By Antony Sammeroff
I’m sure you’ve heard as much as I have about the wonders of modern medicine, and how we are all living longer, happier and healthier lives as a result of it. After all, our ancestors were plagued by diseases like polio, tuberculosis, whooping cough, rickets, and scurvy – not to mention various plagues, like the Spanish flu – but thanks to the modern miracle of pharmaceutical science we are free from them all now.
Apparently not, according to official sources. In fact, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told us in 1999 that, while “the average lifespan of persons in the United States have lengthened by greater than 30 years [since 1900]; 25 years of this gain are attributable to advances in public health,” rather than medicine. In 2000, the prestigious journal Pediatrics released a very comprehensive study in which they explained that the 90% decline in all infectious disease mortality were down to improvements in sanitary conditions and nutrition rather than medical treatments.
So, while it’s true that no one would rightly trade the living conditions we enjoy today for those our predecessors had to put up with, that is largely due to the availability of better nutrition and hygiene, cleaner water and food, and sanitary sewage systems.
In the 19th century, people’s housing – as well as the conditions they worked in improved dramatically, leading to better health and standards of living. Most of the basic conveniences we take for granted today, like an indoor toilet that flushes and clean running water through the faucet, were not widely available in the first half of the 20th century. In fact, in the 1950s half of the people still didn’t have a washing machine, refrigerator, or central heating yet. People used to live several to a room, sharing disease. In fact, the average living space per person in America doubled as recently as between 1973 and 2014.