Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
8 Apr

Real Age Quiz

questionmarkcandleSo, you’re 56 – or 36. Maybe 27 or 42. Perhaps 68. (You get the idea.) Your driver’s license says it all (whether you want it to or not). But the buzz lately says there’s age and then there’s “Real Age.” Yes, your kitchen cabinets, weight set, medicine cabinet, diploma, car, even your speed dial apparently tell the real story your driver’s license (or dear mother) can’t.

The real story here is your “real” biological age as supposedly determined by your responses to approximately 150 questions. They run the gamut – from exercise routine to driving habits to nutrition to stress factors. At the end of the quiz, you receive a number as well as a rundown of practices that added to or reduced your biological age. According to the site, the quiz was based on “125 different factors that can influence the rate of aging” as determined by review of 25,000 medical studies. Some 27 million people have taken the quiz.

Hmmm. 27 million people. That’s a lot of buzz. (Oprah’s doing, in part.) We don’t have anything against tests that can offer relatively harmless entertainment and/or some useful advice. Let’s check it out, we thought. Initial thoughts? Not surprisingly, a mixed bag. We liked the emphasis on strength training, muscle mass maintenance and everyday rigorous activity (Grok’s specialty). The health history section is more detailed than most. Additionally, for each reported health issue, the quiz asked if you were treating the condition with not just prescription medication but diet and exercise as well as herbs and supplements. (Not that it’s an exhaustive list, but still….) We liked the social wellness questions. Some attention was given to stress, particularly financial stress (timely, we thought).

On the other hand, there’s the cholesterol hobby horse – even ye olde “total cholesterol” number. No mention of triglycerides. Nothing about blood sugar or inflammation markers. (Sure, these aren’t standard tests like cholesterol, but we’ve taken issue with that point in the past.) Although it asks questions to determine your BMI, it doesn’t ask for body fat (again, many respondents might not know their numbers) or even frame size. And while we liked the supplement section and emphasis on amount of each vitamin/mineral, we wondered why the list was a measly 5 nutrients long. No questions about fish oil or any other supplement (e.g. aspirin, etc.) for that matter. Hmmm…

Oh, the nutrition section. (Did you think we possibly wouldn’t have anything to say about this one?) There’s the obligatory emphasis on whole grains. Are you getting your 6-11 servings a day? Uh, no. That earned us a big red “X” in our health plan. Do you eat red meat more than once a week? Another big “X.” (Yet another demonization of a perfectly good food.) Little to no attention was given to sugar intake, processed foods, or food quality (pesticides/hormones/antibiotics/grain versus grass-fed/etc.). There was no mention of chemical load from our personal environments (lawn treatments, urban residence, occupational chemical exposure, etc.). Likewise, no questions about relaxation techniques – practices that would counteract the physiological impacts of psychological stress.

But our biggest surprise and serious beef about the quiz wasn’t to be found anywhere in the test itself. It was in learning that RealAge.com sells its members’ answers (health profiles, essentially) to pharmaceutical giants and then relays drug pitches to members as selected by the pharmaceutical companies. In fact, drug companies are able to target members based on reported symptoms alone – before conditions have been diagnosed by medical professionals. RealAge, the marketing “middleman” accepts the pharmaceutical giants’ promotion lists and sends members informative, pharmaceutical sponsored email “newsletters” tailored to their medical concerns. Members are generally left in the dark about this relationship, agreeing to only a simple (and vague) statement, “We will share your personal data with third parties to fulfill the services that you have asked us to provide to you.” Needless to say, we object to the conflict of interest in this picture: pharmaceutical industry involvement in (and profit from) a site that presents itself as pure, impartial science and health education. (By the way, you can take the test without becoming a member and subjecting yourself to this marketing ploy.)

As juicy as they are, let’s put aside pharmaceutical interests and divergent thinking on healthy practices for a moment to look at the final result – or how it’s presented at least (the magic number!). Surely, the test stretches the realm of scientific validity. (In fact, that puts it very generously.) This kind of basic, fractional survey might be able to pinpoint areas of concern/positive effort (in the context of conventional thinking), but it just can’t provide an accurate picture of true health let alone a specific age to represent that relative state of healthfulness.

In the end, maybe it’s also the concept of “dialing back” age that doesn’t sit well from a rational or more personal perspective. An ideally healthy person of 42 years can consider himself 38, 33, or 48? Who decided how healthy a 42-year-old is supposed to be? Or a 33-year-old for that matter? Why does a healthy 56-year-old need to consider himself anything other than 56. Does health really need to have an age assigned to it? This relative framework seems, on some level, to miss the point.

In our culture, we’re supposed to want to feel and look younger. Shedding the years (however symbolically) might make us feel better (or worse) in the moment, but it’s ultimately a gimmick. While it might startle a few people into action, it seems like a distraction from the impact of our habits on health. (At best, it’s a serious simplification.)

Final assessment? We admit, quizzes like this can be fun, and they can offer people a very general idea of the road they’re on (good or bad). But that’s as charitable as we’re able to be. Our advice: take the quiz if you’re so inclined (wisely declining the membership option), but take it with a healthy grain of salt.

