Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Life Is Getting Measurably Better for Many People Here and Abroad; There's A Lot to Be Thankful For

From today's Wall Street Journal, "20 Advances to Be Thankful For":

News about health often focuses on the negative: scary new flu viruses, incurable diseases, dashed hopes for miracle drugs. Maybe that's because we have such high expectations that doctors and scientists can fix anything. But amid all that bad news—not to mention the acrimony over health-care reform—it's easy to overlook how much progress has been made in recent years. Here are 20 health-care advances to give thanks for this Thanksgiving (see four of the 20 below):

1. Life expectancy in the U.S. reached an all-time high of 77.9 years in 2007, the latest year for which statistics are available, continuing a long upward trend (see chart above, data here). (That's 75.3 years for men and 80.4 years for women.)

2. Fewer Americans died in traffic fatalities in 2008 than in any year since 1961, and fewer were injured than in any year since 1988, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began collecting injury data. One possible reason: Seat-belt use hit a record high of 84% nationally.

3. The death rate from cancer, the second-biggest killer, dropped 16% from 1990 to 2006. That reflects declines in deaths due to lung, prostate, stomach and colorectal cancers in men, and breast, colorectal, uterine and stomach cancers in women.

4. Death rates dropped significantly for eight of the 15 leading causes of death in the U.S., including cancer, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, accidents, diabetes, homicides and pneumonia, from 2006 to 2007. (Of the top 15, only deaths from chronic lower respiratory disease increased significantly.) The overall age-adjusted death rate dropped to a new low of 760.3 deaths per 100,000 people—half of what it was 60 years ago.

MP: Not sure exactly what happened, but it looks life expectancy really took a dive during the Great Depression, dropping by almost five years from 63.3 years in 1933 to 58.5 years by 1936.


At 11/24/2009 5:02 PM, Anonymous Lyle said...

To answer the question posed it seems when ever there is an economic collapse, life expectancy crashes look at Russia.
In a more positive note it seems that many want to write the US and/or the world off. It seems that to often we take a short term view of what is happening not a long term one. Note that with the new electronic stability controls and braking systems we are seeing fewer auto crash injuries and fatalities. Recall the recent test runing a 2009 chevy into a 1959 chevy, how much different the two performed.
If one looks back 20-30 years even the improvements that have happened are remarkable, let alone 100 years.

At 11/24/2009 5:09 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Is there any data available on EU nations' progress in these areas?

At 11/24/2009 5:20 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

To answer the question posed it seems when ever there is an economic collapse, life expectancy crashes look at Russia.

I don't think you can draw that conclusion. Russian life expectancy was already low because the Russians lived in misery. Alcoholism and drug abuse rose to and remained at shockingly high levels and what passed for medical care barely met the standards of most third world countries (I was "lucky" enough to sample said medical "care" for 4 years).

At 11/24/2009 6:07 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Better living through chemistry? No, more aged and profitable customers for the drug companies.

At 11/24/2009 6:50 PM, Blogger ardyanovich said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11/24/2009 6:52 PM, Blogger ardyanovich said...

True, we are living longer, but I wonder how good/bad each marginal increase in life expectancy is. If each additional year of life only lengthens the misery of old age, maybe its not all that great that we're living longer. I tend to assume that it's a positive thing, but then again, I'm in my twenties, so I don't know what it's like to be in my late seventies or early eighties.

At 11/24/2009 7:29 PM, Blogger misterjosh said...

I'm probably just a pessimist, but I see this and get a vision of impending social security doom.

At 11/24/2009 8:31 PM, Anonymous Dr. T said...

"... life expectancy really took a dive during the Great Depression..."

The combination of stress and poor nutrition makes one much more susceptible to disease and much more likely to die from disease.

At 11/24/2009 11:20 PM, Anonymous Steve said...

Hard to believe the life expectancy was so low just 80 years ago. Quite amazing.

At 11/25/2009 12:23 AM, Anonymous Lyle said...

ardyanovitch raises the question hiding in the whole health care debate. Given that for an 80 year old the us on average spends 40k and Germany spends 12k per year on medical costs, there is a clear issue of value recieved. If you believe that life is to be extended no matter its value its not an issue, but otherwise it becomes one. No politician or media pundit dare touch the issue for fear of being accused of wanting to kill grandma. This is a new third rail of politics lead by religious types.

At 11/25/2009 2:27 AM, Blogger Nicolas Martin said...

I don't share the WSJ author's celebration of government imposed smoking bans. In my hierarchy of values, freedom outranks health. While freedom leads to some mortality, it is also indispensable for the innovation which saves many more lives.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." -- Declaration of Independence

Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own. -- James Madison

At 11/25/2009 9:53 AM, Anonymous Junkyard_hawg1985 said...


Great Chart! If my memory is still decent, I believe the average life expectancy around 1900 was 47. This trend is an even longer term trend than your chart shows.

Three of the leading 5 causes of death in 1900 are no longer major problems. Miracle drugs like aspirin are taken for granted now, but have greatly affected the life expectancy. I can buy a 200 count bottle of Kroger brand aspirin for $1.00. This is a classic free market example of health care. The government didn't invent it, doesn't manufacture it, doesn't distribute it and doesn't pay for it. Because the government stays out of the way, aspirin is CHEAP yet very effective!


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