While it has tripled in less than three hundred years, the life expectancy of Westerners is entering a zone of turbulence, explains the doctor and epidemiologist Jean-David Zeitoun, in The Suicide of the species. Pollution, food, pandemic of chronic diseases... Human activities are giving rise to more and more pathologies that are becoming the main causes of mortality in the world, warns the author, scientific studies in support. Worse, the growth in spending needed to try to cure these ills of the century is greater than that of the global economy.
Until 2010, Homo sapiens lived longer and older in most countries of the world. Then things went wrong. In the United States, life expectancy peaked in 2014. In France, infant mortality has been rising for ten years. Babies are no more fragile than those of previous decades: it is the health of mothers that is at stake. Admittedly, the progression of some cancers is slowing down, but others are exploding, without population growth explaining it. Another scourge: diabetes, which is not declining "in zero countries of the world". Finally, the proliferation of so-called metabolic diseases is "out of control".
Sodas, chips, pizzas...
The roots of evil? They plunge into certain industrial activities. For example, ultra-processed foods such as sodas, chips, pizzas... By examining data from more than 100,000 people over nearly ten years, French researchers have shown that a 10% increase in the share of ultra-processed foods causes a more than 10% increase in the risk of cancer. "Food processing is a business-driven phenomenon, a business that did not foresee the production of diseases," writes Jean-David Zeitoun.
Once diagnosed, he advances a treatment inspired by what has been done in the past for lead, drugs, alcohol or tobacco. This would involve introducing an authorisation scheme to 'withdraw products that are too toxic from the market' and, for others, diverting consumers from them by various means. The doctor pleads for a tax "that hurts" on products deemed harmful. This money could "finance any program to support the sick or especially be given back to buy fresh food".
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What about businesses? For the "fossil industries" - oil, coal, gas - "there is no other option than disposal". "Finding a job for former employees (...) should not be so difficult, the author believes. There are a huge shortage of workers in clean energy, health, environment and education."
As "the world will always need to eat", food companies will have to relearn their craft to "sell minimally handled food". Jean-David Zeitoun even imagines a "turnaround of talents": "We would ask for example employees in the food industry (...) to share their expertise in marketing for fresh food." Vast program, therefore, that this health transition... Would its cost be offset by the decline in health spending attributable to these "pathogenic industries"?