Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Physiological Consequences of Economic Growth

Physiological consequences of economic growth:

So Big and Healthy Grandpa Wouldn't Even Know You - New York Times: By GINA KOLATA: Valentin Keller enlisted in an all-German unit of the Union Army in Hamilton, Ohio, in 1862. He was 26, a small, slender man, 5 feet 4 inches tall, who had just become a naturalized citizen. He listed his occupation as tailor. A year later, Keller was honorably discharged, sick and broken. He had a lung ailment and was so crippled from arthritis in his hips that he could barely walk. His pension record tells of his suffering. “His rheumatism is so that he is unable to walk without the aid of crutches and then only with great pain,” it says. His lungs and his joints never got better, and Keller never worked again.

He died at age 41 of “dropsy,” which probably meant that he had congestive heart failure, a condition not associated with his time in the Army. His 39-year-old wife, Otilia, died a month before him of what her death certificate said was “exhaustion.”

People of Valentin Keller’s era, like those before and after them, expected to develop chronic diseases by their 40’s or 50’s. Keller’s descendants had lung problems, they had heart problems, they had liver problems. They died in their 50’s or 60’s. Now, though, life has changed. The family’s baby boomers are reaching middle age and beyond and are doing fine. “I feel good,” says Keller’s great-great-great-grandson Craig Keller. At 45, Mr. Keller says he has no health problems, nor does his 45-year-old wife, Sandy. The Keller family illustrates what may prove to be one of the most striking shifts in human existence — a change from small, relatively weak and sickly people to humans who are so big and robust that their ancestors seem almost unrecognizable.

New research from around the world has begun to reveal a picture of humans today that is so different from what it was in the past that scientists say they are startled.... The biggest surprise emerging from the new studies is that many chronic ailments like heart disease, lung disease and arthritis are occurring an average of 10 to 25 years later than they used to.... Human bodies are simply not breaking down the way they did before.... The proposed reasons are as unexpected as the changes themselves. Improved medical care is only part of the explanation; studies suggest that the effects seem to have been set in motion by events early in life, even in the womb, that show up in middle and old age....

In 1900, 13 percent of people who were 65 could expect to see 85. Now, nearly half of 65-year-olds can expect to live that long.... American men, for example, are nearly 3 inches taller than they were 100 years ago and about 50 pounds heavier.... Today’s middle-aged people are the first generation to grow up with childhood vaccines and with antibiotics. Early life for them was much better than it was for their parents, whose early life, in turn, was much better than it was for their parents....

Scientists used to say that the reason people are living so long these days is that medicine is keeping them alive.... But... Fogel... 50,000 Union Army veterans... focused on common diseases that are diagnosed in pretty much the same way now as they were in the last century. So they looked at ailments like arthritis, back pain and various kinds of heart disease that can be detected by listening to the heart.... Fogel and his colleagues looked at health throughout life.... [A]lmost everyone of the Civil War generation was plagued by life-sapping illnesses, suffering for decades.... [T]he Union Army was not very picky. “Incontinence of urine alone is not grounds for dismissal,” said Dora Costa, an M.I.T. economist who works with Dr. Fogel, quoting from the regulations. A man who was blind in his right eye was disqualified from serving because that was his musket eye. But, Dr. Costa said, “blindness in the left eye was O.K.”....

Dr. Almond.... The flu pandemic arrived in the United States in October 1918 and was gone by January 1919, afflicting a third of the pregnant women in the United States. What happened to their children? Dr. Almond asked. He compared two populations: those whose mothers were pregnant during the flu epidemic and those whose mothers were pregnant shortly before or shortly after the epidemic.... [C]hildren of women who were pregnant during the influenza epidemic had more illness, especially diabetes, for which the incidence was 20 percent higher by age 61. They also got less education — they were 15 percent less likely to graduate from high school. The men’s incomes were 5 percent to 7 percent lower, and the families were more likely to receive public assistance.

The effects, Dr. Almond said, occurred in whites and nonwhites, in rich and poor, in men and women. He convinced himself, he said, that there was something to the Barker hypothesis...

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