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    Sunday, July 30, 2006

    Healthy People 2006: Why are we so darned healthier than our ancestors? Because we eat better, live less physically challenging lives, and have good antibiotics. The result? We're not only healthier, we're fatter:

    Men living in the Civil War era had an average height of 5-foot-7 and weighed an average of 147 pounds. That translates into a body mass index of 23, well within the range deemed “normal.” Today, men average 5-foot-9½ and weigh an average of 191 pounds, giving them an average body mass index of 28.2, overweight and edging toward obesity.

    Those changes, along with the great improvements in general health and life expectancy in recent years, intrigued Dr. Costa. Common chronic diseases — respiratory problems, valvular heart disease, arteriosclerosis, and joint and back problems — have been declining by about 0.7 percent a year since the turn of the 20th century. And when they do occur, they emerge at older ages and are less severe.

    The reasons, she and others are finding, seem to have a lot to do with conditions early in life. Poor nutrition in early years is associated with short stature and lifelong ill health, and until recently, food was expensive in the United States and Europe.


    It wasn't until the middle of the last century that agricultural and medical advances made life so much sweeter and longer. Before that, people suffered, died, and were buried in greater numbers and at younger ages. On top of that they had to work much harder - physically - to make a living. Swinging a pick-axe all day or a scythe, takes its toll on a man. It's a testament to how spoiled we've become that we spend so much of our public health dollars complaining about our obesity - which is, basically, the physical manifestation of our good fortunes.

    Instapundit thinks we complain more about our health now because we have more energy to do so, it's more likely that the complaints are given more prominence by our public health officials and media because of demographics. The baby boomers are just now beginning to feel the effects of aging that their grandparents and great-grandparents felt at much earlier ages. They also happen to be the demographic who are now at the peak of their professional influence. They are the editors and publishers of our news media, our representative politicians, and the directors of public health agencies, and universities. Naturally, they look around them and see themselves and their peers suffering in large numbers from heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and widening backsides - i.e. the effects of aging. It's an epidemic of major proportions to them and their narrow sphere. Largely because of their influence of their perceptions and opinions, we've lost the historical perspective that puts our current health care woes into proper context.

    It's a pity, because we end up spending a lot of money to try to bring the health consequences of living to zero, a goal we are not likely to ever achieve.
     

    posted by Sydney on 7/30/2006 08:53:00 AM 4 comments

    4 Comments:

    You are forgetting improvements in hygene, antibiotics and vaccinations and better medical care in general.

    Lots of women used to die in childbirth; child mortality was pretty high and not just among poor; mortality from bacterial pneumonia was around 40%...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:59 PM  

    Ah, the Soccer Mom generation will micro-manage all natural sufferings of life into one small sock drawer. They'll never get old and grey.

    By Blogger beajerry, at 12:59 PM  

    Just because we aren't likely to ever eliminate all "health consequences of living," doesn't mean that it's not worth pursuing improvements in the quality of our lives. I can't think of a better investment than in our own long term health and that of our families.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:49 AM  

    The real irony is that medical technology has made it possible for us to live longer...conquering many of the illnesses of our forefathers. But in the process of living longer and in larger numbers, we are now more susceptible to other chronic conditions, i.e., diabetes, heart disease, many cancers, etc., all diseases that were not totally manifested in such large numbers because we simply died before it happened. So, yes, we are living longer...but are we living better? The two don't necessarily go hand-in-hand. The personal cost and societal cost of this reality is enormous.

    By Anonymous Kathy (a nurse), at 5:29 PM  

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