Last year, as we stared into the empty cake tin and burped guiltily, researchers told us that our children’s generation would be the first in history to have a lower life expectancy than the preceding generation. The obesity epidemic was such that they were driving themselves to an early grave - via the kebab shop.
However, we appear to have turned things around very quickly because last week we were told that half of the babies being born now will probably live to be 100. Did someone ban Viennese Whirls? Has everyone given up smoking? Or is this just a different piece of research by some different people looking at different bits of information and projecting a wholly different set of possibilities as a result? I’m thinking the latter, and that both involve a certain amount of guesswork. However, which of those projected futures is the most helpful one for us to be presented with?
Obviously we might prefer the one where our children and grandchildren not only live to be over 100 but also - because of the nature and extent of the medical breakthroughs that will enable the longevity - they will be sprightly, too. In what amounts to a bumper edition of Tomorrow’s World we have been told we can expect everything from muscle regeneration to bionic ears. In India they are close to building affordable man-made hearts. We may get old, we may get tired but there will be a range of cures and spare parts available. This is just as well, because if people are going to live to be 120 we really can’t afford to have them retiring in early middle age. They’re going to have to work until they are at least 98.
‘We were told that half of the babies being born now will probably live to be 100. Did someone ban Viennese Whirls? Has everyone given up smoking?’
And there may be other knock on effects. People won’t leave school until they are 32 and will struggle to find work what with all the experienced and sprightly octogenarians showing you where the salad is in Pizza Hut.
But I suppose the nicest thing about this vision of the future is that we don’t have to do anything in order to get it. Someone else - over in the muscle regeneration laboratory - is doing it for us. We will just have to wait to receive the magic pills.
Whereas with the other vision of the future - the one in which our children’s generation get heart disease at 37 and don’t make it past 70 - we are being told to act. Eat better, exercise more. It’s a bleak future with a list of jobs attached. The new vision is far more attractive. I can eat biscuits while waiting for my fat busting tablet.
But given that both bits of research are just projections of possible futures, the scary one is by far the most helpful. It empowers people rather than pacifies them. It encourages personal responsibility rather than making paternalistic assurances. And, given the expense attached to a cure all health service, it’s the most likely one too, isn’t it?
Because these new muscles, ears and cures will come at a price - everything does. Call me bleak but I think I’ll stick with the vision that imagines I can do something to contribute to my wellbeing. Apart from anything else I don’t really trust people who guess and then call it science.