Hans Rosling: 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes

I’ve previously cited charts from Hans Rosling’s Gapminder to point out that U.S. longevity is worse than would be expected based on our GDP. Click for a legible plot:

If you fit a curve and measure distance beneath the curve, among rich nations only Brunei, Qatar, and maybe Luxembourg and Liechtenstein perform worse than the US. Americans die years earlier than we ought. I believe the reason for this is probably our agricultural subsidies for wheat, corn, and soybeans and the high intake of toxins they have engendered.

Well, Dr. Rosling has a nice new video, produced by the BBC. It does a great job illustrating how strongly longevity depends on income. In all countries, as incomes have risen over the last 200 years, lifespans have increased as well. Probably this has a lot to do with food quality and investments in water, sewage removal, and sanitation.

Here’s Dr. Rosling’s tour of 200 countries and 200 years in 4 minutes:

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35 Comments.

  1. One notices the countries at the upper right end of the longevity curve have remained relatively heterogenous. For now.

    The U.S., not so much. Hence her longevity ranking, like her educational acheivement ranking, is pulled down and to the left in relation to the replacement rate of her old stock Americans by select “new” people and their “new” progeny.

    I wonder which god Dr. Rosling and his fellows worships more fervently – the god of good health or the god of equality?

  2. Hi cipher,

    I assume you mean homogeneous, not heterogeneous?

    It’s true that African-American lifespans are 5 years shorter than white Americans, 73.2 vs 78.2 years, but even if you look at whites only, Americans are still short-lived compared to Europeans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, and East Asians.

    Most other well-off nations are over 80 years in life expectancy. So the US is clearly doing something wrong, health-wise.

    I’m sure Dr Rosling is pleased by increasing health and prosperity everywhere; and the decreasing suffering in the developing world is certainly something to applaud. As for unnecessary suffering in the US, I believe it’s to a great extent self- (government-)inflicted.

    Best, Paul

  3. Very fun, very clever design. Now I wish he would do a similar exercise but instead of life expectancy, using data for healthy, vital older citizens. Modern medicine does a great job keeping really unwell people alive for a long time.

  4. Thanks, Paul, for the correction(s). You know something – my interest in this general topic was stimulated by a visit to a shoe store of all things!

    I was suffering from plantar fasciitis at the time and the shoe store in question was owned and operated by a gentleman who understood that the root cause of many foot problems was our crummy, soft-soled sweatshop shoes.

    By contrast, the shoes he sold were all made in Europe. I bought a few pair and after a couple of weeks of walking around in them the symptoms disappeared.

    They’re an example of the European remnant who care for one another in proper, healthy ways.

  5. Hi cipher,

    Shoes are important! I had some minor foot problems that disappeared after I adopted barefoot-style shoes.

    For plantar fasciitis, it also helps to keep the calf muscles from getting tight. Keeping the ankle bent at 90 degrees while sleeping will prevent tightening of the calf and avoid problems with the fascia linking to the bottom of the foot.

    Best, Paul

  6. Paul said: “I believe the reason for this is probably our agricultural subsidies for wheat, corn, and soybeans and the high intake of toxins they have engendered.”

    I wonder. I know it’s trendy among low-carb/paleo writers to pin the health problems of America on agricultural subsidies. But I think there are several holes in that argument: 1) Much of the wheat, corn and soy production in this country is not subsidized. It is simply the result of farmers working to make a living raising a useful and marketable commodity. 2) Not all the grain and soy produced in America goes into the stomachs of Americans because: a) a goodly percentage of the grain and soy produced in this country is diverted to non-food usage, and b) many millions of bushels of grain are shipped to other countries where, in some cases, it might actually raise life expectancy by warding off starvation. 3) Except for school lunch rooms and such, people do still have a choice about what to eat. 4) It’s important not to view a correlation–agricultural subsidies/Americans’ less-than-the-best health–as causation. (I know you simply stated your own belief. But the “government subsidies=grain eating=Americans’ poor health” theme has been repeated so often, it seems to be viewed by many as fact.)

    Assuming Rosling’s chart is accurate, I think there might be other/additional things besides diet contributing to the somewhat lower life expectancy of people in the US. For example, does our higher income permit us to take more prescription drugs with nasty side effects, or undergo more risky surgeries? Does our higher income permit us to drive more cars and get involved in more fatal accidents? Etc. Etc. If all non-diet factors were ruled out (probably an impossible task), we might find diet to have no influence.

    That said, I plan to continue my low-carb, gluten-free life.

