NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 2, 2006

There is a debate among scientists about whether the evolutionary trend of increased human life expectancy will continue in the future or whether some countertrend, such as obesity or overuse of medications, will turn the statistics around. 

  • David Williamson, a senior biomedical research scientist at Centers for Disease Control, says it is very legitimate to be concerned about levels of overweight and obesity in kids, but at the same time, those levels of obesity are overlaid on improvements in health in children, which also affect long-term health and longevity.
  • Samuel Preston, a professor of demography at the University of Pennsylvania, agreed that life expectancy likely will continue to increase despite obesity. 

Recent studies find that humans today are larger, healthier and live longer than their ancestors.  For example:

  • A study conducted by Robert Fogel and researchers from the University of Chicago that compared the health of 50,000 Union Army veterans with the health of U.S. men born in recent years finds that men on average are almost three inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than they were in 1900. 
  • The study also finds that about half of men age 65 today will live to age 85, compared with 13 percent of those in 1900, and that less than half of men today have experienced a heart attack by age 60, compared with 80 percent of those in 1900. 

Researchers attributed the results to improved health care and quality of life, as well as the development of vaccines and antibiotics.  According to Fogel, humans over the past 100 years have undergone a form of evolution that is unique not only to humankind, but unique among the 7,000 or so generations of humans who have ever inhabited the earth.

Source: Gina Kolata, "So Big and Healthy Nowadays, Grandpa Wouldn't Know You" and "Living Large and Healthy, But How Long Can it Go On?" New York Times, July 30, 2006.

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