A seasonal look at James Bond’s health lifestyle
January is Health Month in The Irish Times. Throughout the month, in print and online, we will be offering encouragement and inspiration to help us all improve our physical and mental health in 2022. See irishtimes.com/health
January is Health Month in The Irish Times. Throughout the month, in print and online, we will be offering encouragement and inspiration to help us all improve our physical and mental health in 2022. See

One of the high points of Christmas TV is the faithful roll-out of perennial favourites. And it’s not just the obvious festive-themed films that reappear; almost every genre features in a “best of” selection during the two-week period.

With some 25 movies produced in one of cinema’s most enduring series, several James Bond films make a festive appearance every year. Licence to Kill made a pre-Christmas outing last week, with several more to follow between now and New Year.

A number of 007 movies have touched on medical themes. However just one, On Her Majesty’s Service, is set during Christmas time. Released in 1969, the film follows Agent 007 (George Lazenby) as he travels undercover as a genealogist to a clinical allergy institute in the Swiss Alps. The institute is a front for Spectre, the crime syndicate operated by Bond’s arch-nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Bond confronts Blofeld in front of a tinsel-adorned Christmas tree as he attempts to uncover what dastardly research his enemy is really conducting.

A number of papers in medical journals have examined aspects of 007’s lifestyle over the years. The latest, published in the current issue of Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, is titled “No Time to Die: An in-depth analysis of James Bond’s exposure to infectious agents”.

Written by microbiologists from Nijmegen, in the Netherlands and London, the paper examines adherence to international travel advice during the 86 international journeys that James Bond was observed to undertake in feature films spanning 1962-2021. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers (with tongues firmly in cheek) write: “James Bond is an exemplar of reckless disregard for occupational health but serves as a useful tool for drawing attention to the important issue of infectious disease risk while working and traveling.”

Sexual encounters

The scientists point out that one of Bond’s more obvious risk factors for infectious disease exposure during work travel is his rate of sexual encounters. They found evidence for a total of 59 liaisons (an average of 2.4 per film); in almost all cases the relationship was brief with little time for a healthy exchange of sexual history. “Bond clearly belongs to the 20-34 per cent of international travelers who engage in casual sex and of whom approximately half do not use a condom”, they note. But it is not Bond’s health that suffers from his laissez faire attitude to safe sex; that casual sex is not without risk may be supported by the high mortality rate (27 per cent) among Bond’s sexual partners – although sexually transmitted infections played no obvious role in any of their deaths.

If he were real, Bond outnumbers British men at least fivefold when it comes to the number of sexual partners over a lifetime. Nevertheless, over time, casual sex is becoming less frequent for 007, most recently evidenced in this year’s release, No Time to Die.

Crowded spaces

As Covid-19 restrictions mar another festive season, viewers who watch Skyfall on December 28th (ITV 2) and Spectre on December 31st (UTV) will note the general disregard Bond demonstrates towards social distancing as he frequents crowded spaces and public transport. In Spectre, the Dias de los Muertos mask with unknown particle filtering capacity that Bond wore on the crowded streets of Mexico City offers questionable personal protection from influenza and coronaviruses. However, those who viewed a Licence to Kill last week will have noted approvingly his wearing of an industrial safety mask – it offered some level of protection from pathogen transmission as a group visited a cocaine laboratory.

With Daniel Craig having just bowed out of the role there is some speculation that the next 007 will be female. All the more reason to agree with the authors when they conclude:

“Given the limited time Bond receives to prepare for missions, we urgently ask his employer MI6 to take its [travel health] responsibility seriously. We only live once.”

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