That the over-all life span of man has increased in the last fifty years is undeniable. We have seen, however, that the increase has resulted primarily from a saving in childrens and infants lives, not from a prolongation of the lives of the older population.
How has this saving in childrens and infants lives come about? An examination of the facts will disclose that the majority of deaths among our children and infants up to and during the early part of the century resulted from such serious diseases as tuberculosis, typhoid fever, dysentery, and pneumonia.
With the turn of the century, however, a significant reduction in the number of these diseases began to take place. The reason for this reduction has aroused some discussion.
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Some have tried to credit it to our newly discovered drugs, but it should not take much to see how fallacious this is since a significant reduction in these diseases began to manifest itself with the turn of the century, long before the introduction of these drugs. Most health authorities realise that extensive improvements in sanitation and hygiene, improved feeding practices, and general advances in our standard of living were primarily responsible for this change. Better housing conditions, and a growing appreciation of the benefits of the outdoors as well as a sounder nutritional approach have contributed materially to improved child health and have brought about a reduction in these serious diseases among our children.
This was recognised by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company when, in their bulletin, A Century of Progress in Longevity, they stated that the increase in the expectation of life at birth resulted because we now enjoy a vastly higher standard of living”more abundant and better food, shelter, clothing, education and recreational facilities. 13
That progress in hygiene and sanitation, an improved nutritional regimen, and advances in our standard of living have contributed materially to the improvement in the health of our children is unquestionable. Who doesnt remember the slum conditions which existed only thirty to forty years ago? It is not difficult to recall the relatively recent time when many parents kept the windows of their homes tightly shut for fear that their children might catch cold.
Then again, it was comparatively recently when the main foods in a childs diet, in addition to milk, were refined cereals and white flour and white sugar products. Whole wheat bread and whole grain cereals were practically unknown in the average household, while fruits and vegetables were rarely if ever used.
Today most of this is considerably changed. While slum areas still exist in some of our large cities, the over-all improvements in housing conditions and our higher standard of living, plus the general improvement in hygiene and sanitation, have eradicated most of the so-called infectious diseases of children, and have contributed materially to the saving of infants and childrens lives.
People of all classes and walks of life are now aware that fresh air and sunshine are beneficial to health, and most parents realise the value of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Furthermore, we know that in many homes the use of white sugar and white flour products has been substantially reduced or even completely eliminated, and that sweet fruits, raw sugar, honey, whole wheat bread, and whole grain cereals have been substituted in their stead.