    Best,
    Marilyn

  7. Hi Marilyn,

    It’s notoriously difficult to figure out the causes of these epidemiological patterns. As you point out, that’s just my opinion. But since a wheat-based dietary pattern leads to shortened lifespans in other countries too (http://perfecthealthdiet.com/?cat=43), and we have molecular and cellular evidence for harm from wheat toxins, omega-6 fats, and corn toxins, I think there’s some evidentiary support for it.

    This health evidence is rather unfortunate for farmers at northern latitudes, since plants that flourish in the tropics tend to be healthier, but animals can detoxify wheat and corn for us, so northern farmers can make a healthy contribution to our diets by producing dairy, meat, and animal feeds.

    Best, Paul

  8. Me, being italo-german can’t help but notice that wheat can’t be the only problem (or even main problem). I mean, Italy is up there on par with france, while living on pasta and white bread like no other nation (but using much more fresh vegetables, olive oils, traditional foods etc.), while Germany (big bread eaters too, but much more open to american-like fast food) is just a bit above the US, and that with a much better health care system then Italy.
    To me that really looks like fructose, PUFA and several food additives togehter with the fact that Germans obvioulsy are fatter on average may be the bigger problem.

  9. Hi Franco,

    You could be right. Wouldn’t surprise me. Wheat is dangerous but its impact on lifespan may be more like a lottery, whereas fructose and PUFA harm everyone. They might generate a bigger impact in the longevity statistics.

  10. Thanks, Paul. My primary disagreement isn’t whether or not wheat, corn and soybeans might cause ill health. My disagreement is with your statement — and the statement of other low-carb/paleo writers — that somehow “our [USA] agricultural subsidies” are to blame. It’s a theory that has taken on a life of its own, repeated as fact, although there’s no proof — and probably not even a lot of correlation. Not all wheat, corn and soybean crops grown in America are subsidized. Certainly not all wheat, corn and soybeans grown in other countries are subsidized by our government. Either wheat, corn and soybeans cause ill health or they don’t. Blaming agricultural subsidies adds nothing to the discussion.

    I’m probably too old for anything to have much effect on my lifespan one way or another, but I enjoyed your book and have done some tweaking to my low-carb program. Thanks!

    Best,
    Marilyn

  11. Hi Marilyn,

    You raise a good question about whether agricultural subsidies have influenced wheat, corn, and soy consumption.

    I think they have. Even apart from production and price, another factor is that the US Dietary Guidelines are produced out of the Agriculture Department, and overseen by Congressmembers on the agriculture committees who largely come from states that receive a lot of subsidies. So there is a strong bias in support of continuing those programs, and the USDA tends to employ scientists who favor wheat-corn-soy based diets. So the Food Pyramid is more reflective of politics than the science. And this influences popular diets, many other doctors and professional societies that follow the government’s lead, and food companies. Welfare recipients, school lunch programs, and others are compelled to follow the USDA recommendations.

    I think if we had a free market in food that people would probably eat more healthily. But of course there’s no way to know for sure without doing an experiment.

    Here’s hoping that your life has many more decades of diet tweaking …

    Best, Paul

  12. Thank you! I’ll hit “three score years and ten” next summer. So maybe a couple more decades of tweaking. . . 🙂

    I know the theory is that since the government has a big investment in grain production, people in high places are pushing grain. That might be true to some extent. I think there are other factors as well. I think animal rights interests are pressuring to minimize use of animal products. I think the now long-standing national fat phobia also plays a part. Put those things — and probably other things I haven’t thought about — in a pot and stir, and voilà — the food pyramid.

    Incidentally, “agriculture” also includes animals, and among the various agricultural subsidies are subsidies of the beef and pork industries. What percentage of subsidies goes to wheat/corn/soybeans and what percentage goes to meat production, I don’t know. But if the government is pushing grain because they are subsidizing grain, then it would stand to reason that there would also be some pushing of meat.

    Best,
    Marilyn

  13. Following up my post on the obvious resistance to the toxic compounds of grain by italians, I found the following possible explanation:

    “In the Middle East and Europe, rates of these two genes are highest in populations (such as Greece, Italy, and France) closer to the Middle Eastern “fertile crescent” where agriculture in this part of the globe started, and lowest in areas furthest away, where the migrations of early Neolithic farmers with their grain-based diets took longest to reach (i.e., Northern Ireland, Scotland, Finland, Siberia). Closely correlating with both the occurrence of these genes and the historical rate of grain consumption are corresponding rates of deaths due to coronary heart disease. Those in Mediterranean countries who have been eating high-carbohydrate grain-based diets the longest (for example since approximately 6,000 B.C. in France and Italy) have the lowest rates of heart disease, while those in areas where dietary changes due to agriculture were last to take hold, such as Finland (perhaps only since 2,000 B.C.), have the highest rates of death due to heart attack. Statistics on breast cancer rates in Europe also are higher for countries who have been practicing agriculture the least amount of time.”

