Category Archives: Health

What would a perfectly healthy world population look like? This particular category is one of the most problematic to measure. Most countries measure their physical well-being by infant mortality rates which are also, of the information available measuring humanity’s health, the most available in terms of countries reporting it. That said, the data is also under-reported, inaccurate, outdated, and frequently completely absent. But it’s still the most accurate, available and comprehensive information we have to work with so far. I dream of a world when we measure a country’s health by their population’s daily exercise programs!

The Biotech Revolution — Will It Be Televised?

HealthThere’s a new tech revolution on the horizon and just like the fun gadgets we all love to play with so much today, this one is going to change our lives dramatically. In fact, this revolution will impact our lives far more than the current silicon tech revolution.

But you don’t hear much about it really. Bits and pieces, stories, show up on the internet, on our televisions, or we hear about them on Science Friday on NPR, but then they vanish back into the information matrix of the planet and we forget about them.

I think the reason for this is twofold. The first reason is typical of our mass media and its gnat-sized attention span, and unfortunately, the equally limited ability many of its reporters to grasp the science fully and what the new R&D could mean.

The second reason is simpler: We’re terrified.

Okay, there have been a lot of positive developments in medical biotechnology starting with the discovery and development of insulin, up to the recent use of neutralized HIV viruses to infect T-cells re-engineering them to successfully attack leukemia cancer cells.

There are machines being developed now to custom-print a replacement for a broken bone, and ones that can create bespoke drugs fitted to a patient’s genetic profile. There is even a new technology to grow organs, again specific to one patient, on specially built “cell scaffolding.

But this isn’t the reason we’re all a little nervous. All those developments will help us live longer and (if we can just figure out how to bring out current planetary resource needs ratio down closer to 1:1) that doesn’t sound too bad.

But there are, of course, other sides to all of this tech development. The cost of DNA profiling has dropped dramatically over the last ten years. This, of course, means that health insurance companies, as well as the government will probably want your complete genetic profile — in order to protect you, of course — within the next 20 years.

And, if we can grow organs, why not whole humans? Although most Americans will be turning and running full speed away from that idea (except for cloning their pets which seems to be an ongoing obsession) you can bet that some North Koreans are thinking about how they could bring back their Dear Leader.

Speaking of mass mind control, what about all the new brain research coming out? We are closer and closer to finding the answers to dementia, but once we find them, why not just prescribe drugs and therapies so that people can maintain their intellectual activity level and not have to suffer any slowdown? (And these reinvigorated seniors will of course want to keep working past age 65, way past.)

We’ve even been able to build machines controlled solely by our minds. This development is creating a huge opportunity for patients with paralysis, and those with “locked-in” syndrome may soon be far freer than we could ever have hoped. (In the Only in Japan category, this technology was immediately put to good use by creating a “cat ears” headset that reflects the wearer’s mood. Not cat-earssurprisingly, they are very popular.) One researcher has even asked to begin recording Stephen Hawking’s brainwaves for research purposes (kind of like a 21st century version of analyzing Einstein’s brain.)

But if we can read brainwaves and translate them into machine actions, couldn’t we also alter people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors?

I’ve been a science fiction as well as science fact reader for most of my life. One of the most challenging things for a science fiction writer to do is to project from current trends into the future. Many SF writers have commented over the last 20 years that it is hard for them to keep up with the speed at which technology of all kinds is developing. But those who do venture into the uncharted territories of our biotech future come back with some amazing discoveries.

One short story that has stuck with me for many years (and my apologies — I cannot seem to track down the author) involved a mother at home late in the evening with her two daughters. The younger daughter was complaining loudly that she did not want to go to bed, that couldn’t she stay up a little longer? The mother insisted that no, she couldn’t, she needed her sleep. So the little girl went to bed and the mother continued on some work she had brought home from the office. And her older daughter continued her studies. All night until morning. The human need for sleep had been eliminated for adults and older children. As well as the need for dreams.

I think that’s why we are not talking about the coming biotech revolution as much as we should be, and why we are terrified. But we really need to start talking. Soon.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. For a fun romp around the future including some of the ideas above — at least according to Popular Mechanics — check out their recent article, 110 Predictions for the Next 110 Years.

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The (Very Large) Elephant in the Room

I mentioned in my first post on the topic of health that ideally, instead of measuring world health by rates of infant mortality, this would eventually decline so much that we could switch to a metric based on a country’s physical fitness, a function linked more to prosperity. Well, with infant mortality rates dropping, I seem to have gotten my wish, a lot sooner than I thought, but maybe not in the best way. (Always, always, be careful what you wish for!)

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released, for the first time, global figures for all 194 member countries of the UN on the percentage of men and women with high blood pressure, and with raised blood sugar levels, a symptom of diabetes. What the figures clearly showed is the spread of chronic diseases such as heart disease from developed nations to poorer regions, as lifestyles and diets change. Even if you are aware of the problem in the U.S. (Amazingly, a lot of people are not — read this if you are not convinced!) you will probably be a bit shocked at the speed at which obesity and all its related diseases (diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc…) is literally spreading across the globe.

Some highlights from this article from Reuters:

  • One in three adults worldwide has raised blood pressure and the condition affects almost half the adult population in some countries in Africa;
  • One in 10 adults worldwide has diabetes, an illness that costs billions of dollars to treat and puts sufferers at risk of heart disease, kidney failure and blindness; up to a third of the population in some Pacific Island countries have the condition;
  • Rates of obesity have doubled in every region of the world between 1980 and 2008; and half a billion people – or 12 percent of the world’s population – are considered obese.

