The Beef, Kind of…

Newsflash from the public health folks:  the life expectancy in the U.S. has gone up a little. Although our ranking is still abysmal compared to other developed countries, this is good news.

According to a variety of broadcast and print sources, a primary reason cited for the increased life expectancy has been – you guessed it – the decrease in the rate of tobacco smoking, which has been cut in half since 1965.

First of all, it’s nice to hear somebody say that the flexibility and suffering required to be a smoker in America today is a major contributor to some good end.

But the claim that the decrease in smoking rates is the major cause of the increase in U.S. life expectancy seems squirrely to me.

I’ve always heard that the biggest determinant of life expectancy on a country-wide scale is infant mortality, which explains our abysmal ranking among developed countries. Like it or not, in 2011 too many U.S. children are subjected to a substandard life both pre- and post-natally because their parents don’t have the money for decent nutrition, let alone reasonable quality medical care and daycare.

Not at all to dis those women who take care of five or six children in their house every day at lower cost – they’re among America’s most unsung heroes.

But on the increased-life-expectancy-due-to-decreased-smoking claim – remember when Taco Bell was accused of having only 35 percent actual meat in their “taco meat” filling?  35% – that’s got to be closer to the percentage the decrease in smoking may have had on our increased life expectancy. I’m probably still giving smoking – or the lack of it – way too much credit.

What can I say, I’m a generous guy.

There sure have been a lot of other changes since 1965 that I presume would have had a positive impact on U.S. life expectancy — like statin drugs, seatbelts, the Clean Water and Clean Air acts, and salad bars.

But let’s not be churlish – I’d like to applaud the aforementioned folks for finally admitting the positive effects upon public health of smoking cessation efforts thus far, even though by copping to something positive they had to risk blunting the effects of their usual fear-based messages (smoking is an insidious and persistent threat, improvement is not good enough, there is no safe level, etc.)

Good job, guys!

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