Josie Cangelosi said.
Josie Cangelosi, who grew up in Baton Rouge, was an accountant for the state and lived in downtown Baton Rouge, her niece, Kathleen Couvillon said.
“Aunt Josie walked to work every day, walked to lunch and back to work and walked home after work,” Couvillon said.
Neither of the Cangelosi sisters ever married or had children, Couvillon said.
Emma Humbrecht, a former secretary from New Orleans, was never married or had children.
Even though she reached the century milestone, Humbrecht retains her sense of fun, always eating her dessert before her meal, said Ollie Steele certified nursing assistant Gladys Chrisentery.
“She loves her cake,” Chrisentery said.