The medical community is working hard to address this epidemic. (Yes, it’s an epidemic. Ironically, people worry far more about the next super-virus or terrorist attack than the thing that is killing more of us than ever before and is right in front of our faces, stacked high on a plate.) However, although the idea of a “magic pill” is appealing, what the doctors are actually saying, screaming, yelling as loud as they can, is that there’s really only one way out: better diet and exercise.

The obesity/diabetes/heart disease epidemic is actually a challenge to our essential human nature: eat as much as you can and everything will be okay. We need to overcome that and it’s not easy.

But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Actually, there’s one really easy thing you can do today, right now: just walk! Just take a few extra steps. That’s all. If lots of people took those few extra steps, added up, we might have a shot at beating this. Let’s give ourselves that chance!

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. There are about a zillion ways to make exercising more fun — even more so with the advent of smart phone apps — so I won’t go into all of them here except to say that if I started with Fitocracy a few months ago and, though I’m just a newbie, I am finding that getting “awards” and “medals” for my slowly increasing fitness achievements, puts a smile on my face every day and makes it a little more fun! There are also a lot of very knowledgeable people on the forum for all sorts of questions and support.

PPS. I should also note that I work with Diabetes In Control, an online medical newsletter and website geared towards clinicians with the goal of keeping them current on the latest medical news related to diabetes.

Eradicating Deadly Diseases Forever

Something really cool is happening in India. Something that most people haven’t taken much notice of but which is truly astonishing and worthy of celebration across the globe. The deadly disease of polio has almost completely been eradicated, and India may be declared disease free within the next few weeks. This is a remarkable achievement for a country once deemed an epicenter of the disease.

Is it important that we ask ourselves: what worked? The disease is still present in three countries — Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria — and the battle against will need to continue. Partly an international effort, partly a determined effort by the government itself, and a lot of money through various organizations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Teams of volunteers from Rotary International also made it their mission to finish polio off once and for all.

India’s intensive effort even has extended to setting up polio vaccination stalls at the closest train station to the Pakistan border. Perhaps this self-protective step may even help Pakistan in its own steps to eradicate the disease.

Uganda Man with Polio Using Flip-Flops on Hands to Walk

It would be wonderful if the world would stop and acknowledge India’s incredible feat but it seems we are too distracted with other things. However, I do fervently hope that we do not forget the dangers of this terrible disease and relax our guard. Fortunately, these brave volunteers and health workers have worked tirelessly to make polio history, and for a while, I have high hopes that we will not easily forget.

Thanks for stopping by!

Heather McC

Infant “Un-Mortality” Rates Improving

I’ve been looking forward to updating these numbers for a while now and finally had the chance last night. I’d been using this information from Wikipedia (btw, if you are trying to access this and any other Wikipedia site on Wednesday, Jan. 18 you may not get through because they’ve gone on “strike” for the day), but was really excited when Unicef released new numbers finally. The 2010 numbers are available in their Child Mortality Report 2011. (It’s in pdf format so you’ll need Adobe Reader.) One more technical note: in keeping with my positive take on my quest for 100%, I am subtracting the infant mortality rate from 10. (So it’s really an “Infant Survivability” or maybe “Infant Un-mortality” rate!)

What I found was just astonishing, and truly good news. Almost every single country listed had an increase, even if it was only a tenth of a percent! The European countries, which already have extremely low infant mortality rates, even improved, especially in Eastern Europe. (Oddly, most seemed to settle at 99.7% for some reason.)

Latin American, Asian, but most especially African countries all seemed to improve with a few standouts:

  • The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) actually improved 1% despite the horrible and continuing conflict there. (I am amazed at the commitment and strength of women and medical personnel to saving children’s lives there that this reflects.)
  • Liberia and Zambia improved almost 5%.
  • Malawi and Rwanda did improve by 5%.
  • And even Sierra Leone, which has been wracked with conflict showed an improvement of almost 2%.

From the report, “Since 1990 the global under-five mortality rate has dropped 35 percent—from 88 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 57 in 2010.  Northern Africa, Eastern Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, South-eastern Asia, Western Asia and the developed regions have reduced their under-five mortality rate by 50 percent or more.”

We still have a ways to go, 21,000 children under 5 dying every day, is still way too many. but, according to the report, the rate of decline has accelerated. We are getting there! Wouldn’t it be amazing if we were to see this rate get to 99.99% Survivability within our lifetimes?

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. A quick addition/caveat to this post after perusing the news some more over the week. With recent global food prices increasing and some severe food shortages in some countries (especially East Africa), I am less optimistic that infant mortality rates will show a decline in 2011. Another concern which has also come up is the possibility that some countries are under-reporting infant mortality but, with global transparency increasing, I am hopeful that this will occur less and less over time.

Health

What would a perfectly healthy world population look like? I can barely imagine this. Most of our global leaders, I’m guessing, are in the same position. We, as humans, contend on a daily basis with so many life-threatening health issues that it is almost impossible to imagine life without them.

However, despite this, I truly believe we are not that far off from a new state of better health for humanity.

This particular category is one of the most problematic to measure. Most countries measure their physical well-being by infant mortality rates which are also, of the information available measuring humanity’s health, the most available in terms of countries reporting it. That said, it’s also under-reported, inaccurate, outdated, and frequently completely absent. But it’s still the most accurate, available and comprehensive data which we have to work with.

My dream, though, is to have a far different measure, where we no longer need to measure “Third World” statistics like a country’s freedom from hunger, malaria, and HIV/AIDS, but instead, we focus on “Developed World” diseases like diabetes, heart disease and other “lifestyle” afflictions. What if a country’s overall health was measured by the U.N. in terms of their population’s daily exercise programs?

Maybe hunger and disease would be consigned to the history books, and we would see a world of bright-eyed, smiling, energetic, and creative children, who would only know of those horrific afflictions through the stories of their elders.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC