Our fact challenged Treasurer, Joe Hockey raised some eyebrows when he suggested that we need to reform Medicare because children born today might live to 150. He got some support from University of New South Wales faculty of medicine dean Peter Smith, who cited the increase in life expectancy over the last century, from 55/59 (for men and women respectively) in 1910 to 80/84 today.
There’s an apparent paradox here: If life expectancy is 80/84 years today, how can a newborn child expect to live 150 years. The answer is that “life expectancy” is nothing of the sort. It’s the average age at death if current age-specific mortality rates remain unchanged. On average, people born in 1910 actually lived well beyond their “life expectancy” because death rates fell through their lifetime. So, if medical progress continues, people born today may live, on average, well past 80/84.
But how much more? Unfortunately, on past indications, not much more. Most of the 20th century extension of life expectancy came from a reduction in death rates for the young. A 65-year old in 1910 could expect to live to 76/78 (since death rates don’t change much over a decade, that’s an actual expectation not just a statistical construct). Today, that’s increased to 84/87, from 11/13 years of extra life to 19/22. For Hockey to be right, over the next 100 years or so, the conditional expectancy has to rise five-fold, to 85 years. The basis for all this, it seems, is a 2011 press release of the kind we see every week or two announcing a breakthrough that might, perhaps, lead to a cure for this or that disease.
But even in the unlikely event that this extension of life occurs, what possible relevance could it have to the amount we should pay for medical care today? Even under current rules (which would certainly change with extended life expectancy) Hockey’s hypothetical Methuselah wouldn’t be eligible for the age pension until 2085 and (given the anti-aging breakthrough he hypothesises) wouldn’t seriously burden the health care system until well into the 22nd century. Coming from a government that dismisses concerns about climate change as a problem for the indefinite future, this solicitude for Treasurers yet unborn seems misplaced.
Update Via Twitter, I discover that the source of Hockey’s claim is someone called Aubry de Grey, who is obviously in the tradition of wealthy British eccentrics, with his own foundation, journal and so on; a much more appealing instance of this kind of thing than Lord Monckton, but still not to be taken seriously.
Further update Defending Hockey’s silliness, Mark Kenny makes the point that what Hockey actually said (restating de Grey) was that it is “remarkable that somewhere in the world today, it is highly probable, a child has been born who will live to be 150”. This shift from mean to maximum helps the demographic plausibility of Hockey’s case, but only marginally (we still need an advance of nearly 30 years on 122, the longest lifespan ever recorded), but it makes the argument even weaker. Suppose that some child in, say, China is going to live to 150. What possible impact can that have on our health system. More generally, what can it matter to the budget if a handful of people live very long lives. It’s the average (measured by numbers like life expectancy at 65) that matters. As an indication of the minuscule scale of the fiscal problem posed by those with very long lives, there are currently only about 4250 Australians aged over 100, amounting to about 0.02 per cent of our population.
Yet further update It’s worth pointing out that, with pension age eligibility rising from 65/60 when the age pension was introduced around 1910 to 70/70 by 2035, men will have lost half of the extra retirement years gained from higher life expectancy and women the whole gain. The big problem we face is underemployment of prime-age workers, not the fact that we aren’t dying early enough.
97 thoughts on “Living to 150: A quick reality check”
It seems reasonable to suggest that all those people living to 150 wouldn’t be the sickly type. So there shouldn’t be a problem.
Various interesting takes on this below. The weight of evidence suggests Joe Hockey is talking through his hat. Why are we not surprised?
“Maximum life span is a measure of the maximum amount of time one or more members of a population has been observed to survive between birth and death. The term can also denote an estimate of the maximum amount of time that a member of a given species could survive between life and death, provided circumstances that are optimal to their longevity.
Most living species have at least one upper limit on the number of times cells can divide. This is called the Hayflick limit, although number of cell divisions does not strictly control lifespan (non-dividing cells and dividing cells lived over 122 years in the oldest known human).” – Wikipedia.
