SOME people with a taste for science fiction claim today’s babies could be the first immortal generation thanks to new technologies that might allow us to switch off the ageing process.
But others are warning this could actually be the first generation in centuries to have a lower life expectancy than its parents.
The Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute last week raised the prospect that Gen Y might have to be renamed Gen D — that’s D for diabetes. A third of this cohort will develop diabetes at some point in their lives, the institute’s report estimates, suggesting three million Australians over the age of 25 years are likely to have the disease by 2025.
It sometimes seems hardly a day goes by without new evidence of the impact our sedentary, over-consuming lifestyles are having on our health.
An article in today’s MJA estimates about 25% of cancers in this country could be prevented by improved diet and increased physical activity. If we were prepared to make those lifestyle changes (and, yes, I know it’s a big if), around 43 000 of the cancers that would otherwise occur in 2025 could be averted, the authors estimate.
And there’s more …
A study published in Circulation last week linked consumption of sugary drinks to increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Men in the top quartile for consumption of the beverages had a 20% higher risk of CHD than those in the bottom quartile, the large prospective cohort study found.
The Heart Foundation might like to take note of that last one, as it continues to make money from giving its tick of approval to foods it deems healthy despite their being high in added sugar.
The organisation’s claim that “there is no scientific consensus that sugar as a nutrient causes heart disease” seems somewhat disingenuous, given the multifactorial nature of cardiovascular risk and the clear link between sugar and obesity.
So how do we find a way out of all this gloom? We know we should exercise more. We know we should eat better. We just don’t do it.
Individual health professionals sometimes find creative ways of getting the message across. This Facebook picture shows a burger and fries sitting on the reception counter of a doctor’s surgery, showing almost no deterioration despite a date label that indicates they are more than 18 months old.
The patient who posted the picture says he asked his doctor what they were doing there. Her response: she wanted “to show people what they are putting into their bodies”.
“Since I’ve seen this, I’ve not had any fast food”, the man wrote.
That kind of grassroots action can be effective on a local level, but of course it won’t, on its own, do away with the super-sized problem that confronts us.
The only way we’re likely to avoid collapsing under the weight of our own consumption is through a serious coordinated effort from all of us, including every level of government, urban and transport planners, the health professions, and schools.
We know from the success of anti-smoking campaigns that this kind of concerted action can be successful, especially if it’s combined with financial deterrents in the form of taxes on unhealthy substances or practices.
Could we do something similar for other lifestyle measures? There’s no doubt it would be controversial and, as with smoking, there’d be powerful vested interests to confront, but it would be good to at least have the conversation.
Jane McCredie is a Sydney-based science and medicine writer.
Posted 19 March 2012