Friday, 5 August 2011

Do they want us to live forever?

Yesterday, most news outlets picked up on a press release from the Department of Work and Pensions warning of the huge social and economic costs of everyone living to be a hundred. The purpose of the story, no doubt, is to soften up the population for a century of increased retirement ages and falling pensions. The "new analysis" - based on ONS statistics - suggested that by 2066 there will be "at least half a million" centenarians. A girl born today has a one in three chance of reaching the milestone, whereas if you've already made it to eighty you've only a six per cent chance of staggering on for another twenty years. (After the mid eighties, your chances get slightly better, though you have to be ninety-seven before your odds of getting to a hundred catch up with the baby's.)

So the younger you are, the longer you'll live, unless you happen to by Amy Winehouse. For each year you've already clocked up, you're a little bit less likely to live to be a hundred than someone slightly younger. Which seems slightly unfair. The figures are based on past and current trends, of course. They assume that advances in medical care, health and general vitality will continue indefinitely and at much the same rate into the foreseeable future. That's what the government assumes, and what it is using as the basis for its calculations. The official analysis is available in pdf format here.

But hang on a minute. What about the obesity "timebomb" we're always being warned about. Take this story from 2008:


Today's children could live shorter lives than their parents due to the obesity epidemic, it has been warned.

If trends continue as expected, average life expectancy could fall for the first time in hundreds of years, said health specialists.

A quarter of five-year-olds and more than a third of 10-year-olds are overweight or obese and numbers are predicted to rise steeply over the next few decades.

By 2050 it is estimated that half of the British population will be clinically obese. The resultant surge in health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, will affect life expectancy.

Dr Peter Bradley, the director of public health in Suffolk, said: "If you become obese when you are young then your life expectancy will be considerably less."


This doesn't compute. Either there's no such thing as the "obesity epidemic", or the government is leaving it out of its calculations. Yet other parts of government, such as the Department of Health, are extremely worried about obesity, as well as about other "lifestyle" factors that can shorten life expectancy, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, insufficient exercise, or not having regular diagnostic checks. The Department of Health spends millions of pounds each year instructing us all to eat five portions a day, get out of the car and take statins, just so that we can all live longer, avoid heart attacks and cancer, and thus endure a miserable, impoverished old age, bankrupting the country with increased pensions and care bills in the process.

Not exactly joined-up government, is it?