Did the Health Environment Stop Getting Better in 1950?

That’s the rather provocative idea set forth in our latest post at Psychology Today, “The Rise — and Fall? – of American Health.”

We look at data on life expectancy and disease rates and ponder whether the era of improving public health may be ending. Here’s one of the key figures:

This is the first post in a series looking at the major factors in health and longevity, so if you’re interested in that topic, check out our Psychology Today post!

About Our Two Blogs

I have decided that I’m going to post distinct content on our two blogs. There will be no duplicate posts, though I will post a teaser here when I put something up on Psychology Today.

This blog will primarily be about personal health – how can each of us achieve the best possible health. It will continue to have research and speculative science in which we explore the causes of disease and tactics for becoming healthier, food posts, Around the Web posts, and in general the same type of content it’s always had. The audience we’ll try to speak to will be the Primal/Paleo/PHD/Ancestral Health community that most of us know and love.

Our Psychology Today blog will be addressed to people outside the Ancestral Health community. It will try to offer an ancestral health perspective on issues and controversies of widespread interest. We’ll be advocating an ancestral diet and lifestyle, but what we advocate will rarely be PHD-specific and most posts will seek to engage people who are not in the Ancestral Health community on topics of general public interest. We hope that this approach will help draw new people into our (to quote Mark Sisson) “new (yet ancestral), radical (yet reasonable) movement.”

Leave a comment ?


  1. Great Ideas Paul – Exited to continue reading both.

  2. Good luck on the new endeavour.

  3. This reminds me of a story I just saw today about a NIH study linking PCB exposure to the consumption of animal fats. It’s a sad, sad reminder of the fact that no matter how healthfully you try to eat, you cannot really minimize your exposure to certain very toxic environmental factors.


  4. Paul, you are going to love this!

    Maori TV series introduces New Zealanders to ancestral living.
    From the only public broadcaster in NZ, the only freeview channel not wall-to-wall rubish.

    • Thanks, George, looks fascinating. The first time I followed your link I got something about singing, but now it gives me The Native Diet show.

      • If the singing was Homai te Paki Paki, you’d love that to. But the Native Diet is hands down the best diet and food show I’ve seen on TV here. It jumps between culture and history, reality-show home movies of low-carb dieters, and cooking; it even shows you how buy safe cookware and shop for food. The big issue for most of the dieters is giving up bread. It’s like a real-life endorsement of Wheat Belly. Carbs are restricted during the weight loss phase but fats are not added (or restricted); a little olive oil, coconut oil, or clarified butter are what’s recommended for cooking. There’s a focus on traditional safe starches for maintenance. Whoever planned the diet and scripted and produced the show really knows what they are doing.

        • Hi George,

          You know, Julianne Taylor’s husband is a TV producer in NZ. I wonder if he is involved?

          • Aha – there was a shout-out to Julianne on the Native Diet Facebook.
            They also have a website here: http://www.nativediet.co.nz/
            And here’s an old item looking for volunteers: http://news.tangatawhenua.com/archives/13492

          • There are accumulating signs that N.Z. is about to go low-carb, Gary Taubes, Wheat Belly crazy. And about time too.
            it’s going to be very interesting over the next few years.
            Luckily we have the PHD for the hangover.

          • George, maybe they can start with PHD. We have an Australian publisher for the new edition, Scribe, and their Aussie/NZ edition should be out in a month or so.

          • Fantastic, if I can order it here I won’t need to wait as long!
            Yes julianne is involved: http://www.nativediet.co.nz/advisors/
            and Bridget Quick wrote the diet and recipes; she’s the food editor for North and South, a major magazine with a reputation for investigative journalism which recently ran a great spread on the diet wars, citing Yudkin, Lustig and Taubes, as well as a pice on the role of the microbiome.
            The Native Diet blog also links to Crossfit, they seem to have a lot of centres here and a Maori focus.
            Which is not suprising; Maori may top the negative health stats in New Zealand, but they also top the sports results, so they’re ideally placed to lead the way.

          • Hi Paul,
            does the Australian edition differ from the non Aussie edition.
            ie. uses metric units, written in “English English” not US English?

            anything else?

          • Hi Darrin,

            Yes, metric units, Australian/British spellings, and it uses Australian sources / health data rather than American where possible. But apart from those changes and a different cover it’s the same.

          • This is wonderful to see the promotion of ancestral diets, thanks for sharing George.

