It was buried on page 7 of The New York Times Sunday Review section: “A Medical Mystery of the Best Kind: Major Diseases Are in Decline.”
After a week of tragedy and strife, Gina Kolata’s article offered a little good news. It turns out that major diseases are in decline in wealthy, industrialized countries. And as of yet, medical science hasn’t figured out why.
It looks as if people in the United States and some other wealthy countries are, unexpectedly, starting to beat back the diseases of aging. The leading killers are still the leading killers — cancer, heart disease, stroke — but they are occurring later in life, and people in general are living longer in good health.
Colon cancer is down 50 percent from its highs a generation ago. Hip fractures are down. Dementia is down. Heart disease has been down.
Of course they’re not wiped out. We’re not going to live until 120. (Given the challenges Western countries have with addressing and incorporating the elderly in society — a topic so fraught nobody has even picked up a Norman Lear TV series about the idea — I always wonder about the desire to live so long, which sometimes amounts to a denial of dying in general. But that’s a separate issue.) Still, this is good news, particularly if it helps scientists figure out the causes.
(Side note: The article mentions some horrific diseases of the past that also went into unexplained decline. I knew about the ravages of tuberculosis — that disease looms over 19th- and early 20th-century literature like a dark cloud — but TIL that stomach cancer was the No. 1 cancer killer in the 1930s. I had no idea.)
One researcher believes there may be something happening within cells. It’s an intriguing prospect.
Now, if we can only move on some other public health initiatives.