Saturday, June 23, 2012

The "Nanny" State, Keeping Us Alive

Sarah Kliff at Ezra Klein's blog provides data from the New England Journal of Medicine on what we die of.  (Around 1812 some of us exploded.)  There's a chart summarizing the differences between 1900 (my parents were alive) and 2010 (I'm alive).  I'm copying the graph:

I think the declines in many causes are attributable in part to "nanny" government, that government which ensures people, particularly in urban areas, have clean water and good sanitation, which oversees inoculations for things like diptheria and flu, which fights  TB (which my mother had),  (I understand some will argue against government intrusion.  I remember when I got my TB vaccination in school, then my arm started to get swollen and painful.  It was then I learned  about mom's TB, which meant that my body reacted to the shot. There are gains to government intrusion, as there are costs, but I'm more impressed by the gains, at least in the field of public health.)

You really ought to read the Journal article in its entirety.  Who knew that in 1912 they were worried about sedentary life caused by the automobile, or boasting of the superiority of Americans at the Olympics because of the diversity of our races?  It's  fascinating how other strands of our history appear in the annals of medicine.


  1. "Around 1812 some of us exploded."

    Love that line...


    2. Walter Jeffries6/25/2012 9:01 PM

      Or even worse, someone in Burlington, Vermont just doused herself and pulled a flambé. Sad but ironic given this conversation. Timing.

    3. Walter Jeffries6/25/2012 9:05 PM

      I went and read the Wiki. One thing might be lightning. I got hit, or rather probably just a glancing side blow, with lightning once. My wife and daughter who were looking at me at the time described sparks jumping from my finger tips. What I felt was everything white out (circuits are over loaded at this time, please call back) and my hands slammed up against my chest (biceps stronger than triceps or the path of the jump I guess). Glad I didn't go the full combustion route!