“The longest-living person whose dates of birth and death were verified to the modern norms of Guinness World Records and the Gerontology Research Group was Jeanne Calment, a French woman who lived to 122. The maximum (recorded) life span for humans has increased from 103 in 1798 to 110 years in 1898, 115 years in 1986, and 122.45 years since Calment’s death in 1997 (See List of the verified oldest people and List of verified supercentenarians who died before 1980), among steady improvements in overall life expectancy. Reduction of infant mortality has accounted for most of this increased average longevity, but since the 1960s mortality rates among those over 80 years have decreased by about 1.5% per year. “The progress being made in lengthening lifespans and postponing senescence is entirely due to medical and public-health efforts, rising standards of living, better education, healthier nutrition and more salubrious lifestyles.” Animal studies suggest that further lengthening of human lifespan could be achieved through “calorie restriction mimetic” drugs or by directly reducing food consumption. Although calorie restriction has not been proven to extend the maximum human life span, as of 2014, results in ongoing primate studies have demonstrated that the assumptions derived from rodents are valid in primates as well [Reference: Nature 01.04.2014].
It has also been observed that the VO2max value (a measure of the volume of oxygen flow to the cardiac muscle) decreases as a function of age. Therefore, the maximum lifespan of an individual can be determined by calculating when his or her VO2max value drops below the basal metabolic rate necessary to sustain life —approximately 3 ml per kg per minute. Noakes (p. 84) notes that, on the basis of this hypothesis, athletes with a VO2max value between 50 and 60 at age 20 can be expected “to live for 100 to 125 years, provided they maintained their physical activity so that their rate of decline in VO2max remained constant.
A theoretical study suggested the maximum human lifespan to be around 125 years using a modified stretched exponential function for human survival curves. – Wikipedia.
“The Hayflick limit[Note 1] (or Hayflick phenomenon) is the number of times a normal human cell population will divide until cell division stops. Empirical evidence shows that the telomeres associated with each cell’s DNA will get slightly shorter with each new cell division until they shorten to a critical length.
The concept of the Hayflick limit was advanced by American anatomist Leonard Hayflick in 1961, at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hayflick demonstrated that a population of normal human fetal cells in a cell culture will divide between 40 and 60 times. The population will then enter a senescence phase, which refutes the contention by Nobel laureate Alexis Carrel that normal cells are immortal. Each mitosis slightly shortens each of the telomeres on the DNA of the cells. Telomere shortening in humans eventually makes cell division impossible, and this aging of the cell population appears to correlate with the overall physical aging of the human body.” – Wikipedia.
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In search of Methuselah: estimating the upper limits to human longevity.
Olshansky SJ1, Carnes BA, Cassel C.
Estimates of the upper limits to human longevity have important policy implications that directly affect forecasts of life expectancy, active life expectancy, population aging, and social and medical programs tied to the size and health status of the elderly population. In the past, investigators have based speculations about the upper limits of human longevity on observations of past trends in mortality. Here the estimate of the upper bound is based on hypothesized reductions in current mortality rates necessary to achieve a life expectancy at birth from 80 to 120 years and an expectation of life at age 50 from 30 to 70 years. With the use of conditional probabilities of death from complete life tables for the United States, reductions in mortality required to achieve extreme longevity (that is, 80 to 120 years) were compared with those resulting from hypothetical cures for all cardiovascular diseases, ischemic heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Results indicate that in order for life expectancy at birth to increase from present levels to what has been referred to as the average biological limit to life (age 85), mortality rates from all causes of death would need to decline at all ages by 55%, and at ages 50 and over by 60%. Given that hypothetical cures for major degenerative diseases would reduce overall mortality by 75%, it seems highly unlikely that life expectancy at birth will exceed the age of 85.”
I am surprised you don’t point out to Joe the small detail that “life expectancy” is a population statistic and not comparable to anybody’s actual life expectancy.
