Is Your Nutrition Killing You, Australia’s Century of Health

The year 2011 marks 100 years of the national census taking of Australians. There have been some remarkable advances in health shown in the numbers. The average life expectancy for women has grown from 60 years in 1911 to 84 years in 2010. Men have increased their life expectancy from 56 to 79 years. Infant mortality has dropped from 74 in 1000 in 1911 to just 4 in 1000. The leading causes of death in 1911 were:

Organic Heart Disease (10.2%)

Senile Debility (8%)

Cancer (6.9%)

Tuberculosis (6.6%)

Congenital debility birth defects (6.5%)

The leading causes of death in 2008 were:

Ischaemic (reduced blood supply) heart diseases (24%)

Strokes (12%)

Dementia and Alzheimer disease (8%)

Trachea and lung cancer (8%)

Chronic lower respiratory diseases (6%)

If we group the top heart related diseases and stroke, they combine to a whopping 42%, and cancers combined increases to 27%!

Many of the changes in life expectancy and causes of death are because of improved sanitation and living standards, reduction in infectious diseases through vaccines and medicines, and health education. Even in 1911 doctors were aware poor diet and nutrition were the main cause of many illnesses and deaths with their patients. Sadly, not much has changed on that front. Our diets are remarkably different from 1911, but our choices are no better – perhaps even worse. We’ve replaced “meat and three veg” to takeaway burgers and fries, a toxic mix of salt, sugar and fat. We’ve brought many infectious diseases under control so they and no longer pose a substantial risk to our lives. Lifestyle diseases are now our big challenge – diabetes and obesity are the two biggest risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Medical research has changed its focus from finding treatments and prevention for infectious diseases to finding interventions for our own poor choices. Our sedentary lifestyle and poor diets are forcing doctors to look at ways to manipulate our genes and cellular processes. Because of that research, there’s more scientific evidence of how our cells need to work with each other to maintain and recover health, particularly with cancers. We’re becoming more aware of the connectedness of our bodies. When one part is unwell its effects can ripple through the entire body – even if it is just one cell that’s sick. We’re learning more about how to feed our cells to prevent, treat and even reverse diseases. We can wait for medical research to find a cure for poor food choices. But how hard is it really to visit the fruit and vegetable section of your supermarket more, and skip the chips and soft drink aisles, How hard is it really to choose to take the stairs instead of the escalators, How hard is it really to choose to walk five blocks instead of drive, It’s simple, little, daily choices like these that lead to a huge difference over a lifetime. Medical research will and should continue. But our lives belong to us – we live them, not the laboratory rats. We can make decisions today to change the course of our lives, whatever the year, be it 1911 or 2011. Sources

“Official Yearbook of the Commonwealth of Australia” (includes 1911)

Australian Bureau of Statistics

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