Your grandpa wouldn’t know you

In: Uncategorized

30 Jul 2006

An article in today’s New York Times discusses the remarkable changes to human bodies over the past century (“So Big and Healthy Grandpa Wouldn’t Even Know You”). It is fairly well known – although not as widely recognised as it should be – than humans are living longer and healthier lives than ever before. But the article goes further:

“The biggest surprise emerging from the new studies is that many chronic ailments like heart disease, lung disease and arthritis are occurring an average of 10 to 25 years later than they used to. There is also less disability among older people today, according to a federal study that directly measures it. And that is not just because medical treatments like cataract surgery keep people functioning. Human bodies are simply not breaking down the way they did before.

“Even the human mind seems improved. The average I.Q. has been increasing for decades, and at least one study found that a person’s chances of having dementia in old age appeared to have fallen in recent years.”

The New York Times article seems largely inspired by the work of Robert Fogel, a Nobel laureate in economics and professor at the University of Chicago. His The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700–2100 (Cambridge University Press 2004) looks well worth reading. His 1993 Nobel lecture (PDF) is also available on the internet.