Population life expectancy has improved due to improved medicine and nutrition resulting in fewer infant and childhood deaths meaning a higher percentage of the population survives to old age. Old age hasn’t changed very much, but more people are getting there.
Worldwide there is nobody over 125 years and everybody over about 95 is an outlier.
Nobody in Australia is over 120. Statistically nobody in Australia has ever been that old. Nobody anywhere ever will be 150 years old.
In the future a higher percentage of our population will be in the “oldies” grouping (assuming Mr Hockey doesn’t actually succeed in reducing Australians’ health, education and employment prospects).
Shorter Joe Hockey: We can’t afford to extend people’s lives now because we may extend the lives of their children in the future.
Anecdotally, if my Dad lived 50 years ago, and survived into his late 70’s, then Parkinson’s and other things would have killed him pretty quickly. He’s coming around to 86, but only thanks to medical science.
Funny,too, that The co-payment was supposed to fund medical research – to help make us live longer
Funny, too, that the co-payment was supposed to fund medical research – to help us live longer
Who would want to live to 150 in any case? Not me.
Sad to say I have grown used to innumerate Treasurers, starting with Jim Cairns when I hit secondary school in 1975 and now arriving with Joe Hockey in 2015 as I reach the tail end of middle-age. Forty years of Treasurers who can’t add up. Thank God for econocrats!
But what really irks me is that a Professor of Medicine at a high-ranking university can make such howlers. Every school boy knows that most of the hard yards of increasing life-expectancy was done by improving infant mortality, given that early deaths, by logical necessity, cut most meat off the average life expectancy bone. Back in the day most women had four or five children, usually two or so died before the age of ten. So high infant mortality effectively cut life expectancy by at least 30%.
And the basis for the Second Demographic Transition, which raised life-expectancy by about 50% in most countries, was not revolutionary new drugs, apart from penicillin. It was…plumbing. Speak to Mr Bill Gates about that.
How can a Professor of Medicine not know this stuff?
Although I would bet good money that typical life-expectancy of a 65 year old in 2080 would be well north of 100, based on plausible trends of two-three years improvement in longevity every decade. The Daily Telegraph reports:
The basis for this optimism is not revolutionary technology but simply improved anti-ageing drugs. The NYT report:
As against this S J Olshanksy has been pointing out for over a decade that there is no magic bullet for aging since most crucial body parts are designed to wear out or become subject to cancer, from the age of three score and ten onwards. Even if carcinogens and cardio-vascular disease was cured overnight there are still plenty of ways to die. The big one is, of course, neuro-degenerative diseases for which there is no magic bullet, yet.
And even if such cures could be developed we still have to organize an efficient and equitable health system to deliver them in a timely manner. Olshansky’s research shows that a polarised class and cultural structure is actually reducing life-expectancy for lower-status Americans.
The only way that life-expectancy could be ratcheted up to 150 years would be revolutionary advances in bio-tech, requiring some kind of merger between molecular (genetic) and cellular (phenetic) biology. There is some evidence that this might occur, according to the NYT:
Bottom line: the longer you live, you improve the odds on living longer.
Professors of all sorts know good and well that their claims are dubios. JQ nailed it with the line
“of the kind we see every week or two announcing a breakthrough that might, perhaps, lead to a cure for this or that disease”.
The current KPI for academics has moved on from impact factors and h-indecies, to press releases, twitter retweets and facebook likes. Getting attention means getting grants, however dubious the claims. Most breakthroughs leading to cures for this or that disease are chimeras, aimed at providing a topical application for research that used to be “blue sky”. The number of times I read “with potential application in cancer diagnostics” in physics journals…
Our country is being “run” by the three stooges. It is just one stupidity after another punctuated by moments of astonishing meanness.
great point PQ, but the deeper (sadder) point is Hockey is clutching for reasons to do what he is doing – he either doesn’t know the perceived rationales or is unwilling to stand by them – possibly because he knows they are garbage and serve particular interests
Fixed that for you
Here’s another Hockey blunder, this time on income tax rates. Business Insider pulls no punches and challenge the comprehension and, by default the competency of our Treasurer.
