While most authorities are profoundly concerned with the increase in the incidence of diseases of the heart and the arteries, some try to minimise the seriousness of the situation by telling us that since people live longer now than ever before, an increase in incidence and mortality from these diseases is to be expected.
Dr. Walter Modell is one of those who has stressed this view:
We have more heart disease today because our health is improving. It is paradoxical that we should seek to find comfort in the statement that more people than ever are dying of heart disease, but it is nevertheless a comforting fact to the physician. He knows that because of the dramatic reduction in deaths caused by infectious diseases, people are in general living much longer. Hardening of the arteries or arterio-sclerosis, the most frequent cause of heart disease, comes to more people today because it eventually comes to all who live long enough.2
At first glance this reasoning may seem plausible. Further examination, however, discloses how fallacious it is. Two major flaws exist in this type of thinking. One is the assumption that people in general live much longer than before. This it not true even though most persons have come to believe it.
The other is the assumption that hardening of the arteries eventually comes to all who live long enough and is, therefore, inevitable.
An examination of the facts will reveal that neither of these assumptions is true. The life span of our adult population, in spite of all propaganda to the contrary, has really not been considerably prolonged, while hardening of the arteries is not inevitable in the older population.
There is no question that the over-all life span of our population has been considerably extended in the last half century, but this does not mean that our adult population is living much longer than fifty years ago. We are not ungrateful even for little favors, but we really have not much to be grateful for insofar as this claim is concerned. An examination of the facts will reveal that the increase we boast of resulted primarily from a saving of infants and childrens lives, and not at all or only to a very limited degree from the prolongation of the life span of our adult population.
The weekly U.S. News & World Report3 proved this clearly. Quoting the U.S. Public Health Service, this weekly disclosed that while the over-all life span in the last half century of an average boy at birth has increased by eighteen years, the life span of a man aged forty has increased by not more than three years.
The claim that our life span has been extensively prolonged has been repeated often, but many of our authorities have pointed out how baseless is this assumption.
Dr. I. Dublin,4 former Chief Statistician of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, referred to this as early as 1928 when, in an address before the New York Academy of Medicine, he pointed out that while more people are living to an old age, this has simply been due to the fact that we are saving more lives at younger ages. A man has practically no more expectation of living beyond 70 now than he had in 1840, he said.
Somewhat later we find Alexis Carrel dealing with the same subject. In his book, Man the Unknown, he stated: In spite of the progress achieved in heating, ventilation, and lighting of homes, of dietary hygiene, bathrooms and sports, or periodical medical examinations and increasing number of specialists, not even one day has been added to the span of life.
The Brookings Institute5 also confirmed this point. The Institute disclosed that while the average death rate in the United States in the past 50 years has been reduced from 17-2 per thousand persons in 1900 to 9-4 per thousand persons in 1959, the greatest reduction has taken place in our infant and child population.
Elaborating further on their findings, the Brookings people pointed out that the death rate of infants under one year of age in 1900 was 162-4 Per thousand live births, and that this has been reduced to 31-3 per thousand live births, or practically a fifth of what it was at the turn of the century. Continuing further, they say that this resulted primarily from a reduction in the mortality of infants and children, and only to an extremely limited degree was it due to an improvement in the life expectancy of the adult population.