Why Aren’t You Dead Yet?

Dragonfly on a Water Lily Bud at MoBot

Dragonfly on a Water Lily Bud at MoBot

The average human lifespan has doubled in the last 150 years. 150 years ago in America the average lifespan was only 35 to 40 years. Now it is 75 to 80 years, about double. I and my contemporaries are only middle age, in our second life. Who says that you only live once? This change in longevity begs the question, what brought this change about? 150 years ago you were as likely to die in infancy as not. 150 years ago, if you were a male of age, you had to face the Civil War. Being a woman of child-bearing age was an even less auspicious prospect. Death in child-birth was epidemic. Consumption, the Argue and various fevers were all ill-defined descriptions of real diseases that ravaged man.

So what changed? Being a child of the fifties and beyond I remember taking my Jonas Salk sugar cube. Being a Navy brat stationed in exotic locals I remember getting lots and lots of vaccines. I would be inclined to bet on medicine as the primary proponent for longevity. It turns out that sanitation is the heavy lifter here. Clean water, clean air and good food have made more of a difference than all of the vaccines, drugs, procedures and what not combined. The late 19th century and the early 20th century marked the greatest rise in longevity. Clean water curtailed cholera and dysentery. Cleaner air or more correctly more separation curtailed tuberculosis, which was rampant. Clean food helped most to curtail infant fatalities, which mainly occurred during the summer months, when food spoilage before refrigeration was most prevalent.

Experts say that the first American to live to 150 years of age has already been born. I guess that you could call that a triple or even a quadruple life. All this is only true for America. The third world’s life expectancy is still most disappointing. The third world continues to act as a source for more disease, read AIDS, et al. As we Americans strife for ever longer life expectancies, maybe we should consider raising those lowest bars.

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