Have you taken the Real Age quiz? What are your thoughts on this test or informal assessments like this? Weigh in on the discussion.

Further Reading:

The Truth on Truvia

Have You Decided to Be Healthy?

The 10 Rules of Aging Well

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I tend to avoid internet tests like the RealAge quiz… BMI equations (soley height vs. weight)… IQ tests… who’s your soul-mate… you get the idea. They tend to all be generic tests with generic answers and hidden clauses/motivations/marketing ploys that often times just work people up needlessly.

    Jane wrote on April 8th, 2009
    • I agree. Especially the Real Age quizzes, I’ve tried them before but it always seems to me that they ask the wrong questions. They assume that in order to be a Kid at heart you have to completely avoid any foods but desserts and cry when you don’t get your way. However I don’t know many people AT ALL who do that. And if you just so happen to be busy and understand politics and such, automatically you must be at least 30. They’re generic and stereotypical. I think the only person who knows about how you act and your personality is yourself.

      Christina wrote on June 22nd, 2009
  2. I started taking the test sometime ago and got suspicious part way through. I felt like I was giving free research to somebody. I stopped the test and decided that I would be happy with being 55.

    SuperMike wrote on April 8th, 2009
  3. Six months ago, I definitely would have been suckered into taking the quiz had I passed by happily surfing the web. Afterward, I would have made a big “should do” list in my head, stressing me out and according to the quiz, aging me even more. But now, I’m a primal mama of 5 who thinks my 37 years look just fine on me.

    Shame, shame on big pharma for buying people’s info to sell, sell, sell. Not a big surprise though.

    Sabrina wrote on April 8th, 2009
  4. I’m 19 on Wii-Sports, all I care about.

    George wrote on April 8th, 2009
  5. So after you posted this I had to take the test, to help avoid writing a research paper, and I have to laugh at the results. Calender age 21.7, real age 22.5. They say I don’t get enough vitamin D or Calcium, even though I drink like 3 glasses of milk a day, and I have never broken a bone (I’m unbreakable!). Apparently even though I eat at least 3 to 4 servings of fruit each day and at least 5 servings of vegetables, because I don’t take a multi-vitamin every day there is no way I can be getting the recommended daily doses. It’s all such B.S. I’m probably the healthiest person in my city, with the exception of some very impressive athletes (My school’s basketball team made it into the NCAA tournament, Go Bucs!).

    Dangeruss wrote on April 8th, 2009
  6. I just took the quiz out of curiosity, too. I’m 28 and have been living the Primal lifestyle for a couple years now. The quiz told me I’m 18.5. Even though the test seems like a bunch of hogwash I must admit that seeing that 18.5 score felt kind of good. This must be the allure. I’m sure people fudge certain questions, too, so that they get to see that despite being their age they are defying mortality and are in fact younger by Real Age standards. I wonder if on the whole the Real Age quiz is skewed one way or another. That is, if most people that take it end up being younger than they actually are.

    Manatoa wrote on April 8th, 2009
  7. There was a time when the “Fuming Fuji” would have had some choice words to say about this…….

    Marc

    Marc Feel Good Eating wrote on April 8th, 2009
  8. Try this one, it’s different

    http://www.peterrussell.com/Odds/VirtualAge.php

    nonegiven wrote on April 8th, 2009
  9. Given the popularity of these kinds of quizzes, it seems clear to me that there should be some kind of Grok quiz that gives you a primal score!

    John wrote on April 8th, 2009
  10. The questions are too vague. I know its gonna dock off points for questions about how often I eat grains and breakfast

    Scott N wrote on April 8th, 2009
  11. I’m asian so people in the western culture automatically reduce my age by avg of 3 years when they are taking a guess.
    But that never happens when asian people are asked. =P

    but does that really matter? Mark you raise a really good question, who decide what should a healthy #$*& year old person look or be like anyways? what’s the bench mark?

    I always wanted to have a wiser and older mentality , is that unhealthy in accordance with their study?

    and to add on the questions u’ve raised about their check points… does health really measure age? I don’t think children are simply healthier than adults anyways…

    riceball wrote on April 8th, 2009
  12. I found the quiz mindless.

    First it told me to get a dog because I’d have to walk it, which would get me some exercise. That was despite my telling it I work out more than two hours a day. Later it told me to reduce my workout.

    And it told me to up my vitamin D. I happen to take 4000 units a day but it didn’t know that because it had never asked whether I supplemented vitamin D or not.

    Then they dinged me for not having a pneumonia shot every year. But that’s a one and done shot. You don’t get them every year like flu shots. You’d think they’d know that.

    Karen wrote on April 8th, 2009
  13. Oh P.S. this is what it said about grains so im not gonna take it too seriously.

    Eat more grains.

    Make whole grains a bigger part of your diet by eating 6 to 11 servings a day of whole-grain bread, cereals, rice, and pasta.

    Here’s why: Foods made largely from unprocessed grains contain more fiber and micronutrients that help protect against diseases like cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, colon cancer, and gum . . .

    disease. They also help you maintain a healthy weight. How? They’re absorbed more slowly than foods made from enriched or bleached flour, so they keep you fuller longer.