          • George,

            What is your impression of how native the foods are on the Native Diet? Things like beef, pork, coconut oil, ghee seemed a little out of place to me, although I admit I’m not that familiar with M?ori food.

            traditional M?ori food
            birds, fish, wild herbs, roots. M?ori potato (taewa tutaekuri), greenlip mussels, puha greens, salmon, manuka (New Zealand ti tree) honey, kelp (dried algae), peppery horopito leaves, Rakiura mutton bird, eels, fish from the ocean, shellfish, and kina (sea eggs), wine/grapes (indigenous, but traditional?).

          • Yes, none of those were native; but birds and seals that would have been in traditional diet are now protected. Also, cannibalism was fairly widespread and sometimes nutritionally important before and immediately after European arrival. Not something much discussed in NZ at present. At some stage Maori imported and used dogs and rats but these became extinct. So there is some need for substitutes; it’s about paleo principles, not paleo re-enactment, as Kurt Harris says.

          • Yep, I agree the fundamentals are key and The Native Diet webpage is good about qualifying it:

            Centered on commonly available modern foods, the Native Diet consists mainly of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit and root vegetables (allowed foods); and excludes grains, dairy products, refined sugar and processed oils.

            The part I sometimes wonder about is will all populations do well and be adapted to say eggs, coconut oil, or ghee if those are not the foods they’ve eaten much of historically. In the show, they talked about measuring blood cholesterol, but they didn’t publish them like they did blood pressure – I would have found that interesting and it makes me wonder if they found outliers that would have caused an issue with supporting the diet/show. Maybe not, but a thought that crossed my mind. Perhaps some populations do not metabolize dietary cholesterol and certain types of fats the same, even if those things have not been statistically proven to be a problem in a general population.

            Just an example and the thought is maybe some foods/fats are healthy in some populations and not as much in others – like dairy would be a common example … or the amount of starch …

          • I loved the way they said ‘there’s theory that cholesterol is caused by eating eggs’, without comment.
            There was a similar program here a few years ago that did “improve” lipids. The old Maori diet was fairly rich in cholesterol – fish eggs, shellfish, eggs, fatty birds, all rich sources. And Maori came quite recently from lands where coconuts and pigs were normal items of diet. NZ is not their “ancestral” land on an evolutionary scale – Taiwan or the Philippines might be more relevant.
            No-one knows what pre-European maori lipids were like. Genetic factors alone account for cholesterol variations of +/- 59%.

          • Yes, genetics … I know Chris Kresser acknowledges some people are hyper-responders to dietary cholesterol (25%) and saturated fats, even though that might not be the case more generally.

            It makes me wonder if epigenetics could have a role in making hyper-responders less so …

  5. Paul,

    Didn’t know precisely where to post this.

    What are your thoughts on the fact that cardiac event related mortality is dropping in the US–despite what i would assume is a worsening diet and reduced exercise. It’s clearly incident with the greater rate of statin use in general (and catheterizations / other procedural therapies), and the high risk groups have been extensively dosed with those drugs for a number of years now.

    I’m struggling with how this fits into the general negative attitudes towards statins and conventional nutritional guidelines in general. From a cardiac standpoint anyway (and that’s important as it was from one perspective the number one mortality problem we had), we seem to be enjoying some success.

    • Hi James,

      Cardiovascular disease mortality peaked in 1960 and fell 30% 1960-1990 before statins became popular.

      Clinical trials have had shown the effect of statins to be fairly small.

      Probably reduced rates of smoking and cleaner air were the biggest factors. Surgery and stents have also been factors too, since mortality has declined more than disease incidence.

      It’s always a complex problem to sort out the many factors affecting health outcomes. That’s why epidemiology has had such trouble providing reliable answers.

      • “Surgery and stents have also been factors too, since mortality has declined more than disease incidence.”

        I don’t think there is evidence to support this, either. I recommend the books of Dr. Nortin Hadler for excellent reviews of what is known about the benefits of cardiovascular surgery and interventional cardiology, as well as statin drugs. The whole heart disease industry seems to be a bit of a fraud, with a few exceptions.

      • Thanks, this is new to me and I appreciate the perspective.

    • My understanding is statins may reduce CVD events, but does not extend lifespan from all causes. Possibly due to the negative affects of statins. Statins do seem to slightly extend lifespan in some men with pre-existing heart disease.

  6. James, one possibility is greater awareness and use today of omega 3 – this is one intervention that does reduce mortality.
    Better success for smoking cessation, 5 plus fruits and veges for blood pressure.

    In the past many more medicines than today were cardiotoxic. OTC and prescription decongestants, slimming products, asthma drugs, many have been taken off the market since the 1970s because of cardiotoxicity. The role of this toxic environment in contributing to CVD deaths is probably significant; and the same goes for workplace and environmental toxins such as organochlorine pesticides and PCBs. Greater modern efforts towards preventing urban air pollution would help too.

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