Sad, but true. For a long time, throughout much of the 20th century in fact, the longevity of Americans increased dramatically -- from an average lifespan of 47 back in 1900 we experienced an increase here in the U.S. to a lifespan equaling a stunning 77 years of age in 2000. Republican rule in the United States since the year 2000 has resulted in a flattening of that dramatic growth, however -- and the reasons cited for this decline in the growth of U.S. longevity point to the Bush administration and the GOP party's policies and efforts.
Marshal Loeb at the WSJ's MarketWatch reports:
If the people in some countries tend to live several years longer than the global average (as they do in, say, Japan or Singapore or most European nations) that suggests that their populations are generally healthy. But if they are below the global average, that suggests they drink too much alcohol or have other unhealthy habits (as is the case in, say, Russia).
The U.S. performed spectacularly well in the longevity competition during the 20th Century. Longevity in America famously surged from an average 47 years in 1900 to 77 years in 2000. We can credit many factors, including the virtual elimination of malaria, small pox and many childhood diseases.
Not only are Americans living longer, they are also working for more years than their forebears and they are retiring later. This is partly because they have to continue working in order to support themselves in a slower economy and also, in many cases, because they wish to stay active and alert.
The beginning of the 21st century signaled a change in this pattern:
The problem with this triumphant prolongation of life is that the gains in U.S. longevity have slowed in the last five years or so and this has alarmed scientists and policy makers who study it.
Dr. Robert Butler, 81, the influential and prescient physician who is CEO of the International Longevity Center in New York, believes that at least four forces are at work here:
- The shockingly high infant mortality rate in the U.S. Mostly because so many babies are born in urban slums and country hollows, where prenatal and infant care is often primitive, America has the second steepest newborn mortality rate among developed nations. In 2005, the latest year for which statistics are available, about seven out of every 1,000 babies in the U.S. died before their first birthdays. Though there has been steady improvement for many years, the U.S. is 29th in the world, behind even Cuba.
- The multibillion dollar political power of the industries that contribute to the steep rate of obesity among U.S. children and adults, such as fast foods and sugared drinks. Butler urges that the U.S. government create public-private initiatives to promote healthier diets and physical fitness programs among the public at large.
- The estimated 46 million Americans (15.8 percent of the population) who do not have health insurance and thus lack the kind of medical care that would expand and enhance longevity.
- The slowdown in medical research in the U.S. Especially absent is the kind of what-makes-the-sky-blue basic research usually conducted by younger scientists and technicians, who tend to be the most innovative, daring, productive -- and successful when it comes to life-expanding discoveries.
This is confirmation of what many of us have been saying for years -- the policies and politics of the Republican party are working against us Americans in favor of the wealthy and the corporations.
The slowdown in medical research is a significant concern, and the hands of the Republicans are all over this...
The main support for basic medical research in the U.S. is not universities or drug manufacturers but the government, notably the National Institutes of Health. The NIH's budget has been flattened since 2003 -- hovering around $29 billion -- with the result that the rate of discoveries has slowed. Among them, presumably, are the kinds of discoveries that would add to longevity.
We can -- and are -- turning the corner on this problem, and the recent election of a Democratic president will put the nation back on track for this critical quality-of-life issue, and improve the lives of Americans for generations to come.
The encouraging news is that all these challenges can be addressed -- provided the nation has the will to do so. Indeed, the new administration of President-elect Barack Obama and Congress in Washington are already committed to make health-care reform one of their immediate and massive issues.
If they add to that the commitment to battle infant mortality, obesity and the flattening of medical research, they will create a new and needed strategy for making American longevity even more vital.
It may be too late to dramatically effect the likes of Joe the Unlicensed Plumber, whose concern for his own far flung fantasies about owning his own business are a higher priority than the government funding of medical research and reducing the mortality rate of newborns in urban areas, but for the rest of us -- those who care about this nation and its people -- electing Obama as President signals a welcomed sea change, and the beginning of a new era where Americans come first and the corporations and the filthy rich are no longer the nation's priority. Every American will benefit.
Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!