It’s a myth that people are living longer

It is a myth that we are all living much longer. It is a thesis which is very convenient (doctors and drug companies take full advantage of it) but it is, nevertheless, a myth.

Of course, it is perfectly true that there are more old people around today than there were a century ago.

But this isn’t because clever doctors and pill manufacturers have found ways to help us live longer.

There are two very simple reasons why we seem to be living longer.

First, the population is bigger. When the population is greater, the chances are that there will be more old people. There are more old people living in London than there are old people living in Ross-on-Wye because there are more people living in London than there are people living in Ross-on-Wye.

Second, infant mortality is much lower today than it was a few decades ago. In England in 1900, one in four children didn’t reach their 11th birthday. Many died as babies. Others died in childhood. Today less than one in 100 children fails to reach their 11th birthday. And, as a result, life expectation seems to have improved dramatically. This isn’t difficult to explain. Imagine you have a family consisting of four people. One dies at the age of three. One dies at the age of 97. One dies at 30. And the fourth dies at 70. The four individuals have lived to 200 between them. Their average lifespan is 50 years. Now assume that the child who died at the age of three lives to 103. That will push up the average lifespan to 75 years.

A century or so ago, many newborn babies never saw their first birthday.

They were killed, largely, by infectious diseases.

Cholera, smallpox and typhoid killed millions.

The big change that has taken place has involved not doctors but better sewage facilities, cleaner water supplies, more spacious homes, more food and better built towns and cities.

All these things have helped slash infant mortality rates.

And so people seem to be living longer.

The drug industry and the medical profession are guilty of creating a new version of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. (Because B happened after A then B was caused by A.)

Doctors and drug company executives argue that adults live healthier lives (a lie) and live longer (another lie) because of developments made by the drug industry.

It would be just as reasonable if the shoe industry claimed that people live healthier lives, and live longer, because of developments made in the shoe industry.

Any improvements in health which have taken place in the last hundred years are a result of:

An increase in our understanding of, and ability to counteract, the way that infections such as cholera are spread (a 19th century development).

The provision of clean water supplies and better sewage facilities. (A 19th century development)

A reduction in infant mortality (a result of 19th century developments)

The introduction of antibiotics (an early 20th century development)

Safer surgery through antiseptics and anaesthesia (a 19th century development) Today, however, longevity is falling, not because we have reached the limits of human life (we haven’t) but because an increasing number of older citizens are being killed by doctors and nurses. Thousands more are dying of infections which are resistant to antibiotics.

Moreover, the incidence of disability among the elderly has been increasing steadily and tomorrow’s pensioners will be nowhere near as fit as their ancestors were.

Our fat and toxin rich diet has led to a steady increase in the incidence of cancer, obesity, heart disease, arthritis and many other causes of long-term disability.

Mental illness such as chronic anxiety and depression are now endemic.

And the powerful drugs which are prescribed by doctors with such careless enthusiasm have also produced a good deal of illness.

Taken from The Kick-Ass A-Z For Over 60s by Vernon Coleman.