    3 Ways to Boost Your Whole-Grain Intake

    1. At breakfast: Eat whole-grain breakfast cereals, such as bran flakes, shredded wheat, or oatmeal.
    2. For lunch: Always make sandwiches with whole-grain breads, and cook soup and chili with barley or bulgur.
    3. With dinner: Opt for brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, or whole-wheat couscous instead of white rice or white noodles.

    See what having three servings of whole grains per day can do for you.

    Hints
    Don’t be fooled by labels. Be aware that words on a label don’t always present an accurate picture of what’s inside the food. Make sure the label reads “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat.”
    Add some seeds. Make whole-grain bread baked with sunflower seeds part of your healthy-eating plan and you may avoid diabetes. Find out how.
    Test your knowledge of how whole grains work. Take this quick pop quiz!

    Scott N wrote on April 8th, 2009
  14. Lol funny you posted this. I took the quiz the other day. Apparently I eat too much reed meat, dont get enough fiber from whole grains and a slew of other bs. Bonus was my good cholesterol and blood pressure… I wonder how they would feel if they knew the red meat and no grains was the reason for my good healthy blood and heart! lol

    Oh and that peeves me about the sale of info to big pharma!

    The SoG

    Son of Grok wrote on April 8th, 2009
  15. Even though quizzes like this tend to take awhile and usually don’t have alot of relevance, i took this one and found it kinda funny… my real age is 15.7, with a birthday in may 9th, turning 16 its actually almost bang on. i agree its almost impossible to be able to qualify a person to an age, it makes little sense. i guess the idea or looking at habits and peoples diets is an alright idea, i found the idea of every ones lifestyles having “pros” and “cons” pretty interesting…. P.S i guess i could floss my teeth more!

    Kash wrote on April 8th, 2009
  16. Well I took the test for fun and answered completely honestly – real age is 61, I came out at 50 ! So obviously it’s a very good test ( just kidding ). Although anecdotally that’s about where most people place me if they don’t know my age ( and they’re not being polite – this is Holland, and the Dutch don’t do politeness ).
    Needless to say I should eat breakfast ( I do IF ) and eat grains. What I did find fascinating is the assumptions behind the questions – it’s clear that the Real Age people assume that the average American is deeply unwell, takes a wide variety of medications, barely exercises at all and drives an average of 2000 miles per year !

    David Young wrote on April 9th, 2009
  17. “Why does a healthy 56-year-old need to consider himself anything other than 56″

    spot on!

    alex wrote on April 9th, 2009
  18. Took the test (a while ago while in my 40′s)) and my score came out 10 years older than I really am. Then I did it again leaving out the family history of breast cancer. I came out as being 10 years younger. No where in the recommendations for a healthier life did it say to divorce myself from my mother and my sister (both living well after surgery and no post op drugs I might add)!

    Do the test put out by the insurance industry. You’ll feel much better about yourself. It’s based on only statistics.

    janice wrote on April 9th, 2009
  19. I took the test. Don’t even remember my “real age”. However, I did notice the ads that came to my inbox. I guess I didn’t read the fine print that said this was a ploy to get my email address to big pharma.

    Marie wrote on April 9th, 2009
  20. “Make whole-grain bread baked with sunflower seeds part of your healthy-eating plan and you may avoid diabetes.”

    Shudder, that is complete medicine balls! Like SOG I’ve never been healthier since I started doing the opposite of what the dietician told me. My doctor loves the improved numbers, just not how I achieved them.

    Trinkwasser wrote on April 9th, 2009
  21. Wow, I just took that test and while the answer was essentially the same as my biological age, I was a bit miffed with some of their suggestions. Especially for dealing with depression. Really, if it was that easy to deal with depression, I would no longer be dealing with that or an eating disorder. And “only doing the bare minimum” for exercise? I’m sorry, I thought the fact that I nearly fell over being tired and sweaty meant that I was actually working hard.

    Katie wrote on April 9th, 2009
  22. I forgot to add that the only reason I met the dairy requirement was because they counted eggs as dairy (how old school is that?). Otherwise I would have failed that too.

    The SoG

    Son of Grok wrote on April 9th, 2009
  23. Is this article for real?? This quiz has been around for years!!

    geeperscreepers wrote on April 9th, 2009
  24. This from “dose of digital” blog and confirmed by Times: UPDATE: June 4, 2009. I’ve updated this post to correct a fact about RealAge. RealAge does not sell email addresses to any third party. However, as described originally by the New York Times, “RealAge sends the selected recipients a series of e-mail messages about a condition they might have, usually sponsored by a drug company that sells a medication for that condition.”

    mardona wrote on June 22nd, 2009
  25. There’s a much better quiz based more on paleo principles in the recently released book “The Immortality Edge”. Recent research as discussed in that book is providing scientific evidence that the diet and lifestyle advocated on websites such as this is much better than most mainstream medical advice.

    Mark Gaines wrote on March 14th, 2011

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