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SCIENCE REPORT – January 24, 2002: World’s Oldest Man - 2002-01-23

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

The Italian island of Sardinia recently lost its oldest citizen. Family members say Antonio Todde died in his sleep early this month. Mister Todde was one-hundred-twelve years old. He was less than three weeks away from his one-hundred-thirteenth birthday. Record-keeping experts say he was the world’s oldest man.

Mister Todde was born in a village on Sardinia in Eighteen-Eighty-Nine. He cared for farm animals in the mountains almost all his life. Mister Todde often said that drinking a glass of red wine every day helped him live to an old age.

His long life and that of other very old Sardinians is the subject of a scientific project called Akea. Luca Deiana of Sassari University is directing the study. He says the name Akea comes from a traditional greeting on Sardinia. It means “health and life for one-hundred years.”

Professor Deiana and his team started to collect information for the study in Nineteen-Ninety-Seven. They identified more than two-hundred-twenty Sardinians who were centenarians -- one-hundred years old or older.

His team required three documents to confirm a person’s age. They are a government birth record, a church record and a statement by a close family member.

The Akea study has produced two major findings. The first is Sardinia’s extremely high number of centenarians. The island has about one-hundred-thirty-five centenarians for every one-million people. In other western countries, the average is about seventy-five centenarians for every one-million people.

The second major finding was an unusual rate of female to male centenarians. Sardinia has two women centenarians for every male centenarian. In central Sardinia there are equal numbers of female and male centenarians.

Studies in other parts of the world have shown a much higher percentage of female centenarians. The Akea study collected information about the health and diet of about one-hundred-forty of the centenarians. About ninety percent of those in the study also agreed to provide blood for scientific testing. The study team hopes to identify genetic material in the blood that can be linked to successful aging.

Study leaders say there is no single reason why people on Sardinia live so long. They believe the answer is a combination of genetic and environmental conditions.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by George Grow.