    Source: http://www.beyondveg.com/nicholson-w/hb/hb-interview2c.shtml

  14. Hi Franco,

    Very interesting, thank you.

    We know there has been some adaptation to Neolithic diets, that’s why groups like the Pima Indians and Polynesians get diabetes so quickly when they eat American diets.

    It’s plausible that Italians may be better adapted to wheat, as Germans are better adapted to dairy.

    These data would implicate food toxins as major causal factors in CVD and cancer.

    I was aware of a CVD association with agricultural ancestry, but not of a cancer link. That’s interesting.

    Thanks!

    Best, Paul

  15. Well, italians do indeed eat most of their “milk” (in form of cheese) and drink their coffee mostly black (but with sugar).
    Now, given my heritage I could be lucky to easily digest both, grain and milk, or (which seems much more likely – unfortunately) to have albeit small problems with both!
    I think I already wrote somewhere that I do feel drowsy and extremely sleepy after consuming large amounts of pasta or bread. Not so with potatoes or rice, even when I stuff myself with comparable starch-quantities. Easily fixed!
    With diary I seem to have a problem too I wanted to ask you anyways, as it seems a bit strange.
    I do not have problems with organic high fat milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese or butter of any kind but cream (more then ~100ml) can often – but must not always – give me diarrhea or at least lose stool.
    Strange, not?

  16. Hi Franco,

    You might find if you gave up grain your milk problems would disappear! As we’ve blogged wheat induces a leaky gut (http://perfecthealthdiet.com/?p=873) which makes any immunogenic proteins like those in milk much more prominent to the immune system.

    The drowsiness indicates an immune reaction in the body, clearing toxins or allergens. Not a surprise that “safe starches” don’t induce this effect but toxin-rich grains and allergenic milk proteins do.

    I am not sure why cream is worse than the others, but I’ve noticed that myself as well. Is your organic milk unpasteurized? I think the pasteurized proteins are particularly likely to cause trouble.

    Best, Paul

  17. I did already “give up” the grains (albeit I had pizza once during the last weeks – and felt awful thereafter) and the cream-issue may have improved a bit.
    I don’t think it’s the milk protein, as I have no problems with all the other diary and even was drinking casein protein shakes regularly in the past with no side effects. It may have something to do with processing of the cream though as I can’t get hold of organic or even raw cream here.
    If I think about, I might try to replace the ordinary cream with Mascarpone (italian kind of cream cheese – actually thick cream). I don’t remember ever to have problems with that.

    Thanks,
    Franco

  18. Franco wrote: “It may have something to do with processing of the cream . . .”

    One of our grocery stores carries heavy whipping cream in which the ingredient listed is cream. Period. Other stores only carry “heavy whipping cream” that contains first skim milk, then cream, then a bunch of detergents and thickeners to make the stuff whip up. I don’t know where you live, but maybe your “cream” doesn’t contain just cream.

  19. Hi Marilyn,

    thanks for the tip but I’m sure it contains just “cream” but is pasteurized. To me it looks like the uht-processing might be the problem as, like I wrote before, some high fat diary products do not bother me at all.
    If I think about, I did not have that problem when I was a kid and fresh cream was much more common in Germany. Nowadays it’s quite easy to get fresh organic milk but cream somehow fall out of fashion…
    I will go and buy the mascarpone tomorrow and will report back.

  20. Marilyn, thanks so much for the heads up on heavy cream. I just looked at the Publix (a local Florida supermarket chain) brand carton and it lists among the ingredients: Heavy Cream, Carrageenan, Mono and Diglycerides, Polysorbate 80. It also says: Contains milk ingredients.

    I guess you can’t assume that cream is just cream! I have to say that it whips up pretty easily and is delicious, but I’ll buy just plain cream next time.

  21. Franco and erp —

    Where I live, I also stay away from the organic milk/cream products because they are all ultra-pasteurized. I buy plain grocery store pasteurized whole milk, which is said to be from cows given no hormones, and the good plain heavy cream, when it’s available.