These wonderfully optimistic estimates of future human longevity do not factor in the following impending developments (some flow from others earlier in the list);
(a) Limits to Growth and Resource collapse;
(b) Global warming above 2 degrees C;
(c) Death of the Oceans;
(d) Weather disruptions;
(e) Topsoil depletion;
(f) Food shortages;
(g) Antibiotic resistance.
(h) Economic Collapse;
In 50 years time, the last thing anyone will be worrying about is whether humans will live too long. Most will be worrying about how to survive for another month.
Jack Strocchi @9:
To this we could probably add (in advanced capitalist countries) that after 1945 there have not been large percentages of the younger generations of males who have either died, or experienced life-shortening injuries or illnesses, as a result of wars in which most young men were liable for service.
Ikonoklast @13, if we can deal with (a) via a managed transition to a steady-state economy we stand a good chance of pre-empting (b) through (h). Be optimistic!
Aubrey de Gray is big in Singularitarian circles, which is odd from one point of view – you’d think that once the Jesus computer uploads us all, there will be no use in life extension for mere flesh – but not at all odd from the point of view of transhumanism being packed full of middle age nerds scared of death.
LOL you think you know what is going on and you have never heard the name Aubry de Grey before? Mate next you will be telling us that the line of the graph for improvements in medical technologies is a straight line, well here is a reality check for you, it is parabolic. In simple terms that means that the next 5 years can see as much change as the last 20, or more, depending on the part of the curve you are on. We are not talking about our destination due to a given velocity, we are talking about the rate at which our velocity itself is constantly increasing.
I am sorry but there is no nice way to say this, you have made yourself look like a complete buffoon and a classic example of the Dunning–Kruger effect!
As JQ noted in his update, apparently the source of this nonsense came from some British wingnut. But, I’ve been hearing this sort of thing for over a decade from some people I vaguely know, who, to no-ones’ surprise, are also rabid greenhouse denialists and general loons. My understanding is that “we are on the verge of extending life, perhaps indefinitely” is a well worn theme on the loony Right, part of their world view and possibly ties into one of the over-arching reasons for much of what animates the Right – the desire to protect and entrench existing social order. No point living forever if the solution to global issues (warming, inequality, environment) is to backtrack on neoliberalism (capitalism) which may diminish these peoples’ comparative advantage. It also plays to the pseudo-scientific, tech-will-find-a-way yawn-fest that goes on in these circles.
Anyway, makes you wonder who Hockey is talking to.
I’ve got a feeling I’ve heard of Aubry de Gray – wasn’t he out he a few years ago, all over the media with implausible claims of immortality? Anyway, he sounds like just another computer nerd glibertarian with delusions of intellectual respectability.
No matter what technology does to extend the operability of the human body, there is nothing that can be done to rejuvenate the brain. The brain thrives on the pleasure of experience and starts out in life with no experience and a huge need to develop, and through life progresses to a state of having experienced everything and having little need to further develop. Along the way its mass transitions from mostly grey matter and little white matter (connections) to equally white matter and grey matter. It is a one way trip, which is that way for the very purpose of ensuring that the body is ready for the challenges of self sustenance, reproduction, education, and finally being ready for death (no further desire to live).
I tend to agree BilB. I have noticed, even at the age of 60, that physical ills and niggles increase and the pleasure that the body can deliver lessens. No matter how “philosophical” or “intellectual” one becomes or attempts to become one cannot disguise from oneself that at some level intellectual and emotional feeling is quite heavily dependent on bodily feeling.
