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These Health Problems Are So Twenty-First Century

Your lungs and polluted air

In the twentieth century, humanity got a handle on many infectious diseases that had previously ravaged our lives – at least in developed economies. Tuberculosis went from being one of the biggest killers to something practically nobody has heard of today. And it was all made possible by advances in sanitation, antibiotics, and vaccinations.

But just as those diseases have ebbed, many new health problems have cropped up. Moreover, they’re not a result of evolution or foreign biology but an outgrowth of human technology. Medicine can cure many of the diseases of the past, but it’s clear that humanity will have to take a more holistic approach to manage health in the future.

Flash Pandemics

Many public health officials think they have the tools to combat pandemics. They believe that a repeat of the 1918 flu pandemic, which wiped up nearly 100 million people, will never occur with the right approach.

Swine flu and other illnesses could run rampant one day
Disease outbreaks might occur more in the future. Photo by Diego Cupolo, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Unfortunately, modern technology creates the perfect environment for deadly pathogens to flourish. The combination of modern, intensive animal farming with the liberal use of antibiotics creates an environment where new strains are regularly churned out. Antibiotics are actively selecting for traits resistant to our only current defense. And the proximity of humans and animals makes it more likely that animal-only diseases jump over and infect people.

We’ve already seen this happen half a dozen times this century. SARS spread quickly before it was brought under control, and so too have new strains of bird and swine flu. Fortunately, the death toll from these diseases has been relatively limited. But repeated outbreaks may become more global; if they do, the entire world could suffer the consequences.

Lung Disease From Air Pollution

Air pollution was supposed to be getting better. After all, we’ve had decades of regulation on polluting industries. But thanks to globalization and policy blunders, air pollution remains stubbornly high, even in developed countries, and it causes all lung problems.

One of the ways that politicians have tried to reduce air pollution historically is by shipping polluting industries overseas. The first part of the plan went well: most steelworks and coal power plants went overseas to places like China and the Far East.

But the second part of the plan, localizing that pollution, didn’t. It was believed that natural air currents would help clear the polluted atmosphere once it hit Western countries. But today’s data shows that all the soot and cancer-causing particles from chimney stacks in China make their way around the whole Northern Hemisphere, carpeting most of the Western world.

The other policy blunder drove people to buy more diesel cars because of their lower CO2 profile. This might have been a good policy from the perspective of climate change, but when it comes to lung health, it was a disaster.

Particles in diesel fumes can get into the lungs and cause conditions like asthma, cancer, and COPD. And this has led to an epidemic of poor lung health in cities like London, Toronto, and New York.

Sadly, water pollution is also a reality. Find out if you qualify for VA benefits because of contaminated water exposure.

Spinal Issues

The need for people to get up and move around has declined throughout the twenty-first century. Machines have already replaced most physical jobs, and the vast majority of workers earn money by selling their cognitive skills. As a result, physical activity in the workplace is hitting all-time lows.

Poor spine alignment and mobile devices
Text neck is the name of the spinal condition that can result from texting while walking. Photo by By User:Mikael Häggström, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

At the same time, the type of activity we spend most of the day doing is at odds with our basic biology. We spend hours in cramped chairs leaning over computers and phones, typing emails, and filling out spreadsheets.

Even when we’re moving around, we’re prone to text neck if we text while walking. Spinal issues, therefore, are becoming a major problem for the majority of the population and a leading cause of morbidity.

Solutions, like standing desks and walking desks, have been proposed as a solution to sedentary job roles. But these don’t actively solve problems of poor spinal alignment and posture resulting from how we interact with our devices.

Perhaps things will improve once concepts like smart glasses become more mainstream. Several technologies for pain management are also emerging.

Anxiety and Depression

The rate of anxiety and depression among the adult population has exploded in recent years, especially since the start of the century. There are several explanations for this, but the leading thinking at the moment is that it has to do with the modern pressure to meet expectations.

Many people, through no fault of their own, find themselves trapped in situations they have no control over, and these situations get in the way of them making a success of their lives which, in turn, leads to depression.

Equally, much of the anxiety we see today has been linked to technology now means that we’re always connected. Research has shown that people who check their phones and interact more frequently on social media are also more prone to experience anxiety. Connectedness, it seems, has its downsides.

Global Type II Diabetes

Non-insulin-dependent diabetes or type 2 diabetes is perhaps the quintessential lifestyle disease. It’s the disease we often see whenever a country transitions from its traditional setting to a western environment. Increasing diabetes prevalence reflects fundamental changes in the food supply and more sedentary working patterns. As countries move from eating their traditional fare to food made in factories, the prevalence of diabetes goes up.

