At the Statistician to the Stars blog, William Briggs makes the startling observation that everybody dies. And – here’s the tricky part – everybody dies *of* something. Yet some ‘somethings’ – heart disease, for example – are being fought successfully (that reminds me – gotta pick up my blood pressure meds). Soooo – if people don’t die of heart disease, they die from something else. Therefore, by the magic of math and logic, incidents of death from *something else* are going to rise.
Panic ensues. A new killer is on the loose! Clearly, some cause must be found (other than the aforementioned math and logic) to blame this on. Because laws and bans and lawsuits and doctors needing something to bug us about.
This reminds me of a study I heard about years ago, showing that Americans, with their high fat and otherwise sickening (yet delicious) diets died of diseases virtually unknown among the Chinese, with their low fat and otherwise healthy (if boring) diets. The kicker was that the Chinese in the study petered out at age 49, while the Americans kept going for a couple more decades. This is, how you say, an artifact – the Chinese, who at the time were mostly farmers, largely died *of something else* around the age of 49. Turns out working a rice paddy on your hands and knees from dawn to dusk 360 days a year is not conducive to a long life, regardless of the relative lack of red meat in your diet. Conversely, if you get to work 2,000 hours a year at a desk, you might live to 90 even if you have a Big Mac, fries and a shake for lunch.
Just so, people die of dementia and Alzheimer’s in the West, not so much elsewhere. Why? Because you have to live long enough to get them, and if that’s longer than people in your country typically live, they won’t get them – you’ll likely die of something else first.
The great advances of the last couple centuries, measured in longer life expectancy, can be summed up thus: Sanitation. Clean Water. Enough Calories. Throw in Fewer Wars, and you’ve accounted for the vast bulk of the increase in life expectancy without even talking about medicine. Take all the Third World countries, give them sewers, potable water and enough to eat – and peace – and you’ll get a increase in life expectancy. Add in basic inoculations and antibiotics, and you’re at first world levels of live expectancy.
People will live long enough to start dying of heart disease.