We evolved to grow, mature, reproduce, care for young and then die. A life span of forty years is sufficient for this. Living into your fifties makes you an elder in any other era. The deterioration of most people after 50 confirms this in my mind. It is very rare to see anyone with any worthwhile quality of life after 85. It begs the question. Why would one want to live beyond 85?
Perhaps the numerically challenged Treasurer is softening us up for more increases in the minimum eligibility age for the pension….
…..or perhaps he is just not that bright.
I’ll let the readers make up their own mind.
Interesting extended article on de Gray at http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/403654/do-you-want-to-live-forever/. He’s someone who deserves more respect than the Moncktons of this world; at least he’s published in relevant peer-reviewed journals and has his PhD (albeit in a different discipline). The linked article points out that ‘researchers have not come close to solving a single one of the seven problems’ that de Gray needs to solve to prevent ageing, although there has been some promising progress in some.
On the main point, Hockey does seem to have given up trying to act like a serious, sober Treasurer and reverted to the persona of light entertainer on morning television. A man being progressively undone by tasks he’s not intellectually equipped to cope with, I suspect.
Jesus I hope that doesn’t mean might Hockey live to 150 – otherwise as well as shafting me and my child – he’ll then target my grandchildren, my great grandchildren and, my great great grandchildren.
Putting aside Joe Hockey’s silliness, for just a little while and replacing it with my own silliness, looking at what ratteries do we could probably get human beings to regularly live to 150. Also looking at what ratteries do it’s pretty clear that we’re not going to like what would be necessary. And it would take many generations and wouldn’t be much use to anyone alive today. Except Nazis. So the trick would be to cheat and give people’s bodies the benefits of generations of breeding for longetivity without actually bothing to do it. This does not seem impossible and I presume some progress will be made that will assist some people in dying later. On average of course.
But this approach runs into limits just as rat breeders run into limits with how old they can get rats. So if you want a long lived small animal one should get a parrot or a tortise rather than a rat, and if you want a long lived human, you should get rid of that nasty human DNA and replace it with something better.
Now without care this does mean the end of natural human reproduction. If you have Windows 9 DNA you can’t reproduce with someone who has Windows 8 DNA and expect to have Windows 8.5 kids. And god help those with Vista DNA.
How far are we from replacing people’s shoddy cells with their globs of cruddy DNA in the center? Well, we’ve replaced the DNA of bacteria with an artificial genome and succeeded in making less effective bacterium, so we just need to work our way up from there. And sideways. And down.
I’m pleased to see that JQ picked the wings off this fly so effectively – it was irking me and my colleagues and John and the commenters above have saved us the need to refute Hockey ourselves.
It doesn’t change the fact though that there’s something profoundly wrong with our political system when it permits ignoramuses (ignorami?) of this enormous calibre to hold positions of such responsibility in our federal government. This is the sort of blather one expects from the worst tabloid press. The only characteristic of Hockey’s that I can see that helps him to retain his position is that he seems absolutely dedicated to increasing the wealth of the already-rich at the expense of the poor, fact and logic and ethics be absolutely and totally damned.
Oh my goodness. This is a distraction. It might have been an oddball transhumanist throwaway comment but a throwaway comment was all it was. Who cares??
The important questions have nothing to do with life expectancy and everything to do with health policy. In the interview, he said that he was outraged because he wasn’t allowed to pay for his son’s x-ray, and that it’s unfair that he should get free healthcare because he’s on a high income. What about pointing out that, given all money raised by the co-payment will go to the medical future fund, the only way money could be saved in the circumstances is if the co-payment was high enough that he wouldn’t actually go to the doctor? What about asking him how what level of co-payment would be required to prevent him from getting x-rays? What about asking how much his son’s health is actually worth to him?
Or failing all else, what about pointing out that, if it is his high income that makes public healthcare unfair, we should target new taxes at income rather than use of the health system…
Beat ups over sideshows like this one are the worst part of the 24hr news cycle.
