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GUEST AUTHOR

Life Expectancy and By Raymond L. Goldsteen, DrPH Director, North Dakota Master of Public Health Program at UND

In October, the New York Times and other expected age, but the average (or expected) news media reported a deeply disturbing age indicates the common situation story: life expectancy among white men affecting that population’s health. and women in the United States with less The story in the Times reminds us that than a high school education has declined life expectancy, that is, expected longevity steadily and precipitously since 1990. For for a group of people, results from white women with less than a high school conditions that affect the entire group, and education, life expectancy dropped from if these conditions change for the worse, over 78 years in 1990, to about 75 years in life expectancy will change for the worse as 2000, and just over 73 years by 2008. well. In the 1950s when we believed that Why is this story so disturbing? Life antibiotics had eliminated microbial expectancy has been increasing in the disease threats, René Dubos, the Pulitzer United States for all Prize–winning groups for over 100 years. microbiologist, warned that Each generation has come new microbial diseases Because life expectancy would always arise. In the to expect that it will live longer than the previous. had been continually 1980s, Dubos was proved During the 50-year period correct by the AIDS increasing in the between 1900 and 1950, epidemic and others like the Centers for Disease United States among H1N1 that followed. Today, Control and Prevention the finding that life all groups for documents a striking expectancy has declined for improvement in life whites with low education over 100 years, expectancy in the United sounds a similar warning. we have tended to forget States. A person born in The improvement in life 1900 could be expected to span during the first half of that improvement live, on average, 47.3 the twentieth century was is not inevitable. years. By 1950, life due in large part to control of expectancy was 68.2 years, infectious diseases. By mida 44% increase over 1900. century, people were dying This improvement in life later in life and from span had not been exceeded in the United different causes than their parents and States in any previous period. In the latter grandparents. In 1900, infectious half of the twentieth century, longevity diseases—pneumonia and influenza, continued to increase for all groups. The tuberculosis, and intestinal infections— decline found among people with low were the three leading causes of death in education starting in 1990 reversed this the United States. These “Big Three” historical trend. accounted for over 31 percent of all deaths. Because life expectancy had been Other infectious diseases, including continually increasing in the United States typhoid, diphtheria, and cholera, were among all groups for over 100 years, we major causes of death, as well. By 1950, the have tended to forget that improvement is “Big Three” had become heart disease, not inevitable. Life expectancy is a measure cancer, and stroke, accounting for 62 percent of the health of a population, not an of all deaths. Other major causes of death individual’s health. For individuals, life were chronic, noninfectious conditions, expectancy is a probability, not a certainty. including diabetes and renal diseases. An individual within a population may live The provision of clean water for longer than expected or die before the drinking, cooking, and hygiene through

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NORTH DAKOTA MEDICINE Holiday 2012

North Dakota Medicine Holiday 2012  

North Dakota Medicine Holiday 2012

North Dakota Medicine Holiday 2012  

North Dakota Medicine Holiday 2012

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