The new way of getting old:
I live in Pinellas County in Florida.  We were once the grey hair capital of the world.  In what to me are old days there were green benches all over St. Petersburg so that elderly strollers would have a place to perch.  The phone book was printed in large font out of deference to presbyopia.  The city has not lost its heart, but those gestures have fallen by the wayside.  And it seems to me that there really are not so many elderly about as there were.  Of course one’s own definition changes with time.

I do not have numbers, but it seems to me that the character of older people is changing.  It seemed to me in the old days that older people were thin, short and rather active.  It seems to me now that they tend to be overweight and sedentary.

A number of people ride around on little electric scooters.  Most of those who do seem to be limited more by their weight than by anything else.  Bless the availability of the scooters.  It’s better than being stuck in a chair.  And indeed, the ones I see now I would not have seen in the past.  They didn’t have scooters back then to get around with.

We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic, of course.  Some days I think it is due to our diets.  Sometimes I think it is lack of exercise.  Some days I think it is from mixing up the gene pool so that everybody has heterozygote advantage leading to an increase in height a few decades ago and now to an increase in weight without further increase in height.  Sometimes I think that it is due to genes not being fine tuned to each other. 

Anyway, we are gaining weight.  It is most tragic of course and very common among the very young.  But as young people disappear and we are faced first with an aging population and finally with an old population, the future is written on the scales.  We shall be a nation and then a world of the old and fat.

Doctors seem to have the attitude that we are all going to live to be a hundred.  There are certainly more people living that long now than there were when I was young.  Most of the aging of the population is due to a reduction in infant and childhood mortality and much of what is left is due to a reduction in infants and children.  There is a residue that is indeed an accomplishment of modern medicine.

But something gives me pause.  Suppose you get lazy.  You stop walking as much.  You eat too much.  You put on weight.  Maybe you drink.  That’s a way to put on calories and it turns off the senses so you don’t really know when to stop.  Besides, if you drink you need to eat, right?  Well.  Yes, of course.  But that logic should work the other way.  If you need to control your weight you need not to drink. 

At all events you consult a doctor.  He suggests diet and exercise.  But he notices that something is a trifle amiss with your blood chemistry.  So he puts you on a pill to reduce something or other.

Let me tell you about pills.  They’re hard to swallow.  They don’t taste very good.  They have side effects.  And generally they make you feel lousy.  So here you are feeling lousy and needing to exercise, buy you don’t; you wait until you feel better.  And one of the side effects of some pills is to change your blood chemistry.  Here comes another pill.  Eventually, what with the pills and your increasing weight and sedentary ways, you develop metabolic syndrome.  Now you have diabetes.  So here comes a pill for that.

And treating diabetes is not necessarily a benign thing.  There is a drug called Avandia.  Recently there was a serous question as to whether it caused heart attacks.  (Business Watch NATURE vol. . 466 no. 7306 July 29, 2010 page 537) The federal government decided that there was not enough evidence to take the drug off the market (and it wouldn’t take much evidence) but I have read that even when treating type I juvenile onset diabetes, bringing the blood sugar to normal or near normal levels actually increases the death rate. 

I am not saying your doctor is wrong.  I am not really current on all of this.  But treating the obesity caused by modern life is not a trivial matter.

I don’t think we are all going to live to be a hundred.

It’s a pity.  In the old days people were thin because it took a lot of physical work to produce the food we needed.  Now we produce a lot more with a lot less labor.  We really need to make an effort to stay active.

It’s the best way to live long enough to watch history play itself out.

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