CURRENT “life expectancy” derived from life tables does indeed have the definition John puts, and if using them to project FUTURE life expectancy a longish way ahead you should correct for projected future falls in the death rate. But that’s exactly what the demographers do.
Hockey was taken out of context – his remarks were not so absurd if you read what he actually said. I don’t think he confused population life expectancy and maximum lifespan of an individual at all.
They’re still misleading in more than one direction, though. For example the biggest component of most projected future increases in health costs is not population ageing or increasing life expectancy at all. They mostly reflect the fact that health is a superior good – as we get richer we spend a bigger proportion of our lifetime income on it – and also that its a very labour intensive service industry and hence subject to Baumol’s curse.
Oh, and @Jack Strocchi is mostly right, but has got one thing wrong. Increases in life expectancy up to about 1960 were indeed mostly driven by decreases in infant and child mortality. But in the last few decades the increase in overall life expectancy has mainly come from increase in the lifespan of those already old, with a lesser contribution from reduced deaths among young men (less bloody wars, safer cars, etc).
If the goal was to crowd out sensible policy discussion with nonsense then this government has more than achieved it.
If you go to the ABS life expectancy tables from 1881-2012 and do a tiny bit of reformatting to even up the spaces between censuses you can see that life expectancy in Australia has gone up by approximately three months a year, with the 150-year trend lines putting the average LE for men in 2065 up to 117 and women to 122. There are, as pointed out above, a number of reasons why this might change; but that growth line has been rock steady (part from a minor glitch in the 1960s) for the last 130 years, and I wouldn’t bet against it.
But Alec, that is very much the point. Rather than solve the problem of under funding by adjusting the funds source, the Medicare Levy, Hockey is determined to reduce the service and make people pay when they are sick rather than pay while they are healthy and earning as was the intention of the Medicare Levy in the first place.
And you are right, the 150 catch line is and is intended to be a distraction. Its purpose is to draw the discussion away from practical solutions and into the dark alley of making Medicare appear to not work. The fact is that if the communities need for medical services has increased then the funding should be adjusted to compensate.
Hockey’s very intentional distraction ids to prevent the national system being adjusted as that would throw affordability pressure on the private scheme, exactly what neo clutz right wing do not want to have happen.
Hasn’t he heard the predictioon that this generation is likely to be the first to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, because of the obesity epidemic? He should know!
Alternatively, the more we spend on health care, the more likely we are to be productive (because it’s hard to work if you are sick) and so we get richer.
Chrisb. Your arithmetric is quite wrong with your le estimate for 2065. 50 years will only add 12.5 years to current life expectancy
Of course people in grass houses should be careful about throwing stones of correction.
i think these reality checks are based on normal biological limits. It is quite likely that these will be overcome by technologies. Humans as a species have overcome many biological limits & age is just another.
I doubt if Joe is aware of the research & is just shooting the breeze.
Oh well, good to see the Libs having a crack at a problem with a long time horizon for once!
– There are predictions that the current generation of kids will be the first to have a reduced life expectancy .Looking around my local shopping mall I can believe that, but my suburb ranks at or near bottom for all the relevant social indicators.
– To me a huge part of the scientific endeavor seems aimed at immortality .Sometime ,for the rich, life expectancy might approach amortality (where you only die from accidents) if our planet can sustain our civilisation long enough.
– I wish Government and the markets would stop seeing the elderly only as a burden. They are immense assets too. Also ,as an individual, having the chance to age is a gift (spoken like someone not suffering yet!).
– In a pre -agricultural setting if you survived past 10 years you had a good chance of living to 50 or 60 even with the risk of injury/infection -harder for women due to pregnancy/birth risks. They were much healthier and probably ,on average,happier than us.
“… life expectancy might approach amortality (where you only die from accidents)…”
No, I don’t think we are going to spontaneously turn into Tolkienian Elves. Ageing is inbuilt in our biology. I suspect the limit is about 125 years. The oldest verified person ever was French woman Jeanne Calment, who died at the age of 122 years, 164 days.
