We are living in an unheralded time of peace and plenty – the data show the human race has made a quantum leap in that regard – but everybody is angry.
Americans are Angry and Want Radical Change
The percent of Americans who think the country is going in the wrong direction has averaged 68% since 2005. Similarly, two-thirds of all 2016 voters thought America needed “radical change.” At the height of his popularity, Bernie Sanders, promising a revolution, polled favorably with 60% of America’s voters. Donald Trump campaigned and won on a platform of turning Washington upside down.
Anxiety reigned at the ballot box in 2016 and still consumes public opinion. More disturbingly, we’ve recently seen people taking to the street to violently express their frustrations.
Fear and anger flood our airwaves, news feeds and streets, but for everything that is wrong, what is right with our society – both in America and worldwide – points to a golden age.
A Quantum Leap in Health
In terms of health, our species has made a quantum leap. Life spans are at an amazing high, regardless of your color, country or income. The life expectancy in the world more than doubled between 1900 and 2000, for a global average of 70 years. In 1800, if you were unlucky, you were born in India and lived to be about 25. The lucky folks, the one percent of their day, were born in Belgium and lived to age 40, on average, and probably had better wine. But that was as good as it got.
Everybody – every single person in America today – has access to better health care than the richest man in America did 75 years ago. Worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank estimate that 400 million people lack access to health care. This is a huge number of people, but as a percentage of the world population, it is less than six percent. Recall the fate of those living in 1800. Much of the world died at an age before today’s Millennials emerge from their parents’ basements.
Lack of Exercise Kills more People Than Lack of Food
For the entire history of civilization, people have been killed by lack. But at some point in the last few decades, the human race crossed a threshold. Today, more people worldwide are dying from having too much. Disease of excess – diseases exacerbated by eating too much, drinking too much or smoking too much – than die from diseases of lack, like lack of access to potable water, lack of access to immunizations or medical treatment.
The World Health Organization (WHO) conducts periodic studies where they divide all causes of death in a particular year into three broad categories: communicable diseases, non-communicable diseases and injuries. Communicable disease include many pathogen spread diseases one might expect – tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, diarrhoeal diseases and respiratory infections. It also includes nutritional diseases. These diseases are preventable conditions except for lack of food, potable water, proper medical attention and the like.
Non-communicable diseases include cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, diabetes, etc. Diseases frequently but not exclusively associated with being overweight and having a sedentary lifestyle, or smoking or drinking too much. Diseases of excess.
World Health Organization
According to the World Health Organization, 23% of the 57,320,891 deaths worldwide in 2015 were caused by communicable diseases (diseases of lack) while 68% of deaths in 2015 were caused by non-communicable diseases (diseases of excess).
More granularly, in 2015 one percent of deaths worldwide were caused by “nutritional deficiencies.” In contrast, 31% of deaths worldwide in 2015 were from cardiovascular disease, a primary cause of which is being overweight.
Some hunger advocacy organizations use larger numbers, as much as 9 million deaths worldwide annually, attributed to “world hunger.” Even using these numbers that are at odds with the WHO findings, the point remains. Nine million deaths from world hunger is half of the number of deaths due to cardiovascular disease and about a quarter of the total deaths attributed to diseases of excess.
The disparity between deaths related to overeating and hunger related deaths is true even in Africa, where about 4% of the nearly 10 million deaths in 2015 were from nutritional deficiencies, and 12% of deaths were from cardiovascular disease.
Policy Priorities Reflect the Change
And it shows in our priorities in the United States. Harry Truman signed the School Lunch Act in 1946 to make sure every American child had enough to eat. Just 65 years later, Michelle Obama started her campaign against childhood obesity, Let’s Move!, to make sure they didn’t eat too much.
Since 2007, with both parties in control of Congress and both a Democrat and Republican president, almost twice as many bills have been introduced in Congress relating to obesity than hunger.
This is not to detract from the importance of continuing to fight these horrible diseases of lack, but to point out that for the entire existence of the human race, our species has fought lack, primarily lack of food. At some point in the last few decades, lack of food dropped from being the human race’s primary problem and everybody is living longer.
Yet anger is at an all-time high.
Health data is not the only arena where data point to a golden age. Look for more articles on this topic down the line. We’ll also take a look at why everyone is angry.