Want the Good News or the Bad News?
At this point in the 21st Century, as far as physical wellbeing is concerned, there is both good news and bad news.
The good news is that we are living longer than ever before, even in developing countries. Unless one takes seriously the claims of lifespans of hundreds of years attributed to some characters in the Old Testament, at this point of the 21st Century, humans lifespans have never been longer.
The near eradication of many diseases that scourged humanity in the past, a vast improvement in nutrition in most countries, and advances in genetic analysis and modern medicine has dramatically increased life expectancy worldwide. Baby Boomers in the West are living longer on average than any previous generation, now to a very much extended range of around 80- 85. Most of the time, a greater emphasis on retaining fitness is also meaning that we are more active for longer.
And recent news reports have suggested babies born today could be able to expect a lifespan of 120 years.
Even in 3rd-world countries, better nutrition and better hygiene and medical care are extending lives for many more inhabitants far longer than previously and ensuring more people reach more mature ages. It’s not perfect, but it’s improving.
That’s the picture of the ideal world that is largely true at the present time.
Some worrying physical health trends
However, there are also some trends which are disturbing this ideal picture.
With increased life expectancy worldwide, dramatic overpopulation and associated problems of water and food supply are looming as the flashpoints of the mid-21st Century. This situation can only get worse with projected changes in climate. Of course many governments or potential governments are simply not taking climate change seriously because the climate change skeptics give them sufficient ‘legitmate’ doubt about the need to do anything.
Unfortunately, lengthened lifespans have also brought with them a vastly increased incidence of age-related illnesses, especially those of the dementia family, which were reasonably rare when people were not usually reaching advanced ages.
Lifestyle issues are increasingly threatening public health (and budgets) in the West. The excesses of affluent life – obesity, drug use and an almost nihilistic hedonism are only one cause for concern.
Clearly, while a Western diet has lengthened lifespans, it also has its negative side, exacerbated by our much more sedentary lifestyle.
Today we also seem to be surrounded by things that will or could give us cancer. It appears that much of this trend has been caused by our eating habits, but that is not the only cause. Environmental factors and increasing toxicity of our physical environment, trends in food manufacture, preparation and packaging may all be playing a part, as may perhaps our increasingly saturated electro-magnetic environment. We may still face long-term adverse health effects through our use of chemicals and plastics, mobile phones, microwave ovens and other mod cons, which have not yet become apparent. And here are some companies trying to push GM-foods on us too.
As we have mastered the killer diseases of old, new scourges have arisen. In the face of threats to our health, the effectiveness of our modern medicine has started to be undermined by the creation of superbugs that are impervious to all our antibiotics. And these have arisen through our profligate and continuing over-use of these wonders of modern medicine, often for the most irresponsible reasons and purposes.
On top of this we seem to be facing levels of stress and uncertainty and ‘busyness’ that are unique to this generation. The perception of ‘time speeding up’, of never being able to catch up with everything you have to or want to do, is having an effect on both our physical and mental health. (And on our spiritual health, although that never usually enters into the equation for most commentators).
We are increasingly hearing warnings that following generations may end up having a shorter life expectancy than we do.