A few species show “negligible senescence” but homo sapiens is not one of them. It might be possible to develop negligible senescence in some humans via scientific methods. I am not sure this will be a good idea but that won’t stop the attempt of course. I am sure the oligarchs are funding such research on their own behalf right now.
Damn. Correct that to 2165 (150 years out).
“…the 150-year trend lines putting the average LE for men in 2165 up to 117 and women to 122.”
Given the absence of dental hygiene, I doubt you’d call a Pleistocene human lucky to be alive much beyond 35.
Iko I dont want to rule it out given the progress of science so far, the size of the effort ,and that its not logically impossible .It seems unlikely due to environmental and human limitations ,but there could still be 100’s of years of progress to come -maybe 1000’s .Too late for us tho. Rupert looks good for his age ……
Fran I think our ancestors didnt need dental hygiene like we do as their teeth were better .Ironic that one of the signs of a savage in the movies is a mouth full of bad teeth .Like wild animals they didnt have teeth problems much. Our sugar rich mouth environments dont have the bacteria in them that we evolved with ,meaning that gum disease is common .So bacteria etc are constantly leaking into our bloodstreams ,this affects our immune systems ,and that is why gum disease is correlated with so many different illnesses. (according to a Catalyst show). Blood in your toothpaste is a bad sign.
Fran, for all we know Australians had a longer life expectancy than the British when they first arrived here. But we do know it didn’t take long for their life expectancy to drop below that of the British.
I find it amazing that conservative politicians have this incredible talent for turning humanity’s greatest health achievements into a boring fiscal nightmare.
e.g. we are continually extending life expectancy = oh my god the economy will collapse
e.g. we have finally reduced fertility rates to a point where women can control how many children they have and minimize the risks to their health of pregnancy = oh my god our society will dwindle away
To me these two things are an unalloyed good, representing the realization of two dreams that human society has been chasing since we came out of the trees.
To Joe Hockey and Peter Costello they’re an existential threat. Tells you a lot about how they think …
You’re missing my point. I strongly suspect that our Indigenous folk did on the whole live longer than did the British in the great cities of the UK prior to 1788. AIUI, life expectancy in the UK then was probably the wrong side of 60.
Poor dental hygiene though would have made life very unpleasant for people of that era, British or Indigenous. They would have been in constant discomfort from gum disease and tooth decay and broken teeth.
Apparently hunter gatherers had better teeth than us and didnt need oral hygiene. Like wild animals they rarely had teeth problems. Because our mouths are now sugar rich environments the bacterial balance we evolved with in there is gone. That protected us from gum disease (and tooth decay I think). Also- having open wounds in your mouth means that bacteria etc are often leaking into your blood -this affects your immune system and is why gum disease is correlated with so many and varied diseases. Blood in your tooth paste is bad. Its ironic that one sign of the savage in movies is a mouth full of bad teeth. (This was on the Catalyst science show.)
As far as general health goes ,their diet was superior ,they did less work, and each person did a wide range of mental and physical activity. Mentally we are set up for coping with sudden big stresses that then go away -not for the constant low level of background stress associated with modern life. Life had inherent meaning ,they were not raised to be always thinking ‘whats wrong with me?’ or ‘how can I get more?’.
Actually, Fran, the cliometricians (historians who use econometrics) tell us life expectancy among the proletariat of the industrial revolution was longer than that of the peasantry from which they came – stinking cities meant more sickness but much less famine. And said peasantry would have almost certainly had a longer life expectancy than most hunter-gatherers, groups which generally have truly horrible infant, maternal and war-caused death rates (don’t underestimate the last, BTW – aboriginal clan warfare almost certainly killed off an awful lot of young men).
Which just shows how much being a hunter-gather, a peasant or a proletarian must all have sucked – though as you point out they often would have very literally sucked.