This morning, on the radio, there was a show discussing obesity and the guy opened with a speech quoting various studies and the first one was “Obese people lose on average 8 years of life expectancy”. The rest of the show was actually very interesting because there was a doctor specialising in dealing with obese people who ridiculed such amalgamous studies, if not their findings, at least their dubious effects.
But that’s not my pet peeves. It’s this obsession with life expectancy. The age we could reach has become the age we should reach and the idea that if we don’t, we have failed.
Everywhere, the first argument against anything considered harmful is that you will not live as long as you should. Everywhere the first argument for anything considered good is that it wold help you live longer but where does this obsession with living longer comes from? What happened to humanity for it to be obsessed with reaching 200 years old? Especially when you are considered irrelevant you after you reach 60…
Is that some kind of world-wide contest we are signed in straight from birth to find out who will be the winner of Mr and Miss Longevity? Who has decided that living as long as possible was to key to a successful, happy life?
The more I hear about it, the more I see people stress about it, the more it sound like a final school exam we have to pass after a lifetime of revisions: will you reach your age goal before you die? If you work hard, you will. If you don’t, you won’t.
But what’s the price? Will I go somewhere special if I live longer than the age I could reach? How do I know that age? Is it fixed or a variable? Is it carved on me somewhere I can’t see? Is my body coming with an expiration date I have to overcome? What happened if I don’t? Then I die “sooner”…and what happened if I do? Will my life really be a failure?
I understand that life expectancy is an important landmark when you see that the average one in some African countries is 35 years old. This is the manifestation of endless plagues. Life expectancy is an index for health and anything affecting the lifestyle of a country. When Russia’s plummeted after the break-up of the USSR, it was a sign of turmoil. But in our everyday, it has turned into a contest and a supposed key to fulfilment.
I was born in 1984 and I am being told I should live to 80. First: no! The baby boys born today could be living to 80 but what about me? I don’t know and frankly no one knows what their life expectancy is, what number was attached to them when they were born so why are we still trying to convince people to eat less, stop smoking and drinking by telling them that they will fail a goal they have never set themselves?
The way I see these studies is that they are trying to play on our increasing hypochondria. They are basically telling me that if I were a bit more responsible with my eating, I could die at 80 instead of 72. Well, I am sorry but I’d rather die at 72 knowing that I ate what I wanted and enjoyed it rather than realising on my death bed at 80 that I spent my whole bloody life depriving myself of my favourite just so I could live a bit longer without it. And what’s in these eight extra years that makes them so special anyway?
And I am irresponsible, reallly? I am putting my life in danger? It’s not like my pleasure is to speed on the motorway hands of the wheel shouting “YOLO!” because THAT is irresponsible as it puts the life of others at risk. If the person wants to kill themselves, be it but endangering the life of others is what is unacceptable and irresponsible. Here, it’s just me eating cakes. Overweight and obese people are not endangering anyone so why are people obsessed with how many years we are supposedly going to miss because of that?
I know where the real issue is because the bogus argument about the fear of dying youngER than one should is fairly new. When it comes to eating, the argument used to be “Don’t you want to be attractive. I mean, look at you, all fat and lonely. People will not like you if you’re fat”. However, this argument is more revealing of the accuser’s shallowness than the accused’s behaviour. It is a terrible image of a society that is ready to exclude people based of what they look like. So, although this argument is stronger than ever in people’s attitude, we speak of another argument that is made to sound more caring: “You’ll die younger, you know. I am just worried about you…” Aw, the pleasure of “healthy” people who are all extremely caring and very pushy too in their desire to interfere in your life to dispense unsolicited wisdom. Is that what healthy does to people?
The second reason is the usual focus on numbers: on quantity instead of quality. It’s the same in every aspect of our lives: age, weight, money, penis size, breasts size, materialism. Some numbers have to be as high as possible, others as balanced as possible, sometimes as little as possible. It’s all about numbers here to quantify our happiness.
Now let’s look at the reality of growing old. My grand-father is 82, he has “beaten” his life-expectancy and when I talk about his age to people they are all so happy for him that he “managed it”, as if he had spent all his life getting ready for it. It’s like he won a race he never intended to run. “He must be so happy!”
No, he’s not! He’s a man who worked non-stop from 16 to 67 and when he retired, the shock was such that he lost every single hair on his body. He took two years to grow back. For the past 15 years, he has been bored. It was fine when he still had the strength to do DIY and make wooden furniture but about ten years ago, he lost his strength, his reflexes, his legs couldn’t allow him to stand for too long and since then he has basically been waiting for death. I see a man who says he sincerely wishes he had died 10 years ago when he could still do something with his hands and think straight.
The society is looking at my grand-father like a winner, a man who vanquished nature by living longer than “he should” for a man born in 1932. I am not saying that all old people are miserable but what I see in him and many older people is that dragging life to an undignified, endless end is not a fulfilment in itself and should not be used to convince people to be healthier. Dying maybe a bit younger but with a feeling that you enjoyed your life all the way, on the other hand, is.
Bottom line is: these studies about life-shortening are mostly irrelevant and bark at the wrong tree. It will be relevant to point out the dangers of death when the risk is extremely high, as it is with highly potent drugs, sexual transmitted diseases or dangerous behaviours. AIDS will not shorten your life by a couple of years but will cut it in half, an overdose or a car accident will kill you on the spot. I am not talking about that because there are no studies about it, they are a fact of life.
But telling me to eat less cakes or telling a 20-year-old to quit smoking otherwise we live less than we should is daft at best. Use the present, make it a fact of life, not yet another study filled with shoulda’s, coulda’s, woulda’s. Make it relevant to us: talk about incidence on sex and our everyday health, our performance in jobs, mention the diseases that are not just going to shorten our life but rather make it very hard to live. I know I am scared stiff of diabetes for instance and that tempers my binge eating sometimes. Tell people who smoke that they are endangering the lives of their loved ones if they smoke in public, for instance. No one likes to be a selfish bastard. Expect John Terry, of course.
The options are endless and these are truly working, not the may-be-missing annual calendars in the bin.