Living in Canada can be good for your health. In 1920, our life expectancy was about 60 years of age. Now it is 80. A century ago one baby in ten died in infancy. Now 995 babies out of 1000 celebrate their first birthday.
We aren’t alone in living a better life than our forebears. The global reduction in poverty and hunger through improvements in education, transportation, housing, water and sanitation, and lowering world trade barriers have changed the quality and life span of just about everyone. In 1900 one out of three children died before one year of age. Today the world’s infant survival rate is 95 per cent.
Global investments in health care have also paid positive dividends. Development of immunizations and antibiotics has had the largest impact on infant and childhood survival rates. Psychopharmacological drugs, despite their controversies, have made life worth living for many children who suffer from developmental disorders. Space age technology revolutionized the care of premature babies. Advances in radiology and radiotherapy have also been crucial in our healthcare evolution. Unravelling the human genome and advances in immunology has opened the door for even more improvements in human health and survival.
Still there are clouds of concern on the horizon. Juvenile diabetes is increasing at a rate of one per cent annually and the adult form, now being seen in children, is going up at a rate of four per cent per year. We can now expect a reversal in the lowered incidence of premature heart attacks, strokes, liver damage and kidney failure, as our children become adults. Childhood cancer rates are increasing and we know not why, although to date, survival rates are high thanks to medical technology. Some of our leading mental health issues in children are also a challenge. A recent major survey of parents in the USA reported that 11 per cent of their children are being treated for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The cause(s) of autism remain unknown but it is now reported to be present in one in 150 eight-year-olds.
Most recently an editorial appeared in the Canadian Medical Association Journal entitled ‘What’s Killing and Maiming Canada’s Youth’. The authors reported that amongst Canadians age 15 to 24 years, one death is occurring every five hours as a result of injuries. The largest cause is motor vehicle crashes. Additionally, for every motor vehicle death, 10 more youth are hospitalized with severe injuries. The authors claim that these rates meet the criteria for an epidemic.
So where do we go from here? First let’s not take our foot off the accelerator in scientific and health research. We know far too little about brain functioning and our genomic makeup. Let’s also not become blasĂ© about our children’s lifestyles.
Immersion in the wonderful world of new communication technology carries significant health risks as we sit, look at screens and fiddle our thumbs. Let us be wary of relaxing our concern about street drugs. Until Tesla brings forward self-driving cars, smoking marijuana while driving will continue to kill more of our youth than we should allow to happen.
Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.