Questionable claims on deteriorating health

In: Uncategorized

15 Nov 2009

The front page of yesterday’s Daily Mail proclaimed that a “health timebomb hits baby boomers”. On closer inspection it was based on an article in the American Journal of Public Health comparing disability of elderly American today with data from 10 years ago. The Mail also added embellishments of its own based on quotes from a couple of British sources.

Although no free access is available to the original American article it is possible to question the Mail story on several grounds:

• It runs counter to the work of Robert Fogel and others which shows a general trend towards improvement (for example, see posts of 30 July 2006 and 7 August 2006). It should also be remembered that life expectancy is increasing despite all the talk of increased health risks.

• The prevailing culture arguably encourages people to define themselves as disabled even when in the past they may not have done.

• Much of what the Mail reports is based on speculation about what might happen in the future rather than what has actually happened.

• The British experts quoted were not specialists in epidemiology or health statistics. One was a health psychologist while the other was a GP and director of Weight Concern, a charity which presumably has a particular take on the topic.