Declining death rates
Age-adjusted death rates (deaths per 100,000 population) for specific types of tumours have changed significantly over the years. In 1996, for the first time since data began being compiled, cancer deaths in the United States decreased (almost 3 percent). Decreases can be attributed to successes of therapy or prevention. For example, a reduction in the number of deaths due to lung cancer is attributed to warnings that have altered cigarette-smoking habits. Therapy has greatly lessened mortality from Hodgkin disease and testicular cancer, and it also has improved the chances of surviving breast cancer. The yearly routine Pap smear, an examination used to screen for carcinoma of the uterine cervix, has resulted in a downward trend in mortality observed for this disease. This reduction in cancer deaths clearly exemplifies the benefits of screening and early detection.
No single event marked the shift from eating food to eating nutrients, though in retrospect a little-noticed political dust-up in Washington in 1977 seems to have helped propel American food culture down this dimly lighted path. Responding to an alarming increase in chronic diseases linked to diet — including heart disease, cancer and diabetes — a Senate Select Committee on Nutrition, headed by George McGovern, held hearings on the problem and prepared what by all rights should have been an uncontroversial document called “Dietary Goals for the United States.” The committee learned that while rates of coronary heart disease had soared in America since World War II, other cultures that consumed traditional diets based largely on plants had strikingly low rates of chronic disease. Epidemiologists also had observed that in America during the war years, when meat and dairy products were strictly rationed, the rate of heart disease temporarily plummeted
Although cancer continues to be a significant health issue in the United States, a recent report from the American Cancer Society (ACS), National Cancer Institute (NCI), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that health officials are making progress in controlling the disease. In a news bulletin released on 12 March 1998, the ACS, NCI, and CDC announced the first sustained decline in the cancer death rate, a turning point from the steady increase observed throughout much of the century. The report showed that after increasing 1.2 percent per year from 1973 to 1990, the incidence for all cancers combined declined an average of 0.7 percent per year from 1990 to 1995. The overall cancer death rate also declined by about 0.5 percent per year across this period.
It’s also important to remind ourselves that what reductive science can manage to perceive well enough to isolate and study is subject to change, and that we have a tendency to assume that what we can see is all there is to see. When William Prout isolated the big three macronutrients, scientists figured they now understood food and what the body needs from it; when the vitamins were isolated a few decades later, scientists thought, O.K., now we really understand food and what the body needs to be healthy; today it’s the polyphenols and carotenoids that seem all-important. But who knows what the hell else is going on deep in the soul of a carrot? "
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