  22. From wikipedia

    “A recent publication[15] indicates that carrageenan induces inflammation in human intestinal epithelial cells in tissue culture through a BCL10-mediated pathway that leads to activation of NFkappaB and IL-8. Carrageenan may be immunogenic due to its unusual alpha-1,3-galactosidic link that is part of its disaccharide unit structure. Consumption of carrageenan may have a role in intestinal inflammation and possibly inflammatory bowel disease, since BCL10 resembles NOD2, mutations of which are associated with genetic proclivity to Crohn’s Disease.

    Carrageenan is reported to interfere with macrophage activity.[16][17][18]”

    And here’s what Ray peat says about the additive.

    http://raypeat.com/articles/nutrition/carrageenan.shtml

    Hagen Daz and some Breyer’s ice cream flavors do NOT have it, almost all others do.

    I wonder if it can be removed from typical store bought cream like erp mentioned…maybe at the right temperature, it can be separated?

  23. Publix also sells plain cream. I haven’t had a chance to get to the store to check out the ingredients, but when I do I’ll post the info into a comment here.

  24. I finally got out to the store and checked the ingredients in Publix brand plain whipping cream and the 100% organic cream, both listed Carrageenan and other chemicals in the ingredients.

    We’re finally getting a “health” food store nearby, so I’ll check them out to see if they will carry just plain cream.

  25. @Marilyn,

    I too have no problem with the “normal pasteurized” milk, that’s what you usually get here in the stores as “fresh” whole milk. Just the ultra high temperature pasteurization (and that’s how virtually all the creams in the shops are treated) gets to me rather quickly. ~30minutes after ingestion.

    @Perry and erp,

    Carrageenan! I’m confident it isn’t labeled on my cream BUT european labeling is regulated differently and it might be very well inside. I have to do some research on it.
    I do like Hagen Daz and have never had problems with it.

  26. That was fast:

    Carrageen (E 407) – That’s how it has to labeled in europe.
    I’m still confident it’s neither in plain cream nor milk here. My best bet is still the UHT-processing.

  27. Franco, Organic Valley Heavy Cream says ultra pasteurized, but lists Carrageenan and other chemicals (not visible in the picture) among the ingredients.

  28. If ice cream goes from frozen to milky and runny as it melts, then it is natural with no stabilizers.

    If it gets soft as it melts without first becoming runny, more along the lines of a soft serve product , then it has the gunk in it.

  29. Sure enough I have to eat my own words as it is indeed carrageenan in the uht-cream I have right now sitting in my fridge!
    But not in all brands, so I need to look around for alternatives.

    Thanks, guys!

  30. Perfect Health Diet » Ice Cream - pingback on February 20, 2011 at 1:57 pm
  31. Another possible reason why Italians have managed to do fairly well in the longevity stakes despite the high wheat intake, gluten and casein are soluable in alcohol and vinegar:

    “How have Italians survived as celiacs?

    Understanding this principle gives us tremendous insight into how Italians have survived over the years being a pasta-based culture. They drink wine with their meals and eat their oil and vinegar-soaked salad after their meals. Their appetizers (antipasto) are usually high fat meats (e.g. salami, prosciutto) and those items marinated in olive oil or vinegar. The fat and oil protects the villi from the attachment of gluten and casein in their upcoming main course while the vinegar and wine washes clean what does manage to attach. The fiber from the salad then scrubs the villi clean. It’s like soaking a paintbrush in mineral spirits then wiping it clean. How cool is that?”

    http://dogtorj.com/?page_id=3295

  32. Doug, great comment, interesting thought. Should be easy enough to test the gluten and casein content of stool to see if it increases with vinegar and oil consumption.

  33. According to wikipedia, rice syrup is mostly maltose and maltotriose, and only 3% glucose. Are these other forms of sugar alright? I thought I’ve heard bad things about maltose… perhaps only when it’s made from wheat?

  34. Hi Daniel,

    Maltose and maltotriose are digested to glucose, so they are no more dangerous than starch.

    If they are dangerous, it would have to be because of toxins in the source (e.g. corn) or introduced by industrial processing.

  35. I know this is an old post, but wanted to add that when I was trying to figure out what was causing my son’s acne, carrageenan caused a rapid inflamed type of acne. When I got rid of that in his diet, he stopped having it. I thought at the time that this was because it was from seaweed and gave him a higher dose of iodine at a time when his hormones (and thyroid) were not very stable. He also had what I would call “regular” acne (not hightly inflamed and cystic). That was helped by eliminating all soy protein. That also worked, but just took several weeks/few months for the undamaged skin to come to the surface.

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