Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Queen's Mirror Was a Blabbermouth

Global life expectancy in the past century rose from 30 years to 67. Countries vary dramatically, as you might expect. Monaco currently tops the list with a life expectancy at birth of 89.73. Japan, number 5 overall, is foremost of the largish countries at 82.25. The position of the US on the list depends on what you count as a country. (Is Hong Kong to be counted separately from China? Or Jersey from the UK?) Using the UN’s definition, the US is number 34 at 78.37. Those are overall figures for both sexes. Women substantially outlive men almost everywhere.

Yet, in a sense, the human lifespan has not increased at all. An 80-year-old today is much the same as an 80-year-old was in 1911. Nor is an 80-year-old American much different from an 80-year-old Liberian, even though a Liberian has a life expectancy at birth of 41.84. (By the way, according to the Social Security Administration, if you’ve made it to 80 in the US, you’ll probably make it to 89.) Despite all our best science, humans do not age any slower than they ever did. All of the increase in life expectancy is thanks to reductions in premature deaths from infections, disease, and accidents – especially among infants. In 1900 the leading cause of death was not heart failure, as it far and away is today, but infection. So, nowadays we are more likely to stay on stage all the way through the Fifth Act, but we aren’t any more likely than actors of previous generations to stay past curtain calls.

Despite the neverending claims of snake oil salesmen (“New and Improved! Rebuilds telomeres!”), the Fountain of Youth remains as elusive in 2011 as when Ponce de Leon scoured Florida for it in 1513. The annoying advice, “Eat right and exercise regularly,” still has some validity, but even this regimen buys us far less time and even less youthfulness than most of us would like for all that work.

This news article did catch my eye a while back, however:

“LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigeria's anti-narcotics agency confiscated 6.5 tonnes of marijuana Tuesday from the home of a man who claimed to be 114 years old."

He also claimed it was just for personal use. Draw your own conclusions.

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