Reasons for Health Optimism

Are We Getting Any Healthier?

In the health and nutrition space, it’s glib to be a pessimist. Advances in medical technology make it easier to identify new diseases, growing world populations create an economic need for GMO enhanced food, and it’s a badly kept secret the world’s waistline is bulging at an alarming rate. To read the forecasts and temperaments of public health officials creates a grim outlook about modernity and the future of humanity.

Maybe we should lighten up a bit?

I read an article about a CDC report that stated heart disease rates have been going down the last 4 years.

It got me to thinking about another paper I read that measured the aggregate effect of public and private health improvements over the last 40 years. It compared their total impact to improvements typically seen in dietary changes. Overall, the best dietary interventions can extend your life 5-6 years, but modern medicine has extended life expectancy by more than 25 years in the last century.

The authors were referring to the affect of caloric restriction specifically, but the general point is still the same.

Here’s the trend in life spans in the United States since 1950:


Keep in mind that life expectancy would incorporate all the other nasty health effects brought up in the news. So in spite of all that, we’re still getting better, at least on some dimensions.

3 thoughts on “Reasons for Health Optimism”

  1. It’s crazy how the life expectancy as progressed since the 50’s! I feel that graph seems a bit exaggerated though, do you really think that it will be common to live to almost 90 years old by 2050?


  2. I agree. Modern medicine and procedures have helped aid the increase in life expectancy among Americans. We are definitely progressing. That’s for sure.


  3. @Jared – agreed.@Raph – Progress will probably become more difficult because we’re pushing up closer and closer to the maximum human life span, making incremental progress more difficult. A lot of the gains we made in the past were in eliminating things that caused pre-mature death like the flu and polio.


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