When it comes to health news, the headlines are often bleak. Ebola coverage aside, America has a host of serious, ingrained health concerns, including our troublingly high obesity rate.
Thankfully, a new government report brings good tidings on the national health front. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a child entering the world today can expect to live longer than at any other point in our nation's history.
Average life expectancy for babies born in 2012 -- the most recent year researched by the CDC – clocks in at a record-setting 78.8 years, a 0.1 year increase from 2011. That's largely because out of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S., the death rates for eight of them decreased by a small percentage between 2011 and 2012. In other words, Americans were slightly less likely to die from heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, influenza and kidney disease in 2012 than they were a year earlier.
"I think the health of the U.S. population is improving," Jiaquan Xu, a medical doctor and lead author of the CDC report told USA Today. "The death rates for heart disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death that account for 47 percent of all deaths, have been falling since 1999."
As our collective health continues to get better, perhaps it's time to extrapolate: Can the aging process -- if not stopped altogether – be substantially slowed? Is it feasible that we will see the average life expectancy in the U.S. double, perhaps even triple, in the near future?
It's a question that is being attacked by some of Silicon Valley's brightest minds. Earlier this year, Craig Ventor, a biologist and entrepreneur, raised $70 million for his company Human Longevity, which uses both genomics and stem cell therapies to try and attack aging and aging-related diseases. “Your age is your No. 1 risk factor for almost every disease, but it’s not a disease itself,” Venter told The New York Times. In investor Peter H. Diamandis's words, the company's mission was to make "100 the new 60."
Meanwhile, Google is going full-speed ahead with its own efforts to slow the aging process. Despite expressing reservations in regards to entering the heavily regulated health care space, the company has begun collecting anonymous genetic information from 175 volunteers in order to build a perfect model of human health. In addition, Google is an investor in Calico, a company that focuses on "the challenge of aging and associated diseases."
“Our goal is to make progress on a very basic challenge: how to help people stay healthier for longer," Calico chief executive Arthur Levinson wrote in a Google+ post in September.
For now, an average life expectancy of 78.8 years looks pretty great. Ten, 20, 50 years from now, though? Perhaps 78.8 years will look like nothing.