According to current estimates, there will be more than 400 million people worldwide with diabetes by 2030, nearly double the number today, thanks to the growing number of newly rich. Places like Brazil, Russia, China, and East Asia are expected to see the greatest rise in cases. Global food chains have already penetrated these markets, and it won’t be long before these countries begin to Westernize their food models.


Top photo: Air pollution can lead to deteriorated lung health. Photo via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

26 thoughts on “These Health Problems Are So Twenty-First Century”

  1. It seems that there is no perfection in life, Christy. My main gripe with modern life for professional and corporate people is that you never get a minutes peace. Email and cell phones have created an expectation that people should be available all the time. No wonder we are stressed and anxious.

  2. Completely agree! As I’ve moved into the “so-called ” holistic arena, I realize the cures for many things are right before us, yet so many have been programmed to want this in “pill” form. Most holistic treatments and lifestyle are slower to relieve but with fewer side effects. Patience not Patients…

  3. You are so right with all of these things. I have shied away somewhat from eating meat and poultry because of the drugs which are regularly fed to our animals; we do sit for far too long at computers at work and the pressure is on to meet deadlines, log in from home, monitor emails, there is no escape from technology and we become slaves to it. Yet it is so good to leave the laptop, the mobile, the iPad and get out for a walk. Absoutley love your posts, you’ve motivated me to move more :)

    1. You are spot on, walking is amazing. I’ve only to step out of the house and start walking and whatever the weather my mood lifts enormously. Your mind just wanders and sometimes solutions to problems appear, really does make you feel so much better, physically and mentally.

  4. Yes, humanity needs to take a more holistic approach to managing health. We have become too dependent on the conveniences modern technology has brought us. We need to take the time to slow down , get up from the computer. turn off our devices and get some fresh air and exercise.

  5. Great article, and it’s all true! I’m so guilty of text next and I don’t walk and text. I barely text at all. I call it Vulture Neck, and I’m sure it’s because of the computer screen and my very poor eyesight!

  6. Amazingly well written post👍 technological advancements have given birth to many new diseases. Mental health needs to be addressed at an alarming rate. Loved your article ❤

  7. You’re so right about how these are created and proliferated by our modern day living. Pretty scary to see it all laid out like this…! I think that with greater recognition of some of the issues, such as air pollution and posture/spinal problems, changes can be made to reduce their impact, but it does feel like the way society goes that such problems will only continue to grow and manifest. Great post! x

  8. It’s pretty frightening how we know these things and yet continue to do the same things. Especially when it comes to things that are entirely preventable like spinal problems from being on the computer to long. I didn’t know that pollution from China has made it’s way across the entire world; that’s pretty frightening. Thank you for sharing this information!

  9. Modern life is a real tragidy !
    Young people seem to be older than their real age !
    Except the people who practise sports and eat healthy food and they r rare !!
    Great article !
    Thanks for sharing Christy !!

  10. Great article Christy B! To me, it further hightlighted the ‘shifting’ of problems rather than the ‘resolving’ of them.

    As with one of my posts, where you hadn’t heard of some expressions I had used, I have never heard the term “text neck” – yes, it is, will become a serious, very serious issue, as with the others you have referenced.

    On a lighter note, the term did make me laugh and shake my head, mainly as I was thinking, “whatever next, what other new terms are going to evolve” but…that is what is happening! I find the term very appropriate, descriptive and clear. x

  11. Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

    I know you don’t host a political blog, Christy, but I think it bears looking at the reality that not-my-president seems hell-bent on INCREASING pollution by eliminating regulations in favor of corporate capitalist profits.

    We can ALL do something about that one: write our legislators and *insist* that THEIR support of the health of the environment is essential (or else?)

    YES – they all think primarily about their own careers and bank accounts, and if enough of us link our votes to air we can actually breathe without imperiling our health – and let them KNOW that is what it will take to be re-elected – we most certainly could get it done.

    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

  12. Great topic to bring to the light – diabetes is an awful disease that may be preventable or at least controllate with changes in diet and, as you mentioned, more activity. Thank you for writing about the effects of our environment on our health. It’s so important to everyone! Thank you Christy!

  13. Great post, as always. While many health problems can be dealt with change of habits, exercise, and modern medicines, I feel helpless when I think of new diseases. It is really alarming that more forms of bacteria are mutating to grow a resistance against antibiotics. Due to the mutation, there is a big chance that they will create new forms of disease.

    Thanks again for such an informative post. Have a wonderful weekend.

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