Life Expectancy Myth

30 08 2011

Sean Croxton of

In order to examine these two major aspects of life extension, we have to define some commonly used but often misunderstood terms.

Life Expectancy

Life expectancy is a term used to describe the anticipated average age at the time of death. When the media report that life expectancy has risen, they are stating that someone born today will live, on the average, longer than someone born years ago. It is worth mentioning that it does not mean that someone born 10, 20, or 50 years ago will live longer, and it does not mean that more and more individuals are living to advanced ages.

What makes life expectancy go up?

The popular media often imply that increases in life expectancy are due to the wonders of modern medicine. This is false. Increases in life expectancy are due almost entirely to a decrease in the infant mortality rate.

Infant Mortality Rates

Infant mortality rates are statistics based on the number of infants born alive who do not survive. High infant mortality rates mean that many children are dying at an extremely young age. As more and more infants survive birth and early childhood, the infant mortality rates go down. And as these children grow into adulthood, their “additional” years of life make the average age at death go up.

Infant mortality in the U.S. has decreased from more than 100 per 1,000 in 1920 to 10.9 today. During this same time, life expectancy has been said to have increased from 54 to 74 years.

At first glance it looks like people are living 20 years longer now than in the past. But this figure is misleading because it is just an average. It could mistakenly lead you to think that in 1920 most people lived to approximately 54 years of age and that now they live to approximately 74. This is not the case.

Consider these facts. In 1920 an adult 60 years old could expect to live an average of 16 more years, to about 76. Today an adult 60 years old can expect to live 20 more years, to about 80. That is only a four-year difference that appears in the life expectancy figures.

Adults are not living 20 years longer now than they did in 1920. In fact, adults today live little longer than they did in 1920, which is before the development of the powerful modern medications that are often credited with life extension. What has dramatically improved is our chance of surviving to 60.

Lies and Statistics

Mark Twain proclaimed that, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Surely he is not alone in the conclusion that statistics don’t lie, but liars use statistics. The statistics commonly used to describe “advances” in the area of life expectancy are misleading, at best.

The number of Americans who could expect to live to age 60 in 1830 was only one-third. By 1900 it was one-half. By 1940 it increased to two-thirds. And today, the number who survives to age 60 is over 80%.

People are still dying prematurely, compared to what is believed to be our genetically determined maximum life span. But what we are dying from has changed greatly.

Causes of Death

Acute disease processes, such as tuberculosis (TB), predominated in 1840. In 1900 the death rate from TB was 194 per 100,000. By 1925 it had dropped to half that number. By 1940 it had been cut in half again. By the time the drug streptomycin was introduced in the late 1940s, more than 90% of the TB cases had already been eliminated. Deaths from all acute diseases declined more than 98% in the first 80 years of this century.

Credit for the decline in TB and other acute disease processes cannot be claimed by proponents of modern medicine. The decline came about primarily because of improved housing, sanitation, nutrition, and other lifestyle measures introduced by the early hygienists, most of whom were disenchanted medical doctors-and other health reformers.

With the virtual elimination of acute conditions resulting in death, there has been a shift in the recorded causes of death. Today, chronic conditions are the predominant cause. Atherosclerosis, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, emphysema, and cirrhosis cause more than 80% of deaths and 90% of disability.

Obviously, any attempt at life extension must include a plan to delay, minimize, avoid, or eliminate these chronic degenerative disease processes. Since Natural Hygiene places emphasis on removing the causes of disease and on supplying the requirements of health, including the areas of diet, environment, activity and psychology (DEAP), it offers us the greatest plan and opportunity for a long and vital life and a chance to fulfill our full biological potential.

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