According to the US Centers for Disease Control, lifestyle and
environmental factors, taken together, account for over 70% of premature deaths from the ten leading causes of death (hereditary factors contributing a further 20%). Only about 10% of premature deaths can be influenced by medical services, says the report.19 As a result most cases of premature death in the United States could be avoided by preventive action. A 1979 analysis by Boston University’s John McKinlay reached a similar conclusion, that “Prevention of disease by social and environmental management offers greater promise than any other means presently available.”20 And since the underlying causes of these conditions have been identified by human studies, it follows that at best animal experimentation could only have a comparatively small impact on our health, even assuming it to be a reliable or indeed the only method of research.
Despite the fact that preventive measures would have by far the greatest impact, health resources are overwhelmingly channelled into treating people once they have become ill. By failing to tackle the underlying causes, the incidence of disease may not decline and could even increase. Indeed, the British General Household Survey revealed a progressive increase in the number of people reporting chronic sickness between 1972 and 1982.21 In 1972, 29% of men and 31% of women aged 45-64 reported being chronically sick but this had increased to 41% and 42% respectively by 1982. A substantial proportion reported sickness sufficiently severe to limit their activities. Levels of chronic sickness have also increased in the elderly which suggests that although people are living longer, their quality of life may not have improved.
A similar pattern emerged in the United States with the number of restricted activity days per person increasing from 14.6 in 1970 to 19.1 in 1981.22 Further studies by Professor Thomas Chirikos of the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health suggests that the increase in disability rates among the working population does indeed reflect a deterioration in health status over the period 1957 to 1982.23 This is despite a substantial increase in health expenditure from around 4.5% of the gross national product in 1955 to 7.4% in 1970 and 10.9% (or $458.2 billion) by 1986.24
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